Dry Yeast v. Liquid Yeast

I’ve been messing around with brewing mead and wine recently in addition to my beer brewing activities. It’s a veritable 24 hour brewing circus around my house with any free minute filled with fermentation of some kind. At the moment my living room smells like a fermentation room at a winery. Stephanie loves that kind of thing.

Anyway, wine and mead makers tend to use dry yeast as opposed to beer makers who tend towards liquid yeast. Older style beer kits that come in a can still include a packet of dry yeast (or so I’ve been told, I’ve never actually made one), but most contemporary recipes call for liquid yeast from Wyeast or White Labs. From what I can tell, most serious brewers are using liquid yeast and making starters to pitch into their wort in order to get a proper yeast cell count for a clean fermentation. There are a few yeast pitching rate calculators out there from Wyeast and from Jamil and some well read articles that serve as the guidelines for making and using starters.

Standard brewing practice also involves either shaking the crap out of the carboy to aerate the wort or using an oxygen tank and diffusion stone to dissolve pure oxygen into the wort. Yeast use oxygen to make lipids/sterols for their cell membranes. Healthy cell walls allow for better yeast growth and propagation, better uptake of nutrients, and better alcohol tolerance. Healthier yeast means cleaner fermentations and fewer off flavors in the final beer. There has been a interesting series of posts from Mike Flaminio on wort oxygenation on the Homebrew Beer Blog recently as well. The aim there being consistent, proper wort oxygenation as opposed to the blind process most of us follow that apparently leads to inconsistent over oxygenation. There has also been a long thread on the Brew Board about using very small amounts of olive oil in the wort instead of oxygenating it. Yeast apparently can uses the olive oil to synthesize the lipids/sterols they needs for their cell walls.

Wine kits just ask the wine maker to sprinkle a packet of dry yeast on top of the must to start fermentation. Some wine makers rehydrate their yeast prior to pitching, usually in Go-Ferm. There seems to be some debate in the wine making community about which practice is preferable, with a larger number of people taking the wine kit makers advice (from my limited reading and experience). According to Tim Vandergrift at WinExpert, the leading wine kit manufacturer:

“The real scoop on why kit companies don’t ask you to rehydrate: It doesn’t make any difference.

In the 6 US gallon (23 litre) volume, the 5-gram packet of yeast provided will ensure a quick and thorough fermentation with a quick sprinkling and nothing else.

It is technically true that re-hydrating gives higher viable cell counts–but only if you do it with perfect precision and accuracy. While there are a couple of pitfalls, the commonest one is temperature shear.

Since you have to rehydrate at 100F, in ten times the weight of the yeast in pure water, the yeast slurry will be fairly warm. If you pitch this re-hydrated mass into a must of 64F, the shock of the wildly disparate temperatures will kill a lot of those previously viable yeast.

In tens of thousands of trials, we’ve never seen anything approaching sub-optimal times for culture strength and subsequent fermentation.”

In either case, there are no starters and no oxygenation occurring, though wine makers do sometimes stir their must and/or leave the fermentation chamber relatively open compared to brewers in order to get more oxygen dissolved. These are some pretty divergent practices, so I’d like to know how or why this is the case.

I found a response to questions about starters and oxygenations from Dr. Clayton Cone at Danstar/Lalleland/Lalvin, a leading manufacturer of dry yeast, that I found pretty interesting. Basically he says that dry yeast come packed with the amount of lipids needed to triple the yeast cell count. After those lipids have been used up, additional oxygenation is required for healthy cell growth. For brewing a 5 gallon beer between 3% and 5% alcohol, no additional yeast or oxygen are needed apart from what is available in a single 11g packet. For higher alcohol content beer, you either need to pitch additional yeast or oxygenate to allow for yeast growth. I’m not sure what Danstar considers a proper pitching rate, so that is something I will have to investigate. I do know that Jamil recommends pitching about 10g of yeast on average for an average gravity 5 gallon batch in Brewing Classic Styles. [Edited per Jamil’s comment. Thanks Jamil. And as Jamil notes, batch size, OG, and yeast type are all variable inputs in the proper pitching rate – use his calculator to get precise amounts- I do.]

As a brewer, I’d prefer a higher pitching rate for higher alcohol beers so that propagation was mostly complete at pitching instead of trying to grow the yeast in the wort. That way the yeast can spend their time fermenting while in my wort instead of growing.

