Final E-brewery upgrades

The final upgrades to my electric brewery are complete. I added a 25′ x 3/8″ HERMs coil to my hot liquor tank (HLT) this weekend and got a chance to test it out today on my 11 gal historical 1868 English Porter brew. The coil allows me to hold mash temps steady throughout the whole mash by pumping wort thru the coil – the electronic temp control in my HLT allows me to set whatever temp I want the HLT water and mash to stay at. I can also do step mashes now too, so I can add a protein rest to my wheat or pilsner brews, and also use the HERMs to raise the mash temp to 168 for mashout. Here’s what the coil looks like:

HERMS Coil in the HLT

I do like the fact that I can bring the mash up to 168 for mashout – it seemed to improve my efficiency as I got 86% efficiency in this batch – the best I’ve ever gotten.

The other new add-on to my brewery is the $10 stainless steel hop stopper I added to my boil kettle. It’s made from a jumbo stainless steel tea ball from Amazon. I used a small phillips screwdriver to force a hole in the side of the tea ball, and then stretched out the hole until it was large enough to fit my side pickup tube thru. Then I cut about 1.5 inches off my pickup tube so the hop ball would fit in along the side of the kettle, and also cut some grooves into the end of the tube. If the open end of the tube get pressed up against the side of the stainless screen and some hops block the screen, the wort will still be able to drain into the tube thru the grooves. Here’s picture of it before the brew:

My $10 stainless hop blocker

Here’s the grooves I cut into the pickup tube:

Grooves in the tube (click the pic to see a larger view)

Here’s what it looks like after a brew that used 5oz of leaf hops. It drained all 11 gal out quickly with no hops getting into the fermentor or plugging up at all.

Hop blocker in action

I haven’t tried it with hop pellets yet, but I don’t normally have a problem with pellets hops plugging up my pickup tube like whole hops do.

Overall I am very happy with the hop stopper, it only took a few minutes to build and it works as well as a $60 hopstopper you can buy online. Plus it’s stainless so it should last forever. If you use whole hops and need to keep your pickup tube from plugging – build one yourself!

EDIT: Here’s a link to my HBT thread about this, along with more pictures.

No More Propane!

I’ve gone full electric with the brewery, so I’m finally getting around to updating this blog site. Checkout the My Setup tab for more pictures, but here’s the control panel, brewery and wiring schematic I used for the e-build.

The main control panel

The new electric brewery

Ebrewery wiring schematic

No more buying and running out of propane. Electric is much cheaper and much more efficient at heating water and wort than propane too. Plus I have exact control over the temps in my HLT – I can fill it with water, set the temp I need and go inside and take a shower. When I come back out the water is at the exact temp I need and the brewing can begin. During the boil the heating element in the kettle is controlled by the same PID controller, and holds a nice, steady rolling boil. Pretty cool!

Yeast Slants pt 4

Here’s a final follow up for my yeast slant experiment – the WLP001 yeast slant that I stepped up and pitched into my batch of Jade IPA worked great. The OG of the beer was 1.068 and it fermented down to 1.012 in about 5 days, which equals ~ 81% attenuation and matched my target FG for the beer. The IPA was mashed at 148 making it very fermentable which is why I had 81% attenuation. It was fermented at 64 degrees, and brought up to 70 at the end of fermentation.

The taste of the IPA is fantastic, and has the clean taste I’d expect from WLP001 Cali Ale yeast. I washed the yeast from this batch and plan to use it 1 more time in a Imperial IPA I’m brewing on Labor Day. My next slant step up test will be with WLP002, English Ale yeast. This will be used in an English ESB for a batch of beer that I am donating to the Carolina Brewmasters and will be served at the Charlotte Oktoberfest to the people enjoying all the great beers at the festival.

Jade IPA


Yeast Slants Pt3

So I’m planning to brew a batch of Jade IPA this afternoon, and I’ve documented the process I used to step up a slant of California Ale yeast (WLP001) to make the colony large enough to pitch into a 5 gal batch of wort.  I started the step up 4 days earlier, on a Monday night, and here’s what I did:

Monday night – I removed a slant of yeast from the refrigerator and allowed it to warm up to room temperature for an hour or so.  I prepared a clean area by wiping down our flat top stove with some Starsan/water mix and set up my alcohol burner and sanitized my pipette. The purpose of the alcohol burner in this process is to create an updraft to help keep dust particles (contaminates) from falling down into the sterile wort. Before opening either the slant or wort jar, I dipped them both in a Starsan/water mix to sanitize the outside of the containers.

