Tag Archives: homebrew

Rye Ale from the Keezer

I think that I finally have my keezer dialed in and there have been no incidents with its operation over the past couple of weeks.  My original pale ale is gone and I am on to my second Cornelius keg of homebrew.

This recipe is a rye ale.  In the past I have experimented with various rye ales to varying degrees of success—one recipe was a little too aggressive and others were a little more palatable—but no real knock it out of the park recipes.  So, it was off to try again:

Keezer Rye Ale

Unlike prior extract recipes that used steeping grains, this recipe uses a technique called “steep to convert” or partial mash because I am also using some liquid malt extract.  It was a pretty heavy load of grain that was steeped in the beginning:

  • 16 oz. Flaked Rye
  • 12 oz. US 2-Row Pale Malt
  • 8 oz. Honey Malt
  • 4 oz. Briess Munich 10L
  • 2 oz. Briess Vienna Malt

Once this was done steeping for 45 minutes, 3.3 lbs of Munton’s Light LME was added at 60 minutes and 20 minutes into the boil.  For bittering 1 ounce of Columbus hops were added at 30 minutes and 1 ounce of Citra hops were added at 10 minutes.  A Whirfloc tablet was thrown in with five minutes left in the boil.

The results were…meh.  I did not notice an appreciable difference from the truckload of grain that was steeped at the beginning of the boil compared with recipes that used significantly fewer grains, so that feels like a wasted effort.

Even though the beer was dry hopped with Citra hops, quickly becoming one of my favorite hops, I tasted none of the citrus or grapefruit notes that the hop is known for.

iBrewmaster calculated the final ABV at 5.11% and the bitterness at ~52 IBU which seem right when I drink a pint from the keezer.  It’s not a bad beer, per se, but a beer that really does not have a defining trait that makes you want to brew another batch which I feel is the death knell of any homebrewed beer.

It took a little fiddling with the gas settings on my keezer to get the proper pour, but even then the beer just sort of slides across the palate and leaves no memory of its presence:

One Mug Homebrew

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First Pour from the Keezer

Here is the first pour from the keezer:

First Pour

Okay, that’s a lie.  It’s actually the second or third pour because I had to purge the liquid lines of any residual sanitizing solution.  Looks pretty good, eh?

iBrewMaster puts the vitals at 4.45% ABV and 48.85 IBU.  The alcohol sounds right given how the beer drinks, but the bitterness seems low because a lot of hop flavor lingers in the back of your throat.  Not in a bad way, per se, but more than I would have thought from a beer that was not dry hopped.

I am working on developing a “house” pale ale and this was my first attempt.  The recipe that I began with was modified from a very common extract recipe for American pale ale.  It’s pretty simple:

  • 1 lbs Briess 2-Row Caramel 20L steeped for 20 minutes prior to boil
  • 3.3 lbs Munton’s Light LME boiled for 60 minutes
  • 2 ounces Cascade pellet hops boiled for 60 minutes
  • 3.3 lbs Munton’s Light LME boiled for 20 minutes
  • 1 ounce Citra pellet hops boiled for 5 minutes
  • Safale K-97 dry yeast pitched after wort cooled
  • Primary fermentation for ~2 weeks
  • Keg conditioning for ~2 weeks, assuming that my ability to seal a keg was up to par

My plan was to produce a base pale ale recipe that was easily replicable and that could serve as a platform on which to experiment with dry hopping, different varieties of hops, etc.  I do not think that this is the base recipe from which I am going to work for a number of reasons.

First, the two ounces of Cascade hops boiled for 60 minutes gave the beer an overwhelming wallop of both bitterness and aroma.  Normally, this is a good thing but it totally overpowered the subsequent addition of Citra at the end of the boil.  I am a big fan of Citra hops and was disappointed to taste little of that variety in this recipe.

Second, the steeping grains definitely added body but little else to the beer.  No complexity or depth of flavor, so it really begs the question about the necessity of the addition.

Last, canned liquid malt extract (LME) just does not do it for me because I feel the product is generally not as fresh as it could be.  One of the primary reasons that I brew my own beer is to make sure that I have fresh product oozing forth from my faucets.  Starting with a product that is old makes for a beer that is preternaturally old.

If this sounds like a loser of a beer I am sorry because the beer is a very drinkable pale ale and a good first effort to come out of my kegs.  It’s just not what I was going for:

One Mug Homebrew

Finishing up the Keezer

The wiring is done and the construction of the collar is done.  Now only the final steps remain to complete my keezer and tap my first keg of homebrewed goodness.  I have said this in every post I have written about my keezer build: this represents my preferences and mistakes, you can make entirely different build choices and come out the other side with a very successful keezer build.

