Making your own Wort Chiller!

•March 23, 2013 • Leave a Comment

What I’m going to talk about today is nothing new to a homebrewer. We all know that we have to cool our wort down pretty fast after the boil to avoid any off-flavors or having it infected (it’s never fun using that word) with some bacteria. I know for many of you this means using a cooling bath or ice-bath (and there’s nothing wrong with that). I know I’ve tried an ice-water bath (not adding it to the boil), setting the boil pot on cold concrete then surrounding it with ice and finally an wort chiller or wort cooler.Well there is one more option…

therminator_1Now since one of my brew buddies bought a Blichmann Therminator I can use it when we brew together saving me some time, headache and money. Now hold on, what is this Blichman Thermawhatever you ask? Well in Charlie Papazian’s words…“Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a Homebrew. “ because it’s just a stainless steel plate-type wort chiller, basically a miniature version of the plate chillers that the pros use. Norther Brewer says: “It is, unquestionably, the fastest way to chill your wort to yeast pitching temperature. The Therminator can chill 10 gallons of boiling wort to pitching temperature within 5 minutes when using 58°F cooling water at 5 gpm.” (and it does)….so if you have the money ($199.99 @ Northern Brewer) this outstanding piece of equipment is yours! But for the rest of us that are on a limited budget we have to settle for an immersion chiller. By the way if you click on the highlighted links, they will take you to the corresponding page.

IMG_0336A wort chiller/cooler or immersion chiller is very simple to work. Follow the next couple of simple steps and you will be well on your way to cooling your wort down quickly:

Step 1– Put the wort chiller into the boil with 10-15 min remaining. And no you don’t have to sterilize it….well only if you want to. Why? Well the heat of the boil which should be around 212 deg F will sterilize the chiller. Now granted if your wort chiller is… well green or has things growing on it, I will suggest cleaning it and then sterilizing it before putting it into your boil pot.

Step 2- Connect one side of the chiller to your faucet or garden hose.

Step 3– Make sure the other end is connected to a hose that will be long enough to do into a drain such as a sink, your lawn (in case you don’t want to waste water which is always a good idea) or I have even  heard of some more eco-friendly brewer‘s using it in their washing machines. Yes the water coming out that end really is that hot.

Step 4– Turn on the faucet/spigot and then watch the temperature drop in your boil pot. Your target temperature is going to be below 80 deg F, but check your yeast to make sure you are within the range stated on the instructions for maximum fermentation. I do suggest getting an industrial grade thermometer that you can put into your brew pot if you don’t already have one. I’m planning on installing one onto my brew pot, but another option would be to get one that clips on to the side.

And there you have it! It’s that simple……Oh sorry I almost forgot the most important part! How to make your own wort chiller. Ok side note here…the following video was produced and recorded by two close friends that are newly converted homebrewer’s.

Here is a list of the parts used:

50 ft. coil of copper tubing 3/8″ diameter

coil of 3/8″ diameter plastic tubing

2- 3/8″ stainless steel hose clamps

1- 3/8″ to 3/4″ barb to hose connector

1- tube bending tool

2- 3/4″ stainless steel hose clamps

2- 3/8″ to 7/8″ stainless steel hose clamps (#6)

1- cornelius (corney or soda) keg

Thanks to Dan and Mike for their hard work. As always if you have any questions or comments to help me improve my blog, please leave a comment. Until my next post Brew on!


Hard Cider in the making….

•February 10, 2013 • 1 Comment

Last I left off I had all the ingredients I needed to make myself some hard apple cider. Besides, Hannah needed me to clear out the 5 gallons of apple cider in the fridge or she was going to start drinking it. Now as I mentioned before this is really not a difficult task since it really does not take very long to get together. What takes long is finding the ingredients you want to use. So here goes..