Adding sterile wort to the vial

In the picture above I used the sanitized pipette to take out enough sterile wort from the mason jelly jar to fill the slant
vial with the yeast culture in it to about 1/2 full (next time I think I’ll fill it 2/3 from the top). After the wort is added to the vial I resealed the mason jar, since I’ll need the remaining wort for the next step.  The yeast slant vial with the fresh wort is closed tightly and shaken for 30 seconds or so to mix the yeast culture into the fresh wort, and to oxygenate the wort a bit too. Then I loosened the lid of the vial just enough so that any pressure created by fermentation could escape and left it on the counter overnight. Slightly loosening the cap is important, since you do not want pressure building up in the vial or the yeast will not grow properly.

Tuesday Morning – when I got up on Tuesday morning the yeast were already active and starting to ferment the small amount of wort in the slant  vial.

Wort fermenting in the slant vial

Since the yeast were actively fermenting, I cleaned and sanitized the top of my freezer to prepare for step 2 in building up the yeast. I added the fermenting wort in the vial to the rest of the sterile wort in the mason jelly jar along with a sanitized stir bar, tightened the lid on the jar and shook it for a minute to aerate the wort. I then loosened the lid just enough to allow any pressure created during fermentation to escape.

Adding yeast from vial to sterile wort in jar

Finally, I put the jar on my stir plate in my fermentation fridge where I held the temp at 68. It would be OK to leave at room temp (mid 70’s), but since I plan to pitch the whole starter into my beer without cold crashing and decanting off the fermented wort, I am keeping it cooler to prevent off flavors. Here’s how it looks after I added the yeast to the jar:

Step 2 of yeast propagation

Thursday Morning – It took a bit longer for the yeast in the jelly jar to show any signs of fermenting, but after 48 hours I had definite signs that the yeast colony had multiplied and that fermentation had begun. I think the next time I try this I may reduce the amount of wort in the 8 oz jelly jar so it’s only 1/2 full instead of 2/3 full. The jump up in size from the vial to the jelly jar may have been too big of a jump, and may cause unnecessary stress on the yeast (I’m just speculating here, but 48 hours seems a bit too long to see activity).  The yeast starter is now milky in color due to the large population of yeast that has grown in the wort:

Yeast activity in step 2 of the starter

Thursday night – Ideally at this point I would have liked to let the yeast fully ferment out the wort for a day or so, and then crash cool it in the refrigerator; then I could decant off the beer and add only yeast to step 3 of the starter (EDIT – DECANTING IS NOT NECESSARY). But since I am planning to brew on Friday afternoon I need to make the final step of the starter now.

Step 3 is no different from a normal yeast starter that you would do if you bought a vial of yeast from the home brew store. I’ve decided to do a 1000 ml starter, so I added 100 grams of dry malt extract and a pinch of yeast nutrient to 1000 ml of filtered water and poured it into my 2000 ml Erlenmeyer flask. I also add a couple drops of Fermcap S to keep it from foaming all over the stove when it starts to boil, and covered the top of the flask with a piece of foil. After boiling the wort for 10 minutes I cooled it in an ice water bath to room temp. The final step is to pour the yeast and stir bar from the jelly jar into the cooled wort in the flask, shake it for a minute to oxygenate it, and put it on the stir plate in the fermentation fridge and keep the temp set at 68.

Starter after adding yeast and shaking to oxygenate

Friday morning – I’ve already got activity in the flask – the yeast are happily eating all the sugars in the final yeast starter.

Final yeast starter with fermentation underway

I’ll be brewing this afternoon, and the final test will be to see how well the yeast perform in the 5 gal batch of beer, and how the final beer tastes. I’ll update this post in about 2 weeks with results!

My Brew Process

Here’s an overview of my all grain brewing process. It’s intended to show non-brewers or extract brewers how a batch of all grain beer is made. You can click on any images to get a better look at them.

