Cal Common eBIAB 1

Second brew on the new eBIAB single vessel system and I made a few tweaks including mashing a lot thinner and using a sparge arm to make the recirculation a bit more gentle both of which seemed to really help my efficiency (this batch was 74%) and wort clarity.

I wanted to do another slightly hoppier beer for my wife and I had never brewed a Cal Common so seemed like a good one to try.  I looked at Jamil’s recipe in BCS as well as the one old NHC winner I could find and a few Anchor Steam clone recipes.  Nothing really peaked my interest so I decided to keep it simple.  I just did 90% pale/MO style base  and 10% mid-caramel/crystal.  My local homebrew shop carries Thomas Fawcett Golden Promise which I’ve always wanted to try and this beer seemed like a good one based on the BJCP style description.  I’m not a huge fan of american caramel malts so I figured I’d branch out and try a british crystal that I haven’t tried before.  I did some digging around on the web and people seem to LOVE Simpson’s Crystal so I ordered some Medium Crystal from them.  Jamil’s Northern Brewer hop schedule looked pretty hoptastique so I used that as a rule of thumb.  Here is the recipe:


Recipe Info

Beer Name: cal common 1
Style: California Common Beer
Author: hommel homebrew
Date: 3-13-15


Original Gravity: 1.052
Final Gravity: 1.012
Color: 10.6
Alcohol: 5.3 %
Bitterness: 44.1 IBUs


Efficiency: 70
Attenuation: 77


Mash Fermentable Weight: 11.125 Pounds
Mash Thickness: 1.5 Quarts per Pound
Grain Temp: 72 F
Strike Water Qty: 6.17 Gallons
Mash Volume: 7.06 Gallons
Strike Water Temp: 159.7 F
Mash Temp: 150 F


Kettle Gravity (start of boil): 1.043
Starting Boil Volume: 6.75
Boil Duration: 60 Minutes
Evaporation Rate: 1.25 Gallons per Hour
Final Boil Volume: 5.5


Weight (Lbs) % by Weight Name Yield SRM
10 89.9 thomas fawcett golden promise 80.5 2.7
1 9.0 simpsons medium crystal 76.0 67.0
.125 1.1 Weyermann Acidulated Malt 78.7 2.3


Weight (ozs) Name AAU Time (mins) IBUs / Addition
1.33 Northern Brewer Pellets (UK) 6.0 60 29.5
1.33 Northern Brewer Pellets (UK) 6.0 15 14.6
1.33 Northern Brewer Pellets (UK) 6.0 0 0.0

Yeast and Friends

Amount (Milliters) Name
1 pouch California Lager – WY2112


Amount Name Time
1 Whirlfloc Tablet 15
1 tsp Yeast Nutrient (Wyeast) 10


mash salts:
4.1g Gypsum
2.0 calcium chloride

boil salts:

should give mash pH of 5.4

pitch @ 60 and ramp to 62 over 1 day then hold till done (~14 days). rack to keg lager for 2 weeks. rack to clean keg and force carb to ~2.5 volumes.

BrewDay notes:
I’ve been re-reading “Brewing Engineering” by Steven Deeds.  It’s a fun book since it is him documenting his home experiments.  Some are very basic and a bit silly but some are very interesting.  In particular, he doesn’t buy the MrMalty’s yeast viabilty calculations and so he tests them with his own yeast and finds that the MrMalty numbers assume too high a die off rate.  And I’ve seen this a bunch of times in my brewing where MrMalty will say a yeast is only 30% viable based on age and calls for an enormous multi-stage starter and when I do that I end up with what looks like way too much yeast.  I have recently purchased a microscope and the other tools needed to do cell counts so I plan to test this out on my own as well.  So, my yeast for this beer was 4 months old which meant I would have needed 7 vials or some enormous starter.  But this yeast has been kept nice and cold the whole time so I just don’t buy it.  Maybe 50% viable but I’m doubting 7%.  So instead I used Wyeast’s standard recommendation for a hybrid strain and did a 2L starter (actually 1.4L since this was a smaller batch) and I did end up with a nice pitch of yeast after that ran for 48 hours and when I pitched it the fermentation was going strong by the next morning.

And the more I think about it the more that viability measure bothers me.  You could have 2 week old yeast that shipped in 100F weather and it have poor viability or have 3 month old that was stored cold and have good viability.  If you can’t do a cell count, why even bother with the MrMalty calculator.  In all reality, you have NO idea what your viability is.  So it seems the right path is either do cell counts and pitch the right amount of yeast or just use Wyeast’s starter recommendations.

  • 1 liter starter = about 150 billion cells
  • 2 liter starter = about 200 billion cells
  • 1 liter starter, then pitched into 4 liter starter = 400 billion cells

Or maybe I’ve been thinking about this too much 🙂

3/23/15 made 1.4L starter
3/25/15 pretty standard brew day.  did a step mash of 152 for 60 mins and 168 for 10 mins.

started at 6:45 am and had pitched and had beer in fermentation chamber by 11:30 am.  Under 5 hours.  Not bad.  Another 2 hours for cleanup but that was 80% the cleaner recirculating and me not doing anything.

pitched at 11:30 @ 60F and set controller to raise to 62F over 24 hours and hold it there till its done.

3/26/15 @9am.  Nice 1″ kreusen and steady strong bubbling
3/27/15 still kreusened with nice bubbling although maybe slowed a hair?
3/28/15 kreusen dropped.  bubbling slowed to ~2sec apart
3/29/15 ~10 secs
3/30/15 ~15 sec
4/2/15 no activity – dropped fairly clear
4/9/15 racked to keg ~3.5 gallons
FG – 1.015 pH 4.28
very nice beer but a hint of sulfur.  very low but will lager for 2 months to get rid of it.  also a bit green
4/23/15 forced carbed and put on draft.  big foam issue which seems to be from the liquid out post on all my lotto kegs.  moved to a new keg and problem went away but knocked out all the carb need to recarbonate.  very hazy.
4/28/15 still not quite carb’d but getting better.  still hazy but starting to clear.  a tasty beer.  need to try side by side with anchor steam.

my beer vs anchor steam:
aroma: mine>clean with restrained caramel and generic malty notes.  noticeable herbal/woody hops.  anchorsteam> more caramelly (oxidized?), less hops
flavor: mine> nice caramel character.  hop bitterness and flavor are spot on.  anchorsteam> more caramel flavor.  bitterness is similar but less hop flavor.
appearance: similar color.  my clarity stinks 🙁
mouthfeel: very similar
overall impression: other than clarity I prefer my cal common to anchor all the way around.  anchor sample has way more caramel and less hop aroma and flavor.  this doesn’t match up with the anchor i had on draft in bay area but it’s what I’ve got. seems the anchor steam here is old and oxidized.  sad.

5/5/15 finally dropping clear after ~2 weeks.  ok clarity but not great.  next time would definitely try gelatin or biofine to see how much faster / better it clears.

Blonde Ale eBIAB 1

I just finished building my new brew rig which is a single vessel eBIAB setup so now the moment of truth.  The first brew on the new system.  Here is the new rig:


I’m basically assuming a bunch of stuff will go wrong so I’ve decided to go small batch with a cheap and simple beer that will show flaws and maybe a style I haven’t brewed before.  Also my wife is tired of malty lagers so maybe something a bit hoppy.  I scanned the style list and realized I’ve never brewed a Blonde Ale.  How is that possible?  Also I have about 2 lbs of various hops in my fridge including a half pound of Cascade and half pound of Centennial.  So, how about a SMASH Blonde Ale?  2 row and Centennial hops.  Why not.