Step 1-
Let’s talk sterilization. Yes take a look at everything you are planning on using and I’m hoping that you have a plastic food grade container and lid. Preferably one that doesn’t have a lot of scratches in it since that can be a place where bacteria can hide and cause your brew to taste more like vinegar. Now if you are new to brewing, the 5 gallon container 20130115-222918.jpgshould come with a lidIMG_0171IMG_0170 that has a hole on top (see pic) with a rubber grommet which allows you to insert your airlock. Next you want to make sure that you are using a sanitizer like Star San to sterilize all your gear such as the carboy, airlock, funnel, spoon, siphon tube, thermometer and hydrometer. Make sure you follow the direction on the sanitizer bottle….and now you are ready.

Step 2-

This is the easy part. Remember the 5 gallons of cider you bought? Yeah that stuff. Go ahead and pour all of it in your carboy. You can use a funnel to make life easier. On second thought, if your planning on adding any sugar you might want to add it to your carboy now so that when you pour the cider in it will be mixed in thoroughly. A side note here would be that if you do add any sugar here it incidentally should be unrefined sugar and yes it should clearly state it on the packaging. Oh I used 2 pounds of brown sugar. (I hope that somewhere in your head there is a red flag or bell going off….) Yes, I admit I was hoping that it would help it become sweeter and add a little kick to it…since ciders without any sugar yield roughly 4.5 – 5% alcohol. Wait for it….again I was wrong. How so? Hold on and you will see.

Step 3-

If you are not planning on adding any yeast and hope to let the natural yeast take over then all you have to do is add your airlock and move it to a cool place. If you are not going to chance it, then here is where you introduce your yeast of choice. In my case was English Cider Yeast as pictured on the right. IMG_0011Now I kept tabs on the temperature and it was around 64-66 deg F. In this case colder is better but colder would be 60-64 deg F since it is possible to cause your yeast to stop fermenting. IMG_0016It’s important to get to know your yeast as best as possible. A good place to start is to read the label or look it up in a book or magazine such as “Brew Your Own”. I also just finished reading a great book called “The Secret Life of the Brewer’s Yeast: A Microbiology Tale” by David Wooster PhD which will familiarize you with how yeast works and some of the history behind its use in research and it’s use through the ages in beer and bread making. A suggestion here if I may would be to use a 6.5 gallon carboy for your 5 gallon batch of cider. Why, you may ask? Fermentation was pretty intense for about 2 weeks then on the 3rd week slowed down and pretty much came to a halt as you can see somewhat in the picture on the left. IMG_0013

I left the cider alone for about 2 months and then decided I had to try it out….and move it to a secondary. So the process began…I moved all my gear into the kitchen, of course warning my wife AND asking for her help. I used an auto siphon to move it into a 5 gallon secondary and poured what was left on the bottom of my 6.5 gal carboy carefully into a glass for a taste test. Now keep in mind my plan was for it to taste like an Angry Orchard. How wrong I was! I wasn’t even close…..sadly it was very dry and no trace of any sweetness. My wife looked at me and said she didn’t like it…and honestly neither did I but I didn’t have the heart to dump it so I moved it back to the basement. I wasn’t going to admit defeat so I went back to reading up on cider making.

I decided that I would leave it alone until I had figured out how to fix it. So that weekend I drove to the Thirsty Brewer to see Tom. I explained the situation and with a smirk on his face pointed me to the fix.IMG_0176 Yes Potassium Sulphate. What’s that you ask? Yeah same thing I said. According to Wikipedia it is “also known as “wine stabilizer”, potassium sorbate produces sorbic acid when added to wine. It serves two purposes. When active fermentation has ceased and the wine is racked for the final time after clearing, potassium sorbate will render any surviving yeast incapable of multiplying. Yeast living at that moment can continue fermenting any residual sugar into CO2 and alcohol, but when they die no new yeast will be present to cause future fermentation. When a wine is sweetened before bottling, potassium sorbate is used to prevent refermentation when used in conjunction with potassium metabisulfite. It is primarily used with sweet wines, sparkling wines, and some hard ciders but may be added to table wines which exhibit difficulty in maintaining clarity after fining.” So by simply adding potassium sulphate to my cider (of course following the directions, which meant making a simple syrup and then adding it) allowed me to add an additional 1.5 lbs of brown sugar to my batch. If you don’t know what simple syrup is click on the link and it will take you to Wikipedia where you can catch up on your reading. Don’t worry it’s really simple to make. Now after a quick taste test we were back in business.

