Essential equipment.

What are the most important parts of fancier brewing system? Well I guess the next step is to get some actual experience doing all grain brewing, to learn what would be good. Meanwhile I'm thinking about how to make it work well and be slick.  By slick I mean visually appealing (steampunk German submarine is the look, I think) smooth to use & easy to clean.  I've been looking online, but I'm not sure about the canonical 3-keg approach. It still seems too complex and gadgety to me. Also overkill.  With a 5 gal bucket I can make more beer than I can ever drink, so a certain amount of minimalism appeals to me.
So, what's really needed?  Here goes, in the order they're needed.
    • Mash Tun: I really like the idea of using a drink cooler for a mash tun. All the big boys have fancy temperature control with burners and commensurately necessary recirc pumps. But a cooler holds the temp really well without supervision or gizmos!  What the heck do I want a fancy contraption for?  Well, one answer is that calculating the necessary water infusions to hit your desired temperatures is tricky. OTOH, plumbing frightens me, but calculations, not so much:  so I vote for the system with less pipes and maintenance. Maybe I'll get the 10gal version, depending on how tricky the sparging is with the smaller one.
    • Gravity gauge and thermometer.  These are needed at the mash stage, so I list them here.
    • Pump? I'd like to keep everything gravity fed.  I think we can get away with no pumps here, as long as the kettle's mounted high enough to drain into a mash tun or fermentor that's sitting on the ground. (For 15 gal equipment, lifting the weight would start to become a problem.) As mentioned above, using a big steel pot that requires heat and recirculation really drives the need for a pump. With the insulated Tun, we can eschew the pump.
    • Next, the brew kettle.  Ok you need that.   Why, though, do there have to be two of these?  Why not instead use one pot to heat the mashing water, and that same pot to boil the wort?  Ok, you'll need a bucket to hold some water for an intermediate moment. Duh.  My outdoor grill has a burner, but it can barely achieve a boil: in the winter it'll be tough. I wrapped Al foil around mine so it doesn't lose so much heat to the environment. I think this is a piece of equipment to spend a little more on, most importantly a drain valve, so you don't have to siphon. I've bought this now and like it. I'll add that the spigot's got an internal filter as well, which prevents hops & other debris from plugging the (below described) chiller: very key. One trouble with it, the mesh is fine enough that it traps air! Siphoning type problems recur when you can't get air out.  I think bending it upwards may fix that.
    • Spoon marked in gallons for the brew kettle. This is a great piece of simple technology. The kettle's got fittings and filters that make it nonlinear, too.  Another thing for the boil phase is a fine screened strainer, if you want to remove sediment before encanting (?? what word do I want here, for going into the fermenter?)
    • Classic wort chiller? Nothing wrong with that concept. However, as soon as the kettle's got a valve, I like Bobby's plans for a counterflow chiller of a garden hose wrapped around a copper pipe though. That seems easy to clean and use. Ok update: I got the materials to make it. So hopefully ...yep, it's operational! It's more important with all grain brewing because it's a big boil, and you can't dilute the hot wort later with cold water so some kind of chiller is really mandatory. Note: oxygenation will be MORE important, 'cause it will all have been boiled.  Yet another update, I no longer like the counterflow chiller. Makes sense in continuous circulation systems with pumps, but when gravity feed from my kettle (with a pretty fine screen filter) gets very low flow and is susceptible to leaks breaking the pressure head.  An ordinary immersion wort chiller just made from a piece of copper pipe doesn't have that problem.
    • Fermentor. Well, you certainly  need that, with an airlock. Seems to me that except that it doesn't come apart for cleaning very well,a big carboy is an excellent fermentor. I'll stick with that for the near term. It's worth noting that a 5gal "flow rate" through the brewery (tun, boil, ferment, secondary, bottle) seems like plenty.  Doing that on 2 week centers paced by the fermentation is producing a beer flow I probably can't keep up with, and doesn't mandate a huge equipment inventory. Keeping the weight to man-handleable limits will simplify things, too. A thing about the airlock, in the first days so much scum may come out that just a hose plumbed to a water trap is the way to go.
    • Secondary Fermentor.  I'll say yes. I'm a fan because I can make more beer that way. Otherwise the fermentor really controls the pace of the brewery. Less particulates in the beer, too, and some say the primary can damage the flavor after a while. I've heard a lot about oxidizing the beer lately, so plan to use a few dry ice chips to seal O2 away from the beer during the transfer.
    • Some bottling accessories include... High pressure bottle washer (thanks, Jm!) long straight plastic extension with a clip to hold the siphon in place, pressure activated filling valve, capper.
    • CO2 and fermentor caps. These caps have dual "udders" on top of them and that makes a possibility of a pressure assisted siphon.  I do this to move beer from fermenter to secondary, with a pingpong ball's worth of dry ice in each jug, the secondary vented and the fermenter pressurized. This starts and aids the siphon.
    • Fermentor carrier:  I've dropped mine once. Sheesh, for a couple bucks, this is a must have.