I’ve also coded up a new recipe tool called BrewDesign (Please, try it out!!!  And give me feedback!!!)  so I used that as well.  Here is the output for this brew:


Recipe Info

Beer Name: blonde ale eBIAB 1
Style: Blonde Ale
Author: hommel homebrew
Date: 3-4-15


Original Gravity: 1.044
Final Gravity: 1.009
Color: 3.1
Alcohol: 4.6 %
Bitterness: 27.5 IBUs


Efficiency: 75
Attenuation: 80


Mash Fermentable Weight: 8.7 Pounds
Mash Thickness: 2 Quarts per Pound
Grain Temp: 72 F
Strike Water Qty: 4.35 Gallons
Mash Volume: 5.05 Gallons
Strike Water Temp: 166 F
Mash Temp: 155 F


Kettle Gravity (start of boil): 1.033
Starting Boil Volume: 7.375
Boil Duration: 90 Minutes
Evaporation Rate: 1.25 Gallons per Hour
Final Boil Volume: 5.5


Weight (Lbs) % by Weight Name Yield SRM
8.5 97.7 Canada Malting 2-Row 80.0 1.8
.2 2.3 Acidulated Malt 78.7 2.3


Weight (ozs) Name AAU Time (mins) IBUs / Addition
.5 Centennial Pellets 10.0 60 20.2
.5 Centennial Pellets 10.0 10 7.3
.5 Centennial Pellets 10.0 0 0.0
1 Centennial Pellets 10.0 dry hop 0.0

Yeast and Friends

Amount (Milliters) Name
1 sachet US-05


Amount Name Time
1 Whirlfloc Tablet 15
1 tsp Yeast Nutrient (Wyeast) 10


mash salts:
4.5g Gypsum

boil salts:
4g Gypsum

should give mash pH of 5.4

pitch @ 65 and ramp to 68 over 2 days then hold till done (14 days). rack to keg lager for 2 weeks. rack to clean keg and force carb to 2.5 volumes.

Brew Day:
All in all it wasn’t hugely different than brewing on a 3 vessel system.  Obviously the mechanics and chemistry of making beer all grain is the same.  Some observations:

1) wow, the element is really powerful.   admittedly it was smaller volumes of water but still.  My sparge water was up to temp in 15 minutes.  I got it to a boil in the same or less.  So, even with working out kinks rookie style I still cut about 30 minutes off my brew day and I can imagine that I can get it down to about 5 hours from about 6.5 hours.

2) Don’t forget to turn on the element 🙂  my mash kept dropping in temp and i couldn’t figure out why.  I then realized I had turned off the element when I pulled the bag up to drain but forgot to turn it back on.  Oops 🙂

3) My wort was VERY hazy.  And I now have the beer on tap and it’s still hazy.  Like hefeweizen hazy.  That said, I brewed another beer since and with my fixes in place that I’ll discuss, I have very nice and clear wort post mash and on down the line.

4) efficiency was crap.  about 65% vs 80% on my old batch sparge setup.  I improved this to 73% on my next brew which I’ll discuss below.

So where did the hazy wort and poor efficiency come from?   I put in two fixes so not sure which it was but…  First off, after I mashed in it seemed to be a really thick mash.  I normally do 1.5 QT / LB water to grain ratio but most stuff I read said go thinner for BIAB so I did 2 QT / LB but it wasn’t right.  It was way to thick.  After the fact I realized in my cooler mash tun I have maybe 1/2 gallon of deadspace and all my beers were 5 gallon batches.  My new setup has a basket in it that holds the BIAB bag and there is about 2 gallons of dead space below that.  So for this brew it was 4.35 gallons of mash water but if you remove the 2 gallons it is really 2.35 which is a ratio of 1.08:1.  Yow.  For my next brew, I changed my recipe software to calculate the thickness with the deadspace removed then add the deadspace in to get the strike water quantity.

Also, in my setup I originally used a 1/2″ pipe to return the water to the top of the mash so it was like a garden hose of water coming back in and the mash bed never settled since it was constantly disturbed by the return water.  So, I built a sparge arm to return the mash water gently back to the top.  Here is a picture:


Needs a bit of work but it got the job done.

Back to what caused the haze and low efficiency.  I think what happened was the mash was so thick that the enzymes were impeded and I didn’t get full conversion so hence the (probably) starch haze and low efficiency.   So my guess is the thinner mash is what fixed it but the nice gentle recirculation likely didn’t hurt the wort clarity

With my next brew, the wort was very clear at the start and end of the boil – maybe better but at least as good as I had with my old 3 vessel setup so doesn’t appear to be a BIAB issue in general.  Just me screwing things up a bit on the first go around 🙂

3/11/15 @ 1:30ish pitched rehydrated US-05 into at 66F
3/12/15 8 am nice big fluffy kreusen and solid bubbling.  temp raised over 24 hours to 67F and held for whole fermentation.
3/13/15 same as yesterday.  still bubbling strong
3/14/15 similar to yesterday but maybe slowing a bit
3/15/15 still kreusened but clearly slowing down but steady bubbling
3/16/15 kreusen dropped.  hazy but bubbling slowed to ~2 sec
3/17/15 bubbling stopped
3/19/15 dry hopped with 1/2 oz centennial (1st of 2).  yeast seems to have dropped but still hazy
3/21/15 2nd 1/2 oz centennial dry hop
3/24/15 racked to keg
FG 1.012 pH – 4.15 ( a little low but fine)
dropped to 35F in lagering fridge
forced carbed by shaking for 5 mins at 20 psi
3/25/15 put on draft
very hazy but otherwise a really nice beer.  boring but 100% 2 row will do that 🙂  clean flavor and nice aroma.  very promising if I can get the haze cleared up.

Berliner Weisse Experiment 3 (Lacto Sources)

Time to do another lacto source experiment!  I entered the White Labs Brevis experiment in a good sized competition and took 3rd place in the sour category and scored a 40.5 so…!  I was pretty excited about how the dried probiotic pills did in experiment 1 so I kept them on my bathroom shelf warm for a few months and decided to try those again to see how they fared.  I also wanted to try another probiotic strain so I picked up a “live” pill (think gel-cap) that must be stored cold and has some lactose (ie dried milk) in it to keep the lacto alive.  Lastly, I wanted to retest the Wyeast 5335 since it did poorly last experiment but was frozen in transit to me.  So, the three tests this go around are:

1> Natures Bounty Acidophilus Pills (same as experiment 1 but warm stored at ~74F for 2 months)

2> Wyeast 5335 (dated 11/24/14 so ~3 months old at time of experiment)

3> Solaray Acidopholus (label says Acidopholus, Bulgaricus and Thermophieris (sp?) in fine print)

The set up is the same as the last two test although I moved from a cooler to a dorm fridge but same heat lamp and temp controller.  Beer was the same – 100% Briess Bavarian Wheat DME OG 1.031.  No hops.  Boiled for 15 minutes.  Fridge set at 95F.

Pitch Rate:

Natures Bounty claims 100 million cells per pill

Solaray claims 3 Billion cells per capsule (you can break them open and dump powder into wort which is what I did)

I emailed Wyeast and got this reply back on cell count:

“The retail packs for our lactic acid cultures (including 5335 and 5223) are packaged at a density of 100 million cells per mL, 10 billion cells total.”

In the Wyeast preso at NHC that I referenced in experiment 1, they called for 38 Billions Cells per Gallon (10 million cells per ml) as a good pitch rate.  Which has me a bit perplexed.  Why would Wyeast sell a pouch of Lacto at 10 Billion Cells when for a 5 Gallon batch they call for 190 Billion Cells (38B x 5)?  This then had me wondering – what does Wyeast do?  So I emailed them and got this response:

“…the cell count is 50-80 million cells per ml and there are 35 ml in a vial.”

So Iet’s take the average of 65 million cell which gives us 2.275 Billion cells per vial.  Even less than Wyeast!  Wow.  If you compare that to 100 Billion cells in a yeast pitch, Lacto is some expensive a$$ bugs!

I wanted to keep my pitch rate the same as last time for Natures Bounty so I could compare to my last successful experiment to see if it could be recreated.  So I used 50 pills which should be 5 Billion cells.  Way below the recommended pitch rate of 38 Billion but higher than the White Labs vial that soured very nicely.

For Wyeast, I just pitched the one pouch so 10 Billion Cells at an unknown viability.

For Solaray I wanted to be closer to the recommened pitch rate so I did 13 capsules (lucky?) for 39 Billion cells also at an unknown viability.  It was $10ish dollars for 100 pills so not too bad on the wallet.

3/9/15 Pitched @ 2:45 pm pH = 5.8 OG = 1.031


3/10/15 Day 1

1> pH – 3.72 malty sweet.  slight sour.  apple juice.  no sign of fermentation.  clean.  sour 2/10

2>pH 4.43 malty sweet.  no signs of fermentation.  clean.  sour  0/10.

