All posts by hommel

BJCP Judging ( Tasting ) Exam Experience 1

I had a hard time finding any write-ups on other people’s real world experiences of preparing for and taking the BJCP Judging Exam ( aka BJCP Tasting Exam ) so I figured I might as well put my experience out there for people preparing to take the exam.  Take it all with a grain of salt – I obviously in no way represent the BJCP on these matters and these are just my own thoughts on the BJCP certification process and judging in general.   The first half is a lengthy rant on my experience preparing for the exam and the second half is the real meat where I discuss how I prepared for and the results from my exam.
First, some background.  I started homebrewing about 4 years ago and have been entering beers in competitions for about 3 of those.  I’m not totally sure where I first got the bug to get BJCP certified except that a lot of homebrewers I have a lot of respect for recommended it.  Initially my goals were to develop my palate so I could more critically assess my own beers and to get the opportunity to formally judge other brewer’s beers hoping I could both learn from it as well as do something positive for the community at large.
A lot of my expectations and initial understanding of how beer judging works were totally wrong and have dramatically changed as I’ve gone through the process of getting certified.  When I first got started, I had some interesting ideas on beer judging.  As an engineer by trade, I sometimes fool myself into thinking that real world processes can be perfect.  That somehow, through super secret underground training regimes certified beer judges have uber palates and can definitively discern the difference between a 31 and 32 point beer.  And when I first started entering homebrew competitions, I thought if I entered a beer in many competitions it would get very similar scores each time.  It was only after entering many beers, many times with wildly divergent scores (20 this week, 44 next week – really) and judging at competitions with other judges and being 10 points apart and having to figure out a common ground that I realized how incredibly wrong I was.
So, a lot of the initial value I saw in entering beer in competition and judging was blown-out of the water.  I started to feel a bit disillusioned and I still feel like the whole process is flawed for one big reason: preference.  Every judge has different preferences and no matter how hard you train yourself to judge by style and technical merit, at the end of the day if you don’t like munich malt or citra hops or a hint of DMS in your lager then you just aren’t going to score those beers as high.  I don’t think any judging program can fix that since we are human and having preferences is in our nature.  And if they weren’t, we would all go to the store and buy the single 50 point beer that put all the others out of business.
That said, I think the BJCP program and it’s current certification program are very well setup and really do drive judges towards two key goals that should be top of mind while preparing for the exam:
1) Scoring within 7 points of other judges
2) Properly filling out a scoresheet
Scoring accurately is self explanatory but getting in the zone is hard.  More on that later.  Properly filling out a scoresheet also sounds easy but there is a lot involved. Being able to evaluate a beer and properly perceive the level and qualities of the aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel.  Properly describing what you’re perceiving using a common language.  Having a firm grasp on the style guideline so you can properly ascertain if the beer is to style and if not where it misses the mark.  Knowing enough about flaws and brewing procedures to provide accurate feedback on how to correct any perceived issues.
And it’s not perfect.  Sometimes I’ll judge and never have to adjust a score and sometimes I feel like I’m having to adjust every score because the other judge and I are so far apart.  Heck, on my exam the two proctors were ten points apart on a fresh from the store, commercial example beer.  And these were two very experienced national level judges!  We are all human.  It happens.  But with more training and experience, it happens less and less.  Also, I’ll often judge with certified or national level judges who will repeatedly tell me they are looking for a certain quality in a beer – more chocolate in a dusseldorf alt, more roasted barley in a northern english brown, more caramel in a DIPA – that are fine at very low levels but certainly shouldn’t stand out or be something you are looking for.  Maybe after judging for many years, people forget to look at the style guidelines or we all begin to think we know something cold and forget that everybody needs a refresher now and again.
But after finally taking the exam and getting my scores back – although not as high as I wanted – I realized that the exam really was quite good and did push me directly towards it’s two goals.  I only scored half my beers within 7 points of my proctors and so I got dinged for it.  And I should have.  I didn’t comment on every aspect of each section of the scoresheet and used imprecise language and so I got dinged.  And I should have.  So, even with a bit of disillusionment with beer judging in general, when I look back and see how much I have gained it seems silly to be in any way upset.  I can now pick-up off flavors and aromas in beers that two years ago I’m sure I perceived but had no idea what I was perceiving and how to describe it.  I now really get what all eighty beer styles are supposed to be like and can easily tell when a beer just isn’t quite right and why.  And I am now very confident in my ability to score properly and fill out a scoresheet that I would be very happy getting back from a competition.  And I guess that is really the point.  I want to be a part of the judging community so that when someone takes months to brew a beer, ferment it, cellar it, package it and then pay money and somehow get it to the competition that they know it was properly evaluated and that the feedback that they get back is accurate and useful.  Because when I enter competitions, that is what I want.
Over time, my reasons for judging have definitely shifted.  Before it was mostly for personal gain – learning how to critically assess beers – namely mine.  Now it is more for the community.  I’m not a perfect Beer Judge, but if I don’t judge then it is more likely that a local bartender who “drinks a lot of damn good beer”, a local brewer who puts an average of 10 words per scoresheet or just some club members friend ends up judging your or my beer.  That’s not critical, expert analysis and feedback.  That’s just a waste of a lot of time and $6.  I do see a lot of value in having competitions where your beer can be properly judged and be compared to your peers and given props when you’ve done a great job and you can get totally independent feedback on any issues and some ways to maybe fix those issues.  And if I see value in that and I want there to continue to be good competitions, then it is incumbent on me to do my utmost to be the best judge I can be and to participate.
I had a really hard time getting signed up for an exam.  I had four exams within a three hour drive but all were full and my only option was the waiting list.  So, I got on a few of those and finally got confirmed for an exam about 9 months out.  Of course, the week before a bunch of earlier exams I would get the email saying that they had a last minute opening but I stuck with the one I was confirmed for.  So, that gave me 9 months of prep time.  In those 9 months I made sure I had read every book on the recommended reading list (page 3 of, that I had had at least one commercial example of every beer style and I had critically assessed it and that I judged as much as possible which was maybe 3 different competitions.
In retrospect, I think the most important of all was sitting down with examples of each style and really making sure I got the style and what they meant by each of the descriptors.  My process was to get as many commercial examples as I could find and then with each one I would read the style guide, then judge each beer the same I would in a competition –  scoresheet and all – and then reread the style guide while going through my scoresheet.  I also got together with a local group of other people training for the same exam and we would go through a similar process but without scoresheets.  I think the scoresheets would have been good even for that scenario in retrospect.  The other thing I had been working on since I started brewing was brewing all 80 styles.  I’m about halfway through now but that has been an enormous benefit.  There are just so many different ingredients and brewing techniques that until you have actually used them it is hard to perceive the impact and describe how to fix any issues or praise a job well done.   So, lesson #1:
Critically judge multiple commercial examples for each style
One thing I did wrong in preparing was searching the internet for info 🙂  In all seriousness, I had read some posts from people saying they had been given doctored beers. This really made an impression on me and hung in the back of my mind the whole lead up to and during the actual taking of the exam.  And on two beers, it caused me to be way off from the proctors.  That leads me to lesson #2:
Judge the beers the same way you would normally
Even if the beers are doctored (which none of mine were – wish I had known that ahead of time!), don’t forget one key fact – the two proctors are judging these blind the same way you are and how they judge the beer is what matters.  So just judge as you normally would and don’t go hunting for some doctored defect.  For me, I had heard sometimes beers are watered down so even though my doppelbock was a commercial example that is on the low end of the spectrum it was still to style.  And in a normal competition I would have scored it in the mid to high 30s rather than the high 20s and been within range.  For the sweet stout, I was convinced they had given us a purposely low-sweetness beer when in fact it was just the least sweet of the commercial examples for that style and I had never had it.  My impression of a sweet stout was Mackesons which is WAY sweeter than American versions.
Another lesson learned was to keep in mind how your exam is being scored.  The basics are for each beer there are 100 points and there are 20 points for each of the following – scoring accuracy, perception, descriptive ability, feedback and completeness. There are two national level or higher judges out there who get a couple proctor score sheets and your score sheets.  They don’t have the beer.  With this huge limitation they are going to score the following way:
1) how many points are you off from the proctors average – goal is within 7 and the closer the more points you get
2) pick out some key perception aspects of each beer from the proctors score sheets and see if you hit those aspects – for example grainy malt aroma, low diacetyl, high carbonation etc…  These would be items that stand-out about the beer.
3) KEY ITEM: make sure you have level and description for each item listed below the section header.  For example, on a scoresheet you see Aroma and below that it says “comment on malt, hops, esters and other aromatics”.  For each of those they will look to see that you gave a level “medium malt” and a description “grainy, biscuity”.  Make sure you cover ALL of them this way.
4) accurate and useful feedback.  if you point out flaws or style misses you should give ways to fix the issue and they should be technically accurate and not TOO specific.  keep in mind, you don’t know anything about how this beer was made.  So saying to use fresher extract would be silly.  Or more amarillo hops.  How do you know they used extract or amarillo hops.  No matter how amazing you think you are at perceiving extract twang or tangerine hop aromatics, you don’t know how the beer was made so don’t comment as if you do.
5) kind of a gimme – everything should be filled out and should be legible.  white space = bad.
I will say that even if I was seemingly good on 2-5 but my score was off by more than 7 points that everything else suffered score-wise.  So, even though it appears that you can do well with inaccurate scoring (it’s only 20% right!) that is not the case.  In the scoring guide it states you need to have 3 correctly scored beers to be in the 70s, 4 to be in the 80s and 5 to be in the 90s  So don’t think you can be way off on scoring and still do well.  Which brings me to lesson #3:
Read the Scoring Guide (