Dr. Cone mentions that Danstar grows their yeast along a different metabolic pathway than the one used by brewers that uses basically no sugar. Yeast propagated this way create very little alcohol. I assume this is done because it allows for more efficient healthy yeast production. When growing yeast in a starter, “no matter how much air you feed the fermentation, alcohol + CO2 are the main by-products. Your starter culture will have a much higher level of sugar [than the culture used by Danstar]. You will produce some cell mass but mostly alcohol and CO2 no matter how much air you add by stirrer or bubbles.” So starters increase cell counts but not in a way that is as effective as the propagation method used by Danstar. I guess that this also means that yeast grown in a starter, even under ideal conditions for a starter, is of a smaller amount and of potentially of lower quality due to the presence of alcohol and other less than ideal conditions.

So I guess my question is whether making a starter is an effective way to increase yeast cell counts prior to pitching or if instead it’s just a way to get yeast into active fermentation prior to pitching. Perhaps they generally make alcohol and CO2 and that starters are not the ideal environment for propagation even with the proper amount of oxygen. Buying 2 vials of White Labs yeast or 2 Wyeast Smack Packs is prohibitively expensive, especially given the increased cost of malt and hops. So I understand why people look for ways to grow their own yeast. But dry yeast is relatively inexpensive and prepackaged with the lipids necessary for healthy propagation and fermentation. Pitching a packet of dry yeast that cost less than $2.00 is definitely cheaper than pitching a starter made from DME, yeast nutrient, and a $6+ liquid yeast product – and that doesn’t count in the cost of the equipment needed to make starters (flasks, stir plates, etc.) or the time involved. If the metabolic pathways used by yeast from a starter for propagation produce lower quality yeast than the yeast from dry packets, that makes using dry yeast even more appealing. And if re-hydrating dry yeast generally makes no difference, all the better.

Of course liquid yeast manufacturers make a far wider variety of yeasts than are available as dry yeasts, so sometimes your options are limited.

I’ve never used a dry brewer’s yeast, so this is all just speculation at this point. I’m planning on trying out some dry yeast and comparing the results to equivalent liquid yeast from starters. I ordered 12 packets of dry yeast, 2 each of 6 different varieties, from Williams Brewing mostly because they are having a sale on dry yeast – 25 cents off each packet of dry yeast when you buy 12 or more. We’ll see what happens, but I am hopeful that I’ll get good results. If dry yeast is a reasonable or better alternative to liquid yeast and starters, maybe more people will start using dry yeast and more varieties will be made available. Or it might suck and I’ll go back to liquid yeast starters.

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The Science of Brewing on Science Friday

The NPR program Science Friday had a show about brewing science this past Friday. I’ve been listening to the archived recording on their website. Not a ton of information for the home brewer, but something to listen to at work if you like beer.

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Brewing Pale Ale with Colin

Jonathan and I went over to Colin’s to brew a 10 gallon all-grain batch of pale ale yesterday. I’ve never done an all-grain brew before (and neither has Jonathan), so I was pretty excited about it (Jonathan is 1 so he didn’t really express any feelings about it as far as I could tell). I’ve done a number of mini-mashes on my stove, but nothing that approached even 50% of the grain bill and certainly not the 20+ pounds of grain we used for this pale ale. I read about brewing all the time, so I am pretty familiar with all-grain brewing without actually having done it. The internet is bizarre like that. Colin introduced me to extract brewing about two and a half years ago and I watched him brew a hefeweizen before I made my first batch. Now he was about to show me all-grain brewing in action for the first time as well.

Colin had brewed a few 5 gallon all-grain batches in the past using one of those converted round Rubbermaid coolers he got on Craigslist as a mash tun. He said he got a stuck sparge every time he used it and always ended up having to drain the grain through a colander into the brew pot. Definitely not ideal. A couple of weeks ago Colin got a 100 quart Coleman marine cooler to convert into a monster mash tun (thanks Aubrey) so he could do 10 gallon batches and hopefully avoid stuck sparges. He removed the original drain in the cooler and replaced it with a nipple with a ball valve on the outside and a length of stainless steel braided water supply line with the interior tubing removed on the inside. The stainless steel braid acts as a manifold to allow sweet wort to flow out of the mash tun while keeping grain husks out of the boil kettle. It’s an easy and affordable way to make a mash tun invented by Denny Conn that many home brewer’s have used. I plan on making my own cooler mash tun in the future and I’ll post pictures and instructions when I do. In the meantime Denny has a walk-through of making a converted cooler and there are a large number of people out there that have documented their cooler construction. Google it and you’ll find plenty. Thanks to Denny for sharing the idea with everyone and thanks to all those people who documented their conversions. Home brewers really love to help each other out. It’s great.

