Still alive

It’s been a while. Quite a while.

A lot has happened. Having a total knee replacement and soon to have Rotator Cuff surgery, I’ve been literally out of commission. For several weeks, I didn’t even have a beer! After the knee replacement, I had absolutely no desire to have a beer. Must have been the medication. Don’t worry, I’m enjoying a Poet by New Holland Brewing Co. as I type this post.

I haven’t been able to brew due to surgery and other developments. The doctor gave me a two-thumbs up last week, but now I won’t be able to lift anything for the next month or so. Today I began working on my new brewery. During my convalescence I decided to go electric on my brewery. So, last Friday I decided to do as much as I could to get the process started. Additionally, I’ll be making a clean-room for my yeast. I began working on a home-made laminar hood and decided to take over a room in the basement for the brewery. Walls came down and carpet left the room today with hopes of painting the floor with a two-part epoxy on Tuesday. I’ll be out of commission for about a month, but at least I’m on my way.

The next time you see a post, I should have the ability to continue working on the brewery. Can’t wait.

 

UPDATE 04/17/2015

What I was able to accomplish prior to surgery.

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R.I.P. Maggie Mae

It has been almost a month and I am still numb from my loss. My beer drinking companion died on May 9, 2014 – many years before she should have. As dogs go, she was the best. Intelligent, loyal, and spoiled, we wondered whether she would live past the age of two. Not that her medical problems were going to end her life at the age of two, but rather, her obstinate behavior called into question whether we would give her away. Then something happened – she settled down and became a wonderful companion.

Maggie developed several habits that stayed with her until her last breath. She loved Dunkin Donuts plain donuts. If I walked through the door with a DD bag in my hand, she would run and jump on the couch and anxiously wait for her treat. Left to her own devices, she would inhale a whole donut without taking a breath. To prevent her from choking, we would break the donut up to manageable sizes and feed her.

Her second habit – she loved beer. She would not drink just any beer, though. Her beer had to be good beer, worthy of my glass. It got to the point that when I reclined with a beer in my glass, she would sit on the edge of the recliner and stare at the glass waiting for the last few drops to be given to her. She never drank a lot of beer – just the last drops that lingered in the glass. Her best act of bravery occurred a couple of months ago. Sitting next to me on the couch, I was holding a glass in my hand and she was sitting staring at it with great anticipation. Next thing I know, her mouth dives into my glass trying to drink up as much porter as she could before I yanked it away. Although we were shocked, we laughed at her obsessive behavior. She even had her own chalice   that I would pour the last few drops into.

So it is, the best friends are taken away all to soon. I knew she was not feeling well the day we took her to the vets. She wouldn’t drink any Oberon that I poured into the palm of my hand. I knew she was all but gone. It is with much regret that she did not live longer. I sorely miss sharing my homebrew with her. Maggie probably developed her taste for quality beer from my lead. She too was a beer snob.

Maggie drinking founders

Maggie and her favorite type of beverage – a porter.

 

 

Common Sense Porter

Common Sense Porter 1

Brewed using the traditional percentages of grains found in English porters commonly consumed in the 1700’s, I attempted to remain true to the style. Unfortunately, given the modern grains and controlled yeast production, we really have no idea what it would taste like (unless you’ve gone to great extent to grow your own grain). This was a three-gallon test batch, BIAB.

Grain Bill:

Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (3.0 SRM) – 76%
Brown Malt (65.0 SRM) – 11%
Flaked Barley (1.7 SRM) – 7 %
Chocolate Malt(450.0 SRM) – 6%

Hops:

Fuggles (0.75 oz) – 60 min boil
Fuggles (0.30 0z) – 10 min boil

Yeast:

British Ale (White Labs WLP005)

 

Thomas Paine was an instigator, both in America and in his homeland of Great Britain.  His writings were, for the most part, meant to provoke one into action. Whether Common Sense, Rights of Man, or The Age of Reason, Paine’s ideas put the common citizen in charge of their own destiny through common sense. Today, many political philosophies look to Paine – anarchists included. Although he gave in to the idea of government, other writings suggest he would have done without it if he had his way.