The batch I made today is an English Pale Ale, the style being a Special Bitter. Contrary to the name, English Bitters are usually not very bitter but are malty and often have a slight caramel taste. My batch size is 5 gallons, although I have the capability to do 10 gallon batches. Here’s the recipe for my brew:  Larry’s Pride Special Bitter

Usually the day before brew I add my strike water (water that will be heated and mixed with grains during the ‘mashing’ process) to my 15 gal brew kettle. I used filtered tap water for my beers, and usually add a small amount of calcium choride (2 grams) and epsom salt (2.5 grams) to the strike water since the local tap water here is very soft and lacking in calcium and magnesium, which are important minerals used by enzymes during mashing and yeast during fermentation. I also add 1/2 tsp  5.2 stabilizer to my water to help balance the water ph during the mash. For this brew I also added 1 gram of Calcium Carbonate (Chalk). I’ll also measure out my sparge water (used to rinse the grains with after the mash process is finished) in a 5 gal water jug I got from Lowes, so all my water will be filtered and ready to go on brew day.

Today I started my brew day at 6 am, since it’s supposed to be 97 degrees and I wanted to finish before it got too hot. I fired up the burner under my kettle to heat up the strike water, and while the water heats up I run the extension cord and hose out to my shed and measure out my hops for the recipe. Heating the water usually takes around 20 minutes so it gives you time to set things up for the brew session. When the water is close to the strike temp (about 8 – 10 degrees above the mash temp for your recipe) I start recirculating the water thru my water cooler mash/lauter tun (MLT) and back to the kettle. This heats up the MLT so that it does not lose as much heat during the mash.  Here’s what the setup looks like during recirculation:

When the thermometer on the MLT is about 9 degrees above what my mash temperature is for the recipe and I have 1.25 quarts of water in the MLT for every pound of grain in the recipe,  I stop the recirculation and get ready to add the grains. Here’s what 9lbs of grain looks like:

To start the mash process I cut open the bag and add the grains to the hot water in the MLT and stir everything for a few minutes to eliminate any clumps. If I am at the correct temp (156 for this recipe) I can now put the top on the MLT and let the enzymes in the grains go to work breaking down starches into sugars. These enzymes require certain temps to work correctly – they will break down the sugars into more easily fermentable pieces at cooler temps (149) than at wamer temps (158). For this recipe I want some maltiness left over after fermentation so I am mashing at the warmer end of the range (the yeast I’m using (WLP007) is quite aggressive so I don’t want it to ferment out too dry). Here’s what the grain mixed with the strike water looks like at the beginning of the mash:

After 45-60 minutes, the enzymes will have completely converted the starches in to sugars, and the process of extracting the sugary wort (wort is what beer is called before yeast is added) from the grains can begin. To help clear any bits of grain from the wort I use my pump to recirculate wort thru the MLT for about 5 minutes, allowing the grain bed to filter the wort. During the mash I heated my sparge water in the kettle and then pumped it to the hot liquor tank (HLT) on the shelf up above.

Now that the mash is complete and the wort is clear I can start slowly draining the wort from the MLT into the boil kettle, while at the same time slowly draining hot water from the HLT into the MLT. The hot water will pull out the sugars from the grains as it flows thru to the kettle. Here’s how my setup looks during the sparge (known as fly sparging):

To keep the grains from flowing into the kettle, a strainer known as a false bottom sits on the bottom of the MLT. It keeps the grain in the MLT but lets the wort flow thru. This is what a false bottom looks like – I just bought this from Alternative Beverage in Charlotte to replace my DIY manifold I built in an earlier post. The manifold worked OK, but the false bottom works better:

Here’s a picture of the wort as it slowly fills the kettle:

This is what the grain looks like after the mash and after the sugars have been extracted during the sparge:

When I’ve captured approximately 6.5 gal of wort into the kettle I bring it to a boil and start adding hops at different boil times per the recipe. Hops added at the beginning of the boil are known as bittering hops because most of the flavor and aroma are boiled off leaving only the hoppy bitterness. Hops added at the end of the boil are flavor and aroma hops, and if you add hops after fermentation it’s known as dry hopping. Here’s my brew during the boil:

After a 1 hour boil it’s time to cool the wort. About 10 minutes before the boil is completed I’ll add in my wort chiller into the kettle so that it is sanitized by the boiling wort. The wort chiller is a coil of either stainless steel or copper – it’s connected to a garden hose and cool water is run thru it so that it pulls the heat from the wort.