3>pH 3.58 aroma – malty sweet.  light sourness.  no sign of fermentation.  clean.  sour 3/10

3/11/15 Day 2

1> pH 3.64 malty sweet.  slight sour.  no sign of fermentation.  clean.  sour 2/10

2> pH 3.97 malty sweet. not sour.  no sign of fermentation.  clean. sour 0/10

3> pH 3.37 malty sweet.  noticeably sour but not strong.  no signs of fermentation.  clean. sour 4/10.

3/12/15 Day 3

1> pH 3.6 similar to yesterday

2> pH 3.75 malty sweet with a hint of sourness.  no signs of fermentaton.  clean  sour 1/10

3> pH 3.28 malty sweet but getting pretty sour.  no signs of fermenation. clean.  5/10

3/13/15 Day 4

1> pH 3.61 unchanged

2> pH 3.71 unchanged

3> pH 3.25 unchanged.

3/14/15 Day 5

1> pH 3.58 unchanged

2> pH 3.71 unchanged

3> pH 3.25 unchanged but maybe a hair more sour.

3/15/15 Day 6

1> pH 3.55 unchanged

2> pH 3.57 unchanged

3> pH 3.15 a bit more sour. 6/10

3/16/15 Day 7

1> pH 3.56 unchanged

2> pH 3.54 unchanged

3> pH 3.11 unchanged

3/17/15 Day 8

1> pH 3.55 unchanged

2> pH 3.54 unchanged

3> pH 3.12 unchanged

3/18/15 Day 9

works.  booooooo!!!!!

3/19/15 Day 10

1> gravity 1.030 pH 3.56 DUMPED

2> gravity 1.030 pH 3.52 DUMPED

3> gravity 1.030 pH 3.06 very sour but still sweet.  7/10.  clean.

3/20/15 Day 11

Since it appeared to be homofermentative with no reduction in gravity and I’m intrigued to see what a late hopped Berliner Weisse will be like, I boiled 3> for 10 mins and put in 1/2 oz of centennial hops, cut heat and let sit hot for 10 mins.  I then cooled to 70F and pitched ~2.5grams of Lavlin EC-1118 (dry white wine / champagne yeast) that was rehydreated w/ palmer method.  I put it in the fridge set to 68F (no thermowell)

3/21/15 8am – small kreusen and slow bubbling

3/22/15 1″ kreusen and steady bubbling

3/23/15 lingering kreusen but seems to of dropped, bubbling stopped and yeast is visibly clearing/dropping.

3/27/15 Bottled 3> FG 1.015, pH 3.14.  sample is clean, flat and tasty 🙂  .7 gallons so boiled .975 oz of table sugar in 1/4 of filtered water to target 3.5 volumes.

BJCP Judging ( Tasting ) Exam Experience 1

I had a hard time finding any write-ups on other people’s real world experiences of preparing for and taking the BJCP Judging Exam ( aka BJCP Tasting Exam ) so I figured I might as well put my experience out there for people preparing to take the exam.  Take it all with a grain of salt – I obviously in no way represent the BJCP on these matters and these are just my own thoughts on the BJCP certification process and judging in general.   The first half is a lengthy rant on my experience preparing for the exam and the second half is the real meat where I discuss how I prepared for and the results from my exam.


First, some background.  I started homebrewing about 4 years ago and have been entering beers in competitions for about 3 of those.  I’m not totally sure where I first got the bug to get BJCP certified except that a lot of homebrewers I have a lot of respect for recommended it.  Initially my goals were to develop my palate so I could more critically assess my own beers and to get the opportunity to formally judge other brewer’s beers hoping I could both learn from it as well as do something positive for the community at large.

A lot of my expectations and initial understanding of how beer judging works were totally wrong and have dramatically changed as I’ve gone through the process of getting certified.  When I first got started, I had some interesting ideas on beer judging.  As an engineer by trade, I sometimes fool myself into thinking that real world processes can be perfect.  That somehow, through super secret underground training regimes certified beer judges have uber palates and can definitively discern the difference between a 31 and 32 point beer.  And when I first started entering homebrew competitions, I thought if I entered a beer in many competitions it would get very similar scores each time.  It was only after entering many beers, many times with wildly divergent scores (20 this week, 44 next week – really) and judging at competitions with other judges and being 10 points apart and having to figure out a common ground that I realized how incredibly wrong I was.

So, a lot of the initial value I saw in entering beer in competition and judging was blown-out of the water.  I started to feel a bit disillusioned and I still feel like the whole process is flawed for one big reason: preference.  Every judge has different preferences and no matter how hard you train yourself to judge by style and technical merit, at the end of the day if you don’t like munich malt or citra hops or a hint of DMS in your lager then you just aren’t going to score those beers as high.  I don’t think any judging program can fix that since we are human and having preferences is in our nature.  And if they weren’t, we would all go to the store and buy the single 50 point beer that put all the others out of business.

That said, I think the BJCP program and it’s current certification program are very well setup and really do drive judges towards two key goals that should be top of mind while preparing for the exam:

1) Scoring within 7 points of other judges

2) Properly filling out a scoresheet

Scoring accurately is self explanatory but getting in the zone is hard.  More on that later.  Properly filling out a scoresheet also sounds easy but there is a lot involved. Being able to evaluate a beer and properly perceive the level and qualities of the aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel.  Properly describing what you’re perceiving using a common language.  Having a firm grasp on the style guideline so you can properly ascertain if the beer is to style and if not where it misses the mark.  Knowing enough about flaws and brewing procedures to provide accurate feedback on how to correct any perceived issues.

And it’s not perfect.  Sometimes I’ll judge and never have to adjust a score and sometimes I feel like I’m having to adjust every score because the other judge and I are so far apart.  Heck, on my exam the two proctors were ten points apart on a fresh from the store, commercial example beer.  And these were two very experienced national level judges!  We are all human.  It happens.  But with more training and experience, it happens less and less.  Also, I’ll often judge with certified or national level judges who will repeatedly tell me they are looking for a certain quality in a beer – more chocolate in a dusseldorf alt, more roasted barley in a northern english brown, more caramel in a DIPA – that are fine at very low levels but certainly shouldn’t stand out or be something you are looking for.  Maybe after judging for many years, people forget to look at the style guidelines or we all begin to think we know something cold and forget that everybody needs a refresher now and again.

But after finally taking the exam and getting my scores back – although not as high as I wanted – I realized that the exam really was quite good and did push me directly towards it’s two goals.  I only scored half my beers within 7 points of my proctors and so I got dinged for it.  And I should have.  I didn’t comment on every aspect of each section of the scoresheet and used imprecise language and so I got dinged.  And I should have.  So, even with a bit of disillusionment with beer judging in general, when I look back and see how much I have gained it seems silly to be in any way upset.  I can now pick-up off flavors and aromas in beers that two years ago I’m sure I perceived but had no idea what I was perceiving and how to describe it.  I now really get what all eighty beer styles are supposed to be like and can easily tell when a beer just isn’t quite right and why.  And I am now very confident in my ability to score properly and fill out a scoresheet that I would be very happy getting back from a competition.  And I guess that is really the point.  I want to be a part of the judging community so that when someone takes months to brew a beer, ferment it, cellar it, package it and then pay money and somehow get it to the competition that they know it was properly evaluated and that the feedback that they get back is accurate and useful.  Because when I enter competitions, that is what I want.

Over time, my reasons for judging have definitely shifted.  Before it was mostly for personal gain – learning how to critically assess beers – namely mine.  Now it is more for the community.  I’m not a perfect Beer Judge, but if I don’t judge then it is more likely that a local bartender who “drinks a lot of damn good beer”, a local brewer who puts an average of 10 words per scoresheet or just some club members friend ends up judging your or my beer.  That’s not critical, expert analysis and feedback.  That’s just a waste of a lot of time and $6.  I do see a lot of value in having competitions where your beer can be properly judged and be compared to your peers and given props when you’ve done a great job and you can get totally independent feedback on any issues and some ways to maybe fix those issues.  And if I see value in that and I want there to continue to be good competitions, then it is incumbent on me to do my utmost to be the best judge I can be and to participate.