This old style English robust porter turned out with a higher OG then I anticipated. Shooting for 1.056, something went wrong. I’m looking for reasons – I’m sure after a few beers I should be able to figure it out. Being off by one or two points is one thing, however a 1.073 starting gravity shows something was amiss. After secondary fermentation, rather than 1.024, apparent attenuation was much greater. My final reading before bottling was 1.010, giving me AA of 86.30%. Thus my 5.1 ABV is no longer a good number, as it is somewhere around 8.3%.

Still, all is well. The great part of homebrewing is the finished product: if it tastes great, it is a good beer!

 

 

Quality Control Experiments – Part 2

Results are in. All types of mold, bacteria, and wild yeast are flying around my basement with immunity. Yes I clean, sanitize, and sterilize. When I transfer liquids, I make sure windows are closed, a flame is around the containers, and all precautions are taken.

This experiment almost made me quit brewing.

I sat back and wondered what I was doing wrong. If I was doing everything I could humanly do to keep everything clean, why were there so many bug ending up in my cultures?

My beers turn out great. I always keep several tubes of wort and monitor them for bacteria. I have some tubes from six months ago that still show no sign of bacteria. This has, however, pointed out many flaws in my lab that will be corrected. Below are the results.

Plate 1
Air sample using UBA. Using Gram Stain, under microscope at 40x (below).

Plate #1b     Plate #1 UBA      Slide1b.Gram Stain.Plate 1.40x

Plate 2
Air sample using agar plate. Gram Stain using 10x, 40x, and the last two are 100x oil immersion. (below)

Plate #2 - Agar     Plate #2 after 24 hours     Slide2.Gram Stain.Plate 2.10x

Slide2a.Gram Stain.Plate 2.40x.4     Slide2.Gram Stain.Plate 2.oil.3     Slide2a.Gram Stain.Plate 2.oil.4

Plate 3
Swab samples. Gram Stain at 40x and oil immersion 100x. (below)

Swab Plate  Plate #3     Plate #4a     Slide6.Gram Stain.Swab.40x.1

Slide3.Gram Stain.Swab3.oil.2

Perhaps one of the most startling results came from the swabbing on the incubator. Although samples were taken from five different areas, absolutely no bacteria or fungi were detected.

Swabbed area in red ovals

Swabbed area in red ovals

I have begun building my new lab. I’ve transferred all yeast, DME, and hops from the fridge and placed in another fridge, storing at the lowest possible temperature (-20F in the freezer, 37F in refrigerator). Additionally, I am using a stainless steel table as my work area and constructing a Laminar air flow booth for culturing.

New lab

Current Project – part 2 (just the beginning)

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My rude awaking began with this culture. Actually, I let this grow for quite some time, long past my observations. However, it confirmed what I theoretically knew; mold, bacteria, and yeast are all around. Visually confirming something you cannot observe without the use of a microscope is powerful. The carpet in the petri dish I produced can be replicated in any but the most sterile lab conditions. Really – there are no visible molds growing ANYWHERE in my house. My lab is in the basement and you cannot smell anything that resembles mold or mildew. The filter on my furnace is 5″ thick and can filter to 3μm, and is equipped with a UV lamp.

So what to do?

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1. Assume everything you handle is contaminated with mold, bacteria, or wild yeast. Let your guard down and you’ll be sorry. Very sorry.

2. If you think you’ve cleaned your lab and equipment well enough, you haven’t. Read #1 again.

3. Yes, air moves. Yes, all of those bad bugs catch the wave and ride it until they reach something worth feeding on – like your wort, agar plate, and yeast culture. I read several books and blogs that suggested closing the vents or turning off the furnace / air conditioner. That is one of the best suggestions.

4. Finally, when in doubt, remember this – there is mold, bacteria, and/or wild yeast everywhere you believe is clean. “Indeed, studies of human exposure to air pollutants by EPA indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be 2 to 5 times – and occasionally more than 100 times – higher than outdoor pollutant levels.” (EPA, 2014). You WILL have contaminated yeast cultures if you believe otherwise.

