Friday, January 27, 2012

What? Brewing supplies can be found on the Internet?

In the year 2000, homebrewing in Idaho was like the Wild West.
I had found a recipe which had been smuggled out of Soviet controlled Czechoslovakia by a beer patriot who had encoded the grain bill and had it tattooed on his chest. I had painstakingly translated it into English and took it down to my local homebrew shop.
"I'm out of pilsner malt," said the red-headed shop owner. "Just use extra pale malt extract. It's pretty much the same thing."
I didn't really know the difference then but now that kind of attitude just drives me crazy. The reason I'm a homebrewer is I want to make the beer I want to make, not whatever is good enough. There is a dichotomy there. A homebrew shop should have every malt, hop and yeast a chubby beer nerd can think of but all of these items have a shelf life and who wants to buy stale supplies. I want to support my local homebrew shop, which is still 100 miles away, but most of the time I end up ordering stuff online anyway.
To the Internet!
In the Internet era, there is no excuse for not being able to source anything your perverted mind can think of. There is a ton of companies out there, each with good and bad attributes.
My current ingredient supplier is I love their BrewBuilder software, which allows you to customize a recipe down to the ounce, then they will fill a bag and ship it for $7. No more buying a pound of specialty grain for 2 ounces, no more measuring and weighing, no more trying to source exotic ingredients because they have a great selection. It is like having a customizable kit where you just mash in and go.
However, I have had a couple of problems with Brewmaster's Warehouse. Once they forgot to put the hops and yeast with the order, once I created a pilsner but when I mashed in it was a dark amber color so I have no idea what they put in there and one time I ended up on back order for three weeks. Also, I'm not sure who they use for a malt extract supplier, but both times I ordered liquid malt extract I could not get anywhere near my OG and the beer had the weird "extract" flavor. They do have very good customer service and have always made things right.
The bottom line is, I love them for all grain ingredients but I look else ware for other stuff.
I used for a long time and had really good luck. They have quality malt extract and are supposed to have good kits. Anytime I have had a shipping screw up it has been my fault and not theirs.
If you are looking for bulk hops, check out You can buy pounds of hops, down to 2 oz. packages. The prices and shipping are cheap. I have not ordered yet but I have talked to the owner and he seems pretty cool. It also looks like the only place you can still get Citra hops this year.
Most of the time when I am looking for equipment I go to The deal of the day can be a pretty good value and gives me an excuse to randomly buy something. They have a big selection of grain but I don't order from them because they only sell in one pound quantities.
These a just a few companies I have used. If you have a personal favorite, or someone who has jacked you around, post a comment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Let's all appreciate a good paddling

"Slap me, spank me, make me convert long chain starches to fermentable sugars with the utmost of efficiency, like a dirty girl," my mash whispers. "Are you going to hit me with that? Oh no, I've been very bad."
The paddle comes down with a sharp stroke and plunges into the sloppy mixture of grain and hot water. The mash resists at first, struggling to keep the husk material bound up in tight dry clumps, but after a couple of firm swats the moisture seeps in. A trickle and then a gush as the mash relaxes and accepts.
It takes a nice paddle to administer a good paddling, so it is project time here at Screw Up Beer.
Sourcing your wood
There is a lot of debate on the best wood for a mash paddle. Honestly, I don't give a damn what kind of wood you use. Just remember, what kind of wood do you want to be sticking in your beer?
The ideal mash paddle is made from a hardwood with small pores. The opening size is fairly important because you don't want your paddle to stain from dark wort. We will see if this is true.
Soft woods, or some hardwoods like red oak, aren't used for cutting boards because they have large pores and can harbor bacteria. While any bacteria on the paddle will be killed during your boil, hardwood is a lot more durable. Maple, white oak or poplar are all good choices.
I wanted only quality wood in my beer so I used maple. It was a little tough to find because big box building supply stores do not carry it. They do, however, carry poplar. Out in the hinterlands of Idaho, where I live, a local lumberyard won't carry it either. Call around to try tracking down the best wood you can get your hands on.
Something to be aware of is your pieces of hardwood will come in random lengths and widths. No one could explain why. Somewhere between four and six inches width and three feet long is about what you are looking for.
The Design
When adding grain to hot water the grain has a tendency to clump together in balls. The outside of the dough ball will be wet and gooey while the inside will be bone dry. In function, a mash paddle has to be able to stir a fairly viscous liquid but it also needs holes to break apart the clumps.
Like any good paddle, you want it to take control of your mash. It should leave the mash stinging, breathless, supple and submitting to your wishes. You don't want it hurt, scarred or damaged.
For a truly basic model you would just drill holes in the paddle.
But who wants to be that boring? Take some pride in your shit. Your mash paddle is a statement on your brewery, and by association, your beer. The brewer who says, "I just use a plastic spoon because it is cheap," is violating Brewing Maxim #1: "Don't be a cheap ass!" This is the same person who will cut corners in their beer by using a cheap grain bill or cutting their mash with Captain Crunch.
With tools as simple as a jig saw or a dremel you can do pretty much anything which could go on a pumpkin. A skull, bio-hazard symbol, sports logos, the bat symbol or any letter would all look cool. If you have access to a scroll saw you could do some pretty complex designs like Darth Vader's head, pin up silhouettes, a picture of your favorite beer blogger or pretty much anything you can conceive.  It is a given, your biggest passion is brewing beer so just Google stencils of your second biggest passion and print something out which will fill most of your paddle width.
I wanted a grizzly bear track because I thought it looked badass and I call my homebrewery the Bear Track Brewing Company. My second choice was Darth Vader's head.
Before I brew I lay all of my brewing supplies and equipment out and double check everything. Do the same thing with your paddle. Use a pencil to draw a line down the exact center of your board. Measure your palm to get an idea on how big you want your handle and shaft to be. This is going to be YOUR paddle, make it comfortable for you to use. Evaluate the size of your paddle and make sure you have at least one straight edge. Then tape your chosen stencil to the paddle.
At this point, take a moment to consider your paddle. Is the handle long enough? Is the paddle spoon wide enough? Is your shaft too big? Did you giggle when you thought about your shaft size?
The Cut
Once you are 100 percent committed to the paddle, make your cuts. I had a new dremel so I incorporated a lot of curves into my design. However, I had better luck and found there was more control with just a jig saw.
When the cutting is done you are going to look upon the new paddle and say, "Dammit, this looks like shit!" The edges will be all splintery, the straight cuts will look like they had been made during the height of a severe epileptic seizure and you will swear your stencil cutout had been done by a beaver on meth.
At least that is what mine looked like.
Giving a Sand Job
In order to slap your paddle into shape it takes sanding. A lot of sanding. You will spend hours slowly sanding your paddle. It will not take long before you will hate sanding. Start with a 60 grit until all the dings and pits are gone, smooth it out with 100 grit and polish with 220.
So this actually happened to me.  I go to my local lumberyard and buy a couple of packs of sandpaper. I take it to the counter and the guy actually said, "Doing some sanding?"
It took all the self control I could muster not to say: "No, masturbating."
The Finish
I have chosen not to finish my paddle. In theory, I could use some sort of food grade mineral oil for a finish but I would rather not add anything oily to my beer, which could effect head retention. I'm going in commando and hope there are no problems.
Be nice with your new paddle. Don't smack anything hard enough to hurt it, just enough to mean business. And even if you ask nicely, it is unlikely your wife will let you take a picture of her butt being smacked.