Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jinky manifolds, or how I learned to stop worrying and lose at carbon cap-and-trade


Made it to Airgas and replaced CO2 bottle, although I was 15 minutes late. Luckily they were still open. (Note to self: Airgas closes at 4:30. Leave work earlier and don't depend on somebody else having a late rush order to keep the Airgas guy there after closing time.)

I got some "Maximum Bubble" or some such from the toy section at Walmart and started tracing the leak. As I suspected, there were leaks at the joints in my homemade manifold. Since we all know from basic reliability centered maintenance theory that overall reliability decreases with the number of parts in the system, I got rid of the extra pieces and reassembled everything. Max Bubble says the seals are tight so maybe I'll have some gas in the morning.

090602 Geordie Ale: Kegged

I racked the brown ale to keg after I eliminated the CO2 leak. I didn't start carbonating. I'm going to try the rapid force-carb technique that HBT member Yuri_Rage recommends in this post. I need to get the beer down to 40 F first, so it will sit in the keg overnight chilling, and tomorrow after work I'll give it Yuri's shake-rattle-and-roll approach.

O for a ring

I ordered some new keg o-rings from McMaster-Carr on Sunday evening and they were delivered today. Great service!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pssst! Hear that? My CO2 is leaking

Well, I'm no threat to the union pipefitters. Something in my setup is leaking, and now my CO2 cylinder is empty. Looks like Tuesday brings a trip to Airgas for a refill.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

090502 Honey-Brew List - decisions, decisions

Pretty soon I'm going to have to make a command decision on the Honey-Brew List batch that's currently carbing. I can only fit three kegs in the kegerator at a time, and with the 090601 Coldwater 420 and the upcoming Half Wit and Geordie Ale batches, I don't have room for everyone. One of the kegs has got to go and it's looking like the problem batch is going to get the boot. I may not throw it out completely. I can always take the keg out and put it in the other chest freezer, which can be cooled since I won't have anything in the brew pipeline for a while.

However, we are coming up on July 4th and we will need the freezer set at a freeze temperature to properly condition some of the desserts that are going into the contest at the Indian Springs Village annual picnic. Our extended family is currently on a 6 year winning streak, with Amy having won the last three straight with her famous Key Lime Torte. One of the keys to her success (no pun intended) is that her torte is frozen before we take it over to the picnic, thus ensuring it's really cool when it's judged. We'll need the freezer for that as it will be the only thing big enough to hold all the desserts that will be prepared.

I think this batch is snakebit. First and foremost, the flavor's not right. I tasted it today and it still has a strong spice aroma and taste. Amy tasted it, and her opinion was "you can't get past the strong smell." To add insult to injury, the main keg hatch O-ring fell down into the beer yesterday as I was inspecting it. (That shouldn't affect it any except for the annoyance factor of being down an O-ring.)

I'll pull it out and try to keep it cool over the 4th but it may end up as a scrap batch after all.

Bringin' the funk

What a smell!

I am doing the 090603 Half Wit in a plastic bucket primary. There are three disadvantages to this that I have detected so far. First, you really can't see what it looks like without opening the lid. That's not really so bad as it argues for patience in brewing. Another problem I have noticed is that you have to take the lid off to do a gravity test. That gives more opportunity for random junk to get into the batch, like your fingers. Just try taking the lid off without getting your fingers into the funk that has collected on the underside of the lid.

The gravity came in at a temperature-adjusted 1.013, which is right on the prediction from BeerSmith. The taste was OK for being flat and 70 F. I think this one may go to the keg in the next couple of days for force carbing. I'm going to have to shuffle the kegerator around a little, but I think the 090502 Honey-Brew List may be hors d'combat (another post on that later).