Reading the Exam Guide is pretty obvious, but it never crossed my mind to read the Scoring Guide and understanding how you are going to be scored is pretty key 🙂  And by reading the Scoring guide you can see how focused things are on the two goals I laid out above.  They are really trying to make sure that the body of BJCP judges score within a reasonable range of each other and can fill out a killer scoresheet that any entrant would be happy paying an entry fee to get.
So now on to my actual exam.  The six beers I had were German Pilsner, Weizen, Dusseldorf Alt, Tripel, Doppelbock and Sweet Stout.  I felt pretty good since I had brewed four of these styles and was very familiar with commercial examples of each.  Kind of sucked for anyone who didn’t like German Style beers!
Here is my overall summary:

First up is the German Pilsner:
My scoresheet:

RTP (Report to Participant – in case you hadn’t noticed the BJCP TLA use level is FUBAR):

Comments: Seems that I’m either really sensitive to Acetyldehyde or I was just wrong.  Then again it says the judges picked up “low apple flavor” so maybe I was right and it was an oversight on the scorer.   Learned that specific descriptors are better than vague statements – ½” head or medium head rather than good head.   I definitely over used the term good throughout the exam.  For some reason my scorers were very into bubble size.  Seems silly to me but duly noted.Weizen:
My scoresheet:


Comments:  The main thing I learned from this beer is a beer has to be truly terrible to be in the teens.  I can still taste this beer in my mind.  It was really, really bad but I guess not bad enough to warrant a 15 cause it must have been scored by the proctors in the mid-20s or higher.  It had no head, undercarbonated, crystal clear, ester/phenol profile was off and it has a distinct sour note throughout the flavor.  so it pretty much missed all the key style markers and on top of that had a unpleasant off-flavor.  I really think this was too generously scored by the proctors but oh well.  The main issue with my scoresheet is I didn’t comment on all items which is a consistent theme and definitely something I will be focusing on.Dusseldorf Alt:
My scoresheet:


Comments:  More of the same.  I didn’t give level and description for everything listed for each section.  Forgot that if I point out a flaw I need to give recommendations on how to fix it.  Appears my score was right on.Tripel:
My scoresheet:


Comments: This beer was just god awful.  I’d rather purge it from my memory.  Not sure what it is with me and sour notes but maybe I need some calibrating there.  Also made the same mistake of pointing out a flaw but not describing how to fix it.Doppelbock:
My scoresheet:


Comments:  This was my first of two commercial example beers that are on the low end of the style in some regards but certainly too style and I was convinced they had been doctored.  My gut told me this was a high 30s beer but I was convinced there was supposed to be a style flaw so I then told myself I couldn’t go higher than high twenties.  Lesson learned: go with your gut.  Other than that, more of the same – I didn’t give level and meaningful descriptors for every “comment” item and fell short on feedback.
Sweet Stout:
My scoresheet:


Comments:  And I think this is where the alcohol started to kick in.  Same story as Doppelbock.  I was convinced this was not sweet enough for the style.  This is mostly because I had only had British commercial examples to that point and they are super sweet.  Oh well.

Comments: By far my biggest takeaways from the exam are:+focus on giving level and meaningful descriptors for every single comment item in each section
+give feedback for every flaw listed
+go with your (trained) gut when scoring.  At this point, I know what a 15, 25, 35 and 45 point beer is and shouldn’t get too hung up in trying to find doctored beers or other silliness to find reasons to score in a certain range.
The whole process was very professionally run and even if I don’t totally agree with everything said the scoring was very thorough and overall very well done and, too bad for me, a fair score was given (a hard fought 71 🙂 ).  I hope anyone reading this finds it helpful.  And yes, you won’t get your score for a long time.  Just forget about it and one day it will show up in the mail.  If it’s been a year, maybe you should email someone.