Kettle with wort chiller in it.

When the wort cools to the mid-60’s it is ready to drain into the fermenter. Getting the wort this cool is a challenge in the South in the summer, since tap water can be in the 80’s. So after cooling to around 100 I’ll use a small pump to pump ice water from my HLT thru the wort chiller to cool the wort lower. If I can’t get it into the 60’s I’ll drain it to the fermenter and put it in the fermentation fridge for a couple hours to cool it the rest of the way before adding yeast. If yeast is added while the wort is too warm you end up with off flavors in your beer.

Draining into the fermenter:

Here’s the fresh wort in the fermentation fridge with the yeast starter sitting behind it. While it cools I use an S type airlock with a water /Starsan mix in it to allow air to suck back into the fermentor (a vacuum is created when the wort cools).

Once it cools to 64 I’ll add the yeast, and aerate with pure oxygen for 1 minute. It’s now officially beer, but it won’t be ready to drink for a few weeks. The yeast will multiply for about a day and then start to eat the sugars while releasing alcohol and CO2. Temperature control is very important during this time. If it’s too cold it won’t ferment completely and if it’s too warm it will develop off flavors. When fermentation slows down I’ll bring the temp up into the low 70’s to help the yeast finish fermentation and clean up some of the off flavors that will get created during the fermentation process. I’ll also use a hydrometer to test the gravity before and after fermentation. As sugars are converted to alcohol by the yeast, the gravity will drop. The gravity readings will allow me to calculate the final alcohol percentage and tell me when fermentation is completed.

English Bitters ferment and clean up pretty quickly, so I should be able to keg and start drinking this batch in about 2 weeks from today if all goes well.

That’s all for now!

Edit: Here’s how the Special Bitter looks during fermentation:

Yeast Slants pt 2

Well, I did a test inoculation of a couple slants and a petri dish with some yeast from the bottom of a bottle of a commercial Rogue beer and realized pretty quickly that my first batch of agar/wort mix was not going to work. I had put way too much agar in the mix and it was so thick that I couldn’t even get my inoculation needle to scrape the surface. So, I cleaned out all the petri dishes and slant vials and remade a new batch of wort/agar following the process in the previous post, and this time I used 7 grams of agar for 500 ml of wort. The results were much better, I ended up with a much more usable substrate to grow some yeasties on.  Here’s what the new batch looks like:


Since I recently picked up a new vial of White Labs WLP002 English ale yeast for a special bitter I’m brewing this weekend, I decided to try inoculating a few of the vials with the yeast.

I fired up my home made alcohol lamp to sterilize the inoculation loop, and rested the loop in a jar of Starsan and water.  I ran the loop thru the flame a couple times, dipped it in the yeast and then quickly jabbed it into the wort/agar mix in one of the vials a few times and then capped the vial. I repeated this for all 5 vials, the whole process only took a couple minutes.  About 3-4 days later this is what the vials look like:

The white stuff growing on the surface is yeast that has colonized the agar. The vial on the far right, however, has been infected by something and is growing mold. The mold is the bluish, fuzzy spot about a 1/3 of the way up from the bottom. Here’s a closer look:

This vial will not be kept since the mold will soon take over the surface of the agar.

After a few more days the non-infected vials should have yeast covering most of the agar surface, and at that point I’ll label the vials and store them in the refrigerator.  I wrapped black tape around the cap too, to make the vial air tight. They should be good for 6 – 12 months, and if they start to get old I can always re-slant them in a fresh vial.

On the 16th I brewed a batch of American Wheat beer  and before pitching some washed WLP001 California Ale yeast I streaked a petri dish with yeast using the same basic method shown above. After a couple days it had yeast colonizing on the dish, so I scraped some yeast from the dish and inoculated 3 vials with WLP001. My yeast library now has 2 strains!