Colin picked up all the ingredients on Friday. It turned out to be a bit of a task to get the hops we needed for the recipe. The recipe called for 2 ounces each of Horizon, Cascade, and Centennial. All Seasons limits the amount of hops you can buy and has a pretty limited selection due to the hop shortage. They also apparently limit the amount of a single hop variety they will sell in a week in order to stretch out their availability. I was told that they put out the hops for sale for the week on Thursday night so that they are available starting Friday morning. Colin got 2 ounces of Centennial. They didn’t have anything else that was a reasonable substitute for the other hops.

Colin works at the Yazoo Brewing Company, mostly on the bottling line I think. He ended up being able to get 2 ounces each of Simcoe and Cascade from Yazoo, which is awesome. Thanks Yazoo. I’ll buy a couple of extra 6 packs of Pale Ale to make it up to you. We decided to used the Simcoes as our bittering hop in place of the Horizons. I like Simcoe quite a bit. Yazoo has an IPA on tap in their tap room at the moment, Hop Project #6, that uses Simcoe and it’s delicious. There are enough citrusy, Cascade dominated IPAs and pale ales in the world. We need more piney Simcoe aroma beers in my opinion to mix things up a bit.

Before mashed in, we preheated the cooler with some near boiling water (but not so hot that is damaged the cooler, maybe 175 or so) so that we didn’t get a lot of temperature loss into the cooler. We brought 7.5 gallons of water to 168 degrees F and added that to the mash tun as our strike water. I poured the bag of crushed grains into the mash cooler while Colin stirred and Jonathan watched. We were aiming for 152 degrees F and ended up hitting about 149 instead. It was the first time using the cooler, so I think we got pretty close. Next time we should try 170 or so. Colin had some near boiling water on the stove we used to bring the mash temperature up to 150. We stopped at 150 because we didn’t want to think the mash out too much and figured 150 was reasonable. Then we waited an hour while Jonathan fed goldfish crackers to Colin’s dog Sam and we drank beer.

Here’s Colin stirring the mash just after I finished pouring the grains into the mash tun.

After an hour the mash was still at 150 degrees. So it looks like the cooler holds its temperature pretty well. We added a couple of gallons of 170 degree water to the mash, stirred it to get the grain into suspension and began taking the first runnings of sweet wort by just cracking open the valve. The first half gallon or so includes some grain husks and isn’t the clear wort you want in the kettle. We collected this wort in a pitcher and poured in back into the mash. This is called vorlaufing. As the wort drains and the grains compact, they create a filter bed that allows the liquid to drain to the bottom of the cooler and out the drain. You want to be careful when pouring the pitcher of wort back into the cooler. You don’t want to create any channels in the grains as they form a filter bed. Channels in the grains can help cause a stuck sparge, where the grain prevents the wort from properly draining. This is the reason why you want to open the drain slowly at first as well. After you get clear wort flowing, slowly open the valve all the way.

When the mash tun stopped draining, we checked the volume we had collected in the boil kettle. We only had slightly over 5 gallons, which is just over half of the almost 10 gallons we had added to the mash. The grains will absorb some of the water, but they shouldn’t be able to absorb half of the wort. Colin immediately guessed that the braid we were using as a manifold had come loose and was somewhere in the mash. He was right. He hadn’t attached the braid to the nipple in the cooler wall with a clamp thinking it was a tight enough fit without it. Without the braid in place, the grain had compacted around and in the cooler drain preventing any additional wort from draining. We considered draining the grain with a colander like Colin had done in the past, but decided to try to re-attach the manifold without disturbing the mash too much. I’ve read that hot side aeration is less of a problem for home brewers than commercial brewers since we generally drink the beer it has a chance to show the effects of oxidation. But no reason not to get things done the right way (and the easier way). We removed about a quarter of the mash into a spare pot and tilted the cooler enough to expose the inside of the drain. We cleared the clogged drain with a quick blast from the garden hose and Colin attached the manifold and clamped it down. We poured the removed grain back into the cooler and drained the remaining wort into the boil kettle. Disaster averted.