I had a really hard time getting signed up for an exam.  I had four exams within a three hour drive but all were full and my only option was the waiting list.  So, I got on a few of those and finally got confirmed for an exam about 9 months out.  Of course, the week before a bunch of earlier exams I would get the email saying that they had a last minute opening but I stuck with the one I was confirmed for.  So, that gave me 9 months of prep time.  In those 9 months I made sure I had read every book on the recommended reading list (page 3 of, that I had had at least one commercial example of every beer style and I had critically assessed it and that I judged as much as possible which was maybe 3 different competitions.

In retrospect, I think the most important of all was sitting down with examples of each style and really making sure I got the style and what they meant by each of the descriptors.  My process was to get as many commercial examples as I could find and then with each one I would read the style guide, then judge each beer the same I would in a competition –  scoresheet and all – and then reread the style guide while going through my scoresheet.  I also got together with a local group of other people training for the same exam and we would go through a similar process but without scoresheets.  I think the scoresheets would have been good even for that scenario in retrospect.  The other thing I had been working on since I started brewing was brewing all 80 styles.  I’m about halfway through now but that has been an enormous benefit.  There are just so many different ingredients and brewing techniques that until you have actually used them it is hard to perceive the impact and describe how to fix any issues or praise a job well done.   So, lesson #1:

Critically judge multiple commercial examples for each style

One thing I did wrong in preparing was searching the internet for info 🙂  In all seriousness, I had read some posts from people saying they had been given doctored beers. This really made an impression on me and hung in the back of my mind the whole lead up to and during the actual taking of the exam.  And on two beers, it caused me to be way off from the proctors.  That leads me to lesson #2:

Judge the beers the same way you would normally

Even if the beers are doctored (which none of mine were – wish I had known that ahead of time!), don’t forget one key fact – the two proctors are judging these blind the same way you are and how they judge the beer is what matters.  So just judge as you normally would and don’t go hunting for some doctored defect.  For me, I had heard sometimes beers are watered down so even though my doppelbock was a commercial example that is on the low end of the spectrum it was still to style.  And in a normal competition I would have scored it in the mid to high 30s rather than the high 20s and been within range.  For the sweet stout, I was convinced they had given us a purposely low-sweetness beer when in fact it was just the least sweet of the commercial examples for that style and I had never had it.  My impression of a sweet stout was Mackesons which is WAY sweeter than American versions.

Another lesson learned was to keep in mind how your exam is being scored.  The basics are for each beer there are 100 points and there are 20 points for each of the following – scoring accuracy, perception, descriptive ability, feedback and completeness. There are two national level or higher judges out there who get a couple proctor score sheets and your score sheets.  They don’t have the beer.  With this huge limitation they are going to score the following way:

1) how many points are you off from the proctors average – goal is within 7 and the closer the more points you get

2) pick out some key perception aspects of each beer from the proctors score sheets and see if you hit those aspects – for example grainy malt aroma, low diacetyl, high carbonation etc…  These would be items that stand-out about the beer.

3) KEY ITEM: make sure you have level and description for each item listed below the section header.  For example, on a scoresheet you see Aroma and below that it says “comment on malt, hops, esters and other aromatics”.  For each of those they will look to see that you gave a level “medium malt” and a description “grainy, biscuity”.  Make sure you cover ALL of them this way.

4) accurate and useful feedback.  if you point out flaws or style misses you should give ways to fix the issue and they should be technically accurate and not TOO specific.  keep in mind, you don’t know anything about how this beer was made.  So saying to use fresher extract would be silly.  Or more amarillo hops.  How do you know they used extract or amarillo hops.  No matter how amazing you think you are at perceiving extract twang or tangerine hop aromatics, you don’t know how the beer was made so don’t comment as if you do.

5) kind of a gimme – everything should be filled out and should be legible.  white space = bad.

I will say that even if I was seemingly good on 2-5 but my score was off by more than 7 points that everything else suffered score-wise.  So, even though it appears that you can do well with inaccurate scoring (it’s only 20% right!) that is not the case.  In the scoring guide it states you need to have 3 correctly scored beers to be in the 70s, 4 to be in the 80s and 5 to be in the 90s  So don’t think you can be way off on scoring and still do well.  Which brings me to lesson #3:

Read the Scoring Guide (

Reading the Exam Guide is pretty obvious, but it never crossed my mind to read the Scoring Guide and understanding how you are going to be scored is pretty key 🙂  And by reading the Scoring guide you can see how focused things are on the two goals I laid out above.  They are really trying to make sure that the body of BJCP judges score within a reasonable range of each other and can fill out a killer scoresheet that any entrant would be happy paying an entry fee to get.

So now on to my actual exam.  The six beers I had were German Pilsner, Weizen, Dusseldorf Alt, Tripel, Doppelbock and Sweet Stout.  I felt pretty good since I had brewed four of these styles and was very familiar with commercial examples of each.  Kind of sucked for anyone who didn’t like German Style beers!

Here is my overall summary:


First up is the German Pilsner:

My scoresheet:


RTP (Report to Participant – in case you hadn’t noticed the BJCP TLA use level is FUBAR):


Comments: Seems that I’m either really sensitive to Acetyldehyde or I was just wrong.  Then again it says the judges picked up “low apple flavor” so maybe I was right and it was an oversight on the scorer.   Learned that specific descriptors are better than vague statements – ½” head or medium head rather than good head.   I definitely over used the term good throughout the exam.  For some reason my scorers were very into bubble size.  Seems silly to me but duly noted.Weizen:

My scoresheet:




Comments:  The main thing I learned from this beer is a beer has to be truly terrible to be in the teens.  I can still taste this beer in my mind.  It was really, really bad but I guess not bad enough to warrant a 15 cause it must have been scored by the proctors in the mid-20s or higher.  It had no head, undercarbonated, crystal clear, ester/phenol profile was off and it has a distinct sour note throughout the flavor.  so it pretty much missed all the key style markers and on top of that had a unpleasant off-flavor.  I really think this was too generously scored by the proctors but oh well.  The main issue with my scoresheet is I didn’t comment on all items which is a consistent theme and definitely something I will be focusing on.Dusseldorf Alt:

My scoresheet:




Comments:  More of the same.  I didn’t give level and description for everything listed for each section.  Forgot that if I point out a flaw I need to give recommendations on how to fix it.  Appears my score was right on.Tripel:

My scoresheet:




Comments: This beer was just god awful.  I’d rather purge it from my memory.  Not sure what it is with me and sour notes but maybe I need some calibrating there.  Also made the same mistake of pointing out a flaw but not describing how to fix it.Doppelbock:

My scoresheet:




Comments:  This was my first of two commercial example beers that are on the low end of the style in some regards but certainly too style and I was convinced they had been doctored.  My gut told me this was a high 30s beer but I was convinced there was supposed to be a style flaw so I then told myself I couldn’t go higher than high twenties.  Lesson learned: go with your gut.  Other than that, more of the same – I didn’t give level and meaningful descriptors for every “comment” item and fell short on feedback.

Sweet Stout:

My scoresheet:




Comments:  And I think this is where the alcohol started to kick in.  Same story as Doppelbock.  I was convinced this was not sweet enough for the style.  This is mostly because I had only had British commercial examples to that point and they are super sweet.  Oh well.



Comments: By far my biggest takeaways from the exam are:+focus on giving level and meaningful descriptors for every single comment item in each section

+give feedback for every flaw listed

+go with your (trained) gut when scoring.  At this point, I know what a 15, 25, 35 and 45 point beer is and shouldn’t get too hung up in trying to find doctored beers or other silliness to find reasons to score in a certain range.

The whole process was very professionally run and even if I don’t totally agree with everything said the scoring was very thorough and overall very well done and, too bad for me, a fair score was given (a hard fought 71 🙂 ).  I hope anyone reading this finds it helpful.  And yes, you won’t get your score for a long time.  Just forget about it and one day it will show up in the mail.  If it’s been a year, maybe you should email someone.