What was the third issue with the bucket? The crud that accumulated on the lid and in the airlock (from the krausen blowout) absolutely stunk. It had a pronounced rotten-egg smell. There was no taste of it in the sample though, so I will rack from that bucket to the keg, just being careful not to introduce any of that nasty gunk during the process.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hooked up

I finally made it home with the stuff I picked up at Northern Brewer. As I had hoped, the parts I now have are sufficient to get everything hooked up. I now have the primary regulator at 60 psi running into the secondary regulator, where it's currently carbing the 090601 Coldwater 420 and the 090502 Honey-Brew List.

Getting the fittings unscrewed from the secondary regulator was not difficult, but getting the flare fitting out of the primary regulator housing was a real challenge. I ended up destroying the flare fitting, but I did eventually manage to replace it with a barb fitting that I had removed from the secondary regulator.

I'm still not sure I like the way everything is hooked up, but I now have some flexibility in connections and I think I have enough knowledge to be able to adjust in the future. It's pretty clear that I'm going to have to build the collar for the kegerator pretty soon though. Right now the hose from the CO2 tank (which I moved outside the kegerator) runs through the weatherstripping in the front of the lid. It reminds me of an umbilical cord or the vine for one of the pod people.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A fitting end?

During the trip to Northern Brewer, I think I finally got the right parts to resolve my CO2 system issues. I brought my situation up with the store staff and they pointed out that there is an easier solution to the fitting problem than the one I postulated in my earlier post.

As it turns out, the 1/4" male flare fitting on the primary regulator is part of a standard assembly that they add to the regulator bodies they get from people like MicroMatic. The regulator body itself is threaded and can accept different fittings. After I described my situation, the NB guy (whose name I didn't get, more's the pity, as he was really helpful) said "well, you don't have to fool around with inline splices or anything, just unscrew the 3/8" barbs on your secondary and replace them with THESE" - whereupon he opened a parts drawer with a flourish and produced some of the flare assemblies like the one in my primary regulator.

We talked through the scenario I was building and I ended up with three of the valve/fitting assemblies and a brass "Y" adapter that will screw into one of the secondary regulator openings after I remove the barb and provide a mount for two of the flare fittings, while the other one goes directly into the secondary.

So now, the plan is as follows:

(1) remove the barb fittings from the outlets on the secondary and replace them with (1a) a valve/flare fitting and (1b) the "Y" adapter with two valve/flare fittings;

(2) remove the valve/flare fitting from the primary outlet and replace it with one of the barb fittings removed in step (1);

(3) connect the primary outlet to the secondary inlet with 3/8" ID tubing;

(4) connect the kegs to the secondary outlets with the preassembled lines

It's all so simple when you talk to someone who knows what they're doing!


I'm traveling this week. My first stop is in Minnesota, where my colleagues Greg Beresnikow and Cherri Schmidt and I had a presentation to make to some prospective customers in a suburb of St. Paul. We wrapped up the presentation just before lunch.

Guess who else is in St. Paul? Northern Brewer, of course. Since we had to pass through St. Paul to get to the airport anyway, my colleagues indulged me during our lunchtime with a visit to NB's retail operation on Grand Avenue. (I guess it is an indication of how obsessed I have become with the whole homebrew thing that I even had the gumption to suggest the trip.)

After a few GPS-induced navigation opportunities, we arrived at Northern Brewer:

They had a really funny poster in the front window. If you look close you can see my reflection as I took the picture (I'm in a red shirt):

As we entered the store we found the "grain room" just off to the left. In it were dozens of poly buckets with many variations of malts and other adjuncts:

Here's a closeup of the arrangement. It's reminiscent of the bulk bins at a grocery store.

Cherri went down the street to another shop with Irish merchandise while Greg and I browsed the offerings at Northern Brewer. Greg found a bottle in a suitable size:

The guys working in the store were friendly and very helpful, especially in regard to the burning question of the day. I'll address that in another post.