Electric Brew in a Bag (eBIAB) Build

I’ve been brewing on a pretty standard three vessel (HLT, MLT, Kettle) propane system for a few years now and I’ve been happy with it but I have a few issues I want to address:-It has nice automation for the HLT but I have been unable to control the temp in the MLT since it is a cooler setup and even though I built a HERMs for it I haven’t gotten it to work to my satisfaction.  In particularly cold weather, it is very hard to get my temps right in the MLT and even when I do they drop 3+ degrees over the course of the mash.  Step mashes would be nice but more importantly I want to consistently hit my mash temp and hold it.
-It takes over 6 hours for a brew day plus another couple hours for cleanup and that is with setting everything up the night before.
-I can really only brew 5+ gallon batches.  I can only drink about 5 gallons a month even with a great deal of sharing and a bit more personal consumption than may be healthy 🙂  So, I’d rather brew more often but smaller batches.  Ideally twice a month with 2.5 gallon batches.
-I have to brew outdoors since the system is too big for my garage and I’m not comfortable with propane indoors even if well vented.  YMMV.  My brew schedule is not very flexible so when I have a brewday I brew rain/shine/wind/snow/hail/whatever and I would much rather be in my garage than out on my back deck when mother nature decides to get ugly.
-I’m super tired of buying propane.  I have a stack of propane tanks outside just to make sure I don’t run out.  It is a hassle to refill.  It is expensive.  It is a big nuisance to have to monitor a tank when you get near the end to make sure your boil keeps going.
-It is a pain to store all my stuff.  I’d really like fewer vessels, burners and other odds and ends to clean, dry and pack away.So, I did a bunch of investigation and it seemed that an 11 gallon Electric Brew In A Bag (eBIAB) system is the way to go.  It addresses all my above concerns except maybe the brew time.  I think it will be shorter but with All Grain there is only so many areas where you can shorten the time it takes.  I especially like theHigh Gravity Brew setup and my build is very, very similar other than the placement of the temp probe and some differences in how the control boxes are setup.  The main reasons I didn’t just buy their setup is I really wanted the temp probe in the kettle since I think the reading is more accurate (definitely something I’m going to test thoroughly) but also because I want to be able to see the temp in the kettle when I’m cooling.  Once I start cooling I don’t open my lid and with their setup I would have to in order to take temp readings.  I can see how there could be a concern about the probe being to close to the heating element but there is not a good way to get it in the mash without using two temp probes, that I’ve been able to come up with, and I have my temp probe as far away from the element and as close to the mash as possible.  Fingers crossed.  Of course, I could have just moved the temp probe on their system which leads me to the other (and real ) reason I didn’t just purchase – I’m a total dork and I love building stuff 🙂  I have the partlist below but I already had about half of the stuff from my current brewery and other projects so it ended up costing me less than buying one.  Maybe not a lot less but it was a ton of fun building it so no regrets there.  Certainly not for everyone and,  as you can see from my partlist, High Gravity has very competitive pricing for their product.
I’ve broken out my build documentation into parts (Kettle, Recirculation and Electronics) but the partlist is consolidated at the bottom.  First, an overview of how the system works:
One of the big strengths of the eBIAB setup is it’s simplicity.  As with all things in life, the more complicated something is, the more likely you are going to have issues and the harder it will be to fix those issues.  Single vessel eBIAB is as simple as it gets without going back to extract brewing.  The kettle has a big steamer basket so you are placing your bag in that and filling it with your grain.  Below the basket there is a heating element which will both be used to heat for mashing but also boiling once the mash is done.  Under the basket, there is also a temperature probe and a valve.  During mashing, the mash liquid goes out the valve to a pump and is then pumped back to the lid on the kettle and back into the mash.  The pumping recirculation is run the entire length of the mash but is run fairly slowly.
WARNING!  The biggest risk with this setup is if you run your pump to fast you can create a cavity of air beneath your mash (you are drawing wort off with the pump faster than it makes it back down through the grain bed) where your element is and heating elements cannot be run dry – they will fry – literally.  So you need to be sure that you are running the recirculation slow enough to not cause cavitation.  The Bayou Classic basket has holes almost up to the top and there is a gap between the basket and the side of the kettle so it would have to be very full of grain in order to prevent the recirculation water from going down the sides.  So, not a huge concern but something to watch out for.
The heating element and the temperature probe run back to a control box which has an Auber PID that controls when to turn the element on and off.  One of the cool things with running electric is that you can quickly turn the element on and off so it is easy to control how hot the element is running.  After building a couple of propane based automation systems, automating electric elements is a piece of cake.
So that’s it!  If the mash gets below the temp you have set on the PID the element kicks in and warms it back up.  The wort is recirculating the whole time which ensures even mash temps but also really helps with efficiency.  A couple differences from propane (other than not having to buy any 🙂 :
-I repeat – you have to be VERY careful to not run the element dry.  They aren’t very expensive but it is certainly a big rain on your brew day when your heat source kicks the bucket.
-RESPECT ELECTRICITY.  You certainly have to be very careful with huge propane burners but electricity scares the crap out of me.  Belt and suspenders and add a second belt.  Double triple check your grounds.  Anything anywhere near your setup should be GFCI.  Make sure the GFCI works!  There are 110v GVCI test units you can get at the hardware store for cheap and my control box has an emergency stop that works by tripping GFCI so you can test the 220v side that way as well.  Don’t assume GFCI alone will save you.  Don’t assume ground alone will either.  They protect you in different ways so make sure that both are functioning flawlessly.  Also, it is a good idea to make sure your environment is as dry as possible (no puddles) and wearing insulated shoes is a good idea as well.
Other than that it’s really not very different from gas.  Just a different source of heat.
Here is an overview video:
KettleSince I won’t be blasting the bottom of the kettle with 100,000+ BTUs, I figured a cheap stainless steel kettle would be fine.  A bunch of BIAB brewers were praising the Bayou Classic with steamer basket which makes total sense.  It is super cheap ( < $100 ), made of stainless (ooooohhhhhh….aggggghhhhh….shiny), the basket sits ~ 3 inches from the bottom of the kettle giving you room for your electrical element and the basket also makes it super easy to get your bag out and and hang it to drain.  It is certainly not the thickest pot but I think it will work really well for this application.  Time will tell.In putting the kettle together there are four things to be installed – 1) the element 2) the valve that goes to the pump for recirculation 3) the temperature probe and 4) the connection for the recirculation to come back from the pump to the top of the mash.
For the element, I ordered a pre-built unit from High Gravity that includes the element, cabling, power plug and a really nice sealing job (read – lots of thick shrink wrap) on the element hookups to prevent shorting it out in case of a boil over or other spills.  A lot of people JB weld junction boxes to the side of their kettle but the High Gravity pre-built is very well made and the only downside I can see is element replacement may be a bit more work (knock on wood) so I went that route.  To go in the kettle, you need a 1 1/4″ hole so based on The Electric Brewery build, I bought Greenlee knockout punches to do the job.  Soooo easy.  You just use a step drill to make the initial ugly hole and then with a few turns of a wrench you have a beautiful, smooth, no dent hole.  I cleaned the holes up with a metal stone on a Dremel but not sure that is even necessary.  The one issue I ran into the with the element is the High Gravity element kit had a O-ring that had the right Inner Diameter (ID) but too big an Outer Diameter (OD) and I couldn’t get the element installed.  I measured the nut which has a recess for the O-ring and ordered the right size.  With that, installation was a breeze and leak free after some solid tightening down.
The other three parts are all 1/2″ NPT which is 7/8″ OD.  I used a Greenlee knockout punch for those as well.  They sell it as a 1/2″ Conduit (ie NPT) punch but it is actually 7/8″  – confusing for sure.  For the valve, I put a pickup arm on the inside so I pickup less trub after whirlpool.  The weldless bulkheads are a pain to clean but they are nice since you can rotate them.  So, I can rotate the racking are up and down and get a super clean run of wort into my fermenter without needed any sort of hop stopper, steel wool etc….   I installed both the valve bulkhead and pickup just as described in Bargain Fittings instructions online.  Same for the temperature probe bulkhead, except it went in in reverse so that the coupler was outside so I could screw the temperature probe into it.  On the lid, the bulkhead went in per the instructions and I added a nipple to the 45 degree turn so I can attach the return hose to it.
The last part of the build is getting the lid notched so I can have have my immersion chiller in and the lid on.  I have to take it by my local welder ( he who owns a plasma cutter) to get that done but certainly not required.
With the right tools and parts, putting the kettle together was a piece of cake.  It took maybe an hour.  Here are some pictures:
 IMG_3258 IMG_3257 IMG_3256 IMG_3255 IMG_3254 IMG_3253 IMG_3252 IMG_3251 IMG_3250 IMG_3249
RecirculationDefinitely the easiest part of the build.  I already had all the parts – a March pump,  a bunch of silicon hose (make sure to get the nice flexible kind, not the stiff opaque kind), valve, worm clamps and various quick connects.  You just need the pump to be below the level of the top of the liquid so putting it on right on the table next to kettle is fine although I have to mess with it a bit to get it primed.  Then just pretest before you cut to make sure you won’t have any weird kinks in your hose and that you have enough slack to move it around comfortably.  For my setup, I ran kettle valve with male quickdisconnect > female quickdisconnect w/ worm clamp > silicon hose > blichman npt quickconnect w/ worm clamp > pump > valve > male quickdisconnect > female quickdisconnect w/ worm clamp > silicon hose > blichman npt quickconnect w/ worm clamp > nipple on top of lid.  Then just plug the pump into the control box and you are ready to recirculate.  IMPORTANT: make sure to use worm clamps and properly tighten them.  A friend of my burned the crap out of his face when the hose on his immersion chiller flew off when he turned on the cooling water.  Don’t be my friend.  Errrrr…that didn’t come out right.  You get the idea.  Here is a picture of the recirculation setup:
 IMG_3259 IMG_3260 IMG_3261 IMG_3262
ElectronicsI have now done a bunch of different electronics builds for two other control boxes as well as some BrewPibuilds and various other DIY electronics projects which made this go quite smoothly.  The other big plus going into this build is someone (P-J) already had  a great schematic put together.  I followed it exactly except I didn’t use lighted switches and I added an LED after the contactor so I can see when the element is on.  Here is P-J’s schematic updated with my LED (top right):