While this was going on, we had heated another 7.5 gallons of sparge water. You add this water to the mash tun to help rinse additional sugars out of the grain bed and into the boil kettle. When the sparging was complete, we had about 13.5 gallons of wort in the kettle (we were aiming for 14 I believe), and a grain bed that looked like this:

I almost forgot to mention that we added 1 ounce of Simcoe hops to the mash just for kicks. The mash smelled great; mashing smells so much better than opening some extract.

And so the 60 minute boil began.

At this point Jonathan was about to collapse. He was about an hour late for his nap, so we headed home with plans to come back when Jonathan woke up to help with clean up at least. Colin kept taking pictures and kept me up to date on how things were proceeding. Here’s where I wish I had that shed built in my backyard so we could be doing this at my house. Then Jonathan could go to sleep whenever he felt like it and I could keep on brewing.

Once the boil starts, brewing all grain is exactly the same as brewing with extract, so I have a lot less to talk about from here on out, but I do have plenty of pictures.

Like I mentioned somewhere at the beginning, we used Centennial and Cascade for the flavor and aroma additions and Simcoe for the bitter addition and in the mash. In go the hops.

Here’s a shot of the wort cooling. We used Colin’s immersion chiller in the kettle and mine in a bucket of ice water. We have both only done 5 gallon batches in the past, we neither of us had a large enough chiller for the amount of wort we needed to cool. Pre-chilling with ice seemed to work reasonably well.

Once everything was cooled, we transfered the wort to two 6.5 gallon carboys for fermentation. we pitched a 2L starter of 1056 in one fermenter and about the same amount of yeast cake Colin got from Yazoo in the other. I believe that Yazoo uses an English yeast. It’ll be interesting to see the differences the yeast contributes. Both carboys are currently fermenting away at about 67 degrees F in Colin’s chest freezer.

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Brewing Blonde Ale

I brewed a blonde ale on Saturday with a lot of help from some friends and of course Jonathan. It’s beer 2 on the brewing plan. I need to get around to writing up my review of the milk stout I brewed for beer 1. It’s been pretty popular. The keg of milk stout is almost empty thanks to this brewing session. I am going to need to pick up the pace on brewing if this is going to be effective. I’ve got 2 taps on the kegerator now, so I should have 2 beers ready to drink at all times. It’s only reasonable.

The blonde ale is a pretty simple recipe that aims for a light, easy drinking beer that should be good for summer. It has a single bittering addition of Willamette hops. If this batch turns out well, I might try making another batch using a different hop. I’ve got some Saaz in the freezer for which I have no plans. I’m not really sure if it’s an appropriate hop for the style (I doubt it is), so I’ll have to do some research before I do anything. Even if I don’t use the Saaz, specific hop varieties are hard to come by these days, so I might just make a batch with whatever is available at All Seasons at a reasonable price. Also, how did I end up with an ounce of Saaz in the freezer anyway?

I’m fermenting the beer in my kegerator so I can keep the fermentation temperature controlled. A clean fermentation is key to all beers, but especially ones that are so light bodied and relatively un-hopped. Using the kegerator is great in the summer when the ambient house temperature is higher than the target fermentation temperature, but it defeats the purpose of having a kegerator in the house. Once we build a shed in our backyard I’ll have a place for a proper temperature controlled fermentation chamber. Then I’ll be able to drink off the tap while another blonde ale ferments at the ideal temperature out in the shed.

Tom and Mark came over to watch the brewing spectacle. They ended up doing a lot of the work as I spent my time chasing Jonathan around the porch and yard trying to keep him safe and happy. Thanks for all the help guys; I hope you had a good time and enjoyed the beer (I see some milk stout there in Mark’s hand).

This is the first time I used my new stainless steel turkey fryer. I bought it from More Beer in one of their deal of the day sales. It looks like they liquidated their inventory, as they don’t sell this fryer/burner anymore. I was very happy to get it at less than half price. The burner is radically different than the burner I was using previously. It had a single outlet that created a singe large flame that struck a diverter plate that kept it from scorching a single area on the bottom of the boil pot. It was pretty loud; sounded like a blow torch. The new burner is a 50,000 BTU burner with a large number of gas outlets. It burns very clean; there was little to no visible flame and a large amount of heat being produced unlike the bright orange flames from the old burner. It’s also extremely quiet. Overall it’s a substantial upgrade. I just wish More Beer would put up more similar items. Their recent deals have been large percentage discounts, but on fairly useless and low value items.