More fittings

It helps to ask someone with actual experience in dealing with air lines. After a brief conversation with Richard Frazier yesterday, I think I know what I need to be looking for. Richard was kind enough not to call me a complete idiot as he explained that the reason I couldn't find a 1/4" flare female coupler is that there isn't such a thing...the connection on the female side is a three piece device with a nut that slides over a tailpiece that inserts into the tubing, with a neoprene washer to make the seal.

Armed with this knowledge, I think what I'm looking for now is:

  • Primary regulator to secondary regulator connection (step up from 1/4" to 3/8")

    • A stainless or brass 1/4" tailpiece with a 3/8" barb (ideal) or a 1/4" barb

    • The nut and washer for this tailpiece

    • A 1/4" to 3/8" inline barb coupler (unless I get the 3/8" tailpiece)

  • For each secondary regulator to keg gas line connection (step down from 3/8" to 1/4")

    • A 1/4" to 3/8" inline barb coupler (unless I get a 3/8" barb fitting, see below)

    • A stainless or brass 1/4" male flare fitting with a 3/8" barb (ideal) or a 1/4" barb

    • The nut and washer for this fitting

In the secondary to keg line connection, I can use 3/8" tees to create a manifold on either connection, prior to attaching the flare fitting.

Now the search for parts is on.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Those of you who know me will vouch for my tendency to string together a home improvement solution out of miscellaneous items instead of spending the money on getting the right parts. Sometimes I do this out of ignorance of the existence of said parts, and other times I simply get fixated on an idea about how to do something and don't consider alternatives. This often results in a clunky failure, of course, and has led Amy to start using "trips to Lowe's" as a KPI on my efforts. ("Is this going to be a three-trip project?")

For the most part I have tried not to take my usual approach with the brewing project. I have purchased almost everything I'm using from known sources after tons of research. Even the mash/lauter tun I made out of the Gatorade cooler was provisioned with a parts list from someone else. Now, however, I find myself spiraling into the old ways when confronted with the problem of the CO2 system.

My primary regulator came with a threaded fitting that matches the ends of the pre-built CO2 supply lines I bought from Northern Brewer. Upon review it appears that this fitting is a 1/4" male flare connection. The supply line has a female 1/4" flare fitting attached to a 1/4" barb fitting. (The line is 1/4" ID clear tubing which is attached to a ball-lock quick disconnect.)

For a single keg installation it works as expected, but I need to be able to supply 3 or more kegs potentially at different pressures. The solution is a secondary regulator. I purchased a two-way one from MicroMatic. It has 3/8" barb fittings on both the inlet side and the two outlets. In theory I can supply one feed at serving pressure and one at carbing pressure, using tees and tubing to create manifolds for as many kegs as I want.

Here's the problem: how do I get the primary regulator, which terminates in the 1/4" flare fitting, to connect to the secondary regulator's 3/8" barb fitting? Once I have that, what do I use to get the 3/8" ID tubing coming off the secondary regulator to connect to the female flare fitting on the keg lines?

Using Amy's KPI as a reference, trip 1 got the correct tubing to make the connection (or so I thought). Trip 2 garnered me some additional parts out of which I can make a manifold, but I'm still short a key piece of the puzzle. I can't find anything like the 1/4" female connection on the pre-built gas supply line, which is what I need to connect to the primary regulator. Obviously I could sacrifice one of those lines and get a 1/4" to 3/8" barb coupler but that means I would have to somehow find the part eventually to repair the line, because I need it to pressurize a keg.

I'm open to suggestions.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Actions, not words

(I'd like to claim that the choice of title for this post indicates that I've been so busy I couldn't keep up. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

In the keg: 090601 Coldwater 420

This batch turned out to be exceptionally clear after the gelatin addition. The FG was 1.016 and the flavor was pretty good, so I hope Tim will like it. It's carbing now.

To secondary: 090602 Geordie Ale

The gravity as I transferred this was 1.016. If it needs it, I'll lay the gelatin to it next Friday (I have to travel Monday through Thursday) and then keg it on Sunday. If it's clear enough it will go straight to keg on Friday.

