Archive for the ‘Beer’ Category

Oatmeal Stout, original recipe #3.

About two weeks ago I brewed my third original beer. This time, and in keeping with the season, I brewed an oatmeal stout. To make sure I had plenty of body in this brew, I mashed high and used plenty of oats. Pre-boil gravity was 1.046, that boiled down to a starting gravity of 1.054. Airlock activity ceased after about four days, which seems to be the running average on my all-grain beers, but I left it alone until today. My final gravity, which I’ll confirm over the weekend, was 1.012. I hit my target OG on the nose, but it seems I either did not mash hot enough or the yeast were just really happy with the meal they were given because my FG is three points lower than I planned. Fortunately, it still tastes great.


  • 6lb – 2 Row
  • 4lb – Munich
  • 2lb – Flaked Oats
  • .5lb – Roasted Barley
  • .5lb – Brown (British Chocolate)
  • .5lb – Amber
  • 1.75oz – Kent Goldings, at boil
  • Irish Ale yeast (I used Wyeast)

Mashing in

Sweet wort


Hop addition

All systems GO

Roughly a year and a half has passed since I brewed my very first beer in the Mr. Beer kit my parents bought me. So far, I haven’t brewed anything undrinkable. As far as I can tell, a few people have rather enjoyed a few of the brews that have come since then. Now, it is time to take the next step and go all-grain. Today, I built my mash-lauter tun so I can start all-grain brewing. I’m going the Igloo cooler route that is hugely popular on every homebrewing forum I’ve come across. This is where the conversion will happen. Milled grains will soak in hot water for a while and leave me with a sweet wort (sugar water) I’ll then boil, hop, cool, and add yeast to in order to make more beer.

False Bottom

False Bottom



In completely unrelated news, I rocked my 3rd differential equations exam hard. 96. Hell yes.

Portrait Session: Jennifer Litz

A few weeks ago, Jennifer Litz asked if I would take some photos for her. Business, but fun. She covers the craft beer/food industry, so we already had more than a little in common.

I thought bookshelves with beer bottles on them would serve nicely as a beer-related backdrop, and happen to have entirely too many bottles of beer on hand. For a little added personality, why not add a goblet and swirl it to add a dash of motion to the equation? I couldn’t think of a reason not to do that either, so we did.

Shooting inside on a nasty day means controlling the light myself. Starting point? No ambient at all. Final state? Slightly warm light on the bookshelf, clean and soft light on the subject. See below.

This is my starting point: ISO 200, f/8, 1/125s. That would leave me with enough shutter to freeze motion, and kill any ambient light. Stopping down to f/8 would make sure the window of acceptably sharp focus would tend to include my entire subject. If you pay attention to my other photos, which are generally outside using my friend the sun as a light source, I usually shoot around two stops wider (if not more).

No Light

No light. Black frame.

Now, a black frame isn’t much to look at unless you’re Spinal Tap and you’re trying to find the most blackest – something that can be none more black – black for an album cover. I usually start with the background, and work my way forward. That’s exactly what I did this time. A gridded 285HV with a 1/4 CTO gel in it nicely covered the bookshelf. Click the image to see where the actual light was placed, I added the setup shots as comments to the photos on Flickr.


Background lit.

Time to bring in the subject. One 285HV, snooted, into the wall to the camera-right of the subject to fill in the wall and bounce back a bit of side light brought in some more depth. The key light was my third 285HV bounced into a large Lastolite Tri-Grip reflector. It just so happens that my tripod doubles as pretty good reflector holder.

All lit up

All lit up

The whole scene.

Lighting Setup

Lighting Setup

Finally, one of the photos with the goblet involved.


Jennifer Litz

Empty kegs!?

The other night I ran dry in keg #2. The “Adventure Ale” I brewed with my friends several months ago is no more. Right now I have only two bottles of homebrew, my American Amber Ale, left in my keezer now. Having this little beer on hand is just sad. Brewing some more will have to happen soon.

More beer photos

The number of beer bottles in the cabinet of my bedside table has grown to the point where another trip to my storage unit is probably going to be required soon. Checking my digital beer wall revealed that I’d not taken any photos since the Christmas Ale season. Homework had sufficiently melted my brain so I took a break to snap a few shots.

So far, I have used about four different lighting setups for the beer bottle shots. Usually some post-processing is required before I upload, and that has always irritated me. Some processing is always going to happen, but I’m talking about having to essentially replace the entire background – no good. Finally, I managed to come up with a way where the only thing I need to do is a quick curves adjustment and crop/straighten. The enormous Lastolite Tri-Grip reflectors I have work pretty well as a background for these product shots. I’ll be using them in such a way more often.

Usually I post a wide-angle photo of my setup, but I find that often leaves people wondering what is going on so I shot some (very jerky) video this time. Why did I shoot video? Mostly just because I could!

YouTube Video.