After seeing the culture, I almost gave up on being a yeast rancher. If this is what I have to look forward to, and have to deal with this every time I culture, then why even try? I did think those thoughts, for about 30 seconds. Then I remembered something – just one of my brain cells can kick any bug’s ass, blindfolded.

Besides, I love the smell of fermentation in the morning – it smells like victory.

EPA. (09/13/2013). Questions About Your Community: Indoor Air.  Retrieve from http://www.epa.gov/region1/communities/indoorair.html

Quality Control Experiments

Yes, I need to finish the Current Project blog, however, I am beginning several experiments at the same time. Having found wild yeast and Gram-positive cocci, I am concerned that my seemingly clean lab / brewing area is really a hot-bed for bacteria. It helps that my Universal Beer Agar has about two weeks of shelf life, so why not begin the experiments now. I’ll also be culturing some English Ale yeast to test several storage techniques – I’ll cover that in another blog.

To begin this experiment, I decided to place two open plates on my cabinets. Last night I placed an open UBA plate on my peninsula cabinet and an open agar plate near my test equipment. Believing that both the wild yeast and cocci came from a test tube sitting open in the rack, I hope the air samples can substantiate my hypothesis.

DSC00562                   DSC00563

Tonight I swabbed four areas; the first being the counter where the agar plate was sitting. Although I am judicious and clean my work areas prior to doing anything, for this experiment I did not clean the area with disinfectant prior to swabbing. The second area swabbed was the stove. Circles represent areas that were swabbed.

cabinet                   Stove

The test tube holders are another area as a possible bacteria cesspool, along with the various pieces of lab equipment. The other area, although not used while brewing, is the incubator.

lab equipment                    Incubator

I placed all inoculated plates into the incubator at 80° F and will check them in 72-hours. Assuming each plate grows a culture, I will post the results after they are stained and examined.

R.I.P. Chewy

Although you lived with us for only seven months, the love you showed will last a lifetime. You always looked forward to riding in the car, laying under the dining room table and having your back rubbed by my feet, and sniffing the country air.

I’ll miss our nightly talks, and you barking every night for dinner while mom was making it for you. You hated to see us leave, but always greeted us enthusiastically when we came back. And although it was probably coincidence, it seemed that you understood every word we were communicating to you.

The love you gave will stay with us forever and we will miss you. Have fun exploring the woods and eating a donut every Sunday.

My friend.

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Bacon’s Rebellious Smokin’ Maple Porter

Bacon's Rebellious Smokin' Maple Porter-10.7

I opened a bottle of  my fifth test batch of this smoked porter the other day. For whatever reason, it turned out fairly close to what I was looking for.  It is finally coming around to what I envisioned. What could be better than bacon and beer?

My four previous test batches were a smoked porter concoction that was either too bitter or two sweet. The first two batches had a little  Peat smoked malt in them. Not bad if you wanted a good stout, but not exactly what I was looking for. Someone suggested using Cherry smoked malt and the remaining tests had a better taste. Next to be altered was the amount of maple syrup. For my one-gallon test batches, I began with 20 ml and increased up to 51 ml. The last batch was 40 ml. After adding the LME to the equation, I might have to adjust it down a little bit.

I received 3.3 lbs of Porter LME as a Christmas gift, and couldn’t imagine how I was ever going to put it to use. Shazam!  What better way to increase ABV than to add some liquid malt extract? So in went 40 oz as a late extract addition. By doing that, my SRM went to almost 64 and my gravity increased by 40. A little out of the Porter style, but would still be good for either 22b or 23 in the BJCP.  Hopefully, the next gallon will be the exactly what I am looking for. Oh, and the best part – bacon!!! I finally got the taste to come through loud and clear. Looks like I’ll be using about a pound of hickory smoked bacon for 5 gallons.

About the label.

