Our Brew Blog & News
Brewing With Grainfather- Tips and Ideas 0
More and more people are making the switch to electric all-grain brewing, and the Grainfather has been instrumental in making this happen. If you aren't familiar with it, the Grainfather is a stainless all-in-one brew system with a pump, digital controller (now with Bluetooth!), and counterflow chiller. The one thing you need to add to this all-in-one, is a way to sparge. You can heat up water in your old brew kettle for this purpose, or there's a Grainfather Sparge Water Heater unit that can electrically heat up to 4.8 gallons of sparge water.
Like any brew system, the Grainfather has its own quirks, idiosyncrasies, and system numbers that you need to figure out. I was an early adopter of the Grainfather, purchasing one here at the shop as soon as it was available. At the time, both Beersmith and the Grainfather calculators failed to give me the water volume numbers I really needed to be consistent; it took several brews before I got it dialed in. Before diving into water specifics, let me go over what I see as the pros and cons of this system.
- It is compact, so it's easy to take to a friend's home for a brew day and it stores well, even in homes with little space to spare.
- It's all 304 stainless, so there's no concern of extracting off flavors or chemical compounds from other materials such as plastic.
- Conserve water. The mash basket fully drains into the kettle once lifted out, so you have zero loss from dead space (as is in the bottom of a traditional false bottomed mashtun).
- Digital temp control is great for step mashes and single infusions. The new Connect controller features bluetooth and a more sophisticated PID for even more control. You can even set the Grainfather to start at a certain time so that by the time you get out of bed, your water is at mash temp and you're ready to dough in.
- The magnetic drive pump works very well both for recirculating during the mash and for running the wort through the very efficient counterflow chiller. Both of these items also make it easy to drop temp below 180F and make whirlpool hop additions.
- U.S. version uses 120V power, so you don't need to have 240V power wired in.
- U.S. version uses 120V power, so the max output on the heating element is 1600W, as opposed to 2000W for the AUS/NZ/UK model. This means it is not quite as fast/powerful as one might hope, especially if you're used to ramping up quickly with a propane burner.
- The pump filter clogs easily with protein and hop material, causing a slow transfer through the chiller and into the fermentor.
Fortunately, when it comes to the weaknesses of this system, you have solutions to largely mitigate these problems. Using the Graincoat, a custom-tailored insulated jacket for the Grainfather, is a tremendous help in retaining heat; this helps compensate for the "underpowered" element and maintain mash temps as well as heat water and wort more quickly. I will not use my Grainfather without the Graincoat ever again. As for the filter, using a stainless hop spider or even just a nylon strainer bag will keep the bulk of the hop material contained and the pump flowing smoothly. Boom! Easy!
Now, for the numbers. How much water do you use to mash? To sparge? What's the evaporation rate? Instead of laying this out in a clunky paragraph, here are key points that I have found and apply when preparing my recipe and going through brew day.
- Water to grist ratio: 1.6qt water per pound of grain.
- Grain Water Retention: This may vary slightly due to several factors, but in general, your grain will retain .8 fluid ounces of water per 1 oz (weight) of grain. More simply, your grain will absorb 1/4 of the water you mash in with if you're using 1.6qt/lb as I recommend.
- Evaporation rate: This really threw me off for awhile, as the evaporation rate is much lower---about half---as when I boil with propane. Again, multiple factors can affect your exact boil off rate, but it's .5-.6 gallons per hour; I typically assume .55 gallons per hour.
- Trub loss: Using a hop spider really helps maximize yield. I lose about .75 gallons to trub in the bottom of the kettle and wort left in the pump's recirculation arm. The bottom of the grainfather is dished, with the pump inlet elevated above the dish. This is nice as it allows proteins and other particulates to settle out below the intake. When I'm almost finished running the wort into the fermentor, I will sometimes tilt the Grainfather so as to pull more wort into the pump (assuming it's "clean" wort and not just protein-laden sludge).
- Sparge Water: Easily calculated once you know all the elements above and what you want your pre-boil volume to be. Allow me to walk you through how I go about making my calclulations-
EXAMPLE: I'll break this into steps to make it easier to follow.
1) I want to brew a blonde ale and end up with 5 gallons in my keg. To do this, I want 5.25 gallons of wort in my fermentor; the extra .25 is my sacrificial volume for trub.
2) I'm going to lose .75 gallons to kettle trub, so that means I actually need 6 gallons of wort post-boil.
