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Living with an engineer has many perks, one of which is their propensity to create fancy spreadsheets for the simplest of tasks. It never ceases to amaze me when Ries shows me a new spreadsheet he made for fun. You read that correctly, for FUN.

When he told me he was going to create a web app that we could use on our tablet for brew day, I patted him and said that sounded lovely.

This Brewing Companion Checklist and Calculator is what he showed me a few days later. I offered to house it on my server space, but for now it is on our local provider’s page. Don’t judge.

This fantastic web app has a checklist (which is printable if you like) for All Grain brewing, Extract brewing, and Lagering. It also includes a page which does calculations for the mash, yeast count, color, and IBUs.

The current version does not have an ABV calculator, but the best one we have found is from Rooftop Brewing.

If you have suggestions for future versions, or if you find a bug, please let us know. I will get my local engineer on it right away.

Saturday, marks our first foray into All Grain Brewing. We are starting with a simple amber ale recipe in case this first attempt goes wild. We will take pictures and document it, of course.

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My kids are asleep, I have a glass of sweet red wine from Haak, the winery where Ries and I got married, in my hands, and life is very good.

It is amazing to me that I have a 3 month old that sleeps through the night. He goes to sleep around 8:30 and wakes up between 3:30-6am. I seriously did not know babies slept like that. I thought all my friends who told me that their babies slept through the night were either lying or had just turned off their baby monitors and did not hear their babies crying.

It turns out normal babies DO sleep through the night and that Gideon is just one of those kids, like I was and am, who is simply a terrible sleeper. He still wakes up at least twice a night and needs tucking back in at the very least. I can literally count on one hand the times he has slept the entire night through.

Wash is amazing and sleeps and sleeps. This means I can have a glass or two of wine or beer without much worry after he is down. This is a new concept for me and I am loving it, especially since we have a delicious 80 Shilling in one of the kegs. The other keg has a Belgian Wit which is quite tasty as well. I like the 80 Shilling better though; I am a sucker for anything in a kilt and that includes my beer.

Because my boys are adorable, here is a picture of Wash and Gideon from the Fourth of July weekend. How can anyone else think their kids are cute when compared to these two?

There are plenty of other pictures showing off their adorableness on flickr.

It was a fabulous weekend over the Fourth that Wicket ended by first rolling in and then consuming rotting fish. You could smell her upwind from miles away. A thorough tooth brushing (which she did not enjoy) and two baths later, the smell was better but not gone. The ride home was even less pleasant than you imagine it was, punctuated by Gideon saying, “Someone smells like stinky fish.” Yes, she does and she is lucky she is alive and we brought her home. Sometimes I wonder what flavor of crazy sauce we ate the day we decided we needed another dog.

In my defense, I thought I was getting another couch potato, delicate flower. Instead we got a crazy, insane chewing machine who eats poop, and ignores commands that do not meet her approval. Lucky for her, she loves Gideon and is a pretty girl. They are her only redeeming qualities.

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Have Kegs, Will Travel

It is definitely cool having a keg setup for my homebrew.  It is much easier than bottling, more consistent carbonation, less storage hassles, and way more convenient to grab a cold brew of desired size.  The only downside has been that it is not really practical to bring my homebrew to other people for sharing.  That is, until now.  For Christmas, the in-laws got me a gift certificate to a homebrew store.  I used it to purchase all I needed to take a keg on the go.

Our KEGlove is black but you get the idea

The most important thing I needed for my keg was something to get the beer out of the keg.  All my taps were door mounted and it would have been silly to carry around the door of the fridge.  So I got a little picnic tap (with hose and valve) to connect to the keg and dispense the yummy goodness.  Next, you want to make sure you keep your beer cold.  For this, I got the KEGlove that includes an insulated sleeve as well as a reusable ice blanket that fits snuggly over my keg.  It is supposed to keep the keg cold for more than 24 hours.  Think we can finish it in that time?  Finally, I don’t want the beer to get flat.  This last purchase enabled me to keep my keg pressurized without having to lug around my big CO2 tank.  It is a little hand charger that uses paintball CO2 cartridges to pressurize the tank.  A few cartridges should be enough to dispense a full keg.

Obviously, a full 5 gallon keg is a bit to be lugging around everywhere but you know you want me (I mean us, my beautiful wife too of course.) at your next shindig.

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I think Ries hit all the highlights of our trip, which really can be summarized by the word beer. We had some truly amazing beer on our trip. The most amazing was what a friend called the “holy grail of beers;” a little brew called Westvleteren. It is a beer that is very hard to get and worth every effort to do so. Absolutely fabulous.

The picture in this post was taken at our favorite brown cafe in Amsterdam, a tiny hole in the wall called Gollem that serves 200 different kinds of beer, mostly Belgian. We went back three times to this amazing, lovely, little pub. I think I would have moved in and stayed if I had been able.

The canals were beautiful. The cheese, sausage, and other food was fantastic. The gardens and parks were lovely. Everything was perfect. We wandered around each city absorbing the atmosphere and watching the people go about their lives. The people watching was superb!

We were able to stay at the house of some friends who are living in Amsterdam and it was especially nice to be able to spend some time with Yvette, whom I have missed greatly since she moved. She is a blessing in my life.

Besides the beer, the other best thing about the vacation was spending time with Ries, alone. I missed Gideon a lot and cried over his being away, though he never cried for us, if the grandmothers are to be believed. It was nice to be with Ries and enjoy doing things we both love, wandering different cities and experiencing a different pace of life. For those of you that have yet to go on a kid free vacation with your spouse, I highly recommend it. It is nice to remember what you are like without a kid around and just be, in silence, with food, or over a good beer. Preferably over both.