        This will be a long boring post but useful to me. It's going to be a homebrewing "manual" of sorts, shamelessly copied from various sources, most expecially (so far) Charlie Papazian's Zymurgy teachings and John Palmer's How to Brew site and one more good one.  Also Adam's sort of led this charge with a recipe document (available only to those with whom the doc's been shared, though.)

        So, here are some key topics:
        • Steep about 1lb/batch when making an extract beer..Steeped grains will add from 10-20 gravity points /(lb/gal) Don't get them over 170F or tannins will be extracted.
        • Mashed grains OTOH will reach about 0.03/lb/gal gravity change. Theoretical max around 38. So far I'm getting about 0.023 though. This "mash calcs" spreadsheet describes the temps and H2O quantities needed.
        • Sparging has the potential to generate tannins, especially as temp goes up and pH as well, as the diluted wort loses it's buffering ability. We have good water, so the buffering is far less of a concern here in Colorado. 
        • "Degrees Lintner" is the measure of diastatic power (enzymatic concentration). You need > 30L on average for the mash to complete in an hour. (This is the opposite of Lovibond which basically means darkness from roasting and you need 20 Lovibond or Less to mash.) Anyway, the "grain bill" listing type and quantity of grain to be mashed needs to average out to 30 Lintner, eg 2lb 120L "two row" and 6lb of carmelized specialty grain (denatured by the hot malting). 
        • The "Original (specific) Gravity" you ferment dare not be too high. The incremental specific gravity for added dry malt extract (DME) is about 0.041/(lb/gal) (about10% less for liquid malt extract) and one to 1.5 lb(DME)/gal is a pretty good quantity. OG above 1.06 is very high.   You can expect to yield 30"points"/lb in mashing, (including the sparge). That's dogma: I certainly haven't achieved it, got perhaps 20 points, on my 3rd try.
        • Palmer specifies "...standard mash conditions for most homebrewers: a mash ratio of about 1.5 quarts of water per pound grain, pH of 5.3, temperature of 150-155°F and a time of about one hour." there are multiple temps with different purposes, and higher temps destroy low temp enzymes, so you have to raise the temperature over time. Some good temps and their relevant enzyme are: protease at 130F,  then beta amylase at 145F, & alpha amylase at 157F. An insulated mash tun (drink cooler) will easily hold temp for 45 minutes with just a degree of drop. (Here're two a nice mashing summary videos  from BobbyNJ, who seems pretty expert, and here is linked John Palmer's  mash enzyme chart.
        • Sparge with another .5qt/lb to .75qt/lb, probably shooting for about 7gal of wort altogether. Doing this at 170F denatures all the enzymes & fixes the sugar mix. If you went hot (for alpha amylase) then it's important because otherwise the complex sugars will keep getting cut up until the boil starts. Since that's right away, this doesn't seem a big deal to me but maybe the time variability thus introduced is the problem. Doesn't seem like there's a big difference between English (batch) or German (continuous) sparging. German reputed to have higher yields, which matters 'cause it reduces the boil volume... Avoiding temp above 170 requires some attention. Calculate the quarts of H2O to reach 170F and thereafter dilute the sparge water down to 170F.
        • A starting gravity measurement is good now. Shoot for 7 gal to boil down to 5, thus the gravity is only 5/7 (71%) what it will be after the boil. Elevated temperature also makes the wort seem weak: at 90F, the hydrometer will read 0.0042 light, 006(100F), 008(110F),  01(120F) and 0.02 light at 160F. Tabulated.  This measurement could motivate some LME addition if deemed necessary (eg if something went wrong with the mash.)
        • Boil for an hour to extract hops bitterness. Hops in after the break. No lid: want aromatics to escape. Insulate the pot somehow? (A little Al foil works.)  I'm thinking of straining the break out (not tasty) right before adding hops, and straining the hops out right before the fermenter (plugs the kettle filter).
        • CP recommends boiling all the water because chlorine will mess with the beer.  Using pre-boiled and cooled water to speed wort chilling is a good idea though. This is for extract beers that can be boiled in concentrated form. Grain beers though, have to be boiled down to desired gravity, so dilution cooling's not possible.
        • Oxygen contact with the fermentation will create vinegar or solvent tastes, so prevent that. (dry ice chips in the bottom of the secondary?) Oxygenate before pitching, only! (...but do it very thoroughly then.)
        • you can't pitch the yeast until the wort is truly cooled: I've killed the yeast in the past.
        • Hydrate first, & then grow the yeast in a dilute solution: too much sugar can make it hard for yeast to hydrate and get started.
        • Add airlock and darkness, and wait.
        • Pitch aroma hops after the blow off, or in the secondary. Here again prevent O2 contact, filling the secondary with sterile water, perhaps? ...using CO2.