Nathanial Bacon lead a group of frontiersmen in 1676 against the ruling Governor William Berkeley and British forces in what became the first rebellion of the colonies. I could have went with a play on a movie star’s name, but for whatever reason, anarchy and Kevin Bacon don’t go together. Anyway, the pig’s head represents the bacon part of the smoked porter. A tricorn hat adorning the head is simply not historically accurate, however, most people would not recognize the head dress of the 17th century as relating to a rebellion (something closer to the Three Musketeers, maybe). Further, Nathaniel Bacon was not captured, nor was his head served on a platter. However, dying of dysentery would hardly convey a rebellious person. Finally, an anarchist’s quote that I felt summed up the drink.

Cheers!

Is it better to drink or not?

I am thoroughly enjoying an online science course on beer. The professor, Dr. Mark Morvant from The University of Oklahoma, is leading a 16-week course on the Chemistry of Beer. Although well beyond any course I took in college (some 43 plus years ago), many of the discussion questions he poses are quite interesting.

The unit we are currently working on is titled, Health Impacts of Alcohol.  Besides being crammed with scientific information and chemical equations, we are also reminded of the societal impact alcohol plays on the lives of individuals who overindulge. Thus, when Dr. Morvant posted the question, “Is it better to drink or not?”,  it made me pause and think.

Before you read this, however, let me explain a little about my philosophy. I am an anarchist in the truest sense, not what modern media portrays. Thus my home brewery is know as, The Anarchist Brewhous. I believe that each person is capable of determining what is best in their life, and that each person should be allowed to live their life as they see fit. This, however, is not what media talks about. According to media, an anarchist is one who believes in chaos. That is further from the truth and is what stops most people from honestly looking into anarchism as a viable alternative to a highly regulated police State. Regardless, I do believe in law and order – both of which anarchy can provide. All true anarchists believe that any form of coercion or violence against an individual is wrong. We also believe that taking anything from another person without their consent is wrong. It then stands to reason that each individual should be able to do what they want as long as it does not impact the life of another.

After much consideration, this is what I posted on the Chemistry of Beer discussion board.

Making the assumption that this question is directed to the writer, my conclusion would serve only as antidotal evidence and opinion. However, taking this question to the generic “you,” an assertion could be made that abstinence from alcohol would benefit individuals and society in general. It is well documented that alcohol abuse can lead to many physiology problems that ultimately could negatively impact a person over their lifetime (CDC, 2013). Additionally, negative societal impacts can be quantified over many sectors, ranging from lost production hours to increased healthcare costs (CIBHP, 2009). Furthermore, data suggest many crimes are committed as a result of excessive drinking (NCADD, 2014). Assuming a person’s judgment is impaired after even one drink, (Segal & Duffy, 1999), a strong case could be made that total abstinence from any form of alcohol would benefit the individual and society as a whole.

Nonetheless, recent data suggest that moderate consumption of alcohol can provide health benefits. A recent study conducted by Oregon Health & Science University stated moderate consumption of alcohol boosts the immune system (OHSU, 2013). Other studies suggest people who are moderate consumers of alcohol show substantially reduced risk of coronary heart disease when compared to those who abstain from drinking alcohol and heavy drinkers (Rehm, Sempos & Trevisan, 2003).

In America, it is believed that protecting the minority is the quintessence of justice. Assuming the individual is the smallest minority; each person must decide for themselves as to whether consuming alcohol is beneficial. Additionally, as a country, we must protect that individual’s right to make that decision. Thus, I personally adhere to the “Buffalo Theory” (Wogan, 2014), and strive to eliminate the slowest brain cells each day so I can think faster. I am reminded of the Hunter S. Thompson quote, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Cheers.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013, December 26). Fact Sheets-Alcohol Use and Health. Retrieved January 29, 2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (2014). Alcohol and Crime. Retrieved January 29, 2014 from http://www.ncadd.org/index.php/learn-about-alcohol/alcohol-and-crime

Oregon Health & Science University. (2013, December 17). Moderate alcohol consumption boosts body’s immune system, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131217171008.htm

Rehm J, Sempos CT and Trevisan M. (2003). Average volume of alcohol consumption, patterns of drinking and risk of coronary heart disease – a review. Journal of Cardiovascular Risk, 10:15-20.