In the future I’ll document the process of stepping up the yeast colony to a size that can be used in a batch of beer.  I plan to use a pipette to add about 10 ml of sterile wort into the vial, letting the yeast multiply for a day, and then shake and add the wort/yeast mix into the 8oz mason jelly jar of sterile wort with a stir bar and let the yeast grow more while it mixes on a stir plate for a day. The final step will be to pitch the yeast mix into a 1000-1500 ml wort mix in a flask on a stir plate overnight before adding to a batch of beer on brew day.

Ain’t science fun?!?!

Yeast Slants

So, yesterday I decided to put on my mad scientist cap and put together the stuff I need to start culturing yeast slants. What this means is I will be able to store yeast samples in vials in the refrigerator for up to a year, so I won’t need to buy yeast anymore. It may turn out to be more hassle than it’s worth, but never the less I’m going to try anyways. For those of you who want to play along at home, this is the process I’m trying to copy:

To start I mixed about 40 grams of dry malt extract with about 500ml of water and a pinch of hops in a pan and warmed it on the stove. Then I added about 25 grams of agar agar powder (available at many Asian markets) and stirred it in. Turns out 25 grams is too much agar and it came out much thicker than planned, but it should work anyways (EDIT – THIS DID NOT WORK, IT’S WAY TOO MUCH AGAR). Then I added it to the petri dishes and vials and got them ready to sterilize. I also have 1 small mason jar of just plain wort (dry malt extract and water) without the agar that I’ll use later to re-grow the yeast for a batch of beer. Here’s what everything looks like:

Next step is to sterilize everything in the pressure canner, and I’m also throwing in 3 jars of tomatoes that we are canning so I can make full use of the canner. If you try this at home make sure to leave the lids of the vials open just a crack so they don’t explode. I have the vials in a pint mason jar with foil over the top. So in everything goes:

After 20 minutes at 250 degrees and 15 psi (let the pressure cooker cool for an hour before opening) I took everything out and laid out the vials on an angle so the wort/agar mix would thicken up and form a slant.

After everything cooled completely I closed all the lid vials tightly and wrapped them with black electrical tape, and also taped around the edge of the petri dishes to keep them from drying out. It’s important not to open them until you are ready to use them or they may no longer be sterile. I’m going to leave them at room temp for a few days to see if anything undesired starts to grow on them, indicating an infection. Here’s my collection of vials, dishes and sterile wort that is ready to use:

Next time I make beer I’ll take a small amount of yeast from that batch and inoculate several vials with the yeast. It will form colonies on the surface of the wort/agar mix and then I can store it for up to a year in the fridge. When I want to use it I can add the yeast to a small wort starter, and build up the colony until I have enough for a batch of beer. It shouldn’t take more than a couple days to do that (EDIT – takes about 4-6 days). The petri dishes can be used to capture wild yeast, which some people have done successfully and brewed a decent beer from wild yeast. It can also be used to create single cell yeast colonies and to test the viability of yeast from a bottle of commercial beer (like Rogue or Bell’s beer). I could propagate the yeast from a bottle of Bell’s and brew a batch with their specific strain of yeast.

What’s brewing in July?

Since the weather is ridiculously hot in July and August, there’s not too much going on in the brew shed.  I currently have a Russian Imperial Stout in one of my primary fermenters that will be transferred to glass carboy in a couple weeks for extended aging. I also have a peach mead in my fermenting bucket in the fermentation fridge. It has been fermenting for about 4 days and has already dropped to around 1.030 after starting at 1.100 (this is a measurement of the sugars that have been fermented by the yeast. As the yeast consume sugar and release alcohol, the gravity reading will drop). This will also need extended aging in a glass carboy.

Meads seem to be the way to go in the hot months, as there is no boiling wort and sweating out in the shed – everything can be done indoors in the cool air-conditioning.

With the downtime in the brewery I’ve been able to re-build my mash tun manifold to hopefully improve my efficiency with fly sparging (a method of extracting the sugars from the barley grains). The new manifold will hopefully allow the sugary wort to flow out of the mash tun from a larger area around the base of the mash tun, resulting in a high percentage of sugar extraction from the grain. This is how efficiency is measured when brewing beer.



Welcome to the Little Shed Brewer blog site. It’s created to share what’s going on in my home brewery. As I brew new beers and recipes, try different techniques, and tweak my equipment and processes, I’ll post everything here.

I hope you enjoy it!