        Brewery Upgrade!

        sporting the 5 gallon secondary full of "Norse God," Igloo fermenter (filled right now with fresh "Fizzin' Red Ichor") and storage for 25 liters of bottles, in this case about half that much "Bohagrius Strong Ale," festival pig keg, secret recipe file and not least its iconic namesake, the Pig Stein Brewery is approaching maximum capacity in preparation for the holidays!

        This is set up in the back of the house where it's cool. I'm way too psyched about what's really just a shelf full of crap.  I need some help with the airlock: I've had three batches blow the lid off the cooler, probably because the little airlock gets plugged up when it has a lot of sticky foam (maybe with hops mixed in) trying to squeeze through the tiny pinholes on top.

        And, here's the next beer: It should be done around the mid November. Fun label. Obviously the labels are going to be a lot more collectible than the beer.  This is the wikipedia etching for Odin, or something like that. Obviously the woman must be Frigga, "foremost among godesses" and she's simultaneously swooning, and working on leverage to pry his hand OFF by breaking his thumb.  For his part, Odin's used to getting his way and he's not gonna notice a little thing like a broken thumb, not when his shaft is so hot it can set fire to granite!  Plus, in the end she's bound to fall for the way cool helmet, which I bet he doesn't even take off.  Wikipedia's last word on Frigga is that it comes from Icelandic Frja, "to love" so there's the root of your primary cuss word, folks.  All this embodied in a simple beer, you ask?  But of course!  What could be more elemental?
        Gunnlöd , meaning "war foam"

        A quick review shows she could also be Gunnlöd, (pictured below).  Apparently Gunnlöd traded Odin three nights of passion for three sips of mead, so that's how good this beer is! Or wait: I got it wrong! She had the mead, which she traded for three nights of Odin, so that's how good HE was. Why would he make the trade? Because this mead imbues you with the berzerker rage of poetry or something.  The Vikings were a wee unclear or perhaps casual about the difference between these? (I'm not making this stuff up folks, it's all just a click away in wikipedia.) Anyway the mead was made from honey and Kvasir's blood (hence the red color) and if you drink it you will become intelligent.  I've known this about myself and beer for a long time.