The basic idea is that you have 220V coming in and hooked into the terminal strips.  The terminal strips allow you to distribute the connections easily but you need to be careful since you can easily short connections out if you aren’t paying close attention.  Basically, the screws across from each other are connected by the metal plate and separated from the other rows by the plastic dividers.  You can interconnect the rows by using the bridges listed in partlist so you can create sections of your terminal blocks that are all interconnected.  With 220V, you have two 110V hot wires, a neutral and a ground.  The hots are black and red, neutral is white and ground is green.  To get 220V, load devices (in this case the heating element) combine the two hots and to get 110V they use one of the hots and the neutral.  Good write-up here with more details.  The controller has only three switches – 1) pump 2) PID 3) heater element.The pump is just an on/off switch and is there so you have one central place to control everything and so it is covered by a fuse and GFCI.  The pump is 110V so the neutral is run to the pump outlet and one of the 110V hot lines is run through a fuse and the switch.The PID switch turns the PID itself on/off which in turn controls when the SSR is open/closed which will relay one of the 110V hot lines to the element.  The PID runs on 110V so, similar to the pump, their is a connection to neutral and one of the hot 110V is run through a fuse and the switch to the PID.  The element won’t come on without both 110V hot lines powered so by controlling the one hot line the PID controls when the element is on/off.
The element switch controls a contactor which is basically just a big relay for both hot 110V lines that are used to power the element.  Unlike a SSR, a contactor is a switch that literally physically opens and closes and is controlled, in this case, by a 110V line.  When power is applied the circuit closes and power can flow through.  The first time I heard it it scares the crap out of me since I thought something bad had happened.  It is a loud clank that sounds out of place in an electronics box.
So why the SSR _and_ the Contactor?  SSRs are great because they can very rapidly open and close a relay and they have a very long life doing this.  There are a couple side issues with this capability.  One is they generate a good amount of heat and hence the big heatsink.  Another is that they do leak some current.  Not much but a little.  This is because of the SS in SSR – solid state.  To add a layer of security, the contactor is there to allow you to completely open the connection and prevent any current from going to the element on both hot lines.  That said, the leakage isn’t enough to turn on the element but it is enough to light up my LED.  So, the effect is when the element switch is on but the SSR open (not passing power), the LED will be on at a lower glow due to SSR leakage.
When the PID powers on the SSR and closes the relay (turns on the element) the LED will get brighter due to the higher current.  So basically, if the element switch is off, the LED is off.  If the element switch is on but the PID has the SSR open the LED will be a low glow and if the element switch is on and the PID has the SSR closed then the LED will be full glow.  Some people may not like this setup but I like to know when the contactor is closed so I know to be careful of the element since the PID could turn it on at any time but I also get a brighter glow when the element is actually on.  Of course the better solution is two LEDS, one for when the contactor is closed and one for when the element is powered.  Maybe in the future but the PID also has a light showing when the element should be on so I may leave it the way it is.
As far as the build goes, to make the holes in the casing I used mostly standard drill bits and spade bits.  For larger holes (PID, power outlets and SSR/heatsink) I use a Dremel with the router attachment.  It takes some practice but you can make very nice clean cuts with it.  Hole saws and Jigs might be better but I don’t have those so….  It is a solderless build so everything is crimped.  For the larger 10 gauge wires, you need a serious crimp tool (or in my case pliers) to make sure your crimp is very solid.  Give them a good tug to make sure they won’t come undone and short out on you.  For the resistors, I strung them between posts on the terminals (like a bridge) to force them to connect serially.  You can just see them out on the fully wired up picture below.
The PID (Auber SYL-2352) did require a bit of programming.  The setting I use are:
Sn = 21 (RTD)
AM = 1 (allows you to switch between auto and manual mode)
t = 2
The PID didn’t work all that well out of the box.  It was overshooting by 5-10 degrees F.  It definitely required auto-tuning.  You do this by going into settings mode and changing At to 1.  I just filled the kettle with 4 gallons of water and turned on recirculation and heated it to 140F then set it to Autotune mode.  It ran for about 15 mins and from then on it has nailed temperatures.  After running autotune, I had to set AM to 1 again – it seems that running autotune set it back to default.  You don’t want to boil in Auto mode since it would just sit there at 100% and spew hot wort everywhere.  To boil, you switch to manual mode and then set the percentage for how hot you want the elements to run.  In reality, it tells the element for what percentage of time “t” is the element on.  So if “t” is 10 (10 secs) and your manual power is set to 50% the element will be on for 5 seconds then off for 5 seconds.  With boiling liquid this tends to give you a weird pulsing of the boil – especially with smaller volumes.  So, you want a shorter “t” so that the pulse is not noticeable and the shortest you can go without turning off the fancy PID mode on Auber is 2 sec.  For me it works works with just a barely noticeable pulsing but the boil doesn’t stop.
IMG_3165 IMG_3166 IMG_3167 IMG_3168 IMG_3169 IMG_3170 IMG_3174 IMG_3175 IMG_3176 IMG_3177 IMG_3178 IMG_3179 IMG_3180 IMG_3243 IMG_3246 IMG_3247 IMG_3248
Here is a partlist for the complete project.  As I mentioned, I already had a lot of this stuff but wanted to provide a complete document.  Of course, as with all things I’m sure you can find things for cheaper with some searching.

Water Filter Stand

I have used electrical strut recently to build my automated HLT stand so I was brainstorming other projects I could do using electrical strut.  I came up with two ideas – a stand to hold my carbon cartridge based water filter and stands for my pumps to keep them off the brewery floor.  I decided to start with the water filter since it was a more pressing need – I always knock my water filter offer and make a big mess on brew day.  I headed to the hardware store and as I was looking at super expensive strut parts I noticed a pile of $2 buckets.  And after doing the math in my head, I thought maybe I could just cut a hole in the top of a super cheap bucket and have a perfectly good water filter stand.  So, that’s what I did.


It works awesome and by far my cheapest brewery project!!!  I have a standard 10″ cartridge filter that I got from MoreBeer and it is beveled at the top so that you have a nice lip to rest on.  So I just used mydremel tool with the cutting kit accessory (poor man’s router) and cut a ~4″ diameter hole.  I can obviously easily move it around the brewery and it doesn’t budge.  The only other trick is I use clamps to hold the hose to the edge of the pot or bucket i’m filling up so a hose doesn’t get a mind of its own and start spraying water all over the place.    Never happened 🙂

Racking Beer w/ CO2

One of the things I really focus on is keeping my fermented beer from ever touching air till I pour it into a glass which then goes into my belly!  I started by being very methodical when bottling but the self priming siphon I used to transfer beer also bothered me since clearly that was exposing my beer to oxygen.  So, I rigged up a carboy cap with a flared connector so that I could hook my CO2 tank to it and got a stainless steel racking cane so I could purge the whole system with CO2 and then push the beer using C02 as well.   Note: you really don’t want the hose clamp at the base of the carboy cap since it could be a safety issue if the fermenter gets over pressurized.
My process:
1) Make sure all the parts are clean and sanitized
2) Put the racking cane into the carboy cap
3) Put the carboy cap on fermenter
4) Hook the CO2 tank to carboy cap
5) Connect the hose to the racking cane and put down into clean purged keg.  Make sure your hose is long enough to reach the bottom of the keg
6) Set the racking cane so it is about an inch above the beer and turn on the CO2 to about 3 psi.  this will push CO2 through the racking cane and hose down into the bottom of the keg thereby purging the fermenter headspace, racking cane, hose and keg in one fell swoop.  nice!
7) turn off the gas and push racking can down to about an inch from the yeast cake
8) turn on the gas to 3 psi
9) when keg is 90% full cut the gas and when it is 99% full pull up the lip of the carboy cap up to drop the pressure in the fermenter so the beer stops pushing or use a hose clamp (i’ve had mixed results with the hose clamp but you can see one in the first picture midway down the hose).
Carboy Cap (model depends on type of carboy you are using)
Stainless Steel Racking Cane
1/2″ PVC tubing
1/4″ Barb to 1/4″ Male Flare (I actually use a 1/4″ barb to 1/4″ Female Flare and a 1/4″ Male Flare to 1/4″ Male Flare Adapter since I had the parts laying around)
2 x Small Hose Clamps
Here are some pictures:



Perlick 545 Rebuild

I use Perlick 545s on my kegerator and I am a huge fan of them functionally.  It is great to have the ability to serve 2 volume to 3.5 volume beer and not have to change anything in my kegerator except rotate the flow control on the 545.  They also provide a nice smooth pour and the forward closing setup does work to prevent sticking.  The issue is they use a pretty complex design which, in general, usually leads to reliability issues and these are no different.  The have a tendency to leak if anything goes wrong – a little bit of hop matter gets in there, the pressure is a bit high, if the wind blows from the west etc…  A good cleaning and swapping o-rings if any are damaged usually does the trick.   That said, there are 8 billion o-rings so I finally decided to figure out what size o-rings are used so I can buy them in bulk rather than way overpaying.  I do the same thing for keg rebuilds and have saved a bunch of money over the years.  Also, Perlick seems to only sell a subset of the o-rings – the ones in the bonnet, the one in the front that actually controls beer flow and the coupling gasket.  the 3 o-rings that are part of the flow control assembly don’t appear anywhere on their website from what I can tell.So, I measured all the o-rings with digital calipers and have ordered 100 packs of all of them so I’m good for a while (forever?).  Here is my partlist from McMaster Carr:
Buna-N O-Ring, AS568A Dash Number 014, packs of 100
Buna-N O-Ring, AS568A Dash Number 204, packs of 100
Buna-N O-Ring, AS568A Dash Number 012, packs of 100
Buna-N O-Ring, AS568A Dash Number 015, packs of 100
Metric Buna-N O-Ring, 2.5 mm Width, 10 mm ID, packs of 100
And here is where they all go:

Automated HLT

One of the early projects I took on when I moved to All Grain Brewing was a way to automate my HLT heating so that I could set my HLT water temp and go off and do other things and know that when I came back it would be at the proper temperature and ready for mashing in or for sparging.  For my first go at it about a year ago, I frankensteined a system together that I will hopefully get around to documenting more fully.  Sometimes your failures are better learning experiences than your successes!  My first build used high pressure propane and the appropriate solenoid and a needle valve inline before the pilot light.  I controlled it with a PID – a fairly similar setup to my new build.  The big problem with my first setup was that the pilot light would often go out since i was trying to lower the pressure from high pressure (10-15psi) to low pressure (0.5 psi) for the pilot which the needle valve let me do but it was very finicky and when it would go out I would have to leap to action to get it re-lit it so that I didn’t spew propane everywhere.  Not really confidence inspiring.  The other issue was that the solenoid just sat on the ground which in a brewery isn’t such a great thing.
So, I decided to go more the route of Brutus 10.  But, since I brew on my back porch that won’t fit a Brutus 10 full time (i.e. my wife would kill me) I decided to do just one third of the Brutus 10 and I only brew 5 gallon batches – so maybe a Bru 5?  I am in the process of learning to weld but I’m not quite there yet so I tried to figure out some alternatives for building the stand.  Fortunately I ran into an interesting article in Zymurgy (Vol 36, No 3 – Strutting your Stuff) that talked about building brewing frames out of electrical strut.
Since this is a pretty big build I’ve broken the article out into multiple parts.  Frame, Gas System and Electrical System.  Here are a couple videos describing the system and showing how it works.
I have never really worked with metal before, outside of shop class in middle school, so in order to build the frame I needed to go buy a couple power tools – twist my arm!  Of course I also needed to buy the strut and strut parts.  The main power tool I needed was a chop saw which is basically a miter saw but with a metal cutting disc.  I also picked up an angle grinder so i could clean up all the metal I’d be cutting.  I looked at the dimensions from the Brutus 10 as well as what homebrew academy did and decided to raise the burner a bit and lower the honeywell unit to make sure I had plenty of space and didn’t have to worry about the honeywell getting hot.  I put together a partlist and basic diagram.
2 x Superstrut 1-5/8 in. x 10 ft. (cut into 4 x 28″ and 8 x 12″ pieces)
8 x Superstrut 1/2 in. 3-Hole Flat Corner Bracket
8 x Superstrut 4-Hole 90-Degree Bracket
12 x Superstrut 3/8 in. Channel Spring Nuts  (5 pack)
60 x 3/8 in. x 1-1/4 in. Stainless Steel Hex Screw (probably could have gone shorter)
4 x self tapping metal screws (look similar to this and used to attach wind shield to sides)
1 x Superstrut 3-3/16 in. U-Bolt Beam Clamp (holds gas pipe in place)
2 x 2ft by 12inch sheet metal (cut into 12inch by 12inch pieces and used for wind shields)
4 x 6 inch hangar strap (similar to this but thicker – found it with sheet metal at lowes.  used to install burner)





Gas System:
Based on the experiences of Homebrew Academy and others I decided to give the Honeywell solenoid a go.  This unit requires natural gas or low pressure propane and since I am running off propane tanks and don’t have a low cost way to run natural gas to where I brew that decision was easy.  This is my first low pressure propane system – my previous work was all on high pressure propane – so I had to figure a few things out.  The big one was getting the right low pressure regulator that can sustain the level of BTUs I want and the other was to pick a burner and orifice that will work with the low pressure regulator.  I had hooked up the same pilot light from honeywell before so that part was pretty straight forward.
Some things of note for those who have used high pressure liquid propane (LP) but not low pressure.  For starters, there are some benefits – quieter, more efficient and works with the off the shelf automated controllers and pilot lights like the Honeywell.  The main downside is I have not found a way to get it to burn as hot as high pressure and so things will, obviously, heat up slower.  For me, I can heat 10 gallons of water with a high pressure burner in 20 minutes and it takes 40 minutes with my low pressure burner.  That works with my brew day since I start it heating up first thing and go off and do other things before mashing in and it will heat back up during the 1 hour mash, but certainly something to be aware of.  Some things you can do to get more out of low pressure setup:
1) Higher flow regulator – still has to be ~10.5 WC (~0.5psi) of pressure but you can get more output – think same amount of pressure but bigger hole so a higher volume of gas.  I ended up using the Camco dual stage regulator listed below but with the green ACME fitting, 3/8 flare fitting and hose from the tejas smokers regulator, also listed below.  Tejas smokers also offers an adjustable dual stage regulator (GR9448) that offers higher BTUs but I haven’t tried it so you may be able to eek out some more BTUs that way.  On a side note, I have seen in forum postings that people have had issues with ACME fittings because they have safety features that prevent overfill but also prevent them from being open without being connected to something (ie just spewing gas).  To fix this they use old school POL fittings which don’t have these safety features.  Either work on the types of propane tanks you pick up at your local grocery store.  I have not had any issues with ACME connectors but it is probably because I am just hooked straight into the Honeywell.  The systems that seem to have issues are using a shared gas beam.  When you first turn on the gas that gas beam is large enough to appear to the valve to be a wide open connection and so it shuts itself off.
2) Use shorter and larger diameter hoses, pipes and couplings.  as you can see on this chart there is a huge difference in BTU potential between long, small diameter runs and short, large diameter runs.  I could maybe get some more BTUs by using 1/2″ all the way through rather than some sections of 3/8″.  It is about as short as it can get length wise and I honestly didn’t notice a difference in output when I hooked the regulator straight to the burner for testing so not sure it really matters but worth looking at.
3) Adjust your burner height.  I started with my burner at 4″ below the pot and by moving it to 3″ I saw a significant heating increase.
Another partlist and diagram:
1 x 1/2″, 24 Vac Standing Pilot Gas Valve
1 x 24″ Thermocouple
1 x Honeywell Q314A4586 Pilot Burner
1 x 1/4″ x 5′ Pilot Burner Tubing w/ Fittings
1 x Brass Flare Male 90 Elbow – 3/8″ x 1/2″mips
1 x Brass Flare x Mips – 3/8″ x 1/2″ Mips
1 x 90° Elbow 1/2″
1 x 4″ long x 1/2″ diameter black iron pipe (i bought mine at lowes in the plumbing section)
1 x Stainless Steel Gasflex – 1/2″od x 12″ – with adapter to 3/8″fip x 3/8″fip
1 x Bayou Classic BG14 Burner
1 x low pressure orifice for BG14 (CVO250 at tejas smokers – MAKE SURE TO HAVE IT DRILLED OUT FOR LOW PRESSURE BG14)
1 x low pressure, higher output regulator or this
1 x Rectorseal (gas leak = bad)

