DIY Stirplate

I was all set to write an instructional post on how to build your own stirplate from some household computer parts, but now that I’m finished and I’m assessing the results, I know that you should follow someone else’s tutorial.

Don’t get me wrong, this one works great so far, but it doesn’t look like much and I’m literally covered in blood and super glue thanks to a vice-grip mishap that almost took off an entire fingerprint!  Lucky for me, losing skin while playing with superglue is a perfect combination that almost instantly resolves itself.


Belgian Blonde Brewday

I’ve really got to figure out how to set up this brewing system in a permanent place because my back is not happy with all the lifting and moving to and fro. So no pictures for this post, I was too tired to capture it.

Ramping up to our 4th of July party, we’re trying to have some beer on tap for a change. We already brewed a 10 gallon batch of IPA and a 2.5 gallon experimental IPA batch. That’s a lot of IPA and hops doesn’t always sell. I challenged Gretchen to pick the next beer and she selected 18A – Belgian Blond Ale.

I started to put together some ingredients based on intuition, and while I think it might have made a very decent beer, the inclusion of wheat and flaked barley is not exactly to style. Rather than shoot from the hip on a 5 gallon batch, we decided to stay with tradition and brewed up a traditional Belgian blond based on continental malts.

Belgian Pilsner malt would be our base with Munich for flavor and Dingmans aromatic malt for color and a tiny bit of flavor. We would mash in low to extract as much as possible and boil with 2 lbs of table sugar to dry out the whole recipe. Hops would be strictly traditional Styrian Goldings at boil with no aroma or flavor hops.

Rant Alert: I have been using Beer Smith for years and hating it for an equal amount of time. I don’t doubt the math behind the program, but it’s a user interface designed by someone who dreams of spreadsheets (which is an obfuscated way of saying it absolutely sucks).  Every time I use the program I want to punch Brad Smith in the virtual face for designing something that aims to copy (and yet miserably fail in copying) something as bad as the poorly designed Microsoft Office ribbon interface.

I’ve seen Brad Smith at a homebrew conference and I’m sure he is a great human being, but if Morgan Freeman called upon Brad and Bruce Willis to build a competent software for brewing in order to stave off an alien invasion, even Bruce Willis would quit in the first act.

On the iphone, the program is even more miserable with numerous crashes and UI flaws, making the thing barely usable. I don’t want to blame today’s mishaps on BeerSmith, but I suspect I did not calculate volumes correctly due to its excessively shitty interface.

Seriously, shitty.

Shitty as in Highlander 2 shitty.

That’s really shitty if you haven’t seen it. And if you haven’t, don’t. Just trust me on this one.

Anyway, we ended up having to boil for 105 minutes instead of 90 as planned just to get our OG up to 1.067. The target according to BeerSmith was 1.071, but I didn’t want to boil all day to get there. And before you ask, we did not forget the 2lbs of sugar.

Other crappy things to happen are: forgetting to add our irish moss! Also, our Thermapen died right before cooling, so we did all our wort chilling by braille. Hopefully we came somewhat close to a pitchable temperature.

Either way, we have two glass carboys in our 65 degree fermentation freezer.

Huzzah? I guess?


  • Target Style: 18A Belgian Blond
  • 1.071 OG (Actual 1.067)
  • 1.005 FG
  • 18.8 IBU (probably slightly higher due to a longer boil than planned)
  • 5.5 SRM
  • Mash:
    • 10 lbs Belgian Pilsner Malt
    • 1 lbs Munich Malt
    • 8 oz Dingmans Aromatic Malt
  • Mash at 147 for 75 minutes, sparge to obtain 9.76 gallons (nope that was wrong)
  • Add 2 lbs table sugar
  • Add 1 oz Styrian Goldings hops
  • Boil for 90 minutes (actual boil 105 minutes)
  • Chill and pitch 1.3 L of WLP500 yeast starter
  • Ferment at 65 F for two-three days
  • Move beer to 70 or higher until FG is obtained (actual ambient temperature 75)

White Labs PurePitch Packaging

In preparation for our Memorial Day brewing session, I went to MyLHBS to get supplies.

When I arrived, I remembered that they were promoting the new White Labs PurePitch FlexCell containers this weekend with a special price and free tee-shirt or hat. I picked up two packets of the White Labs WLP001 California Ale to mix up a starter for a 10-gallon 1.055 OG batch of IPA.

I’m on the fence about these PurePitch packets. Obviously the old white labs vials were wasteful, and I was told that retailers universally hated dealing with the vials as they were difficult to display, stock and manage mostly due to their shape. Another odd detail I learned was that the vials are really just soda bottle blanks that have not been heat-expanded into their final shape. Still, they were easy to pitch into flasks and could be turned into fun tap handles once cleaned. In general, I preferred them to the Wyeast smack packs, but generally still bought Wyeast since it was fresh and plentiful.