With the collar mounted and sealed—this is important if you do not want any air leakage—I installed the shanks and faucets:

Perlick Perl

The tap handles are cheap because I really do not care to have oustentatious handles that are not reflective of the beer coming out the tap.  Why have a Fat Tire Amber Ale tap handle if what is being dispensed is house pale ale?

There are two places in your build where you should absolutely not try and skimp on the quality of the components being used.  The first is the faucets that are dispensing you beer.  I will talk about the second in a few paragraphs.

Aren’t all beer faucets the same?  From the outside, sure.  You pull the lever and beer comes out.  Inside a traditional beer faucet, however, a small amount of liquid will be trapped in the faucet ahead of the seal cutting off flow from the lines and the tube to drain out.  Over time this beer will become a sticky mess.  If you do not pour a beer for a few days you could come back to a stuck faucet.

The solution?  Forward sealing faucets like the Perlick Perl.  There are other forward sealing faucets on the market, but I chose to go with the Perl.  The difference between a forward sealing faucet and the traditional faucet is that the seal is at the front of the faucet, so all beer is trapped behind the seal in the lines thus eliminating sticky beer goo.  Trust me, it is worth the extra money to invest in high quality beer faucets.

One critical area where a lot of first-time keezer builders slip up is on the length of the lines from the keg to the faucet shank.  If the lines are too short you will end up with beer that pours very fast and very foamy.  Keezers are a balancing act and one of the areas that can help to balance the system is the length of your liquid lines.  Some keezer builders go with ten foot lines, but I think that is a bit extreme.  In this build I used two six foot lines.  Most of my beer styles will either be pale ales or amber ales in the American tradition so the carbonation levels will be similar.

The second area that you should not skimp is on the regulator.

I chose a Taprite dual gauge regulator over a “no name” brown box regulator.  One of the reasons for my choice was that the mechanism for adjusting the pressure was a hand operated knob rather than a screwdriver. Very handy if you open the lid to your keezer and want fine tune the pressure a little up or down.

The gas system is fairly simple.  I did not use a manifold or a dual gauge regulator.  I am not going to force carbonate my beer using high pressure methods.  Instead, I am a fan of the “set it and forget it” school of thought where you set your beer at the serving pressure.  Sure, it takes a little bit longer but I am used to the weeks waiting for bottles.  Plus, I am going to keg condition most of my beer.  To get a gas system for a two keg dispensing setup I used a simple T fitting off of a short line from the regulator attached to two disconnects.  Very simple.

It’s completed and ready for the first pour!

Rookie Kegging Mistakes

This week I was hoping to share some glorious pictures and words about the first beers poured forth from my recently completed keezer.  Alas, I feel victim to a pair of rookie kegging mistakes.

First, replace the seals on any used Cornelius keg that you purchase.  I thought the seals looked fine and did not replace the large o-ring.  Sure enough the keg was not sealed for the past two weeks.  So, all that keg conditioning that I thought was going on was really just escaping through a small crack in the seal.

Second, pressure test your keg before letting the keg sit to condition.  I did not have a CO2 cylinder or disconnects at the time that I transferred my first batch to a keg so I am going to take a mulligan.  However, if I had been able to pressure test the keg to ensure a seal the problem I talked about above would not have happened and I would not be writing about my failure.

In review, when you prepare your first batch of beer to be kegged in a used Cornelius keg just replace the large o-ring on the lid, use some keg lube to assist in a seal, and pressure test the keg to ensure that there are no leaks.

Once you get the hang of this procedure it takes about a minute to complete.  One minute to save a batch of beer.

I am hoping to be back in the next couple of days to share the final parts of my keezer build minus actually pouring some beer to drink.

SMASH American Session Ale

2014 is going to be the year of session beers.  You cannot swing an empty growler without hitting another variation of the theme.  You know how I know it is going to be the hot trend?  The term session has become almost meaningless like IPA before it.

Why meaningless?  You see brewers calling beers session ales that have alcohol levels ranging from under 3% ABV to over 8% ABV.  Bitterness levels are equally all over the map.  This is okay, but it does confuse the beer drinker.  It just requires a little leg work and tasting.  First world problem, I know.

Keeping myself on trend, I brewed up a batch of Northern Brewer’s SMASH American Session Ale:

SMASH IPA

iBrewMaster calculated the beer to be 3.8% IBV and ~48 IBU.  Ignoring the voluminous head of some of the bottles in this batch, it’s a pretty well balanced beer.  The bitterness is about perfect and the dry hopping adds a resinous after taste that lingers just long enough to enjoy without becoming annoying.