I’m also thinking about finding a larger propane tank. I’m always worried that I am going to run out of propane in the middle of a boil. Luckily I live only a few blocks from a place that refills propane tanks, so I really shouldn’t be concerned. I also suspect that the new burner uses less fuel to boil the wort than the old burner. It came to a boil much faster this time.

Since there was only a single bittering hop addition at the beginning of the boil, we had plenty of time to sit around while the wort boiled away. Jonathan helped me clean some kegs.

He loves to be involved. He wants to help clean kegs, stir the wort, whatever. It’s nice to have a helper. Jonathan also ‘helped’ with some hop plants that weren’t sprouting. He moved all the labels into one pot and dug up any rhizomes he could find. Good thing all the hops I plan to grow are at the office diligently climbing the silo. Looks like I needed to mow the grass pretty bad.

Jonathan also wanted to help out cooling the wort. I use an immersion chiller hooked up to the hose in the backyard and generally run the water water down the alley or into the sprinkler. I planted some grass seed along the side of my new sidewalk and figured I might as well use the waste water to get some water to the grass seeds. Jonathan tagged along and generally tried to shoot the water into my face or his face. Now that’s a nice looking sidewalk.

Well, the wort has been fermenting for 5 days now. I’ll have to check up on it again this weekend to see how close we are to kegging. I’m going to try to get this beer on tap relatively quickly as I don’t have any other beer to drink once the milk stout is gone. Thanks for the help Jonathan.

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Hop Twine and the Silo

I’ve got 8 hop plants growing in pots at work, 2 each of Centennial, Cascade, Newport & Willamette. One of the Centennials was the first to sprout a few weeks ago, and by last Friday it was about 18 inches tall. The other 7 plants are all between 1/2 inch and maybe 6 inches tall. Hops seems to start out pretty slow after they break through the soil, but once they get about 4 inches tall, they grow noticeably every day. It’s pretty unbelievable. Every Monday morning I am impressed with how much bigger they got over the weekend. The tall Centennial was no longer able to support itself, so it was time to stake the plants and get the hop twine attached to the silo at work where they will be growing.

I borrowed a 20 foot ladder from Forrest on Friday to tie up 8 lengths of 20 foot hop twine. The silo has an old ladder up one side, but I was warned that some of the rungs had broken the last time someone tried to climb it 18 years ago. I doubt it’s gotten stronger since then, so I avoided it. The hop twine is made from coconut husks and it is extremely coarse. You definitely wouldn’t want to use it to climb anything. I cut myself twice with the twine and ended up with a few coconut husk splinters from messing around with it trying to see just how deadly it was (brilliant).

I tied the hop twine off around the metal bands that run around the silo in 2 sets of 4. I wish I could have spaced them out a little more, but there weren’t a lot of places to tie the twine that would get the hops enough light. I wanted to keep them on the south side of the silo as much as possible so they’ll get the most sunlight.

You can see the old ladder in these pictures. I actually ended up moving the twine away from the vine you can see growing on the silo already but I didn’t get any pictures.

Thanks to Mark and Richard for holding the ladder for me. Now I just need to get my hop plants as big as those vines already on the silo. They’ll certainly be getting enough sun. My only concern is the size of the pots they are planted in limiting their size/productivity. I hope that regular watering and fertilizing will give them all the nutrients they need. It works for hydroponic gardens, so it should work for me too.

Here’s that large Centennial plant growing up it’s newly staked twine. It’s got 20 feet of room to grow before it hits that silo. From what I understand about first year plants, I don’t think it will get that tall. Of course, I won’t be disappointed if it does either.

Here are the Centennials and Newports from further back. I think you’d be hard pressed to find another finance firm that has an office that looks like this, and even harder pressed to find one that let’s employees use space to grow hops from home brewing.

Now I just need to get those other 7 plants moving up their twine.

