Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Little Background

Given the enormous success and popularity of folks' blogs out there, I thought I'd try my hand at tracking my home brewing and photographing activities. I've been brewing for about three years now, and only a year in DC. Having had to brew in three different apartments, with very different constraints, it's produced a lot of creativity and a bit of adventure (and likely breaking a few rules here and there).
The idea behind this blogs' beginnings is to highlight my process and how it's adapted to fit into a small city apartment. I live with my girlfriend in a small apartment building in a one bedroom, 600-700 sq ft space (complete guess). I brew all grain, full wort boils, and have plenty of equipment.
Tracking one brew, it starts by heating up all the water on the stove since I try to preserve as much propane as possible (more on this later). I use Pro Mash to determine how much water to use. It all relies on how much grain, choosing a ratio of mash water to grain by qt/lb, and then details into your process like mash-tun design, boil time, boil off, etc. It typically works out well each time and I end up with 5.5 gallons into the carboy.
Next, I mill the grains for the batch. Since I live so far from a home brew store, I buy everything online. For this batch, I'm brewing an oat wine. Based on a barley wine recipe, this version contains a high percentage of malted oats. For milling, I use a Barley Crusher powered by a drill. Hand cranking this thing, is no fun. Once all the grain is milled and my water is up to temp (I use Tasty Brew's calculator to determine the mash water temperature by a series of equations involving: grain amount, grain:water ratio, grain temperature, and desired mash temperature), it's time to mash. For this, I use a 70qt cube cooler fitted with a CPVC manifold. Generally, I do single infusion, 60 minute mashes followed by a quick, single batch sparge. Since, I do full wort boils I use a propane turkey fryer and a 9 gal pot. How do I use a turkey fryer in my tiny apartment? Well, I use my what I call a patio, while most folks call it a fire escape. The slotted metal outpost just outside my bedroom window fits my burner and propane tank quite well. I can happily recommend this method, but just want you to know that you should be very comfortable with using your burner and know it's kinks and intricacies.
After a 60 minute boil and with all my hop additions, it's time to chill the wort. I use a 25' copper immersion chiller. I helped build it with a store worker in Kansas. With the addition of a small aquarium pump to pump chilled water through the chiller, I'm able to cool my wort pretty quickly. After transferring my wort to the carboy, I oxygenate and pitch my yeast.
This, in a nut shell, is my process. I haven't had to overly adapt anything for this new apartment. Using the turkey fryer on the fire escape has worked out really well since it's closer to the kitchen (chilling source) than I've used it in the past. I've added the aquarium pump to try and conserve water used for chilling since I can pump chilled water instead of just tap, which can get quite warm in the summer months. However, I'm still looking for a fast method and may upgrade to a whirlpool chiller like Jamil Zainasheff's.
I'll be posting recipes and updates for upcoming brews in addition to photographing the rest of my process.

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