Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Keezer Build

From Day 1 the ethos of this blog has been that homebrewing can be as involving of a hobby as you want it to be. The level of involvement does not just apply to brewing beer. Many homebrewers enjoy building stuff to brew or serve beer as much as the beer itself. When it comes to building bars, man caves, and draught systems these folks are in their glory. 

Myself, I am just handy enough to be dangerous.When it came time to set up my own draught system, I wanted the design to be as simple as possible. My other goal was for the system to be flexible. I want to easily be able to serve from different types of kegs and different types of beer.

My precious....

The main component of a draught system is the keg itself. Most homebrewers use the cornelius or "corny" style keg. The corny keg was the industry standard for serving soda until the development of the current "bag in a box" system. These work well for homebrewing because there is a removable lid which can be used to rack the beer into and for cleaning.

There are two types of corny kegs with two different keg posts: ball lock which was used primarily by Pepsi, and pin lock which was primarily used by Coke. Ball log kegs are taller and thinner than pin locks. They are also more common in this day and age, while pin locks tend to be cheaper. Most experts suggest choosing and staying with one format. Think of it as the iOS versus Android of the homebrew world. 

The first kegs I bought were pin locks and I have stayed with them. In order to easily switch between ball and pin lock, or even a commercial keg,  all of the lines use swivel nuts and flare fittings. Everything is screw-on and screw off. I can easily screw on a flared ball lock disconnect. All I need to serve a commercial sanke keg is a sanke tap and a couple flared tail pieces.

A commercial kegerator can be retrofitted to serve homebrew. In addition to changing fittings on the lines, you also need to add a new tower to dispense more than one beer. The most popular and more cost effective way to serve homebrew is to convert a chest freezer into a kegerator. This is known as a keezer.

Compared to a stand up refridgerator a keezer can fit more kegs. To keep the keezer at the proper temperature, the freezer is plugged into a temperature controller. Having slowly gathered the equipment I needed for my keezer, I purchased a single mode temperature controller during a 20% off sale. Since then, cheaper dual mode (ability to heat and cool) models have hit the market. Since I am only looking to cool, this will work just fine.

There are many different types of faucets on the market. The inexpensive faucets have a rear seal and can become sticky from dried beer. This can be more of an issue with a home system that isn't used as frequently as a bar or brewery tap room. Higher end faucets use a forward seal that is less of an issue.

Perlick faucets are widely known as the gold-standard, but I opted for Intertap faucets and shanks after reading this review on Brulosophy. I also purchased Intertap's stainless steel shanks which connect to the faucets. The shanks came with barbs that attach to the beer lines. 

What really won me over is the modular nature of the faucets. I love the ability to screw off the spout, screw on a barbed tip to fill growlers, or a nitrogen tip. Instead of paying $60 or more for a stout faucet than can only do a nitrogen pour, I can purchase a $12 spout. When I don't have a beer I want to serve on nirto, I can easily re-attach the regular tip.

Most keezers have a wood collar. The added height from the collar makes it easier to fit kegs inside, especially on top of the hump that most chest freezers have. The collar also provides a safe place to drill holes to feed the shanks through. This is where the more handy and creative brewers can pretty up their keezers. One of the favorite things about my house is that the upstairs has the original wide pine floors. Originally I was going to try to give my keezer a similar finish. Then I read about what a pain it is to stain pine. My keezer is in an unfinished basement. It is not a display piece. It just has to be functional.

I purchased a couple 2x8 boards and had them cut to size at the store. I assembled the collar, measured, and drilled holes for the shanks on the floor. Next, I removed the lid on the freezer. I placed the collar on the freezer to make sure it fit. 

Even I was able to screw these four pieces together.
Four taps to start. I could probably fit two more.

Once I was sure the collar was the right size, I applied Clear Flex Shot along the edge of the freezer, and placed the collar back on. I also used the Flex Shot along all of the seams to keep the cool air in. It was very easy to use. Any excess was easily wiped up by a paper towel. Compared to spray-on insulators and gap fillers Flex Shot doesn't give off any fumes or gasses. 

Perfect fit!
Flex Shot bound the collar to the freezer and
sealed the joints.

I also mounted my gas manifold, temperature controller, and bottle opener to the collar. For something I slapped together without much effort, I couldn't be happier with how it turned out.

I can shut off any of the four lines with the flick of a switch.

I still have my mini fridge that may well contain
bottles that need to be opened.