Electrical System:
No soldering!  After a few builds with a bunch of soldering it was nice to have one where I just crimped.  I had built a very similar control box for my old system and I’ve built a couple BrewPis for fermentation control so this was actually one of the easier parts of the project.
I used a NEMA rated box that I have used a few times before and really like.  It is plastic so it is easy to do the cut-outs for the various buttons, switches and PIDs using a dremel tool with it’s router kit.  My first few cuts were not so pro but after some practice I have gotten pretty decent.
The switches I used were recommended on this site  but I’m on the fence with them.  The Main and PID switches work pretty well with this box but the Pump Switches can pop out.  It seems they were more designed for a thin metal box rather than thicker plastic.  I have used other buttons and switches and prefer the ones with a lock nut like this which I have used on another project but make sure the switches you pick can support the proper amperage.
I would recommend you be careful with wire gauge and the quick disconnects and spades.  You want to make sure the wire will fit in whatever you buy and still crimp solidly.  Also, disconnects and spades with plastic covers are not a bad safety precaution so you don’t short anything out.
I tried a few different terminal blocks and have found I like the ones from Radio Shack the best.  You can just shorten the jumper to whatever length you need so you can create the number of interconnected screw terminals so you can power / ground everything.  Be VERY careful with setting up your terminals cause this is the most likely place you will create a short and can cause some real damage.
For the PIDs I’ve used both Love and Auber and both are fine.  I prefer the Auber b/c I can see both the actual and the set temp at the same time and they can do a tenth of a degree granularity.  I also really like Auber’s RTDs and their connectors and cables.  They come pre-made so you don’t have to mess with soldering or building cables and they are very sturdy and reliable.  Highly recommended.  As I said, I’ve used Love with Brewer’s Hardware RTDs and they work but they require more work to install and the ones I’ve used required compression fittings which are the most likely to leak in my experience.
The Auber parameter settings I changed from default are:
Inty – P 10.0 (for RTD and 0.1 degree granularity)
outy – 4
Hy – 0.5 (i may mess with this since it does cut on a bit but I do like to be within half a degree)
The first transformer I bought weighed about nine thousand pounds (honeywell transformer) so I replaced it with a much smaller unit with no instructions but after some work with a voltmeter I was able to figure out what was going on.
The way I hooked up the controller to the honeywell was just using a long 3 prong power cord that I cut one end off of and put another male connecter so it is a 3 prong male to 3 prong male extension cord.  I then took an extentions cord and cut off the female end with about 2 feet of cable left and hooked the non -ground (line and neutral) cables to the honeywell connectors using quick disconnects.  So far so good.
1 x Control Box
2 x Wall Outlets
1 x Main Switch
1 x PID Switch
2 x Pump Switches (i don’t love these so go with others is you prefer 🙂
1 x Power Jack
3 x 16 AWG wire (white, red, green)
30 x female quick disconnect
50 x block spade
2 x terminal
2 x jumpers
1 x HLT Auber PID
1 x Mash Auber PID
2 x RTD sensors ( order 8′ deluxe cable)
1 x 110V / 24V transformer
2 x extention cords w/ ground (I use this to hack together cable to connect control box to honeywell)
nuts and bolts to attach terminal, power jack and transformer to control box which i get at mcmaster carr







I have brewed with the unit only once but it worked flawlessly.  Yay!  Of course, nothing is perfect so here are the pros and cons I see versus my old high pressure propane setup.
Pros: Very reliable and just worked out of the gate without any tuning
Hits temp settings very accurately and keeps the temp very close – overshoot much less of an issue
Nothing laying on the floor other than propane tank so much safer than old system (hopefully)
Hella fun to build
Cons: Stand is VERY heavy.  Holy cow.  I can carry it by myself but I have handcramps after walking 20 feet with it
It does not put out the BTUs that a high pressure system does so heats about half as fast
Cost and time – I love DIY’ing it and it is one of my favorite parts of the hobby but there are cheaper and faster ways to do this

Keg Line Cleaner

As with most DIY projects, this one was built in response to a problem.  Although now that I think about it a lot my projects create as many problems as they fix 🙂  I had a couple beers in a row that were great when they first went on tap but then after a few weeks would start to take on a buttery character that is typical of diacetyl.  Then, when a keg kicked I noticed around the edge of the beer post that a there was a bit of mold and a streak of dried beer that had run down the side of the keg.  After lots of research, I realized that half my kegs had the wrong posts (Type A instead of Type B (ie Cornelius)) and had been very slowly leaking.  I think what happened is the small beer leak had allowed a lacto or pedio infection to take hold in my beer lines which can cause Diacetyl.  Or maybe I’m crazy.  Anywho, I fixed all my keg posts but also realized my lines needed a very thorough cleaning.  So, I rigged up a recirculating keg line cleaner using a pool cover pump I use for my immersion chiller (which I hope to document soon).  Basically, I remove the tap I want to clean and take it apart, put the parts in a a standard 5 gallon bucket with 3 gallons of hot PBW solution (~140F which is my tap water at it’s hottest) and I then pump that using my pool cover pump up through the tap down through the keg line and back into the bucket.  This means it is in the reverse direction of how beer is served.  Pretty simple but works awesome.  After recirculating the PBW for 30 mins, I recirculate hot water for 10 mins to clean out the PBW.  Then just before putting my next beer on tap I run Star San through the lines to sanitize.  Since I started the new process, I have had no issues so maybe it worked or maybe its massive overkill!  My one concern is the hot water is not good for the pump, but I’ve been running the setup for a few months now without issue.  I guess time will tell.
Part List:
Qty 1  Little Giant PCP550 Pool Cover Pump $55
Qty 1 Hose Adapter $3
Qty 1 Tap Faucet Adapter $8
Qty 6 3/8 ID hose (ie 6 feet) $5
Qty 2 Hose Clamp $2
Here is a video of the setup running:
Here are the two connectors (left goes in the tap base and right is garden hose adapter that goes to pump):

Here is the pump connected to 3/8″ ID tubing that goes up to the tap base:

Here is a wide angle shot of the setup but with the pump out of the bucket.  Do not run the pump dry!

Here is the actual setup running.  Notice that the hose that runs from the keg up into the tap is feeding back into the bucket.

An aerial view of the bucket with everything running.

Berliner Weisse Experiment 1 (Lacto Sources)

For some reason, I’ve become particularly intrigued by Berliner Weisse (BW) as of late.  I really love the style especially in the crazy heat of summer and, maybe more importantly, my wife loves a nice tart beer (read: Festina Peche).  My first attempt (that is still souring – fingers crossed) used the Jamil method of pitching the yeast and lacto at the same time.  Clearly this method produces a great beer since the last BW winner at NHC used Jamil’s method.  That said, I’m not really interested in waiting 6 months everytime I brew one.  So, I started to do some research into different ways to sour a BW and there is a decent amount of information but nothing very extensive, well tested or documented.  So, I decided to run a set of my own experiments to find out how can I make a BW that sours very quickly, tastes great, maybe keeps cost and complexity in the check and can be served on draft without concern of infecting everything it touches.  All that said, I’m not interested in making a really crappy beer quickly so if to make the best beer takes time or I have to serve it in bottles rather than draft then thats what I’ll do but it seems the only way to know for sure is the run some experiments.  I didn’t want to start totally from scratch so I took the test data from Jess Caudill of Wyeast that was presented at NHC ( and built from there.  It is clear in Jess’ preso that for the lacto to sour quickly and produce a lot of tasty lactic acid it is best if it doesn’t compete with yeast at the beginning but let it sour first then use a yeast that works well at low pH to finish things up.  Makes total sense – the less the lacto has to compete the better.  But in dorking around on the web there seems to be little consensus on the best source of lacto.  So my first set of tests are to try different sources and see how quickly they sour and to what level do they drop the pH and how does it taste/smell as it goes along.My plan is to do 3 x 1 gallon test batches at a time where I boil a little over 3 gallons of 1.030 muntons wheat DME wort for 15 minutes, cool to around 100F and then pitch the sources of lacto and hold at 90-100F and take daily pH and aroma/flavor notes till the pH stops dropping, the pH gets to the level of sour I want, or the batch goes rancid.  My plan is to test raw 2-row, raw acidulated malt and different “pure” lacto cultures from labs (white labs, wyeast etc..) as well as probiotic sources.   Unlike Jess’ experiments, assuming the 1 gallon batch is not rancid, I plan to boil the wort again to kill the lacto (so it could then be served on draft), ferment using german ale yeast and then bottle condition at ~3.5 volumes to see how the finished beer comes across.
For later experiments, I’d also like to try:
-not reboiling the wort to leave the Lacto alive
– using Brett rather than German Ale as the primary fermenter,
-fermenting with German Ale and  bottle conditioning with Brett
– making it bigger (1.050+)
– making it much hoppier than normal versions with boil/whirlpool/dry hopping experiments.
– lowering the pH using lactic acid before pitching lacto since this appears to speed things up and help with head retention without really effecting the flavor profile.
And I’m sure I’ll come up with other ideas.
So, first the lab setup:
 IMG_3050 IMG_3052 IMG_3053 IMG_3054 IMG_3055 IMG_3056
The fermenters are just standard 1 gallon jugs with universal bungs and some tubing to run over to a jar of sanitizer.  The chamber is just a nice big cooler with a lizard lamp in it hooked into my old brewery automation box that I’m just using to keep the temp in the cooler at 95F.  not super precise but should work well for this experiment and the temp swings went from 93-96F so not too bad.  of course this is all outside to keep the family at bay :)For round 1 I tested1) 1 oz uncrushed weyerman acidulated malt
2) 1 oz uncrushed 2 row from Canada Malting
3) 50 tablets of Lactobacillus Acidophilus that are 100 million cells per tablet
Everything I’ve read on people kettle souring, the amount of grain put in is always “a handful” so I thought I’d be a bit more precise and actually measure the amount of grain by weight 🙂
For the tablets, Jess recommends >= 5 million cells / ml which is about 19 billion cells / gallon but I didn’t really want to use 190 tables.  Instead I used what should be a bit over 1 million cells / ml which still did well in Jess’ tests it just took a bit longer and allowed me to buy less probiotics 🙂  Here is a picture of the Acidophilus I used:

I’m keen on trying “probiotic” strains of lacto since I can buy them at the pharmacy, they are fairly inexpensive, a lot of them don’t even have to be refrigerated and from reading different forums it appears other have had good luck with them.  There are a lot of blends out there but I’m looking to stick to pure strains, at least for now, so I can see the performance and flavor profile of each individual strain.The initial numbers are OG of 1.031 and initial pH (pre-pitching) of 5.8.

Day 1 (ie 24 hours in):
1 (acidulated malt) : pH 4.81 malty sweet, not sour. clean.  no fermentation activity.
2 (2 row): pH 4.14 a little sour like apple juice.  still worty and sweet.  no fermentation activity.
3 (acidophilus): pH 3.97.  similar to 2 but just a hair more sour.  no fermentation activity.Day 2:
1 (acidulated malt) : pH 4.59  big foamy kreusen with a strong horse blanket / goatie aroma with an edge of dirty diaper.  no malt aroma.  seems very sketchy so not tasted.  very hazy.
2 (2 row): pH 3.89 super weird foam that is like big soap bubbles that are a bit reflective and alien looking.  really strange.  malty aroma w/ a little lactic tart nose.  also very sketchy so not tasted.
3 (acidophilus): pH 3.77 no foam at all.  malty aroma w/ a hint of sour aroma but comes across more malty then sour.  pretty tart flavor.  5 on a scale of 1 to 10.  clean sourness surrounded by of Day 2:
1 (acidualted malt)

2 – (2 row)

3 – (acidophilus):

Day 3:
1 (acidulated malt) : pH 4.05  no kreusen.  odor is a bit of sour lactic and some funk -> brett.  tasted it since no sick smell.  worty.  funky – bretty.  a bit sour.
2 (2 row): pH 3.40 no kreusen.  smell is sweet wort w/ an edge of sour.  otherwise clean.  flavor is sour – 7 out of 10 (10 being the most sour beer i’ve had).  a bit of sweet wort flavor.
3 (acidophilus): pH 3.42 still no kreusen.  seems to have dropped clear?  nose is mostly wort (more than 2) w/ just an edge of sour.  flavor is also pretty worty but 6 out of 10 on sour scale.Day 4:
1 (acidulated malt) : pH 4.09 no change
2 (2 row): pH 3.28 similar to day 3 but a hint more sour in nose and flavor.  get a bit mouth puckering.  nice level of sour.  8 out of 10.
3 (acidophilus): pH 3.40 similar to day 3 but a shade more sour.  7 out of 10.Day 5:
1 (acidulated malt) : pH 4.05  no change
2 (2 row): pH 3.14 nose is a bit more tart.  flavor is similar but getting very tart.  throat constricting 🙂  9 out of 10.  about the level i would want if i’m looking for a very sour beer.  clean.  still malty/worty.
3 (acidophilus): pH 3.34 similar to day 4.  nice and tart but not as tart as 2.  clean.  still malty/worty.  7 out of 10.
Day 6:
Work ….  Boooooo
Day 7:
1 (acidulated malt) : pH 4.09  no change
2 (2 row): pH 3.10 similar to day 5.  i’m really enjoying these samples 🙂  pretty darn tart.
3 (acidophilus): pH 3.30 nice sour level but not as sour as 2.
Day 8:
1 (acidulated malt) : no change.  dumped.
2 (2 row): pH 3.08 similar to day 7. TART.
3 (acidophilus): pH 3.30 similar to day 7.
I took 2 and 3 and did the following:
put through strainer into boil kettle to remove solid matter.
boiled for 15 mins with ~5 IBUs of centennial (.15 oz) since that is what i had laying around
cooled to ~60F and pitched half a smack pack of german ale into each (~50ml of slurry)
pitched on 12/13/14
2 (2 row): no activity
3 (acidophilus): has thin kreusen and seems to be bubbling a little bit but not much
2 (2 row): no activity
3 (acidophilus): 1″ kreusen and steady bubbling but nothing crazy

2 (2 row): no activity
3 (acidophilus): still kreusened but bubbling has slowed12/16/14
2 (2 row): no activity
3 (acidophilus): still kreusened but bubbling has slowed to ~4 sec12/17/14
2 (2 row): no activity
3 (acidophilus): still ~4 sec
2 (2 row): no activity
3 (acidophilus): kreusen dropped.  bubble ~60sec
no activity
2 (2-row) FG = 1.019 pH = 2.99.  aroma – sweet worty smell with a sour edge.  flavor – VERY sour but sweet malt edge.
3 (acidopholus) FG 1.010  pH = 3.21  aroma – lightly sour and yeasty with a bit of cardboard.  flavor – good level of sour.  clean.  slight malty sweet flavor and a bit oxidized.
I dumped 2 due to high sugar content (bottle bombs) and very low pH.
I bottled 3 targeting 3.5 volumes.  It was .85 gallons @ room temp so I boiled 1.2 oz of sugar in 1/2 cup of filtered water and mixed that in with beer in bottling bucket.  this ended up filling 6 bottles.  I have them stored in a plastic bin with a locking lid in one of my bath tubs and fully expect to hear some explosions at some point.  fingers crossed 🙂
Success!  The one batch (3(acidopholus) that I had marked BW1-3) that I bottled carbed up to what seems like the targeted 3.5 (super duper carbonated) and is actually a really nice beer!  Definitely no head issues either initially or with retention.  Big fluffy pillow that lingers till your done.  Probably my only complaint is the weird malt off flavors which are subtle and that it is too dark.  Both of these I just chalk up to using wheat DME.  I see no flavor issues from the lacto or yeast.  And did I mention it is really damn sour 🙂  Here is a picture.

lessons learned:
1) raw grains seem fairly risky.  acidulated malt was an abject failure.  not sure if there was lactic acid but not much lacto or the other bugs just outcompeted.  2-row seemed to work pretty well as far as souring but there was some definite funk so I wouldn’t use this for a large batch since the probability of failure seems high.  it works but i have my doubts that it would work consistently.  at the very least I would make a starter first and make sure it is clean before pitching into a bigger batch.
2) store bought probiotics seem to work fairly well.  it will be interesting to see the difference between the store bought acidophilus and the lab grown delbrueckii and brevis. 
3) take gravity readings before boiling 🙂  it seems that one of two things happened with the 2-row.  there was some yeast or heterofermentative bacteria that generated alcohol which I then boiled off 🙂 or the german ale yeast did ferment some but conked out in a sub-3 pH.  But I won’t know since I didn’t test to see if the gravity drop from 1.031 to 1.019 took place before boiling or after.
4) even low pH friendly beer yeast like german ale have their limits and it appears to be in the < 3.2 pH range since #3 seemed to finish out but #2 never really got started.  another experiment 🙂  find at what pH level to pitch the yeast or use really low pH friendly  wine yeast or brett.

