Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fear, Loathing and the Case of the Missing Pants

It was somewhere about 9 o'clock when the booze began to kick in.

Was it hubris, which compelled me to attempt to fortify an unremarkable wee heavy with a fifth of cheap scotch? Or was there something else? Had my addiction to experimental beers became so strong I was willing to throw away any inkling of common sense on a KY coated Slip-and-Slide decent into the very depth of what a bad beer could become?

With a mad cackle I kegged the beer, poured the scotch on top and put the gas to it. No thought of blending to taste. No worry about ratios or possible ABV. "Piss on the Reinheitsgebot!," was the battle cry coming from my froth speckled lips.

I'm not sure what I hoped to accomplish. Is there some quality inherent to Highland Stag brand scotch which would lend itself to a beer? The peat-smoke character reminiscent of thousands of Scottish peasants coughing up their emphysema blackened lungs is not a nice flavor anyway; could beer somehow make it better?


The carbonated beer was harsh as a Brillo Pad handjob. Scratchy and unforgiving, it wasn't so sharp as a straight shot but there was something unpleasant there, as if each glass had been personally tea-bagged by Groundskeeper Willy. But at the same time, it was not so unpleasant it was undrinkable. The scotch numbed the throat first, and after the first glass the other senses became lax.

Human trials were needed in order to observe the effect on consciousness. So, I invited a couple of college friends, J.R. and Jack, to have a beer drinking weekend. They prided themselves on being West Coast beer dorks but I had to wonder, "Could they even handle the Scotch-Scotch Ale? Would something like this ruin them on beer forever?"

No use screwing around, so I filled big 30 oz. mugs. Initially, they bitched about the taste; throwing around words like: possible infection, fusel alcohol and crappy. A simple challenge to their masculinity and the guys were chugging beer like a baby fresh to the tit.

By the end of the third mug I heard a roaring in my ears. Like the top two valves of a 4-barrel carburetor taking hold I could feel a sudden shifting in time and space as the scotch began to kick in.

The first noticeable effect was a sudden disintegration of cognitive function. J.R. had been regaling us with some story of Portland when, mid sentence, he lapsed into inane gibberish. With gleeful horror I watched his brain shut down to the point he was unable to form sounds into words.

The next stage was fear. J.R.'s lizard brain function realized he had somehow latched onto something which was beyond his control, the proverbial dog tied to a car bumper. He fought to choose an action. "Bed J.R. go. Sleep time is," he said, taking four steps toward the guest bedroom before he collapsed in the hallway.

For Jack the creeping madness came slower, like a touchy uncle watching from the shadows. He laughed at his apparent triumph over J.R. and drank another half a mug of English Oppression Scotch Ale.

The terror came with the darkness. A spinning bed, a cold sweat and a mouth suddenly filled with saliva; Jack knew the sickness was on him. The panic carried him out of the bedroom, through the kitchen, down the stairs and out into the back yard; his hand pressed against his mouth in a vain attempt to hold back a tidal wave of vomit.

Once in the back yard Jack collapsed in the dirt as his body tried to turn itself inside out. Once the first round of sickness passed he was filled with booze fueled remorse and, using drunk logic, as he crawled back into the house he removed his pants so he wouldn't make a mess.

By tracking his trail of vomit, I found him the next morning. He was asleep in the bathtub, wrapped in the shower curtain, and lacking pants.

I had found what I wanted. The proof my experimentation had gone to far. Just because I could do something didn't mean I should. But on the other hand, if someone offers you free beer there is always a catch.
J.R.  A Portrait of a Hangover

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

To much head can cause deadly explosions

Screw Up Beer's 5th rule of homebrewdynamics: A passionate homebrewer will always produce somewhat more beer than they have room to store. Example: A person in a tiny apartment with a one-gallon system will produce one six pack more than their dorm fridge will handle and a homebrewer with a personal storage cave will always have a truck load of beer they don't have room for.

Beer is a fickle bitch. It loves cool to cold temps, without a lot of light, temperature swings and movement. However, these kind of perfect conditions rarely exist for brewers.

I brewed a raspberry wheat beer while I was living in Missouri, at an elevation of about 800 feet above sea level. The beer was a little over carbonated anyway; but when I moved it to my new apartment in Rock Springs, Wyoming, elevation 6200 feet, I had beer gushing like a college kid having his first lap dance. It is a possibility I also had a small infection, like the college kid a week after his first lap dance. We had no air conditioning and the apartment was hotter than a hot wing poop.

I had the beer packed away in some 12 pack boxes next to the washing machine. Which was a location of constant vibration and agitation. So this is not a perfect beer storage solution.