The beer could use a little more body to it to balance out the bitterness and “hoppyness.”  I would not suggest upping the alcohol content because I found this to be a very drinkable ale, but I would rather find a way to incorporate a malt structure that has a better chance of supporting the excellent flavors present.

I am a recent convert to the powers of dry hopping.  Between this beer and my recent dry hopped Chinook IPA  I am prepared to forgo my former opposition to the practice as gimmicky and embrace the effort to enhance the flavor or beer.

I did not like this beer as much as the second Chinook IPA, but that is not to say that I did not like this beer a lot.  I have been drinking this beer for the past couple of weeks and the great flavor has been appreciated during this recent cold snap and holiday break.  Even when I was sick and nothing tasted like much else there was something refreshing about a glass of dry hopped goodness bursting through to my taste buds.

In the past I have been leery of the Simcoe hop variety.  Beers I have tried using this hop always tasted like something was burnt or ashtray like.  It was not a flavor in the body of the beer, but something that sat in the back of the throat.  After drinking this beer I am going to chalk my suspicion up to the execution of the brew rather than the ingredient.    It would be interesting to duplicate this recipe using a different hop variety.  Citra, perhaps?

The verdict?

3 Star HomebrewMy New Year’s “beer resolution” is to develop a so-called house beer to have on tap in my newly constructed keezer setup.  The idea is to refine a single recipe rather than trot out singular attempts—dubbed a series of one night stands by a beer writer—in order to really nail down the finer points of that particular recipe.  Brew on.

Building a Keezer Collar

The keezer has been wired in order to control temperature.   The next step is to prep the freezer for Cornelius kegs.

The freezer that I am repurposing has a large hump for the compressor.  I have no clue why it needs such a big hump because the compressor area is actually quite empty.  My guess is that this freezer body design was a holdover as a smaller, more efficient compressor was cut into production.  The freezer was free, so I cannot really complain.

In order to fit two Cornelius kegs I needed to raise the lid of the freezer enough to accommodate a second keg sitting on the freezer hump.  This required a rise in height of approximately 6 inches.  I wanted a little flexibility, so I went with a collar constructed from 8” dimensional lumber.  As you know from high school shop class—for those of us lucky enough to have had shop class—dimensional lumber is not actually its stated size.  A 1×8 or 2×8 actually measures only 7 ¼ inches.  No big deal, because that height would easily accommodate my kegs.

The first stab that I took at building the keezer collar used a couple of scrap 2x8s that a friend gave me from a house he was building in the neighborhood.  The wood was pockmarked with the tracks from mountain pine beetles and they were hesitant to use them in a load bearing application.  I did not think that a lid from a 5.1 cubic foot freezer would be a problem.  Plus the wood had cool blue coloring from the mountain pine beetle infestation:

Janky Collar

The blue color is caused by a staining from the fungus carried by the mountain pine beetle infestation.  My thought was to stain the wood a natural color and let the color show through.  Unfortunately, as I cut the wood I noticed that not everything was true and there was a slight warping to the wood.  Once everything was screwed and glued together I thought that it might work with a little sanding and TLC.  However, the result was going to be too “janky” for my taste.

Plan B was to use dimensional aspen lumber to match the aspen and poplar trim that I have throughout my house.  I thought about using red oak to match some of my furniture I constructed, but the cost was going to be pretty high and the application was not about the wood.

The collar was cut and assembled in about an hour of work in the shop:

Unfinished Collar

As you can see from the construction I had to build a lip on the top of the collar to provide a good sealing surface for the freezer’s lid.  I used a 1×2 mounted along the inside edge to build this lip.  Instead of screws, which I used in the aborted 2×8 collar, I utilized regular, old yellow wood glue and brads nailed below the surface of the wood to secure the joints.

Instead of miter joints I utilized butt joints.  While a miter joint might have looked nicer—although in the finished product you will see that the stain hides the difference in grain—I wanted the additional strength provided by a well secured butt joint.  A miter joint only increases strength when there is a corresponding increase in the surface area to be glued, as in a picture frame mitered at 45 degree angles, and is commonly done for the aforementioned appearance improvement.  In a non-shear load application a glued and nailed butt joint will be more than strong enough.  Plus, the construction was much simpler because it did not exceed the capacity of my miter saw.

The collar was stained with several coats of dark brown American Chestnut:

Finished Collar

Aspen is not a heavily grained wood, but I like that a little bit of the grain peeks through the stain color.  I put several coats on to even out the splotchy nature of the wood and to give it a real rich look.  Set off against the white of the freezer it looks sharp.

To accommodate the tap shanks I drilled two 1 inch holes approximately 2 ½ inches off the center of the face and approximately 3 ½ inches from the top.  There was no science to the location of the shank holes outside of my eyeballing what “felt right.”  It’s probably going to reveal itself as an error in the future and I will be forced to make some more sawdust with version 3 of the collar.