Bohemian Pilsner 2

New Year, New Brew!  It’s the last of my NHC beers.  I’m getting a bit nervous since I’m not sure I have 3-4 really solid beers.  Hopefully this one will turn out well!  I did my normal research – Brewing Classic Styles, old NHC winners and reread the Bohemian Pilsner section in the Classic Style series.  In the end I remembered an old Annie Johnson interview on The Brewing Network where she talked about winning a Pilsner Urquell clone competition so I thought that would be a good start.  Her recipe (scroll down to “this budvar’s for you” ) is a decoction so I basically took her recipe but added some Munich Dark to get a bit of a decoction character and to darken it up to get it from straw to gold (hopefully).  Since I’m repitching German Lager (White Labs 830) rather than a Czech strain I added a bit of Carapils to round it out.  I wanted to use all Czech Saaz but my homebrew shop only had 4 oz so I used Warrior for bittering.  This is my last brew on the old propane setup before starting on my new Electric BIAB so it was a little sad.  I’m sure I’ll use the old rig again but probably not nearly as often.  Brew day was pretty standard.  I actually hit all my numbers which is pretty much unheard of.  No adjustments necessary.  Maybe that’s bad 🙂
Bohemian Pils 2
2-B Bohemian Pilsener
Size: 7.5 gal
Efficiency: 95.0%
Attenuation: 75.0%
Original Gravity: 1.052 (1.044 – 1.056)
Terminal Gravity: 1.013 (1.013 – 1.017)
Color: 3.39 (3.5 – 6.0)
Alcohol: 5.13% (4.2% – 5.4%)
Bitterness: 41.7 (35.0 – 45.0)
10.25 lb (87.2%) Best Malz Pilsen Malt – added during mash
.75 lb (6.4%) Best Malz Munich Malt Dark – added during mash
.5 lb (4.3%) Briess Cara-Pils® Malt – added during mash
4 oz (2.1%) Weyerman Acidulated Malt – added during mash
.60 oz (13.0%) Warrior® (15.7%) – added during boil, boiled 60 m
1 oz (21.7%) Czech Saaz (3.6%) – added during boil, boiled 30 m
1 tsp Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15 m
1.5 oz (32.6%) Czech Saaz (3.6%) – added during boil, boiled 10 m
.75 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
1.5 oz (32.6%) Czech Saaz (3.6%) – added during boil
500 mL White Labs WLP830 German Lager
mash salts:
2.2g Gypsum
2.2g CC
sparge salts:
5g Gypsum
5g CC
acidify sparge to below 5.8 (~10ml of 10% phosphoric in 10G of water)
should give mash pH of 5.4 -> was 5.2
11.75 lb of grain
1.5 qt/lb = 17.625 quarts = 4.4 gallons
mash @ 154
mash in water temp 165.5 but have been hitting low so going 14F over at 168 to see how that goes. -> did 169 and hit 153 and dropped over an hour to 150
pitch @ 48 (actually pitched at 49) and ramp to 50 over 2 days then hold to day 14 -> ramp 5 degrees a day to 60 and hold till day 21 -> rack to keg and drop 2 degrees a day to 38 and lager for one month.  rack to clean keg and force carb to 2.5 volumes.
1/5/15 brew day.  pitched @ 1 pm ~500ml of thick slurry at 49F
1/6/15 @8am no activity
@2pm no activity but a little kreusen forming.  leak?
@10pm no activity but definitely a kreusen forming.
1/7/15 @ 7am no activity but 1/2″ kreusen so definitely a leak.  took apart carboy cap and retightened and started to bubble.
1/9/15 @ 8am still 1/2″ kreusen and strong bubbling
1/10/15 @ 4pm same but seems to have slowed a bit
1/11/15 still steady bubbling w/ kreusen but slowed a bit more
1/12/15 kreusen started to drop
1/13/15 slowed a bit more.  yeast seems to have started to drop
1/14/15 kreusen dropped.  bubbling ~ every 5 secs
1/17/15 no activity dropped fairly clear
1/26/15 transferred to keg
FG – 1.014 pH – 4.37 ( a bit low but not bad)
aroma – herbal / spicy hops.  low grainy malt.  a hint of sulfur
apperance – a yeasty sample from bottom so hazy.  gold in color?
flavor – bitter but not overwhelming.  similar to aroma but yeasty.  clean.  no off flavors other than a bit of sulfur that should lager out.

Dortmunder Export 2

This was my last brew of the year and nothing went super wrong but nothing went quite right.  Basically I missed on about every number.  Mash was low again.  It started at 150F (target was 152) but within 3 minutes it has dropped to 147.  Usually my mashtun holds temp really well but it was ~35F outside so I guess it isn’t shocking.  I added 3 Quarts of boiling water which brought me back to 150 and I did a 90 min mash instead of 60 to make sure everything converted.  My efficiency was a bit higher than expected so I had to add a gallon of water to hit my OG but still came out a hair high.  I adjusted my 60 min hop addition to keep my bitterness level the same.  I also had a minor boil over since I brainfarted at the end of the boil and put the lid on before cutting the heat.  icing on the cake 🙂  pitched at 45F with 300mL of pretty thick slurry from vienna 3.
Dortmunder Export 2
1-E Dortmunder Export
Size: 7.5 gal
Efficiency: 85.0%
Attenuation: 75.0%
Original Gravity: 1.055 (1.048 – 1.056)
Terminal Gravity: 1.014 (1.010 – 1.015)
Color: 4.96 (4.0 – 6.0)
Alcohol: 5.44% (4.8% – 6.0%)
Bitterness: 30.4 (23.0 – 30.0)
11 lb (79.3%) Best Malz Pilsen Malt – added during mash
2.5 lb (18.0%) Best Malz Munich Malt Dark – added during mash
6 oz (2.7%) Weyerman Acidulated Malt – added during mash
.75 oz (27.3%) Northern Brewer (9.9%) – added during boil, boiled 60 m
1 oz (36.4%) Liberty (4.5%) – added during boil, boiled 20 m
1 tsp Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 20 m
1 oz (36.4%) Liberty (4.5%) – added during boil, boiled 5 m
300 mL White Labs WLP830 German Lager slurry
mash salts:
3.1g Gypsum
3.1g CC
sparge salts:
6g Gypsum
6g CC
acidify sparge to below 5.8 (~10ml of 10% phosphoric in 10G of water)
should give mash pH of 5.3 (was 5.2)
13.88 lb of grain
1.5 qt/lb = 20.82 quarts = 5.21 gallons
mash @ 152
mash in water temp 165.2
pitch @ 48 and ramp to 50 over 2 days then hold till 14 days and raise 5 degrees a day to 60 then hold through 21 days.  rack to keg and drop 2 degrees a day to 40 and lager for one month.  rack to clean keg and force carb to 2.5 volumes.
12/8/14 @ ~2pm pitched @ 45F w/ brewpi set to raise to 50F over 48 hours.  then hold till day 14 and raise to 60 over two days and hold.
12/9/14 @ 8am no activity > at 47F
12/9/14 @ 10pm still no activity > WORRIED
12/10/14 @ 8am can see a little bubbling and spots so seems like its getting going
12/10/14 @ noon kreusen is forming but activity is still low
12/12/14 1/2″ kreusen and steady bubbling.  solid sulphur odor.
12/13/14 fermentation is a bit more vigorous but similar
12/14/14 still vigorous
12/15/14 still vigorous
12/16/14 kreusen has started to drop and bubbling less vigorous but still steady
12/17/14 still steady but slowed some more
12/18/14 steady but slowed to every ~2 sec.  starting to clear
12/19/14 ~4 sec
12/21/14 ~7 sec
12/22/14 still ~7 sec.  raising 5F a day to 60 using brewpi.
12/23/14 up to 55F ~4sec
12/26/14 seems done.   dropped pretty clear.
12/31/14 racked to keg
FG 1.013 pH 4.50
aroma-some sulfur but low level.  low malt / breadiness.  low herbal/earthy/spicy hop.  some yeast tang.
appearance – nice gold color.  cloudy.
flavor – solid pilsner / munich malt character.  solid bitterness.  moderate herbal/spicy hop flavor.  notes of diacetyl maybe?  hard to tell if it is just the munich or some diacetyl.  didn’t do a forced diacetyl test but it was well over a week at 60F so hard to believe there is any diacetyle.  all in all very tasty but in retrospect i would probably cut the munich in half and maybe switch it to munich rather than dark munich.