Segal, B., and Duffy, L.K. 1999. Biobehavioral effects of psychoactive drugs. In R.J.M. Niesink, R.M.A. Jaspers, L.M.W. Kornet, and J.M. van Ree, Eds. Drugs of Abuse and Addiction: Neurobehavioral Toxicology (pp. 24–64). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

The Center for Integrated Behavioral Health Policy. (2009, November). Alcohol Cost Calculator. Retrieved January 29, 2014 from http://www.alcoholcostcalculator.org/alcohol/about/?page=publicabout

Wogan, T. (2014, January 18). Buffalo theory-or how alcohol might be good for you. The Telegraph. Retrieved January 29, 2014 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/terrywogan/10580037/Buffalo-theory-or-how-alcohol-might-be-good-for-you.html

Current project – part 1

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I began this current project with a few simple questions – how many bugs are flying around my lab? Is my work area really as “clean” as it looks? And, how likely is it that any batch of beer is going to be infected by a bug (bacteria, wild yeast, etc.)?

FIRST THINGS FIRST

As most projects go, I started by researching the subject.  I read and reread Yeast, watched several YouTube videos on how to culture yeast, and read many blogs and articles on the process of yeast ranching. Taking some of the yeast (Lallemand Nottingham Ale) from a current fermenting beer, I began my journey as a yeast rancher.

I have yet to read anyone who says culturing dry yeast is worth it, but I think losing $3.99 is better than $6.99. So, this was my test batch to see whether I could keep the area clean and sanitary while culturing the yeast. I began by putting everything that could fit into my stove-top autoclave. Spend some money and get a good autoclave rather than a pressure cooker. If you are going to herd yeast, this is one piece of equipment that you must have.  Be sure to follow the instructions. You’ll want to purge the autoclave of air and allow pressure to build up to around 17 -20 psi (about 235-240 F) to sterilize your glassware and agar.

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Purging air from autoclave

The next step requires that you pay attention to your surroundings. There are many formulas for agar, all sharing the same ingredients: agar, DME, and yeast nutrients. Boil the DME and nutrients, then add the agar. Pour into either a culture tube or petri dish. The amount of agar in the petri dish need not be very thick. The culture tube should have a little less than half the total volume available (if the tube is 30ml, then you need a little less than 15ml). Place everything into the autoclave and sterilize for at least 35 minutes.

After the glassware is touchable, remove everything from the autoclave. While the dish is warm, but the agar is set, turn the dish upside down and let cool for several days, or until the condensed water is gone. Take some Parafilm and wrap the petri dish if you do not intend to inoculate immediately. The culture tubes are a bit different. Remove them while the agar is still liquid and place them on a 30 degree angle (thus the name slants). Be sure the screw cap is semi-loose while the agar is setting up. As with the plate, allow enough time for the condensation to dry. Parafilm when ready.

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My lab / brew area

WORDS OF CAUTION

If you take away anything from this blog, remember to make sure that everything you touch – that will in any way come into contact with anything from this point on – is sanitized and/or sterilized. Remember, you want your laboratory to be as clean as possible; free from draft, dirt, and anything that will contaminate your yeast. If you think your area is clean, it isn’t. If you are of the mindset that there is absolutely no way mold or bacteria can get into your culture, you are imagining things. Unless you have a cleanroom (as in a commercial laboratory), you’ll have to take every precaution you have heard or read about to even have the slightest hope of culturing yeast that carry zero contaminants.

Getting back to inoculating your dishes and slants.

Make sure you have a Bunsen burner, inoculating loop, nitrite gloves, and alcohol (look below for a complete list of necessary equipment). Before you attempt to inoculate your plate or slant, you should practice holding two tubes with one hand, know where you will put the cap, and practice taking a sample from one tube and placing the inoculating loop into the other. There are many great articles written by experts showing how this should be done.

 bunsen burner  Take the loop and place above the flame.

20131230_204152 This will kill all bacteria. 

I used to pride myself on keeping my lab clean, making sure no bugs would enter my beer. Oh, was I ever in for a rude awaking.