Still brewing: 090603 Half Wit

It looks like I had some blowout on this batch. This is the one that's in the plastic bucket fermenter so I can't see what it's doing, but a blowout indicates there has been solid fermentation. This one will stay where it is until Friday or Saturday and then go straight to keg. I want to see if I can get something useful in two and a half weeks.

Controller News

Look to your left at the "F&H Live" box. I have convinced the Arduino and the laptop to which it's connected to post temperatures via Twitter. (Visit http://twitter.com/forkandhay if you want to look more closely.) I will be expanding the information in the Twitter feed as the days go by.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

090603 F&H Half Wit

"Named after the brewer perhaps?" (with apologies to Ian Fleming, Sean Connery, and the cast of "Diamonds are Forever")

I created this as a variation on HBT recipe guru Biermuncher's recipe called "SWMBO Slayer". It's a basic witbier without the additives. As Biermuncher put it, this is what people want when they say they would like Blue Moon with less "pepper" taste.

The OG came in a bit low (1.044 as opposed to 1.051 predicted). I took the time to wring every last bit of sparge water out of the mash tun. I think that might have been counterproductive from a gravity point of view, but I am predicting a good batch once it's in the consumption pipeline.

Today I slapped the gelatin to the 090601 Coldwater 420. I'm expecting to keg it Friday or Saturday.

Catch up - it's not just a condiment

Microcontroller Build
I hope to have a big set of posts on the status of the Arduino project soon. I'm making some good progress and when the code is a little less ugly I'll post it along with some tutorial information. It has been interesting relearning some C++ and basic microcomputer concepts I haven't used in years.

Brew Schedule
Wow - looking at the calendar, I pretty much need to start another batch today to have a shot at having more ready by July 4. Even at that it will be pushing it and the beer won't be very mature. I am going to brew a less complicated witbier (without the additives of course) that I'm going to name as F&H Half Wit.

I am not holding out much hope on the Honey-Brew List but it's possible the taste is moderating while it sits in the keg. I need to start carbing it up so I can try it out.

Tim's Coldwater 420 should be ready to keg by the weekend, so his supply is assured for the 4th. I think I got the Geordie Ale brewed in time to be drinkable by then as well.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

090602 Geordie Ale

This is going to be a house constant, I can already tell. I started a new batch of the northern brown ale that I made in 090501 and killed off last week.

The brewing process seems to get easier with practice. I'm still learning how to control the boil, trying to find a happy medium between the brewpot's lid position and boilovers. It helps that the Geordie Ale only has two hop additions, one at the beginning and one near the end. That reduces the opportunities for inducing boilover and the subsequent mess.

I hit the 1.044 OG I was looking for dead on, so if I can keep it clean and get a good fermentation going, I hope it will be as successful as the first edition of this brew.

090601 Coldwater 420 to Secondary

I moved Tim's batch from primary to secondary today and took a gravity. It came in at 1.016 which indicates it has a way to go yet but the move to secondary will hopefully get it rolling (as well as clearing - I didn't have time to put in gelatin today but I'll hit it tomorrow). The taste was good. It's a little hoppy for me but I think it's going to turn out really well - it seems quite like the Sweetwater I have had.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Arduino...it's alive

I may have mentioned before that I intend to replace the Johnson Controls standalone temperature controllers I'm using on the two freezers with a custom controller built using an Arduino microcontroller. I also have considered adding a load cell or other digital weight measurement to the mix so I can keep up with the beer inventory without having to pick up and slosh the kegs. (Why? Because I'm nerdy and it looks like fun.)

I'm starting down that path now. I obtained an Arduino starter kit, an LCD kit, and some DS18S20 digital thermometer ICs from Hacktronics and spent a little time hooking stuff up over the last couple of days. What I've got so far is not a shining example of either hardware or software architecture. I'm reusing bits and pieces of stuff from all over the Internet just to make sure the components are working correctly. I will cite my sources when the project is more complete...I'm pretty sure nobody whose code or circuit ideas I'm using would want to be associated with this thing in its present state.