3) This point is where there's a bit of an efficiency trade-off. Except for smaller session beers, to fully sparge your grain, you'll have a larger pre-boil volume, which means a longer boil time. You can alternatively slightly undersparge and not have to boil as long. The latter is what I do, but his sacrifices some efficiency since you're leaving more sugar behind in the grain; you can compensate for this by using more grain in your grain bill. Simply note your efficiency in your brew software so that you can adjust recipes accordingly. I opt for a 1.5 hour boil. With an evaporation rate of .55 gallons/hour, this means I'll lose .825 gallons over the course of my boil. 6 gallons post-boil plus .825 gallons evaporated = pre-boil volume of 6.825 gallons.
4) So how much do I sparge with to reach my pre-boil volume? Here we have to look at how much water I use at each stage. Let's say this blonde ale uses 10lbs of grain. To mash: 10lb x 1.6 qt water = 16 qts. Divide number of quarts by 4 to get gallons. 16/4 = 4 gallons. My grain will then absorb 1/4th of the mash water, so if I were to just drain the mash basket into the kettle, I'd then have 3 gallons in the kettle. To sparge: Preboil volume of 6.825 minus 3 gallons leaves a difference of 3.825 gallons needed to sparge. NOTE: Again, you may wish to improve your mash efficiency a bit by sparging more and boiling longer. My efficiency ranges from 75-78%. For me, a few more percentage points aren't worth an extra 30-45 minutes boil time. For session ales, more sparging typically isn't necessary since you may actually oversparge and extract tannins; it's the higher gravity beers where you really have to decide between efficiency and time.
In summary, the Grainfather is a really fun unit that does what it's supposed to and may help automate your brewing enough to where you can accomplish more on brew day. Like any system, getting to know the numbers is crucial for consistency, and I hope this guide helps you dial it in more quickly. I highly recommend investing in brewing software to help with recipe formulation and
- Theodore Clevenger
To Justin, You'll Forever Be Missed 0
Please humor me, for I know not why, what, or where this is going, but I cannot help but express my sorrow and love for one of our own- Justin Shearer-as well as his fiancee, Erin.
I (Tedd) love what I do. Owning and working at a homebrew shop enables me the opportunity to meet some of the world's most fun, generous, and all-around incredible people. I find myself perpetually amazed at how much my life has been enhanced through the relationships I've developed while toiling away in this tiny dust box of malts and sugar alchemy. Our customers are invaluable to me, not just from a bottom line business perspective, but from a human one. So many of you have come into this shop and made yourself home. You are our friends, and I consider all my friends to be family.
On Wednesday June 7th, 2017, we lost a beloved member of our family, Justin Shearer. Many of you knew Justin, at least in passing. He was an excellent brewer and had more passion for beer than anyone I know. It was Justin who is responsible for our doing trivia at our Brewers Socials. He would often bring copious amounts of beer to share and distribute as prizes. Some of you were lucky enough to win one of his candles, which were housed inside empty beer bottles.
Justin and Erin were the first non-family members to hold my newborn baby, Bodhi, nearly 2 months ago. We took Bodhi out on his first outing, to the Wedge, and met them there. Justin had so much love in his heart and compassion, enthusiasm, and generosity exuded from his personality unlike anyone I've known. He could, and did, make fast friends of anyone, as is evidenced in the hundreds of people that called him a friend from around the globe. Truly, nothing bad could ever be said of him, and we mourn his passing and Erin's deep loss.
In less than a week, Justin and Erin were to be wed. They were so excited to get married. My wife and I were very much looking forward to sharing their special day with them. It's so surreal that I was just earlier in the week supplying some goods that they needed. Justin was bottling special beers for the occasion. This weekend, he was going to bring me some dvds of a band he turned me onto (he turned me onto a lot of great music). To have these two robbed of their special day adds so much insult to what we all already consider a grave theft. He should not be gone.
There is a meal train set up for Erin and her visiting parents. If you'd like to contribute, you can sign up at https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/dmzm5v There is also a gofundme that has been set up.
I know how many people Justin affected in this community. If anyone needs to talk, I'm available. Justin, I love you, man. Erin, I love you and we support you. I don't know when the tears will end, but we won't stop remembering Justin and his incredibly bright and inspiring personality.
Much love forever,
- Theodore Clevenger
Before You Brew, Look For These Things/ Notes On Dust!!! 0
Plenty can go wrong on brew day. But it's really frustrating to have everything go smoothly and still end up with something that's not as bright and delicious as it should have been. Here are a few tips for ensuring that your wort turns into the most beautiful butterfly it can be (that is if your wort were a caterpillar):
Freshness matters. It matters A LOT. Most of these recommendations stem from that core concept.
Yeast has the final say when it comes to your beer, yet it's the ingredient many brewers take most for granted. Though it's only a single cell, yeast is a very complex living organism. If you don't pitch enough healthy yeast into your well-aerated/oxygenated wort, don't expect the best results. Too little healthy yeast can result in any or all of the following: long lag time before fermentation begins, with the worst case scenario being it never starts at all; off-flavors created by stressed yeast cells; greater ester production, often greater than acceptable for balance and style; and underattenuation, meaning higher terminal gravities and sweeter, less quaffable beer.