Electric Brew in a Bag (eBIAB) Build

I’ve been brewing on a pretty standard three vessel (HLT, MLT, Kettle) propane system for a few years now and I’ve been happy with it but I have a few issues I want to address:-It has nice automation for the HLT but I have been unable to control the temp in the MLT since it is a cooler setup and even though I built a HERMs for it I haven’t gotten it to work to my satisfaction.  In particularly cold weather, it is very hard to get my temps right in the MLT and even when I do they drop 3+ degrees over the course of the mash.  Step mashes would be nice but more importantly I want to consistently hit my mash temp and hold it.
-It takes over 6 hours for a brew day plus another couple hours for cleanup and that is with setting everything up the night before.
-I can really only brew 5+ gallon batches.  I can only drink about 5 gallons a month even with a great deal of sharing and a bit more personal consumption than may be healthy 🙂  So, I’d rather brew more often but smaller batches.  Ideally twice a month with 2.5 gallon batches.
-I have to brew outdoors since the system is too big for my garage and I’m not comfortable with propane indoors even if well vented.  YMMV.  My brew schedule is not very flexible so when I have a brewday I brew rain/shine/wind/snow/hail/whatever and I would much rather be in my garage than out on my back deck when mother nature decides to get ugly.
-I’m super tired of buying propane.  I have a stack of propane tanks outside just to make sure I don’t run out.  It is a hassle to refill.  It is expensive.  It is a big nuisance to have to monitor a tank when you get near the end to make sure your boil keeps going.
-It is a pain to store all my stuff.  I’d really like fewer vessels, burners and other odds and ends to clean, dry and pack away.So, I did a bunch of investigation and it seemed that an 11 gallon Electric Brew In A Bag (eBIAB) system is the way to go.  It addresses all my above concerns except maybe the brew time.  I think it will be shorter but with All Grain there is only so many areas where you can shorten the time it takes.  I especially like theHigh Gravity Brew setup and my build is very, very similar other than the placement of the temp probe and some differences in how the control boxes are setup.  The main reasons I didn’t just buy their setup is I really wanted the temp probe in the kettle since I think the reading is more accurate (definitely something I’m going to test thoroughly) but also because I want to be able to see the temp in the kettle when I’m cooling.  Once I start cooling I don’t open my lid and with their setup I would have to in order to take temp readings.  I can see how there could be a concern about the probe being to close to the heating element but there is not a good way to get it in the mash without using two temp probes, that I’ve been able to come up with, and I have my temp probe as far away from the element and as close to the mash as possible.  Fingers crossed.  Of course, I could have just moved the temp probe on their system which leads me to the other (and real ) reason I didn’t just purchase – I’m a total dork and I love building stuff 🙂  I have the partlist below but I already had about half of the stuff from my current brewery and other projects so it ended up costing me less than buying one.  Maybe not a lot less but it was a ton of fun building it so no regrets there.  Certainly not for everyone and,  as you can see from my partlist, High Gravity has very competitive pricing for their product.

I’ve broken out my build documentation into parts (Kettle, Recirculation and Electronics) but the partlist is consolidated at the bottom.  First, an overview of how the system works:


One of the big strengths of the eBIAB setup is it’s simplicity.  As with all things in life, the more complicated something is, the more likely you are going to have issues and the harder it will be to fix those issues.  Single vessel eBIAB is as simple as it gets without going back to extract brewing.  The kettle has a big steamer basket so you are placing your bag in that and filling it with your grain.  Below the basket there is a heating element which will both be used to heat for mashing but also boiling once the mash is done.  Under the basket, there is also a temperature probe and a valve.  During mashing, the mash liquid goes out the valve to a pump and is then pumped back to the lid on the kettle and back into the mash.  The pumping recirculation is run the entire length of the mash but is run fairly slowly.

WARNING!  The biggest risk with this setup is if you run your pump to fast you can create a cavity of air beneath your mash (you are drawing wort off with the pump faster than it makes it back down through the grain bed) where your element is and heating elements cannot be run dry – they will fry – literally.  So you need to be sure that you are running the recirculation slow enough to not cause cavitation.  The Bayou Classic basket has holes almost up to the top and there is a gap between the basket and the side of the kettle so it would have to be very full of grain in order to prevent the recirculation water from going down the sides.  So, not a huge concern but something to watch out for.

The heating element and the temperature probe run back to a control box which has an Auber PID that controls when to turn the element on and off.  One of the cool things with running electric is that you can quickly turn the element on and off so it is easy to control how hot the element is running.  After building a couple of propane based automation systems, automating electric elements is a piece of cake.

So that’s it!  If the mash gets below the temp you have set on the PID the element kicks in and warms it back up.  The wort is recirculating the whole time which ensures even mash temps but also really helps with efficiency.  A couple differences from propane (other than not having to buy any 🙂 :

-I repeat – you have to be VERY careful to not run the element dry.  They aren’t very expensive but it is certainly a big rain on your brew day when your heat source kicks the bucket.
-RESPECT ELECTRICITY.  You certainly have to be very careful with huge propane burners but electricity scares the crap out of me.  Belt and suspenders and add a second belt.  Double triple check your grounds.  Anything anywhere near your setup should be GFCI.  Make sure the GFCI works!  There are 110v GVCI test units you can get at the hardware store for cheap and my control box has an emergency stop that works by tripping GFCI so you can test the 220v side that way as well.  Don’t assume GFCI alone will save you.  Don’t assume ground alone will either.  They protect you in different ways so make sure that both are functioning flawlessly.  Also, it is a good idea to make sure your environment is as dry as possible (no puddles) and wearing insulated shoes is a good idea as well.

Other than that it’s really not very different from gas.  Just a different source of heat.

Here is an overview video:

KettleSince I won’t be blasting the bottom of the kettle with 100,000+ BTUs, I figured a cheap stainless steel kettle would be fine.  A bunch of BIAB brewers were praising the Bayou Classic with steamer basket which makes total sense.  It is super cheap ( < $100 ), made of stainless (ooooohhhhhh….aggggghhhhh….shiny), the basket sits ~ 3 inches from the bottom of the kettle giving you room for your electrical element and the basket also makes it super easy to get your bag out and and hang it to drain.  It is certainly not the thickest pot but I think it will work really well for this application.  Time will tell.In putting the kettle together there are four things to be installed – 1) the element 2) the valve that goes to the pump for recirculation 3) the temperature probe and 4) the connection for the recirculation to come back from the pump to the top of the mash.

For the element, I ordered a pre-built unit from High Gravity that includes the element, cabling, power plug and a really nice sealing job (read – lots of thick shrink wrap) on the element hookups to prevent shorting it out in case of a boil over or other spills.  A lot of people JB weld junction boxes to the side of their kettle but the High Gravity pre-built is very well made and the only downside I can see is element replacement may be a bit more work (knock on wood) so I went that route.  To go in the kettle, you need a 1 1/4″ hole so based on The Electric Brewery build, I bought Greenlee knockout punches to do the job.  Soooo easy.  You just use a step drill to make the initial ugly hole and then with a few turns of a wrench you have a beautiful, smooth, no dent hole.  I cleaned the holes up with a metal stone on a Dremel but not sure that is even necessary.  The one issue I ran into the with the element is the High Gravity element kit had a O-ring that had the right Inner Diameter (ID) but too big an Outer Diameter (OD) and I couldn’t get the element installed.  I measured the nut which has a recess for the O-ring and ordered the right size.  With that, installation was a breeze and leak free after some solid tightening down.

The other three parts are all 1/2″ NPT which is 7/8″ OD.  I used a Greenlee knockout punch for those as well.  They sell it as a 1/2″ Conduit (ie NPT) punch but it is actually 7/8″  – confusing for sure.  For the valve, I put a pickup arm on the inside so I pickup less trub after whirlpool.  The weldless bulkheads are a pain to clean but they are nice since you can rotate them.  So, I can rotate the racking are up and down and get a super clean run of wort into my fermenter without needed any sort of hop stopper, steel wool etc….   I installed both the valve bulkhead and pickup just as described in Bargain Fittings instructions online.  Same for the temperature probe bulkhead, except it went in in reverse so that the coupler was outside so I could screw the temperature probe into it.  On the lid, the bulkhead went in per the instructions and I added a nipple to the 45 degree turn so I can attach the return hose to it.

The last part of the build is getting the lid notched so I can have have my immersion chiller in and the lid on.  I have to take it by my local welder ( he who owns a plasma cutter) to get that done but certainly not required.