        Fancy Fly-ing!

        Mosquito Haltere (from wikipedia)
        Fantastic talk today, by Itai Cohen, from Cornell's Physics department. He's studied the flight of bugs to distraction, and perfection. This ties into a favorite site of mine, sodaplay, which opines that biological movements can be made, can emerge from simple parts.

        The fruit fly wing, it turns out, operates with nothing but the main oscillatory flight muscles, a lightly damped (stable) pitching moment coefficient and an adjustable bias for the unloaded incidence angle. Those characteristics make it sweep like a fish's fin: the wing inverts on every back stroke. For me it was reminiscent of helicopter cyclic control.

        Even more fun, the prof was able to demonstrate basic lift, propulsion and orientation with his very own home-made man sized fruitfly wings, which he was able (with the studied focus of his enTIRE cerebral cortex) to articulate just as does the bug, thereby spinning himself around on a lazy susan. Here's the fly doing it. I find it interesting that I had a hard time visualizing the motions, too.  There's another way I can do it though, and easily:  think of reorienting yourself while treading water!  If you've spent some time on that, you'll realize you use the same technique, except sculling, meaning you exchange the leading and trailing edges of your hands on the alternate  forward and back-beats of your arms.  Once I realized that difference, it clicked.  I was almost ready to be a fruit fly!  But wait, there's more!

        It gets better: vestigial hind wings (called halteres) wobble and somehow are gyros! "And how does the insect use them in the control loop," you ask?  Why, by driving the GYRO with lead integral loop, of course. Then the attitude control, being servoed to null the gyro, just follows along. Why am I the last person to find this out? It is SO old school: AMRAAM, anyone? I remember Dan and Dick Olerich 'splainin this stuff to me back in the day. (Ok, not Dick, this was way below the sort of problem I dared take to the master.) That's still not even the coolest thing!

        The coolest thing was that they glued a tiny piece of iron wire to the back of the bug and then zapped it with a magnetic field to knock it off course. It's a form of insect spectrometer.  Way too much fun.

        * Wizard of Earthsea *

        A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

        My rating: 3 of 5 stars

        This is certainly good. As usual I'll begin this review when I'm halfway through, and that's now so here goes.

        I've read this before, some years ago, but could not remember any of it. It's funny how things come flooding back, like the next bar in a song, you can't imagine it until it's time and then there it is. The islands, the invaders, fog, getting sent off to wizard's school, friends met there and trouble gotten into, it is all as familiar as an old song.

        The second time around, like a bike ride, it seems shorter!

        This time though, I notice what a rip off the Harry Potter concept is! Or maybe there are only so many thoughts in the world so you're necessarily gonna reuse some if you try to produce anything. You can at least say the UKLeG has foreshadowed much of what we commonly think of as modern culture surrounding wizards and such. She in turn borrowed heavily from the Hobbit of course. And you thought it all came from JK Rowling! (No, of course you didn't. I know.)

        Yet Le Guin's vision is much scarier than the cartoons they serve us up now days in kidlit and movies. The tone of the writing somehow takes itself more seriously, allowing you to empathize with, and fear for, the people in this book. Fantasy should take itself seriously. All fiction is fantastical after all: the events described didn't really happen, those places aren't like that, these people are imaginary. Sticking a dragon in it doesn't make that any different, it just represents the tiger stalking the village, taken to its logical extremity. As such it's a cop out to make it too playful and silly: "just joshing: remember it's all fake" these books seem to say, as when for instance the key protagonists are teens. I think I've found my dividing line between serious fantasy fiction and inane (even irritating) pablum. It's when the author dares to say, "I want you to take this seriously."

        Le Guin is not kidding.

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        Economics of Tariffs?

        ...a link to a g+ post.  Meanwhile, the graphs show how we used to make more substantial use of tariffs, and below that, the impact, in consumer cost.