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Making a Yeast Starter

I was planning on brewing this past Saturday, but it never happened. I used the weekend to put a new paving stone sidewalk from my back porch to the alley instead. It looks awesome, but it didn’t produce any beer. I do hope that it will make for a flatter surface for brewing in the future.

Anyway, I made a starter last Thursday for the beer that didn’t happen and took some pictures. I think I’ll use it this weekend.

I always make a 2L starter for my 5 gallon batches. Making starters was one of my early brewing improvements, and I think it has really improved the quality of my beer. I know lots of people use the yeast pitching rate calculator on www.mrmalty.com to calculate pitching rates (thanks Jamil from all of us for everything), but I just figure that a 2L starter is always going to be adequate for a 5 gallon batch. Maybe I’ll get more specific about my yeast counts in the future, but this works really well for me now.

First I take my yeast out of the fridge to warm up to room temperature. If it’s a Wyeast smack pack, I activate it. I then mix 2 cups of extra light DME with 1800 mL of water in a mixing bowl. No need to sanitize since everything is going to get boiled. DME has a tendency to clump up when it gets wet, so I use a whisk to break up any clumps and get the DME well dissolved. I’ve got some more stirring to do in this picture as you can see some DME clumps near the whisk. I also add some yeast nutrient according the manufacturer’s instructions.

I used to try to mix DME into the water in my 2L Erlenmeyer flask directly, but it’s nearly impossible with all the clumping. Adding the DME on top of the water creates a plug in the neck of the flask and adding the water on top of the DME leaves a cake stuck to the bottom of the flask that eventually burns when you try to boil it. I gave up on mixing in the flask pretty quickly.

When the DME is well dissolved, I pour the wort into the flask, add 1 or 2 drops of foam control, and stick it on the stove over medium heat. I boil the starter for 15 minutes. Foam control helps prevent boil over, which is extremely easy to have occur with the narrow neck of the Erlenmeyer flask. I used to have boil overs all the time when I made starters. It makes a huge sticky mess on the stove that is a pain to clean up. The starter for the milk stout I recently brewed was my first starter using foam control. I still had boil over problems. The foam control keeps the wort from foaming up, but it doesn’t prevent large bubbles from forcing hot wort out the top of the flask. The trick for me was to keep the stove on medium heat until the starter is about to boil, then turning down the heat to low for a 15 minute boil. You could also just leave the starter on low heat and wait for it to boil, but it takes forever and I like to tempt fate.

After the 15 minute boil I cover the top of the flask with a piece of foil while wearing an oven mitt. I take the flask to the kitchen sink for a cooling bath to bring the wort down to pitching temperature. To conserve ice, I first run cold water over the side of the flask, then move it to a bath of swirling cool water, and finally to a bath of swirling ice water. I’m always amazed that the flask doesn’t break from the temperature shock, but that is what it is made to do.

Once the starter is down to pitching temperature, I add the yeast and move the starter to my fermentation location. I always ferment my starters at the same temperature as I will ferment the beer for which it is intended.

After active fermentation subsides, I move the flask to the refrigerator. The yeast will drop to the bottom of the flask and form a nice solid yeast cake. When it’s time to brew, I decant off the liquid on top of the yeast and pitch only the yeast cake into the wort.

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Kegerator Upgrade

A few weeks ago I bought some supplies to upgrade my kegerator from 1 tap to 2 taps.  These are the kinds of home improvements I can get behind.  I was planning on spending the morning working on our new sidewalk in the backyard, but it rained all night and the ground is a muddy mess.  Maybe tomorrow.  So instead I finally got to work on my kegerator upgrade.

The kegerator was designed to hold a commercial half-barrel Sankey keg which holds 15.5 gallons.  The Cornelius ball-lock kegs I used for my home brew hold 5 gallons each. I can easily fit 2 of them in the kegerator, so it seems like a waste to have a 2 kegs cold in the fridge, but only one of them available on tap. My 5lb CO2 tank and regulator fit in behind the kegs with a little room left over for spare ingredient storage. It works out pretty nice.