Next up is installing the collar and setting up the dispensing equipment.  Brew on!

Wiring the Keezer

The biggest difference between a kegerator and a keezer is that the kegerator begins life as a refrigerator and the keezer starts as a freezer.  The critical difference is that the temperature controller built into a refrigerator is meant to keep temps above freezing while a freezer’s temperature controller is meant to do the opposite.  While the slushy beer at Epcot was interesting I did not think that it was something I wanted to duplicate on a regular basis at home.

A common solution is to use a plug-and-play temperature controller like the Johnson Controls model available at Northern Brewer.  I thought that this solution was a little “hacky” and decided to go with a cleaner, hard wired solution.

I procured an Elitech STC-1000 digital temperature controller from Amazon.  The price seems to be stable at just under $20, but sometimes this spikes or availability goes into the toilet.  You can find similar temperature controllers on eBay, but I actually had a hard time finding one that was the right voltage and it was often no difference in price so I felt the extra hassle was not worth it.  As I said in my first post about the keezer build, everyone will make slightly different choices that make this an essentially custom build.

The key thing to remember when buying a temperature controller like this is that you get the model designed for 110 volts as opposed to the higher voltage model.  In the U.S. your household current and freezer are likely to be 110 volt alternating current.

A version of this temperature controller exists that displays the temperature in Fahrenheit as opposed to Celsius, but the cost difference was substantial and the availability was spotty.  For under $20 I figured that I could deal with converting to the accepted world temperature measurement.

The compressor and wiring in the back of my small—5.1 cubic foot—chest freezer was already exposed.  Some freezers may require you to remove a grill to get at this wiring and others may actually have the wiring hidden in such a way that would require some minor surgery.  If you require cutting into the skin of the freezer be very careful to not nick any coolant lines because if that happens you will be left with a very large piece of junk on your hands.

I did not have any problem cutting the power cord off of the freezer because it was free and the cord would be easy to replace in the even that I want to turn this back into a freezer at a later date.  You can mount the temperature controller in a special cut out or build a bracket, but I kept the wiring simple and easy to remove.

The other reason that I mounted the temperature controller here was to keep it out of the cool and moist air of the keezer compartment itself.  I have seen builds where the controller is mounted in a cutout on the collar.  Given that the STC-1000 does not appear to be sealed for this type of application I chose to keep it at room temperature.  Again, a personal choice.

As you can see by the picture below the temperature controller just sits inside the compressor bay:

Keezer Temperature Controller

The STC-1000 can actually handle temperature control for both heating and cooling.  In this build I will be dealing with just cooling because I do not intend to create a lagering cellar.  Again, this is a simple build and you will probably make different choices.

It can be difficult to find straightforward wiring diagrams for a cooling only STC-1000 that is hardwired, but below you will see how I wired the device:

Wiring Diagram

I do not claim that this is entirely proper and I would not follow my instructions for fear of burning down your house.  This is the internet and you can find information to suit your needs as you see fit.

I reused the cord from the freezer and cut jumper wires from that same cord to ensure that my wire was properly rated, etc.  You could use supplemental wire, but I figured it was cheap and easy to make do with what I had in the basement at the time.

I grounded the refrigerator using the existing ground wire from the cord, bypassing the STC-1000, because the temperature controller does not have a provision for grounding.  Also, please make sure you use wire nuts that can accommodate three larger wires.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen people try to smash heavier gauge wires into a small wire nut meant to splice two small gauge wires.

After every wire nut was tightened and all the wires were checked I plugged things in and it all worked.

The setup on the STC-1000 is a little convoluted, but easy to follow with the instructions included in the box.  For a test I set the cool temperature at 2.5 degrees Celsius or about 36.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  Since I do not have any beer in kegs ready to dispense I might be adjusting that in the future.  Right now when it is below zero—in terms of Fahrenheit—here in Iowa that might be okay, but come summer when the temperatures move toward triple digits I might want to go even colder.

One thing to make sure happens is that the unit actually cycles the compressor in the keezer on and off.  When you initially power the unit a delay will be set because the STC-1000 comes from the factory with a compressor delay set to 3 minutes.  This is programmed to prevent the compressor from cycling too rapidly and wearing out prematurely.  I left the setting alone because I figured that at higher than freezing temperatures the cycling should not be an issue.  Just wait out the few minutes and make sure the compressor starts operation.  I waited until the unit cooled the keezer down to the set temperature to ensure that it would shut off.  Everything worked clean from the first try.

That’s the beauty of homebrewing, you are always tinkering.

In my next post I will discuss the construction of the collar and the mounting of some hardware.  See you then!