One night, shortly after we had settled into bed, there was a sound like a gunshot right outside the bedroom. My first thought was, "I wonder if the neighbor has committed suicide?  Poor guy, maybe I should stop stealing his parking space."

I ran out of the bedroom and turned the light on. There was foam coming out of my stack of homebrew boxes like a science-fair volcano. The box had been partially shredded and glass was everywhere.
As luck would have it, the bottle in the middle of the half-rack had reached a terminal pressure level and exploded, which caused the bottles around it to explode.

Glass had embedded in the wall next to the boxes and we found a neck and cap across the living room, about 30 feet away.

I didn't screw around with this shit. I, gently, placed the remaining beers in the dumpster. This actually kind of spooked me. If one of those bottles had blown while I was holding it I could have had my damn arm torn off.

My advice to those brewing places without good storage: drink faster. As long as your beer is brewed well you can still get a few months out of it. Big temperature fluctuations will shorten the shelf life of your beer and can cause over carbonation problems if you have to much priming sugar or a little infection.

Do what you can. A basement or cellar works best but even an interior closet is better than nothing. A dedicated fridge is nice and I have heard of some brewers hacking an AC unit to make a walk in cooler but I would make sure you know something about wiring before you attempt the project.

A seriously over carbonated beer is a big danger and not something to screw around with. If your homebrew tastes funny it will make you hungover but there is no real danger, a bottle bomb can cause major damage.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The first and last comment on me whoring myself out

Regular readers of Screw Up Beer will notice a few advertisements popping up in the last few weeks.  Like all beer bloggers, I am hoping this blog becomes an avenue for wealth, power and an eventual takeover of the world's beer brewing superstructure.  Watch your ass, InBev!

In the meantime, the ads are a way for me to keep brewing, and subsequently, to keep making mistakes so you don't have to.  I have toyed with a couple of different ad options but I have arrived on a policy where I maintain control of the links, so don't worry about clicking on something which will give you a damn virus. 

There is an Amazon button.  If you are going to order from Amazon anyway, just link through this button and it will help me out.  I will also sometimes put up a book or item, with an Amazon link, which I think is, or could be, useful. 

I also have a link to MoreBeer, a company I use and a good place to get brewing supply.  There may be more sponsors later but if my readers have a bad experience with a sponsor let me know and I will reevaluate the relationship.

Random crap and links to shit are not going to show up on my site; or at least will not stay very long.  Everything you see here is something I personally endorse.

This will be the last word on the ads.  Clicking on them helps me out, not my blog provider, so check them out.



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Boiling water = Fail, Not Burning House Down = Win

Several years ago I was working for a certain famous Idaho ski resort and living in company housing, where the drinking of alcohol was strictly prohibited.  So of course, I was brewing in secret.
I was boiling my wort on the electric stove with an old copper pot I had bought at a yard sale and drinking beer. I was just to the point i had made my first hop addition when I turned around to get a beer.  When I turned back around smoke was spewing out the bottom of the pot like someone had opened the doors to Morodor.  The heat had melted a small hole in the bottom of my kettle.
I try to set my beer down on the table but knock it over, so it is draining on the floor, and grab the handle of the pot; pulling it off of the burner.  Now, instead of smoke coming out from beneath the pot, there is wort pouring out from the pot and flowing on the burner, where it starts to smoke.
So I move the pot to the sink, while trying not to spill boiling wort on myself, but succeed in spraying hot wort all over the kitchen counter and cabinets.
As my precious wort drained away I am using the mop to try to clean the top of the stove off before it catches on fire.  To make matters worse, the fire alarm was going off.  Luckily I was the only one home but some of the buildings at this particular resort were hardwired into the central fire alert system.  It turned out they had never bothered to hook my building up to it so that avoided some awkward questions.
Stupid yard sale pots anyway.
One constant in brewing, no matter what kind of beer you brew, is the boil.  Beer should be boiled vigorously for at least an hour.  This doesn't have to be so hot it is jumping out of the kettle or so light the surface is just barely moving; just a nice rolling boil with the lid off.
There is a lot going on during the boil, which is why it is not something you should ignore or take for granted.  The big things is your wort is becoming sterile. 
Despite what you may wish there is yeast and bacteria living in your tap water, just not in quantities if can hurt the human body.  Also, in order for a bacteria to make you sick it has to survive the stomach acid and white blood cells fighting it.  If you add the same bacteria cell to your wort it will be an environment with nearly unlimited food and perfect conditions for growth.  If you don't have a pot big enough for  a full volume boil, boil some water ahead of time and then set it aside covered.  One of the first things a notice brewer can do to greatly improve their beer is making a full volume boil.
Besides sanitation there is other, science, stuff going on; proteins are forming, hop oils are isomerising, sugars are caramelizing and water is evaporating. 
Many malts, especially pils malt, contain high levels of dimethyl sulfides, or DMS, which will contribute a vegetative or creamed corn flavor to your beer, which you probably don't want.  The DMS will mostly boil out if you leave the lid off during the boil. 
Boiling over
If you have brewed at least one batch of beer you have had a boilover.  You will meticulously watch your boiling wort for 20 minutes and then blink and your beer will gleefully leap from the pot onto the stove.  When you add hops your wort will boil over.  If you are brewing on a windy day the wind will eddy a little and your beer will boil over.
There are a couple of ways to keep from getting a boilover.  The simplest is just buying a bigger pot.  John Palmer, in How to Brew, suggests putting some stainless steal nuts in your pot.
I just try to keep a close eye on my pot, which results in me boiling over about every 3rd brew day.
Saying a brewer needs to master the boiling of water seems redundant, and not very sexy, but getting a nice boil is critical to producing good beer.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Lubing a keg turns out to be not what the Internet said it was