Set it and forget it.
Once I set everything up, I put on kegs of cider, a trappist single: Chali 4, and Wet Hop Head. I had a couple leaky connections. I learned those flare fittings, and hose clamps that clamp the line onto the swivel nuts need to be super tight. 

With the collar I can't actually reach the bottom of the freezer. I was just able to suck up the spilled beer with my wet vac. Within a few days my CO2 tank was empty. I think there was a washer missing between the tank and regulator. Going forward a backup tank is probably a good idea.

Just like it took me awhile to get my brew system dialed in, I'm sure I'll get all the kinks ironed out. When I do it will be a game changer for me and my beer.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Making the leap to kegs

Investing in kegs is a leap most semi-serious homebrewers make. It is easier to clean and sanitize one keg than up to 50 bottles. If you use the CO2 tank to carbonate your beer it is ready to drink much sooner than when the beer is bottle conditioned. The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) has a great introduction to kegging article on their website.

Kegging was something I figured I would start doing at some point, but had put on the back burner. After trial and error, I became quite adept at bottling efficiently. As long as I brewed regularly and didn't let my beer sit in the fermenter for too long, I always had new beer in the pipeline making the quicker carbonation less of an issue.

There are certain styles like IPA that are best served as fresh as possible. Those styles will taste better out of a force carbonated keg because the beer doesn't need 2-3 weeks to carbonate like a bottle-conditioned beer. A properly purged keg will also expose the beer to less oxygen than a bottle. A capped bottle is not a 100% airtight seal and will slowly let air in over time. 

Bottling is not without its advantages. Some of the more obvious advantages are it can be easier to bring bottles to parties and give as gifts. Some styles like imperial stouts and barleywine will change over time as they oxidize. For me, those big beers are reserved for special occasions. A keg of barleywine can tie up a draft line for a long time if beer is only pulled from it every once in awhile.

A couple years ago I purchased four three-gallon kegs with the intention of regularly kegging my beer. Before we moved to our house, our apartment was cluttered with carboys, bukets, and brewing gear. Jennie really had the patience of a saint to put up with it. However the idea of having a kegerator in the corner of our kitchen or living room was a bridge too far. With no way to chill and serve kegged beer at home, I only used the kegs for events like Jamboree and Ales over ALS

Buying our home I was just as excited about being able to have kegged beer at home and I was having a yard and being able to brew full batches outside. Over the years I looked for bargains and slowly amassed everything I need to chill and serve kegged beer. All I need to do is build my kegerator!

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Surveying the damage of my own neglect

Not only have I barely brewed over the last several months. I have also been too busy, distracted and lazy to package beers in carboys, Beers that have been ready to go for quite awhile. I couldn't even package my beers before we moved. On moving day, the movers carried my full carboys down the street from our old apartment to our new house.

As I work on getting a plumber to install a hose bib so I can get brewing soon enough, I took draws out of all of my carboys to see what beers are still worth packaging, and what beers I should just dump.

Wet Hop Head Pale Ale: My most recent batch is also the only batch I have brewed at home since June! Who am I? What the hell is going on?? Anyway, this had a really nice, floral hop flavor. It was restrained in the sense that the beer drank more like a pale ale than an IPA. The light caramel and Biscuit malt provide balanced and a similarly restrained malt flavor. This would have been a cool beer to bring to Ales over ALS. It would have been a cool story to tell attendees that the beer used fresh picked hops that were locally-grown on a family farm. Verdict: keeper

Pretty Things Jack D'Or Clone: One of my friends on Twitter recently asked how this beer came out. Much to his and my disappointment, it wasn't good. This was a three gallon batch that I fermented in a five gallon carboy. I never racked the beer to a smaller vessel. This batch was just infected. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what the off-flavor was, but it wasn't good. I'm going to give this a try again, probably with a different yeast. Verdict: dumper

The Sour Chris: Coming along nicely. Has a clean sourness. If one is clean, and ten is vinegar, I'd give this about a six in terms of tartness. I'm going to give this more time to see if it adds tartness and complexity. Verdict: keeper

The Pasteinator: Man I really wanted to nail this beer, but boy is it terrible! I had originally brewed this for our club's competition. I held off because the beer was quite alcoholic. My hope was that the harshness would mellow in time. After tasting the beer for the first time in months, the harshness had lessened, but was present enough to ruin the beer. I chalk this one up to fermenting at too high of a temperature. I look forward to brewing another bock or dopplebock this winter to enjoy next spring. Verdict: dumper

Simple Cider: This has been in secondary for quite awhile. When I tasted the cider when I racked it, it was quite good. The extra time has only made it better. Verdict: keeper.