Here’s how the kegerator looked this morning:

Note the lovely Koehler Beer tap handle I got off eBay.  The tower is a 2.5″ diameter chrome tower with a single faucet.  I replaced the original faucet with a Ventmatic faucet a few years ago just as the original Ventmatic company was spiraling into disaster.  Google it if you are interested.  It’s a really nice faucet.  The Ventmatics are a forward sealing faucet which means the faucet seals in the front and that that the mechanism in the faucet stays wet with beer all the time. A traditional faucet which seals at the back of the faucet behind the mechanism.  Traditional faucets tend to dry out and stick in the off position unless they are used very regularly and are prone to infections.  All that sugary beer just sits there waiting for bacteria to grow and generally gumming up the works.  Since the Koehler Brewery isn’t really a bar, we don’t pour beer all that often and the Ventmatics help keep the faucets unstuck and the beer flowing when the bar is open.

So here’s what I bought from Micromatic:

It’s a 3 inch stainless steel draft tower with 2 faucets.  I’d already removed the faucets that came with the tower when I took the picture.  Most towers are chrome.  I hadn’t actually seen American style stainless steel tower before, though I’ve seen some German ones.  I think I like the stainless steel better, and it was pretty much the same price.  I removed the 2 connectors for commercial Sankey kegs that came with the tower that you can see in the picture.  I replaced them with some barbed swivel nuts to connect to the beer line that will attach to the Corny keg quick disconnects I have.

The 3 inch tower is obviously larger than the 2.5 inch tower that came with my kegerator, so I had to drill 4 new holes in the top of the kegerator.  The new tower came with a template to use for drilling the holes. Good thing I checked the template against the actual tower before I drilled the holes.  They didn’t match up at all.  Maybe the template is for some other 3 inch tower Micromatic sell, like the chrome one or something.  Anyway, I’m glad I checked.  I drilled 4 new holes without much difficultly.  I poured some olive oil on the place I was drilling to help the drill bit or stainless steel kegerator top from getting too hot. I’m not sure it was really necessary as the stainless steel sheet metal was pretty thin and pretty easy to drill through, but I have read enough about drilling stainless steel on brewing forums and I figured it couldn’t hurt.

The new tower came with 4 3 inch bolts with washers and nuts to attached it to the top of the kegerator where my old tower had 4 3/4″ wood screws. The kegerator has a wood top under the stainless steel for the wood screws. The 3 inch bolts were not long enough to make in all the way into the inside of the kegerator and I really didn’t want to drill through the insulation and plastic liner if I it wasn’t necessary.  So I decided to go with wood screws. The old tower had a decorative ring that covered the screws, so they had rather large pan heads.  The new tower left the screws exposed.  I was thinking of using the old wood screws but I ended up buying some 3/4″ stainless steel wood screws to attached the tower; they look much better and are flush with the tower’s lip.

I attached my 2 Ventmatic faucets (I bought 2 faucets way back when planning for this day – good thinking too) and my 2 tap handles.  The glass lobster claw is from a Red Lobster that closed down in Toronto.  I got it on eBay for $3.  Who doesn’t love a lobster claw?  Apparently most people as $3 is pretty cheap.  So here are the results:

Looks pretty good.  This is probably my most successful project to date.  I usually do something to screw things up, especially if there is something like drilling metal involved.

So with 2 taps you need 2 regulators.  I bought this from Micromatic as well:

Pretty swanky.  The only problem I had was with the gas lines.  They have a 5/16″ interior diameter and All Seasons didn’t have any 5/16″ swivel nuts in stock, only 1/4″.  I ordered some from Northern Brewer along with some 8mm replacement spouts for the Ventmatics.  I’ll explain that when they arrive; I’ve already talked too long. So for now I can really only dispense beer using the pressure in the kegs.  Once that runs down, I’ll have to wait for the swivel nuts to arrive in the mail.

Here’s a parting shot of the interior of the kegerator with 2 kegs hooked up for dispensing.  Note the lack of gas lines connected to the kegs.  On tap: British Bitter and Milk Stout.


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More On Hop Growing

Not much brewing going on at the Koehler Brewery, but there’s plenty of watering hop plants. Three of the original 8 plants have sprouted, 2 Centennials and 1 Newport. I’m glad I got at least one of each of them to grow so that I’ll have some variety available to me for brewing come fall. I’d have been disappointed if I ended up with all the same hops. Here’s what the largest Centennial plant looks like about week after it first broke thorough the soil.