Oh kegs, how you vex me.

This will be an ongoing subject because, for some reason, I keep screwing up my kegging.  This may be because it should be really simple.  Take your fermented beer and put it in a keg.  Put the CO2 to it at the PSI which will result in a perfect level of carbonation.  Drink until keg is empty.

This is what I normally do.  Put fermented beer in keg.  Yell and bitch because keg fails to seal.  Put keg in fridge and then yell and bitch while I try to figure out why my connector is leaking gas.  Once I hook up my gas line I realize I overfilled my keg and the drop of pressure pulls beer up the gas tube into my gas line.  Take all my gas lines apart and clean them so I don't get crap growing in it.  Drink beer for a couple of weeks.  Pull keg out of the fridge because I need the fridge as a fermentation chamber.  Let keg warm up to room temp. CO2 won't stay dissolved in warm beer so now every pour is a foamy mess.  Try to save beer by bottling warm beer off of overpreasurized keg.  Spray ceiling with beer.  Put keg back in fridge and try for a couple of weeks to get the carbonation back where it belongs.  When I lose patience I just bottle the rest of the beer off of the keg and start the whole process again.

Why kegging is awesome

It is very cool to have your own beer on tap in your house.  You can pull a pint, or half a pint if you feel like it (or a liter!)  You feel like a professional.

Your carbonation is perfect.  No more wondering what will happen when you put in the priming sugar.  It turns out just how you want it. 

You can really dial in dry hops, cacao nibs, or oak chips.  Do your after fermentation additions and taste the beer every couple of days.  When it is exactly how you want it then transfer kegs or bottle.

It is faster to get a beer carbonated.  If you crank the pressure up your beer can be carbonated overnight.

Your beer will age better.  You don't have to worry about light skunking and if you purge the keg with CO2 before you put the beer in you won't have any trouble with oxygenation.

 It is way easier to clean one keg verses 50 bottles.  Where bottling used to take a couple of hours putting beer in a keg only takes 15 minutes. 

You can blend beers, make awesome cider and even pasteurize then carbonate a beer.  By controlling how the CO2 is applied you finally gain total control over your beer.

Why kegs bite

Kegs require a special setup to keep cold, either a dedicated fridge or cool room.  A bottle of beer you can store in the cellar and then put a couple of bottles in the kitchen fridge without annoying the wife.  I only have room at my house for one extra fridge, so it has to serve as a kegerator and a fermentation chamber. 

A keg is not very portable.  If you show up to a dinner with a couple bottles of homebrew you are a hero, if you show up with a keg you have a problem.  Or you will be a hero to your friends who have a problem.

With bottles you always have a pretty good idea how many beers you have left.  With a keg there is a tendency to just drink and then suddenly it is gone.

A keg setup is kind of expensive.  You are looking at about $30 a keg, then $75 for a regulator, $75 for a tank, $8 a piece for connectors, and whatever you want to spend on fridges, shanks and faucets.  A well put together keg system can cost as much as an all grain system.

Screw ups ensue

About a year ago I picked up about 8 pin-lock kegs cheap.  This is way more than I have room for but one day I dream of being able to have 10 beers on tap at my house.  The first thing I did was take them all apart and clean them, mixing all of the parts together in a bucket of cleaner.  As I tried to put them all back together I realized they are not all the same.  It took me a couple of hours to figure out which pieces went to which keg, and I don't think I got them all right.  There are still a couple of kegs where the nuts don't fit quite right on the post.