With the right tools and parts, putting the kettle together was a piece of cake.  It took maybe an hour.  Here are some pictures:

 IMG_3258 IMG_3257 IMG_3256 IMG_3255 IMG_3254 IMG_3253 IMG_3252 IMG_3251 IMG_3250 IMG_3249
RecirculationDefinitely the easiest part of the build.  I already had all the parts – a March pump,  a bunch of silicon hose (make sure to get the nice flexible kind, not the stiff opaque kind), valve, worm clamps and various quick connects.  You just need the pump to be below the level of the top of the liquid so putting it on right on the table next to kettle is fine although I have to mess with it a bit to get it primed.  Then just pretest before you cut to make sure you won’t have any weird kinks in your hose and that you have enough slack to move it around comfortably.  For my setup, I ran kettle valve with male quickdisconnect > female quickdisconnect w/ worm clamp > silicon hose > blichman npt quickconnect w/ worm clamp > pump > valve > male quickdisconnect > female quickdisconnect w/ worm clamp > silicon hose > blichman npt quickconnect w/ worm clamp > nipple on top of lid.  Then just plug the pump into the control box and you are ready to recirculate.  IMPORTANT: make sure to use worm clamps and properly tighten them.  A friend of my burned the crap out of his face when the hose on his immersion chiller flew off when he turned on the cooling water.  Don’t be my friend.  Errrrr…that didn’t come out right.  You get the idea.  Here is a picture of the recirculation setup:
 IMG_3259 IMG_3260 IMG_3261 IMG_3262
ElectronicsI have now done a bunch of different electronics builds for two other control boxes as well as some BrewPibuilds and various other DIY electronics projects which made this go quite smoothly.  The other big plus going into this build is someone (P-J) already had  a great schematic put together.  I followed it exactly except I didn’t use lighted switches and I added an LED after the contactor so I can see when the element is on.  Here is P-J’s schematic updated with my LED (top right):

The basic idea is that you have 220V coming in and hooked into the terminal strips.  The terminal strips allow you to distribute the connections easily but you need to be careful since you can easily short connections out if you aren’t paying close attention.  Basically, the screws across from each other are connected by the metal plate and separated from the other rows by the plastic dividers.  You can interconnect the rows by using the bridges listed in partlist so you can create sections of your terminal blocks that are all interconnected.  With 220V, you have two 110V hot wires, a neutral and a ground.  The hots are black and red, neutral is white and ground is green.  To get 220V, load devices (in this case the heating element) combine the two hots and to get 110V they use one of the hots and the neutral.  Good write-up here with more details.  The controller has only three switches – 1) pump 2) PID 3) heater element.The pump is just an on/off switch and is there so you have one central place to control everything and so it is covered by a fuse and GFCI.  The pump is 110V so the neutral is run to the pump outlet and one of the 110V hot lines is run through a fuse and the switch.The PID switch turns the PID itself on/off which in turn controls when the SSR is open/closed which will relay one of the 110V hot lines to the element.  The PID runs on 110V so, similar to the pump, their is a connection to neutral and one of the hot 110V is run through a fuse and the switch to the PID.  The element won’t come on without both 110V hot lines powered so by controlling the one hot line the PID controls when the element is on/off.

The element switch controls a contactor which is basically just a big relay for both hot 110V lines that are used to power the element.  Unlike a SSR, a contactor is a switch that literally physically opens and closes and is controlled, in this case, by a 110V line.  When power is applied the circuit closes and power can flow through.  The first time I heard it it scares the crap out of me since I thought something bad had happened.  It is a loud clank that sounds out of place in an electronics box.

So why the SSR _and_ the Contactor?  SSRs are great because they can very rapidly open and close a relay and they have a very long life doing this.  There are a couple side issues with this capability.  One is they generate a good amount of heat and hence the big heatsink.  Another is that they do leak some current.  Not much but a little.  This is because of the SS in SSR – solid state.  To add a layer of security, the contactor is there to allow you to completely open the connection and prevent any current from going to the element on both hot lines.  That said, the leakage isn’t enough to turn on the element but it is enough to light up my LED.  So, the effect is when the element switch is on but the SSR open (not passing power), the LED will be on at a lower glow due to SSR leakage.

When the PID powers on the SSR and closes the relay (turns on the element) the LED will get brighter due to the higher current.  So basically, if the element switch is off, the LED is off.  If the element switch is on but the PID has the SSR open the LED will be a low glow and if the element switch is on and the PID has the SSR closed then the LED will be full glow.  Some people may not like this setup but I like to know when the contactor is closed so I know to be careful of the element since the PID could turn it on at any time but I also get a brighter glow when the element is actually on.  Of course the better solution is two LEDS, one for when the contactor is closed and one for when the element is powered.  Maybe in the future but the PID also has a light showing when the element should be on so I may leave it the way it is.

As far as the build goes, to make the holes in the casing I used mostly standard drill bits and spade bits.  For larger holes (PID, power outlets and SSR/heatsink) I use a Dremel with the router attachment.  It takes some practice but you can make very nice clean cuts with it.  Hole saws and Jigs might be better but I don’t have those so….  It is a solderless build so everything is crimped.  For the larger 10 gauge wires, you need a serious crimp tool (or in my case pliers) to make sure your crimp is very solid.  Give them a good tug to make sure they won’t come undone and short out on you.  For the resistors, I strung them between posts on the terminals (like a bridge) to force them to connect serially.  You can just see them out on the fully wired up picture below.

The PID (Auber SYL-2352) did require a bit of programming.  The setting I use are:

Sn = 21 (RTD)
AM = 1 (allows you to switch between auto and manual mode)
t = 2

The PID didn’t work all that well out of the box.  It was overshooting by 5-10 degrees F.  It definitely required auto-tuning.  You do this by going into settings mode and changing At to 1.  I just filled the kettle with 4 gallons of water and turned on recirculation and heated it to 140F then set it to Autotune mode.  It ran for about 15 mins and from then on it has nailed temperatures.  After running autotune, I had to set AM to 1 again – it seems that running autotune set it back to default.  You don’t want to boil in Auto mode since it would just sit there at 100% and spew hot wort everywhere.  To boil, you switch to manual mode and then set the percentage for how hot you want the elements to run.  In reality, it tells the element for what percentage of time “t” is the element on.  So if “t” is 10 (10 secs) and your manual power is set to 50% the element will be on for 5 seconds then off for 5 seconds.  With boiling liquid this tends to give you a weird pulsing of the boil – especially with smaller volumes.  So, you want a shorter “t” so that the pulse is not noticeable and the shortest you can go without turning off the fancy PID mode on Auber is 2 sec.  For me it works works with just a barely noticeable pulsing but the boil doesn’t stop.

IMG_3165 IMG_3166 IMG_3167 IMG_3168 IMG_3169 IMG_3170 IMG_3174 IMG_3175 IMG_3176 IMG_3177 IMG_3178 IMG_3179 IMG_3180 IMG_3243 IMG_3246 IMG_3247 IMG_3248
Here is a partlist for the complete project.  As I mentioned, I already had a lot of this stuff but wanted to provide a complete document.  Of course, as with all things I’m sure you can find things for cheaper with some searching.

Water Filter Stand

I have used electrical strut recently to build my automated HLT stand so I was brainstorming other projects I could do using electrical strut.  I came up with two ideas – a stand to hold my carbon cartridge based water filter and stands for my pumps to keep them off the brewery floor.  I decided to start with the water filter since it was a more pressing need – I always knock my water filter offer and make a big mess on brew day.  I headed to the hardware store and as I was looking at super expensive strut parts I noticed a pile of $2 buckets.  And after doing the math in my head, I thought maybe I could just cut a hole in the top of a super cheap bucket and have a perfectly good water filter stand.  So, that’s what I did.


It works awesome and by far my cheapest brewery project!!!  I have a standard 10″ cartridge filter that I got from MoreBeer and it is beveled at the top so that you have a nice lip to rest on.  So I just used mydremel tool with the cutting kit accessory (poor man’s router) and cut a ~4″ diameter hole.  I can obviously easily move it around the brewery and it doesn’t budge.  The only other trick is I use clamps to hold the hose to the edge of the pot or bucket i’m filling up so a hose doesn’t get a mind of its own and start spraying water all over the place.    Never happened 🙂

Racking Beer w/ CO2

One of the things I really focus on is keeping my fermented beer from ever touching air till I pour it into a glass which then goes into my belly!  I started by being very methodical when bottling but the self priming siphon I used to transfer beer also bothered me since clearly that was exposing my beer to oxygen.  So, I rigged up a carboy cap with a flared connector so that I could hook my CO2 tank to it and got a stainless steel racking cane so I could purge the whole system with CO2 and then push the beer using C02 as well.   Note: you really don’t want the hose clamp at the base of the carboy cap since it could be a safety issue if the fermenter gets over pressurized.