I brought the plants that sprouted to work. It’s easier for me to water them here during my breaks and there’s definitely more sunlight than there is at home. Once they get big enough, I’m going to put some stakes in the ground next to the pots and run some hop twine up the side of an old silo we have at work. The plants should get tons of sun and have lots of room to grow. I guess the only drawback is that I need to keep them in pots so I can remove them at the end of the season. I’ll have to water them and supply them with nutrients regularly, but that just gives me a brewing related activity to keep me busy everyday, so I definitely don’t mind. It’s not like I was going to be able to plant them in the ground at home either. Our backyard is sort of under development at the moment, so it probably won’t be until next summer that things are in order back there. Anyway, a huge thanks to Oman for allowing me to keep my hops at work this summer.

In a more ridiculous development, I got 8 more hop rhizomes; 4 Cascades and 4 Willamettes. I couldn’t pass up some free rhizomes. These rhizomes are much more variable in size than the ones I planted already. There are a number of smaller rhizomes in the bunch. My plan is to plant then 2 to a pot instead of individually. I already have enough pots. Here’s a picture of the Willamettes. I’m trying to do a better job of including pictures on this blog. I always have my cell phone with me, so I’m not sure why I haven’t added more.

The white sprouts are on the right. The instructions that came with my other hops recommended planting the rhizomes horizontally (like they are shown) about 1 inch deep unless you know which side will sprout. If you do, you can plant the rhizome vertically with the sprouts facing up. These rhizomes are already sprouting, so I’m planning on planting them vertically this morning during a break.

Finally, I came across this picture of a hop farm in Germany. Awesome stuff. Oman might not be that happy if I made the office look like this, but it I think I have enough plants to make it happen. Ridiculous.

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Hop Progress

One of the Centennial plants broke through the soil this weekend. It’s now about an inch tall, so it’s growing pretty quickly. No activity from the other plants. I am a little worried that the plants have been getting too much water and that the roots will rot. There’s been a considerable amount of rain recently. I always empty the trays under the pots after the rain to try to keep the drainage as effective as possible. I thought about bringing the plants inside on days when we are supposed to get rain, but root rot is only a possibility, a baby digging up the roots is guaranteed if the plants are inside.

I also got permission to bring my hops to work. There is an old silo at the office. My plan is to run some hop twine from the pots up to one of the metal bands around the silo. The silo gets great sunlight and should be an excellent place for the hops to grow. Since I am at work all day as well, it’ll be easier for me to tend to them there during breaks.

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Hop Rhizomes

I ordered some hop rhizomes.

There’s no sensible reason for me to buy hop rhizomes. My backyard is about 25′ by 35′, which is to say, it’s small. I live in a townhouse. We bought the place new and went out of our way to make sure that we had a much green backyard as possible. We put in a parallel parking spot in the alley to conserve green space and park the second car on the street in front of the house. Sometimes I think our yard is too small to be useful and that we should just put in a garage like everyone else. I figure that if we wanted a yard we should have bought a house with a big yard. We certainly had the opportunity. But most of the time I think it’s nice and that we made the right choice. It’s like a little courtyard back there (apart from the fact that there’s basically no grass – thanks builders).

Our neighbor has a giant 2 story garage thing in his backyard. I’m not sure how he gets natural light into his house. Luckily the monster garage doesn’t block the sun from our backyard. Did I mention that it’s 2 stories?

Anyway with our small backyard, we need to make careful decisions about what we want to do with that space.

Buying hop rhizomes just because they are only available in April and pretty cheap isn’t really what we had in mind. Hops may be cheap, but they grow into huge plants. The vines grow 15′-20′ tall. That’s right, 20 feet tall. General practice is to plant individual rhizomes of the same cultivar 3 feet apart and different cultivars 5 feet apart. So you really can’t fit that many plants into my yard.

So I bought 4 Centennial rhizomes and 4 Newport rhizomes. Both are relatively new varieties of high alpha acid American hops. I’m pretty sure I bought the Centennial rhizomes because of the Two-Hearted Ale I drank a few weeks ago. It’s supposed to be made with Centennial exclusively. The only brewery I’ve known to use Newport is Rogue. I figure I bought the Newport because I’ve never seen them for sale at All Seasons. Newer is better right? You’d think that with limited space I’d want to have a bunch of different varieties of hops or at least hops that I have used regularly and liked. Nope. Go for the unknown stuff exclusively and in volume. I’m crazy.

I could fill my whole backyard with those plants. I’m going to need to find a better solution.

There is an old grain silo at work that has a ladder up the side….

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