Keg lube is great stuff.  Smear a little bit on all the rubber seals and your keg will seal much better than using dry seals.

However, under NO circumstance should you Google "How to use keg lube?" with your safe search off.  You will see a couple of guys who take the concept of "beer drinking buddy" to the next level.  Not for the faint of heart.

Keeping beer out of the gas lines

The best way to seal a keg is to put your PSI at about 30, which will pop the lid into place.  However, when you carbonate it you will only want the PSI to be between 8 to 11.  This drop in pressure will pull beer into your gas lines, if the bottom of the gas tube is below the surface of the beer.

Probably the simplest way to keep from getting back pull is to not fill the keg so full but this seems morally wrong to me.  I want those last couple of beers, damn it!

What I have done is take my gas tubes and cut them down to about a half an inch.  I am not totally sure this is the right thing to do, but so far I haven't had any problems.  Also, make sure and hook up the gas while the keg is sitting on a flat surface.  Don't tip it so the beer level would be below the gas tube.  (Learned this one the hard way last weekend!)

Fundamentally, kegs rock, with the caveat that they would be a good deal less of a pain in the ass if I had room for a dedicated keg fridge.  If I ever figure out how to use the damn things.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Thigh-high stockings and a trub bukkake

I have, many times, failed to fully think out a plan before I set the plan into motion. I would make a perfect super villain.

A couple of years ago I was facing a dilemma. I wanted to brew a fresh hop beer but I wanted my hops to be loose in my kettle so they would roll around and get better utilization. The kettle I was using was smaller, like a 4 gallon, and didn't have a spout so I needed something to provide a filter between the kettle to the carboy.

I had heard somewhere about using pantyhose as a cheap hop bag. This seemed like a reasonable thing to do and I figured it would work as a filter. So, I went down to Walmart and bought thigh-high stockings in the most masculine way possible.
"They are for beer."
"Yeah, sure buddy," the clerk says.
"They make me feel pretty," I whisper.

The brew day went great. It was an extract steam beer and the fresh Cascade hops, picked right off the bine in my backyard smelled awesome. After the wort had been chilled it was time for the filter/transfer so I stuck about four of five inches of the stockings into the carboy, wrapped a rubber band around it, rested a funnel in the carboy spout and began to just pour the wort into the funnel. What could possibly go wrong?

In my defense, I have never worn pantyhose before.  Not even recreationally.

I had not anticipated the pantyhose's ability to stretch. As the wort flowed down the funnel into the filter it caught all of the hop cones and trub. This caused it to expand at roughly the same rate as the anger-caused aneurysm growing in my brain.

In about three seconds I had a sack of shit the size of a volleyball inside of my glass carboy. The pantyhose did act as a filter, but was so effective it was clogged with small particles and hop flowers and wouldn't let the liquid flow through at more than a trickle.

About the time I set the kettle down the rubber band started to slip and I was able to grab it before the whole mess dropped into the carboy. But now I was stuck, because I couldn't pack the whole carboy around, so I yell for my wife, who up to this point, has been very supporting of my brewing.
"Hey baby, could you come in here for a second?"
Of course, the first thing she said was, "What in the hell are you doing?"
"I'm having a disaster. Can you help me?"

She held the carboy down while I tried to slowly tried to pull the shit ball out of the top. After a couple of tugs the pantyhose began to bulge obscenely on the bottom, but I was making a small amount of progress on the top end.
"Are you sure this is going to work?" my wife asks in a tone which suggested it was not going to work.
"Just hold it," I growl and give another mighty pull.

At this point, several things happened. The pantyhose finally give way by exploding and sending most of the soggy hop cones into my fermenter. I fell backwards, pulling the broken stockings out of the carboy with such force that my wife received a trub bukkake across her shirt, glasses and hair.
"Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh," she yells.

I wish I could say this is the only time my wife has caught it in the face because of brewing, but I don't think it is true. It may not have helped matters that I was laughing really hard.

I gave up and pitched the yeast. Some of the cones floated and some sank during the ferment. It was a giant pain in the ass to rack off because the hops kept clogging my wracking cane.

The final beer really didn't turn out too bad. Not great, because it was pretty vegetative, but I ended up drinking it all.

So with one screw up I learned several lessons. I have not used pantyhose while brewing since. I now have a brew kettle with a spout. If I am using loose hops I use a hop bag. I don't try to filter inside of a carboy. I also do my best to think ahead, but am only somewhat successful with that one.

My wife also learned a lesson. She may be married to an idiot.