What do you do? Familiarize yourself with yeast pitching rates and yeast starters. When buying your yeast, check the date. Most liquid yeast will have both a production date and a best by date, whereas most dry yeast only has a best by date. Regardless, fresher is better as you will have more yeast/greater viability. The mrmalty website now has a wonderful yeast pitching calculator that's free to use.
We NEVER intentionally sell out of date yeast. This is unethical. Do not buy out of date yeast; it's a waste of money. If we ever have yeast go out of date, we give it away. You can certainly add some expired yeast to a fresh vial, or make a yeast starter to build the cell count back up.
NOTE: Buy a pack or two of some dry yeast to keep around. If you ever run into a situation where your yeast is old and you're uncertain it'll fully attenuate or the lag is lasting much longer than expected, you have some healthy yeast you can pitch to ensure all doesn't go to waste.
Whether you're brewing all-grain, or steeping grains to supplement your malt extract, it's not a bad practice to taste your malt. Unground, most malt will keep fresh for 9-12 months. After that, it will start to stale and lose some of its diastatic power. If the malt tastes really stale or spongy, the stale flavors will carry over to the final beer. Consider using a different malt.
Malt extracts, especially liquid ones, will also stale and oxidize, which is why you won't get the true color and flavor of the malt as if you'd brewed all-grain (dry malt oxidizes less, so it is a truer profile). You can check the bottom of the can for production dates. If it's more than 9-12 months old, consider a different malt or a different brew store.
NOTE: Darker grains contain more antioxidants, so they are more stable over time than base malts or lighter character malts. This holds true for darker malt extracts as well.
Water is the canvas upon which you paint your beer.... or something. Start with good quality water. If your water is exceptionally hard or contains lots of iron, consider buying spring water or reverse osmosis. If your water contains chlorine, do the same or run it through a charcoal filter first. You can also treat your water with campden tablets to knock out the chlorine---use at a rate of a 1/4 tablet per 20 gallons of water. When yeast metabolizes chlorine, it spits out some unpleasant harsh compounds into your beer.
If you brew all-grain, the importance of water cannot be stressed enough. Get to know your water either through send-off tests such as Ward Labs, buy a home water testing kit (specific to brewing), or start with a blank slate such as RO water and build the profile from there. The Brewers Association book, Water, by John Palmer is excellent if you want to delve deeply into the water chemistry rabbit hole.
This one is a little trickier since you can't typically smell hops at the store. I always smell the hops prior to adding them to the boil. For me, it's as much about learning the characteristic of the hop and enjoying the aroma as it is ensuring freshness. As a general rule (and this doesn't always hold true...as in the case of Medusa hops which honestly don't smell great until the final beer), if your hops smell bad, they're going to be bad.
Old hops might smell cheesy and, if used, will impart a cheesy or sweaty gym sock aroma to the beer---not pleasant. This is because as the hops age, the alpha acids degrade. Humulone, specifically, contains isovaleryl which, with age and oxidation, unbinds itself from the molecule and will become a flavor-active compound.
That cheesiness is isolvaleric acid, which is a short-chain fatty acid commonly found in cheese and foot odor. I'm going to guess that you don't want to be serving your guests a Sweaty Foot Stout... Use fresh hops, and if sourcing in bulk, use them as quickly as possible. In the meantime, vacuum seal them and keep them in the freezer to retard the rate of degradation.
NOTE: It doesn't hurt to have an extra ounce or two of hops on hand just in case you get a surprise on brew day and one of your hop additions smells terrible. If brew day goes smoothly, simply use your reserves soon, on the next beer perhaps, and snag another backup at the shop.
Yes, our shop is dusty. Counter-intuitively, more dust means more business, which means faster turn over of ingredients. Grain produces insane amounts of dust. Watch us weigh out a grain bill some time and you'll see the plumes of fine dust wafting out. When we refill grain bins---dust clouds. When we mill grain---so much dust. Soooo much dust.
So while it doesn't look as nice, we are very proud and thankful for our dust, and you should be too. As I said, it means fast turnover.
WHAT WE DO FOR YOU
As alluded to with the whole dust equals fresh paragraph above, we keep busy. On top of that, though, we don't stockpile hoards of ingredients. We bring in two-three pallets every week and order yeast as needed (usually that's weekly). With this fast turnover, we can ensure that your ingredients are not hanging around on the shelf very long and they're as fresh as they can possibly be. Don't believe us? Put us to the test using the notes above. Don't shop with us? Employ these discretionary observations wherever you do shop; it can make the difference between beer that's drinkable and beer that's enjoyable.