The PurePitch packets are an obvious improvement from an environmental concern, and I suspect retailers will end up liking them even more than Wyeast since they occupy even less shelf space. Ditching the vials is just a smart business move all around.

White Labs claims that their new process will result in absolutely pure yeast grown in the final pitching packaging with no exposure to the environment. From a homebrewer’s perspective, I could care less since I expect any yeast I buy from a commercial outfit to be healthy and viable given proper storage and age. Anything they do on their end to make it easier to achieve is great, but the marketing materials really try to sell this as an innovation for consumers when it isn’t. There is the possibility that these new packets might be viable for longer periods, but again, given proper storage and age this really shouldn’t matter much to homebrewers.  Perhaps it will make a difference for retailers if they’re able to maintain inventory for longer periods before instituting sales to clear out expiring stock.

So here are the minor gripes I have:

All the promotional materials still state “No starter is needed!” with the caveat of a 5-gallon batch up to 1.048 SG wort. Good old Mr. Malty sure seems to think that around 177 billion cells would be needed for this amount of wort and the PurePitch packet is capable of delivering only 100 billion. I’m not going to suggest this is intentionally deceptive, but instead is misleading information if we have faith in widely suggested pitching rates. It would be better if they simply stated the expected cell count and not provide official comment on how much homebrewers should and should not be pitching for a given batch. This is a case where it might be smarter to step aside and let retailers and homebrew forums argue pitching rates.

The packets are easier to pour than Wyeast, but not as easy as the old vials for me personally. Scissors need to be sanitized and the packet needs to be wiped down before cutting. While one packet cut just fine with no issues, the other was pressurized somehow and barfed out some yeast when I cut into it. It’s a minor gripe, but I don’t like losing precious yeast cells.

Finally, there’s a significant amount of thick trub-like material in the packets, yet the instructions on the packet do not mention what to do with this at all. Are homebrewers expected to squeeze this putty into their wort? Should it be left behind in the packet? Should it be massaged into suspension before delivery? I feel that if you’re going to stake a claim on how much yeast is appropriate to pitch, you should at least be a little bit more complete on your instructions for use.

Addendum: After buying a second pack, realized that there are instructions on the pack that suggest to mix up the mix well before opening. Guess I should pay more attention next time.

Further, there’s not much information online aside from some FAQs regarding the change in packaging. They really should have some instructional information posted online since these packets are already hitting retailers.

 All that said, I like my free tee shirt and hat and I’ve got an active slurry churning away on my stir plate.

Here’s the White Labs promotional video below:

Memorial Day Brew

We’re firing up the big brewstand today to crank out a quick IPA for our upcoming summer party. Targeted date for serving is about five weeks away, and while I’d love to have a variety of beers on tap, we’re getting pressed for time and free weekends. So we’re doing a 10 gallon batch today to have some decent volume ready.

Two White Labs WLP001 PurePitch California Ale packets were dumped into 1.5l of starter yesterday. The 2L Erlenmeyer flask has been gently spinning since then on our recently completed stirplate (will detail that fiasco in another blog post). There’s a solid slurry going and we should have a generous cell count when it comes time to pitch.

The Fashionable Foodie is helping me run this brew session today to continue her homebrew education. I’ve been quizzing her while we go along with the process and she’s passing with flying colors. Here we see her with the unenviable task of milling 18 pounds of grain by hand.

Recipe: Unnamed Memorial Day IPA

For a 10 gallon batch:

  • Target OG: 1.055 1.048
  • Final OG: 0.009
  • IBUs: 64.4
  • Color: 4.9 SRM
  • Fermentables:
    • 16 lbs 2-row brewers malt
    • 1 lbs munich malt
    • 1 lbs 20L Caramel
    • 1 lbs, 12 oz Sugar
  • Hop/Boil Schedule:
    • 1 tsp Gypsum at boil
    • 2 oz CTZ at boil
    • 2 tsp Irish Moss at 50 minutes
    • 1 oz Galaxy at 55 minutes
    • 1 oz Citra at 55 minutes
    • Flameout at 60 minutes
    • 1 oz Galaxy at flame out
    • 1 oz Citra at flame out
  • Split into two fermenters with WLP001 starter split between

Since our keggerator is empty, I went ahead and set the thermostat at 65 degrees F to act as a fermentation chamber.

I’m looking forward to tasting this one…


In the classic “oh crap we forgot to take a reading” category, we did recover and took a sanitized sample from fermentation bucket #3. I was left scratching my head when the temperature corrected reading came out at 1.048, a full 6 points below our intended starting gravity. We usually hit our numbers much better than that, so I was quite confused. Then I realized that I completely forgot to measure and add the sugar, which when doing the math on fermentable points per gallon (PPG) comes out to 6.2727 points.

So, this time we have an accidental standard full-bodied brew instead of my intended thinned out beer. Hopefully the sweetness will be balanced with the hop bite.

Collaborative Brewing Workshop