My process:
1) Make sure all the parts are clean and sanitized
2) Put the racking cane into the carboy cap
3) Put the carboy cap on fermenter
4) Hook the CO2 tank to carboy cap
5) Connect the hose to the racking cane and put down into clean purged keg.  Make sure your hose is long enough to reach the bottom of the keg
6) Set the racking cane so it is about an inch above the beer and turn on the CO2 to about 3 psi.  this will push CO2 through the racking cane and hose down into the bottom of the keg thereby purging the fermenter headspace, racking cane, hose and keg in one fell swoop.  nice!
7) turn off the gas and push racking can down to about an inch from the yeast cake
8) turn on the gas to 3 psi
9) when keg is 90% full cut the gas and when it is 99% full pull up the lip of the carboy cap up to drop the pressure in the fermenter so the beer stops pushing or use a hose clamp (i’ve had mixed results with the hose clamp but you can see one in the first picture midway down the hose).

Carboy Cap (model depends on type of carboy you are using)
Stainless Steel Racking Cane
1/2″ PVC tubing
1/4″ Barb to 1/4″ Male Flare (I actually use a 1/4″ barb to 1/4″ Female Flare and a 1/4″ Male Flare to 1/4″ Male Flare Adapter since I had the parts laying around)
2 x Small Hose Clamps

Here are some pictures:




Perlick 545 Rebuild

I use Perlick 545s on my kegerator and I am a huge fan of them functionally.  It is great to have the ability to serve 2 volume to 3.5 volume beer and not have to change anything in my kegerator except rotate the flow control on the 545.  They also provide a nice smooth pour and the forward closing setup does work to prevent sticking.  The issue is they use a pretty complex design which, in general, usually leads to reliability issues and these are no different.  The have a tendency to leak if anything goes wrong – a little bit of hop matter gets in there, the pressure is a bit high, if the wind blows from the west etc…  A good cleaning and swapping o-rings if any are damaged usually does the trick.   That said, there are 8 billion o-rings so I finally decided to figure out what size o-rings are used so I can buy them in bulk rather than way overpaying.  I do the same thing for keg rebuilds and have saved a bunch of money over the years.  Also, Perlick seems to only sell a subset of the o-rings – the ones in the bonnet, the one in the front that actually controls beer flow and the coupling gasket.  the 3 o-rings that are part of the flow control assembly don’t appear anywhere on their website from what I can tell.So, I measured all the o-rings with digital calipers and have ordered 100 packs of all of them so I’m good for a while (forever?).  Here is my partlist from McMaster Carr:

Buna-N O-Ring, AS568A Dash Number 014, packs of 100

Buna-N O-Ring, AS568A Dash Number 204, packs of 100


Buna-N O-Ring, AS568A Dash Number 012, packs of 100

Buna-N O-Ring, AS568A Dash Number 015, packs of 100

Metric Buna-N O-Ring, 2.5 mm Width, 10 mm ID, packs of 100

And here is where they all go:


Automated HLT

One of the early projects I took on when I moved to All Grain Brewing was a way to automate my HLT heating so that I could set my HLT water temp and go off and do other things and know that when I came back it would be at the proper temperature and ready for mashing in or for sparging.  For my first go at it about a year ago, I frankensteined a system together that I will hopefully get around to documenting more fully.  Sometimes your failures are better learning experiences than your successes!  My first build used high pressure propane and the appropriate solenoid and a needle valve inline before the pilot light.  I controlled it with a PID – a fairly similar setup to my new build.  The big problem with my first setup was that the pilot light would often go out since i was trying to lower the pressure from high pressure (10-15psi) to low pressure (0.5 psi) for the pilot which the needle valve let me do but it was very finicky and when it would go out I would have to leap to action to get it re-lit it so that I didn’t spew propane everywhere.  Not really confidence inspiring.  The other issue was that the solenoid just sat on the ground which in a brewery isn’t such a great thing.

So, I decided to go more the route of Brutus 10.  But, since I brew on my back porch that won’t fit a Brutus 10 full time (i.e. my wife would kill me) I decided to do just one third of the Brutus 10 and I only brew 5 gallon batches – so maybe a Bru 5?  I am in the process of learning to weld but I’m not quite there yet so I tried to figure out some alternatives for building the stand.  Fortunately I ran into an interesting article in Zymurgy (Vol 36, No 3 – Strutting your Stuff) that talked about building brewing frames out of electrical strut.

Since this is a pretty big build I’ve broken the article out into multiple parts.  Frame, Gas System and Electrical System.  Here are a couple videos describing the system and showing how it works.


I have never really worked with metal before, outside of shop class in middle school, so in order to build the frame I needed to go buy a couple power tools – twist my arm!  Of course I also needed to buy the strut and strut parts.  The main power tool I needed was a chop saw which is basically a miter saw but with a metal cutting disc.  I also picked up an angle grinder so i could clean up all the metal I’d be cutting.  I looked at the dimensions from the Brutus 10 as well as what homebrew academy did and decided to raise the burner a bit and lower the honeywell unit to make sure I had plenty of space and didn’t have to worry about the honeywell getting hot.  I put together a partlist and basic diagram.

2 x Superstrut 1-5/8 in. x 10 ft. (cut into 4 x 28″ and 8 x 12″ pieces)
8 x Superstrut 1/2 in. 3-Hole Flat Corner Bracket
8 x Superstrut 4-Hole 90-Degree Bracket
12 x Superstrut 3/8 in. Channel Spring Nuts  (5 pack)
60 x 3/8 in. x 1-1/4 in. Stainless Steel Hex Screw (probably could have gone shorter)
4 x self tapping metal screws (look similar to this and used to attach wind shield to sides)
1 x Superstrut 3-3/16 in. U-Bolt Beam Clamp (holds gas pipe in place)
2 x 2ft by 12inch sheet metal (cut into 12inch by 12inch pieces and used for wind shields)
4 x 6 inch hangar strap (similar to this but thicker – found it with sheet metal at lowes.  used to install burner)







Gas System:

Based on the experiences of Homebrew Academy and others I decided to give the Honeywell solenoid a go.  This unit requires natural gas or low pressure propane and since I am running off propane tanks and don’t have a low cost way to run natural gas to where I brew that decision was easy.  This is my first low pressure propane system – my previous work was all on high pressure propane – so I had to figure a few things out.  The big one was getting the right low pressure regulator that can sustain the level of BTUs I want and the other was to pick a burner and orifice that will work with the low pressure regulator.  I had hooked up the same pilot light from honeywell before so that part was pretty straight forward.

Some things of note for those who have used high pressure liquid propane (LP) but not low pressure.  For starters, there are some benefits – quieter, more efficient and works with the off the shelf automated controllers and pilot lights like the Honeywell.  The main downside is I have not found a way to get it to burn as hot as high pressure and so things will, obviously, heat up slower.  For me, I can heat 10 gallons of water with a high pressure burner in 20 minutes and it takes 40 minutes with my low pressure burner.  That works with my brew day since I start it heating up first thing and go off and do other things before mashing in and it will heat back up during the 1 hour mash, but certainly something to be aware of.  Some things you can do to get more out of low pressure setup:

1) Higher flow regulator – still has to be ~10.5 WC (~0.5psi) of pressure but you can get more output – think same amount of pressure but bigger hole so a higher volume of gas.  I ended up using the Camco dual stage regulator listed below but with the green ACME fitting, 3/8 flare fitting and hose from the tejas smokers regulator, also listed below.  Tejas smokers also offers an adjustable dual stage regulator (GR9448) that offers higher BTUs but I haven’t tried it so you may be able to eek out some more BTUs that way.  On a side note, I have seen in forum postings that people have had issues with ACME fittings because they have safety features that prevent overfill but also prevent them from being open without being connected to something (ie just spewing gas).  To fix this they use old school POL fittings which don’t have these safety features.  Either work on the types of propane tanks you pick up at your local grocery store.  I have not had any issues with ACME connectors but it is probably because I am just hooked straight into the Honeywell.  The systems that seem to have issues are using a shared gas beam.  When you first turn on the gas that gas beam is large enough to appear to the valve to be a wide open connection and so it shuts itself off.