Currently my 5 gallons of cider is sitting in my secondary fermentor in the basement waiting for me. I think I will leave it alone for a month before doing anything with it. On the average most ciders are ready in a years time but I don’t know if I can wait that long!

The “I’m gonna make some hard apple cider this afternoon” afternoon!

•January 14, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Have you ever had that perfect hot apple cider? Maybe it was at a ski lodge or walking around Manhattan on a cold afternoon while window shopping….ok maybe I would grab a hot pretzel just because they smell so good. Now imagine the taste of that perfect cider except in a cold beer bottle and with a kick. Yeah that’s what I’m talking about…..hard apple cider! How difficult can it possibly be to make hard apple cider? No, really hot apple cider is pretty easy so making hard apple cider should be fairly easy right? Well…..kinda. Now don’t get me wrong, compared to making all grain beer it is, but there is definitely an art to it.

So let’s talk about how I decided to go about it and what have I learned so far.

Well it all started with a newspaper (AleStreet News which by the way is not a bad read) that i picked up at the local liquor store. As I was flipping through the pages I ran across an article about how to make hard cider. The picture it painted was get some apples from a local farm, have them crush them for you if you don’t have a press and have them put it in a carboy for you (the one you were bringing along that is). They covered the fact about how you can use the natural yeast found in the apples for the fermenting process. Then came the you can add brown sugar and cinnamon as well as other favors and mention of adding sulfates if you want to add your own yeast. (by the way I’m paraphrasing…the article had more detail than just that) So as a confident novice brewer I figured: “this is easy”…..right? Wrong.

Once I had convinced Hannah that this was going to be easy, we set off to hit up some of the local farms to get us some apples or see if they would sell us some cider. The reasoning here was that the article said that some farms crush apples and make their own cider that they sell. It was late October when we found a nice Saturday afternoon that we figured would work out perfect (the article also mentioned that getting apples near the end of the harvest was the best option since they would be sweeter and closer to start fermenting).

Windows down, sunroof open in the Jeep and sunglasses on, we started our fun ride on the back roads of Baltimore County leading to the farms. What we quickly realized was that we were not going to get apples…or cider. Why? Well for one thing most of the farms had already sold off the apples and second they don’t make their own cider. It seems that they sell their apples to certain farms which then make the cider, pasteurize it, add flavor, sulfates and most of the time preservatives and then sell it. So now our quest had a little hitch, we could drive to PA (Amish country) to find what we were looking for or just crush our own apples(that means buying a press $$$). Things were getting complicated….oh did I mention that a law was passed recently in MD that will not allow a farm to sell un-pasteurized cider or apple juice? I suppose that would have been a good thing to know before I started this quest.

Now what? All is not lost yet…. We headed over to my friend Tom at The Thirsty Brewer to see what he could tell me. While we were there we figured we could pick up some yeast, some priming sugar and caps so not a lost afternoon. Incidentally if you are looking to buy hard cider supplies feel free to visit The Thirsty Brewer.

Tom being a wealth of knowledge about brewing, saw the opportunity to school us about making hard cider. Well for one thing, making hard cider is very similar to making wine. So to start he suggested not leaving things to chance or better said, leaving things up to the whatever strain of yeast was in the apples we were using decide how the cider would turn out we should use a sulfate to inhibit or make it go dormant and add our own. Now you do have a choice here, you can skip the sulfate and just add the yeast that you want and see how things go. We decided to skip the sulfate… this will not work to my advantage as you will see later on. Another interesting thought was about what apples I was going to mix together…mix together i thought, really? Yes some types of apples taste better than others as well as pair better than others, so its important to find the right mix that will satisfy your taste buds. (I’m thinking I will get into this in a later post). Next thing was that we can use apple cider from a store or farm even if it has been pasteurized.