One of my favorite beers on draught. One of my least favorite beers in bottles.

Hitting the high notes

Quite a bit has happened in the last few weeks and I have not been very good about updating this to reflect all of that.

On the photography avenue, I have taken to using that flaming ball of gas we orbit as my primary source of light. To address the problem of fill light, I picked up a pair of Lastolite TriGrip Reflectors. Since bigger is always better I ended up with the large version. Four-foot tall reflectors are not easily handled without an assistant. Looks like I will need to find an assistant.

Usually, I would never dream of writing the above without the inclusion of some photographs. It just so happens my 5D is right next to me with plenty of photographs I would actually love to share. The problem? My Core2Duo 24″ iMac was kindly equipped with one of Apple’s subpar LCD panels. Leave anything still for even a single minute and its outline, and sometimes even text, would burn into the screen. I could understand if this happened after a period of hours. I cannot understand how it happens in less than five minutes. Anyway, my netbook lacks the power to handle my RAW files so until Apple is kind enough to give me back my iMac I have no real way to get those photos up. Sad times for all.

Still on the photography note, I am considering getting rid of my Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. Having gone through a good deal of my photos taken with that lens it seems I tend to use it at both 28mm and 50mm quite a lot. I have faster primes at each of those focal lengths. Just from actually using the lens I also know that I often find myself wishing I had just a hair more reach than its 70mm telephoto end gives me. Generally, that means I am either walking closer to my subject or swapping on the gigantic Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens. Right now, I have two thoughts on how I’ll approach this problem. Thought one involves the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Thought two involves the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens.

Enough photography talk for now. School is driving me mad. Once upon a time, I was awesome at math and science. If only the same held true today. Might my epic failure on my last physics exam be somewhat related to my not having had to use this half of my brain much at all in the last decade? Possibly. Am I okay with that? No, I am not. Next week I take my finals. Next week I do or die in both calculus two, and physics.

There is a natural light at the end of the tunnel next week. A few short hours after I finish my physics final, I will be flying to Boston for about a week. Sometimes the best way to deal with a stressful semester is to fly at least a thousand miles away from it. It helps when there are old friends to see all over the place, and new ones to meet in the same places. I am looking forward to the break because when it is done I have a brutal summer semester to tackle. Calculus three, and physics two. Oh. Joy.

What else? Oh, right. Beer. My keezer had a very large temperature gradient from the bottom of the keezer to the top of the keezer. This, it seems, was largely responsible for some of my more annoying carbonation problems. A fix was obviously needed and a quick trip to the garage provided me with an idea. A few minutes and a few pieces of bent metal later my temperature sensor had migrated its way off the floor. The temperature gradient still exists but now at least my beer lines stay cold enough to maintain an appropriate level of carbonation between the keg and my glass. I still need to go refill my CO2 tank.

Sorting the keg problem

A while back, I finished my keezer build and kegged my first beer. Carbonating that beer seems to be causing me more problems than it should. For now, I am going to blame my lack of patience. There is some carbonation, but not as much as I think there should be. Then again, there is a persistant head on the beer and I don’t know that such a thing is possible without steady carbonation.

Anyway, I’ve kegged another beer and now have it force carbonating as well. My “Adventure Ale” will not have a beer line connected to it until it has sat under CO2 pressure (10psi @ 35°F) for at least three weeks. We will see if I end up with better carbonation results than I did with the German Kölsch. One thing I intend to do before too long is build a small plenum inside the keezer to keep the cold air moving inside, instead of all just settling down on the floor. There is a fairly significant, at least if you’re CO2 dissolved into an aqueous solution, temperature gradient from the floor (35°F) of the keezer to the shanks for my faucets (39°F). Right now, my best guess is that the temperature gradient is responsible for loss of carbonation between the keg and my glass.

German Kölsch

German Kölsch

Adventure Ale -> Secondary

With all commotion last week, I almost completely forgot I had beer fermenting under my stairs! The Adventure Ale (so named because it really doesn’t fit any particular style, nor do I know with any certainty what my fermentables were) had been doing its thing down there for more than two weeks. Given the attenuation expectations of the yeast I used and my final gravity reading of 1.009 (temperature corrected) I decided to go ahead and rack to secondary.

The beer was already very clear, but in an effort to minimize any sorts of sediment I’m going to be using secondary regardless of whirfloc use (or non-use). To my surprise, the time it spent in fermentation calmed the incredible level of hop flavor down a good deal. It still certainly has a hop bite, but that bite is replaced with an interesting malt character on the aftertaste. I don’t know what to think about that, but I imagine with proper carbonation this will end up with a unique mouthfeel. I can definitely live with that.

Gravity and Temperature

Gravity and temperature

Adventure Ale

It’s been a while since my last brewday, and my good friend Joesph came to town for a few days, so I decided to fix that little problem. A few weeks ago, I decided an IPA would be my next style. Today’s brew, however, is more an Adventure Ale. Why is it an Adventure? I have no idea what is even in it, beyond the hops.