2) Use shorter and larger diameter hoses, pipes and couplings.  as you can see on this chart there is a huge difference in BTU potential between long, small diameter runs and short, large diameter runs.  I could maybe get some more BTUs by using 1/2″ all the way through rather than some sections of 3/8″.  It is about as short as it can get length wise and I honestly didn’t notice a difference in output when I hooked the regulator straight to the burner for testing so not sure it really matters but worth looking at.

3) Adjust your burner height.  I started with my burner at 4″ below the pot and by moving it to 3″ I saw a significant heating increase.

Another partlist and diagram:

1 x 1/2″, 24 Vac Standing Pilot Gas Valve
1 x 24″ Thermocouple
1 x Honeywell Q314A4586 Pilot Burner
1 x 1/4″ x 5′ Pilot Burner Tubing w/ Fittings
1 x Brass Flare Male 90 Elbow – 3/8″ x 1/2″mips
1 x Brass Flare x Mips – 3/8″ x 1/2″ Mips
1 x 90° Elbow 1/2″
1 x 4″ long x 1/2″ diameter black iron pipe (i bought mine at lowes in the plumbing section)
1 x Stainless Steel Gasflex – 1/2″od x 12″ – with adapter to 3/8″fip x 3/8″fip
1 x Bayou Classic BG14 Burner
1 x low pressure orifice for BG14 (CVO250 at tejas smokers – MAKE SURE TO HAVE IT DRILLED OUT FOR LOW PRESSURE BG14)
1 x low pressure, higher output regulator or this
1 x Rectorseal (gas leak = bad)



Electrical System:

No soldering!  After a few builds with a bunch of soldering it was nice to have one where I just crimped.  I had built a very similar control box for my old system and I’ve built a couple BrewPis for fermentation control so this was actually one of the easier parts of the project.

I used a NEMA rated box that I have used a few times before and really like.  It is plastic so it is easy to do the cut-outs for the various buttons, switches and PIDs using a dremel tool with it’s router kit.  My first few cuts were not so pro but after some practice I have gotten pretty decent.

The switches I used were recommended on this site  but I’m on the fence with them.  The Main and PID switches work pretty well with this box but the Pump Switches can pop out.  It seems they were more designed for a thin metal box rather than thicker plastic.  I have used other buttons and switches and prefer the ones with a lock nut like this which I have used on another project but make sure the switches you pick can support the proper amperage.

I would recommend you be careful with wire gauge and the quick disconnects and spades.  You want to make sure the wire will fit in whatever you buy and still crimp solidly.  Also, disconnects and spades with plastic covers are not a bad safety precaution so you don’t short anything out.

I tried a few different terminal blocks and have found I like the ones from Radio Shack the best.  You can just shorten the jumper to whatever length you need so you can create the number of interconnected screw terminals so you can power / ground everything.  Be VERY careful with setting up your terminals cause this is the most likely place you will create a short and can cause some real damage.

For the PIDs I’ve used both Love and Auber and both are fine.  I prefer the Auber b/c I can see both the actual and the set temp at the same time and they can do a tenth of a degree granularity.  I also really like Auber’s RTDs and their connectors and cables.  They come pre-made so you don’t have to mess with soldering or building cables and they are very sturdy and reliable.  Highly recommended.  As I said, I’ve used Love with Brewer’s Hardware RTDs and they work but they require more work to install and the ones I’ve used required compression fittings which are the most likely to leak in my experience.

The Auber parameter settings I changed from default are:
Inty – P 10.0 (for RTD and 0.1 degree granularity)
outy – 4
Hy – 0.5 (i may mess with this since it does cut on a bit but I do like to be within half a degree)

The first transformer I bought weighed about nine thousand pounds (honeywell transformer) so I replaced it with a much smaller unit with no instructions but after some work with a voltmeter I was able to figure out what was going on.

The way I hooked up the controller to the honeywell was just using a long 3 prong power cord that I cut one end off of and put another male connecter so it is a 3 prong male to 3 prong male extension cord.  I then took an extentions cord and cut off the female end with about 2 feet of cable left and hooked the non -ground (line and neutral) cables to the honeywell connectors using quick disconnects.  So far so good.

1 x Control Box
2 x Wall Outlets
1 x Main Switch
1 x PID Switch
2 x Pump Switches (i don’t love these so go with others is you prefer 🙂
1 x Power Jack
3 x 16 AWG wire (white, red, green)
30 x female quick disconnect
50 x block spade
2 x terminal
2 x jumpers
1 x HLT Auber PID
1 x Mash Auber PID
2 x RTD sensors ( order 8′ deluxe cable)
1 x 110V / 24V transformer
2 x extention cords w/ ground (I use this to hack together cable to connect control box to honeywell)
nuts and bolts to attach terminal, power jack and transformer to control box which i get at mcmaster carr








I have brewed with the unit only once but it worked flawlessly.  Yay!  Of course, nothing is perfect so here are the pros and cons I see versus my old high pressure propane setup.

Pros: Very reliable and just worked out of the gate without any tuning
Hits temp settings very accurately and keeps the temp very close – overshoot much less of an issue
Nothing laying on the floor other than propane tank so much safer than old system (hopefully)
Hella fun to build

Cons: Stand is VERY heavy.  Holy cow.  I can carry it by myself but I have handcramps after walking 20 feet with it
It does not put out the BTUs that a high pressure system does so heats about half as fast
Cost and time – I love DIY’ing it and it is one of my favorite parts of the hobby but there are cheaper and faster ways to do this

Keg Line Cleaner

As with most DIY projects, this one was built in response to a problem.  Although now that I think about it a lot my projects create as many problems as they fix 🙂  I had a couple beers in a row that were great when they first went on tap but then after a few weeks would start to take on a buttery character that is typical of diacetyl.  Then, when a keg kicked I noticed around the edge of the beer post that a there was a bit of mold and a streak of dried beer that had run down the side of the keg.  After lots of research, I realized that half my kegs had the wrong posts (Type A instead of Type B (ie Cornelius)) and had been very slowly leaking.  I think what happened is the small beer leak had allowed a lacto or pedio infection to take hold in my beer lines which can cause Diacetyl.  Or maybe I’m crazy.  Anywho, I fixed all my keg posts but also realized my lines needed a very thorough cleaning.  So, I rigged up a recirculating keg line cleaner using a pool cover pump I use for my immersion chiller (which I hope to document soon).  Basically, I remove the tap I want to clean and take it apart, put the parts in a a standard 5 gallon bucket with 3 gallons of hot PBW solution (~140F which is my tap water at it’s hottest) and I then pump that using my pool cover pump up through the tap down through the keg line and back into the bucket.  This means it is in the reverse direction of how beer is served.  Pretty simple but works awesome.  After recirculating the PBW for 30 mins, I recirculate hot water for 10 mins to clean out the PBW.  Then just before putting my next beer on tap I run Star San through the lines to sanitize.  Since I started the new process, I have had no issues so maybe it worked or maybe its massive overkill!  My one concern is the hot water is not good for the pump, but I’ve been running the setup for a few months now without issue.  I guess time will tell.

Part List:
Qty 1  Little Giant PCP550 Pool Cover Pump $55
Qty 1 Hose Adapter $3
Qty 1 Tap Faucet Adapter $8
Qty 6 3/8 ID hose (ie 6 feet) $5
Qty 2 Hose Clamp $2

Here is a video of the setup running:

Here are the two connectors (left goes in the tap base and right is garden hose adapter that goes to pump):

Here is the pump connected to 3/8″ ID tubing that goes up to the tap base:

Here is a wide angle shot of the setup but with the pump out of the bucket.  Do not run the pump dry!

Here is the actual setup running.  Notice that the hose that runs from the keg up into the tap is feeding back into the bucket.

An aerial view of the bucket with everything running.