This video shows the Frankencontroller rolling through its four regular display updates. Temperature 2 and 3 are not connected to anything (and yes, the inconsistent capitalization was intentional, I needed to be sure the LCD was updating):

Here's a picture showing the temp reading in more detail.

The reading from the DS18B20 is pretty close to the reading on the probe thermometer. The guaranteed accuracy of the DS18B20 is +/- 0.5 C and its default D/A resolution is 0.0625 C using 12 bits. I'm doing a quick C to F conversion in the code and not bothering to adjust for the precision yet - in the final version I will probably just stick with integers for the temperature output. After all, if I'm trying to control the fermenter or the kegerator to a band of +/- 5 F does that extra 0.5 F precision really matter? I'm planning to deploy three of these sensors, one for each freezer and one for general purpose high-temperature stuff like mash/sparge water temperature and monitoring the wort cooling.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

090601 Coldwater 420

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Tim commissioned a batch of what we hope will turn out to be something like Sweetwater 420 pale ale. The materials came in on Tuesday and, because we were working against a July 4th due date and we had some out of town visitors, F&H opened up for a rare impromptu midweek brew session on Wednesday. Tim came by after work and we were also visited by work colleagues Greg Beresnikow and Chuck Toth and old friend Alan Matthews.

(Plug: If you're looking for lifestyle shots or have commercial photography needs, Alan's your man. Check his work out at www.alanmatthewsphotography.com. He has the eye. None of the photos on this blog are his - he does much better work.)

The brewing experience was a little different because I had a lot of help. Here's a shot of the brewmasters admiring the process.

This recipe is really hoppy (for me, anyway), with three additions during the boil. On the whole we managed to keep the boilovers down to one, and we got the wort cooled in a reasonable time without having to break out the pre-chiller. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to use it pretty soon though as it's heating up outside.

I started to get concerned about the fermentation because as of Friday there wasn't any apparent activity in the primary, not even a partial pressure showing in the airlock. I knew that the sanitation was good, and that I followed all the steps - but it occurred to me that I didn't do something in the right order. I didn't take the OG reading until after I had pitched the yeast. It didn't dawn on me at the time that the sample I pulled would be likely to have a lot of yeast in it. (The gravity measured 1.057 which was a little higher than expected, maybe because it was leavened.)

In fine tradition however the yeast picked me up, and on Saturday morning when I checked there was a good krausen:

The fermentation was quite vigorous although not on the same scale as the Honey-Brew List:

What threw me off of course was that the last batch, the Honey-Brew List, took off like a rocket. I had forgotten that the Geordie Ale had a significant delay between going into primary and actually starting to show fermentation progress. Once again, the advice to be patient proved useful.

Catching up (again)

This has been a busy couple of weeks. Here's a brief recap of F&H:

R.I.P. Geordie Ale 090501

The keg of Newcastle clone was floated on Wednesday during the brewing of 090601 Coldwater 420. I finally got someone else to taste it and what happens? They kill it. That's kind of gratifying though because it could have been so bad that they wouldn't touch it. I'm going to put another batch of this in as soon as possible, it was a hit in my book.

Honey-Brew List 090502 moved to secondary

The Honey-Brew List was racked off to secondary this week. The gravity was at 1.020 Wednesday and at 1.018 Saturday when I tested it, so there's still some work being done. I'll give it another week before I keg it. The spice taste is still pretty strong but it seems to be moderating with time so another week might help a lot.

Arduino Duemilanove received, control system planned

I have hooked up the Arduino controller that I intend to use to replace the temperature controllers that are running the two freezers. So far all it does is show "Fork & Hay / forkandhay.com" on the LCD display. The DS18S20 digital temperature sensors are on their way though and I look forward to hacking something together.