I took a drive down to DeFalco’s, and again spent more than I planned. Two one-gallon glass carboys, with stoppers and airlocks, came home with me. I also picked up a stopper to use when I finally start bottling from the keg. Whoever helped me at DeFalco’s took off grabbing ingredients when I said I wanted to brew an IPA. I failed to get an ingredient list, and I certainly did not get what is in any of their recipe kits online, so beyond knowing I used 1.5 ounces of Columbus hops, an ounce of Centennial hops, and an ounce of Cascade hops – I really couldn’t tell you what I did.


Support materials

Given that I had no idea what was in the specialty grain bag, I just took a SWAG and heated 2 gallons of water to 150°F and steeped for 25 minutes. I definitely got color from the specialty grains, a very dark amber. Anyway, from there I brought my volume up to 6 gallons and stirred in my unknown amount of liquid malt extract (I also don’t know which variety LME I used, I seem to recall seeing pilsner on the side of the barrel it came out of, but who knows). Once everything was dissolved, I kicked up the heat and brought things to a heavy boil.

Steeping Grains

Steeping Grains

After the foam dropped, in with an ounce and a half of Columbus hops. 40 minutes later, an ounce of Centennial went in, and at flame out an once of Cascade. Something, that’d be my tongue, tells me this was entirely too much alpha acid. Entirely. Too. Much. Makes for good pictures though.

Columbus Hops

Columbus Hops

All things considered, I will be very surprised if this beer ends up being drinkable at all. That said, it wasn’t a complete waste. Joseph got to experience a brewday and see how things generally go together and make beer. Carrie got to participate too, via Skype, by telling me just how much fun it was to watch “brown water boil.” I will leave the fermenter in the closet, and keep an eye on things, but I am not expecting to get a good beer out of this. Time will tell.

Flickr Slideshow

Keezer = Built!

For a while now, I have been talking about building a “keezer.” If you do not know what that is, allow me to explain. A keezer is a beverage dispensing device housed within a chest-style freezer. Mine serves beer, from 5 gallon soda kegs via two Perlick 525SS faucets. All of the plumbing, kegs, and beer serving hardware for this project came from Jeff over at You might be able to find a better deal somewhere, though I sure couldn’t, but you will not find a nicer guy to do business with. If it has anything to do with kegging, my money is going to Keg Cowboy for sure.

The build was actually quite simple, and can be done for far less than I spent on mine. Impatience won out, and I ended up converting a brand new chest freezer rather than scouring classifieds in search of one that wasn’t three tanks of gas away. In short, get a refrigeration device, some kegs, a temperature controller, faucets, a CO2 system, and plumbing for your fluids. Drill some holes for your faucets and hook up your plumbing. Serve beer.

Perlick 525SS faucets

Perlick 525SS faucets

You didn’t really think I was going to leave it at that, did you?

In the interest of not having to post every single image, I’ll do another slideshow, but first a brief rundown of how everything happened.

First, I bought a G.E. chest freezer from Home Depot, along with some sheet metal for my drip tray, black appliance paint, and some textured paint for the collar. I also bought wood to make the collar (a spacer to increase the vertical clearance inside the freezer – and keep me from having to drill through the side of the freezer). When I got that home, I took the lid off the freezer and sanded the whole freezer.

Building the collar was easy, as I already had the dimensions for the top of the freezer and had the 2′x4′ piece of plywood cut when I bought it. Butt joints won today, and were covered up with wood filler and sanded smooth. Just like it never happened. Since I was mounting the lid to the top of the collar, I decided to reinforce where the lid would attach by gluing and screwing another board in at the mounting point. Insulation was next, adhered by my friend Liquid nails. A few moments with a measuring tape and pencil and I had center marks for my faucet holes. Once all of that was finished, I hit the whole collar with sandpaper and washed it off to apply some cool looking textured paint.

While the collar was drying, I hit the freezer with a few coats of black appliance paint. Sadly I got rushed, a little high (from the fumes, people), and ended up with some drips here and there. Attempting to fix those later was an exercise in failure. Sanding a thick, hard, epoxy paint doesn’t work so well. If only I had a sandblaster. Anyway, it still looks pretty decent so I finished the build by drilling a hole for my temperature controller and leaving the probe in a bottle of water. It won’t get cold enough to freeze the bottle, so I didn’t bother with glycol or anything like that.

The only thing that is incomplete, as of this posting, is my drip tray. I bent, with a hammer, sheet metal in to a box and sealed the corners up. Right now, paint is drying. Tomorrow I plan to mount the drip tray to the keezer and post up a final photo. I do have my keg of German Kölsch on tap #1 at this very moment, and do believe it’s a perfect time to go pour myself a glass.

Flickr Slideshow

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