Chali 4: This was an extract Patersbier or Trappist Single I slapped together as a starter beer. My plan was to use the yeast cake from this beer to ferment a planned Belgian Dark Strong Ale.

When I took a pull and gave Jennie a taste she said it didn't really taste like anything. When I explained that it is supposed to be a light, easy drinking beer, and to imagine the beer carbonated she smiled and kind of shrugged. This was an easy beer to make and I have reasonable hopes for it. I could easily brew this again next summer to build up enough yeast for a Belgian quad. Verdict: keeper

While I still can't brew, I do finally have a chest freezer. I already had a temperature controller. I plugged the freezer into the controller, set it for 35F, and kegged Wet Hop Head, Simple Cider, and Chali 4. Now I just need to finish building my draught system.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

What I have learned selling malt

I was really hoping to have a brew day post or two ready to go by now. I have everything I need to brew five gallon, all-grain batches in a reasonable period of time now that we have our own home with a yard. On brew day I realized I was missing one critical component, a place to attach a hose. I bought the only house I have ever seen with no hose bib outside. The kitchen faucet wouldn't even take a hose adapter. With no way to chill five gallons of wort, anything other than extract is out of the question until I get that hose bib installed. Seems like as good of a time as any to reflect on three months working for Muntons.

In the time I accepted the position with Muntons until I actually started, I read Brewers Publications book on Malt cover to cover. As part of my on-boarding with Muntons I participated in live Skype training sessions with the people at the maltings in the UK. The brewers and maltsters went into great detail on the malting process and Muntons various products.

In everything I have ever sold I was a product knowledge expert. The customers I was working with were usually counting on me to educate them on the product. I have been working in sales since I finished college, but selling malt to brewers is completely different than selling cars, electronics, or insurance.

As many batches as I have brewed at home, or beers I have tasted, a professional brewer is going to know, or at least think they know, more about beer and ingredients than I do. If I compared my homebrewing to what these people do every day I could easily sound like a sports talk radio caller that compares his experience in Little League or high school to the pros. That guy always sounds like an idiot.

Every brewer approaches malt a little differently. Some brewers are married to particular malts, while others will switch malts just because one was cheaper. I had the owner of one brewery that has been open for over 20 years switch from our Propino Pale Ale malt to US 2-row, and then ask me on the phone why our malt is more expensive. After mentioning yields, degrees of modification, and flavor, I also mentioned how our malt has the added expense of coming to America on a boat.

I suspect that owner knew that I was new and was just testing me. When I met him in-person he told me that he felt Muntons' competitors had been more aggressive trying to earn his business and that he wasn't enough of a priority. The owner even said that price wasn't everything. I think I built up enough rapport with him that I have a chance to win him back next year.

What I've learned is how important relationships are.  I left a bunch of Muntons caps with one of our larger customers. The head brewer emailed me back to say his guys loved the hats. I made it a point to visit one local brewery owner at the Great American Beer Festival. I met him at his brewery. He had used our products when he worked at another brewery, but isn't in a position to buy anything from us now. Still, when I saw him he recognized me as the Muntons guy. He asked if I had any t-shirts. I didn't then, but will be sure to bring one next time I am near his brewery.

On our sales call last week my boss reiterated when a brewer offers beer to take the beer. Often brewers are too busy or disinterested to give you that time. When I do have that opportunity, it is easy for me to nerd out with a brewer as we both try the same beer. That's usually when I try to sprinkle in my beer knowledge and talk more about Muntons.

This week I am flying to Buffalo, NY to meet with an existing client. While I am in town I plan to spend a day knocking on doors, and another day in Rochester, NY doing the same thing. If I am lucky I'll get a couple of decent leads. If I know who to ask for next time I am in the area, that's a win. If I had a chance to build any type of rapport during my first visit even better. Maybe they will remember the 'Muntons guy'!

I think that is where outside sales, and selling to business is different from inside sales to the public. Yes, follow up is important in any type of sales, but your best chance of closing someone you have on the phone or at your store is when that person is on the line or in front of you. I know when salespeople call me I avoid them like the plague. With malt, even when a customer says they are going to buy from you it could be weeks, months or never. My job is to keep showing up until they do.

"80 percent of success is just showing up" —Woody Allen
That one line is basically what I do.

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