Pasteurized? But I thought if it’s pasteurized then all the natural yeast would be killed….exactly, that’s why you have to add your own. Ok so good thing I bought my own yeast strain to add. So now we were back out looking for a farm that would sell us some pasteurized apple juice that didn’t have any preservatives. Wait, what? No preservatives? You got it…that pretty much ruled out any supermarkets(at some point we should talk about adding concentrated apple juice to your batch, but i think we should leave that for another time). Now believe it or not we found a farm called Weber’s Cider Mill Farm. This was my first time there and I was quite impressed….I called it the “Disney world of farms”. Why? Yes it had rides and the kids with their parents were standing in line to pay to get on the rides…did i mention there were a lot ok kids and long lines? Enough with the rants….on to the farm store! In the farm store which by the way was wall to wall people, I found what I was looking for. Before making the purchase I decided to try it out…they even have a place where you can buy drinks and ice cream(home-made that is). Needless to say this is where I bought my pasteurized without preservatives or sulfates apple cider.

Let’s see:
Apple cider….check, yeast…check, brown sugar…check(by the way unrefined brown sugar is what you want….we can talk about this later), carboy, containers and all the rest of my beer brewing gear….check. Looks like I’m ready to make myself some hard apple cider! Well give me a couple of minutes to get my notes together and I will write the next post on how I “made” hard cider.

Till my next post Brew on!


Pour some Dextrose on me?

•June 10, 2012 • 2 Comments

So there I am standing at “the Thirsty Brewer” collecting some of the assorted “stuff” I was missing…ie an auto siphon, more “crowns” or bottle caps, a cylinder, carboy brush, priming sugar…wait what? I looked at Tom the master brewer of the shop and I know I gave him the deer in the headlights look. I thought sugar was sugar, you know the white stuff that is in pretty much everything? He then proceeded to talk about sucrose and dextrose and went into the differences. This is where things kinda got blurry. Not that he did a bad job explaining it but rather that my mind started on its own journey. The fact that sugar affected my beer was something i had never thought of. This was what i needed to write about, a better understanding about the different types of sugar and it’s effects on my beer. I wondered what I’ve been using all along…that was easy, it was the stuff in that bag. You know the stuff you buy at the Homebrew supply store….priming sugar, but what is this priming sugar?

Hope you have a minute because I will try to explain it without getting into too much detail. Now the reality is that there is a lot to know about the different types of sugar. The interesting thing about sugar is that it is considered an adjunct or a flavoring when it comes to beer brewing. So let’s see…where do I even start? I guess I should start by saying that I’ve read a couple different books and will try to sum it all up. So here goes…

Let’s talk about processed sugars or refined sugars. The first one that I seem to find in many products is Fructose. Fructose may sound familiar because it is, it’s what you find in fruits. This type is 1 1/2 times sweeter than that of refined white sugar or sucrose which we will talk about shortly. Next we have Dextrose, this one I hope rings a bell unlike for me until now! Dextrose or Corn Sugar which by the way is also a refined sugar is probably the most popular choice among home brewers for use in priming. The reason for it being so popular is due to it being highly fermentable and that is what you need in order to create the carbonation in your beer bottles. If you’re not familiar with how this happens I suggest reading “Homebrewing for Dummies” by Marty Nachel as a good way to catch up. Now another plus to using Dextrose is that it’s inexpensive and easily found. Last but not least it does not affect your brews taste, but then again since you’re not using much none of them really do. Next is Glucose which is like a brother to Dextrose and is also found in many fruits. This one only has half the sweetness of ordinary sugar or sucrose and is also referred to as starch syrup. Then comes Sucrose which primarily makes up ordinary or table sugar. This what is found in sugar cane, sugar beets, sorghum, and malted grain. A quick note here about table sugar is that it can be used as a substitute in a pinch but keep in mind that it contains a little Fructose which is a more complex sugar and so will take a little more time to be broken down by your yeast. The flip side to this is that it will leave a sharp or hot flavor in your beer, so consider this one before using. Also keep in mind you will not need as much as you would normally use if you were to use dextrose. Lastly there is Lactose which at first glance says this is in milk, why put it in your beer. Interestingly a little lactose 4 ounce in 5 gal will add some body and a little sweetness to your brew. Now lactose is unfermentable milk sugar so you only want to use enough to sweeten your brew. All in all you don’t want to use this one for anything but sweetness.