The trip to Amsterdam reminded me again of the blessings I have in my husband. He is the perfect vacation partner for me and I dearly love vacations. There is no one else I would rather share a pint of life with.

I was, however, very happy to get home to my boy who was happy to see us. It was good to have our family back together after 2 weeks apart.

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We finished our first batch of beer that we kegged a while ago.  It seems like kegged beer disappears faster, especially when you invite your friends to share.  We are down to our last 2 bottles of Roggenbier, which turned out better than I expected.  Luckily we foresaw this shortage of beer coming so we have been brewing a few more.  We have a honey porter that is nearing the end of its aging period.  There is a hard cider (our first attempt at duplicating anything we’ve made) that is also in the aging process.  And we have two carboys that are sitting in our fermerator (fermenting refrigerator).  They will be done fermenting in about a week and then they are going into the kegs.  One is a double IPA (the one on the right with the hops floating in there) and the other is a Belgian tripel.

Sitting in the Fermerator

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Kegerator

This is probably the crowning achievement of our new hobby.  I am sure there will be more to come as time goes on and we further invest.

Michelle’s parents just moved to another house.  In the process they were getting rid of a fridge.  We had just bought a used fridge off of Craigslist to control fermentation temperatures of our beers, especially lagers.  We had talked about the possibility of putting taps in a fridge and begin kegging our homebrew.  With the fridge falling in our laps and a little extra money from Christmas, we decided we could not pass on the opportunity.  The picture shown to the right is the final result.

Outside of Kegerator

It holds two 5 gallon kegs, so each keg will hold one batch of beer.  Frosted beer glasses go in the freezer.  Michelle has really enjoyed making labels for each of our batches.  She makes them into magnet form so that we can stick it above the keg for identification.  Before long, our fridge will be covered in old magnets of previous batches.

Kegs inside

We still want to paint the outside of the fridge to spruce it up a bit.  We had some initial beer leaking problems because I failed to insert some rubber washers but that is fixed.  We have a CO2 leak on one of our valves so we still have to fix that.

We now have a refrigerator and freezer for every 400 square feet of house.  I wonder if that says something about our priorities?

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When I was looking for an easy recipe and explanation of how to make a yeast starter for a 5 gallon homebrew batch, I could not find one that did not involve taking some crazy measurements and requiring equipment I did not own. Therefore, I present to you, an easy, simple, dummy’s guide to making a yeast starter. All you basically need to do is make a small batch of wort with some nutrients for the yeast.

As a side note, if you are homebrewing and you do not make yeast starters, you should strongly consider it. Making a yeast starter does two things:

    1. You will know if your yeast is healthy.
    2. You will increase the number of yeast you pitch so that your yeast is not overworked and they can produce a better flavor.

There is some debate over the amount of starter yeast need, 1 or 2 liters. This recipe is for a 2 liter starter but it can easily be halved. I usually make 1 liter starters, but I just made a 2 liter starter for the porter we made Saturday and it is chugging away.

I should state that all equipment should be properly sanitized before use just as when you start the regular brewing process.

2 Liter Yeast Starter
Equipment Needed:

    large pot
    funnel
    3-4 liter glass bottle (any glass bottle with a small opening will work)
    small piece of foil or bunghole plug and airlock that fits your bottle
    bleach for sanitizing

Ingredients:

    2 liters of water
    2 c. DME (a variety that matches your beer or something in the middle. I use amber or light.)
    2 tbl. Brewer’s Yeast* (nutritional supplement, not yeast for making beer)
    yeast packet, smack pack, or vial

24 to 32 hours before you want to brew:

Take the yeast out of the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. If it is a smack pack, follow the instructions on the pack regarding smacking it and letting it swell.

While the yeast is coming to room temperature. Place 2 liters of water, 2 cups of DME, and brewer’s yeast into a large pot or saucepan. Stir the mixture until all the DME is dissolved. Bring mixture to a boil.

Boil the mixture for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, place the lid on the pot and remove from heat.

Allow the wort to cool to room temperature or about 75 degrees F.

Use the funnel to pour the wort and the yeast into the bottle. Swirl the mixture vigorously to aerate the wort. Place the foil (or fancy airlock) over the bottle opening, but not too tight, if using foil. The air will need to escape.**

Keep the starter at about 70-75 degrees (less if it is a lager), but this temperature may vary depending on the yeast strain. Most packets or vials will tell you what the optimal fermentation temperature is for each yeast. It is best if you can keep the starter somewhere you will see it often. We usually keep ours on the kitchen counter and every time we go in the kitchen, we give it a little swirl. This is important because the starter needs to aerate.***

You should see bubbles and movement in the yeast. Some yeast will take a few hours to get going, but you should see some foaming and bubbling after a few hours. I usually make mine in the morning and expect to see some action by dinner time. If nothing happens, your yeast is bad and you need a new batch. This has happened to us once.

If all is well and happy, pitch the yeast into your beer like normal!

Prost!

*Brewer’s Yeast is a nutritional supplement that can be added to bread, cereal, and other things. I think it tastes gross as human food. Yeast love it and our beer yeast needs to eat something. I add this. You can also use honey or sugar.

**Some brewers may be appalled at my use of foil. I always sanitized it and was careful not to mess with it much. We have graduated to an airlock for the starter bottle, but the foil works in a pinch and this is a dummy’s guide.

***Serious brewers use a stir plate and an Erlenmeyer flask but that equipment is expensive, hence our hand swirl method.

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