Now I know I said I would try to keep it short so I will forgo the rest of the sugars which are natural sugars such as honey and maple syrups…..they are not used for priming anyway. I will leave those for my next post. In the mean time crack open another one of your home brew’s, sit back, relax and enjoy unless you haven’t finished bottling!

Those pesky bottle labels finally come off!

•April 11, 2012 • 3 Comments

   Tonight I decided was the night to test out Oxi Clean. Yes due to popular demand I finally tested this product out to see if truly it works as well as I have been told. After reading the instructions I felt that I could safely cut the mix in half. I started off with submerging the bottles for one hour.

   To my surprise when I returned I found labels floating! So looking back at the last test I have come to accept that I wasted a lot of time waiting for these pesky labels to come off. I was able to clear the same amount of bottles as I did in my past tests but this time in a 1/8 of the time.

    So for anyone looking to remove labels from the beer bottles they just polished off, don’t waste any time with anything else. Oxi Clean will not only do the job faster but also cheaper. I also want to thank everyone who felt the urge to drop me a line and make the suggestion. Now it’s off to my next experiment!

Lego Beer Opener & Cooler

•April 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Just found this on the web. Props goes out to the author Richard Darell for finding this goldmine. Check out his article “Lego Beer Machine Opens & Cools Your Beer like a Boss” on Bit Rebels. If you ever considered mixing beer with Lego’s here is a good reason to do so. Looks like You Tuber Nxt1engineer is on to something. Enjoy and watch responsibly!

The Liquor Pump…

•March 29, 2012 • 3 Comments

I wanted to share an experience with everyone that I had lately and so I’m shifting gears to talk about where to buy beer as opposed to making it. Don’t worry I will be brewing in about two weeks so hang in there with me, who knows maybe I will try an extract brew. It was a Friday and on my way to Delaware to my buddy’s wedding…we went up a day early with the guys and we decided that we needed to pickup some supplies. Mike said he had the place to go to and to be honest I think he was right. We pulled into a liquor store where he said that he could get pretty much anything he wanted and the owner would even introduce him to something new every so often. So in we went and there I met Harry Mehta. Now I’m not one to be a regular at a liquor store but I think I found a place I could. As I looked around I found that there was pretty much everything a guy could want.

As I was introduced I mentioned that I really enjoyed the Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout brewed by Goose Island Beer Company that he got for Mike which he shared with me. He returned the favor with this bottle.  And so the fun begins. Next came a free gift for the best man which was a flask which by the way came in very helpful. As the conversation ensued Mike explained how I brew beer or actually just started which led into letting Harry try out my brew. I have to admit he was very objective and thankfully said that he liked my Oktoberfest.

I‘m happy to say that if everything goes well for Harry which it seems like it will, I will be writing more about his endeavors which involve brewing on a larger scale. Now I can’t really say what his plan is but I can guarantee it will be good.

Next came another surprise, Harry came out with a Saison Du BUFF brewed by Stone Brewing Co. and a Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA brewed by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Now I don’t know about everyone else but I can’t just get this stuff from anywhere. Harry likes to stock pile special edition beers so if you are looking for something special or even if you want something he doesn’t have he is the guy who can get it for you. They even deliver!

Take a look at what his place the LIQUOR PUMP looks like

For anyone in the Maryland area feel free to drop by the Liquor Pump and say to Harry. His address is 8535 Old Hartford Road, Parkville MD 21234. Or call him at 410-668-1820, email at or even check out his site

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