Posts Tagged ‘williams’

using a portable refractometer

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

refractometer with wort on prism

for our anniversary this year, AP picked me up a portable refractometer.

  • I’m not gonna lie, up until now I have never taken a gravity reading for any of my brews.
  • the extra steps involved in taking a reading using my hydrometer weren’t worth knowing the exact ABV of my beer.
  • however, I had heard stories about the ease of use of a refractometer, so I put it on my brew wish list, and AP picked it up for me from william’s.
  • at first glance, the thing looks like a piece of lab equipment, which to me was a little intimidating.  as a result, I put off taking an OG reading on my fresh hop pale until I figured out how the thing worked.
  • however, CB’s ages-old hydrometer snapped while brewing his brown, and he sent some wort home in a ziploc bag for me to test.
  • I was kicking myself when I finally used the thing.  calibration took 30 seconds using a drop of the included solution and a screw on top of the unit.
  • after that, I just wiped the unit clean with the included cloth, put a single drop of wort on the prism, covered it with the cover plate, and pointed the sucker at a light source.  the reading is where the blue and white areas meet.
  • there are a few advantages to using a refractometer over a hydrometer: you just need a drop of wort, the wort can be 40°-160° F, and you don’t need to adjust your reading for temperature (although there is a temperature correction chart in the instructions, the instructions also state that the “refractometer [is] provided with an automatic temperature compensation function, so correction of the temperature according to the table is not needed.”  I guess that’s what ATC means).
  • note: the reading you get is in brix, so you have to convert it to specific gravity.  there are many converters online, and a lot of brew software does the conversion as well.
  • in short, I highly recommend this tool as an alternative to a hydrometer – it is fast and easy (and not prohibitively expensive).

the refractometer kit

making a yeast starter

Friday, September 4th, 2009

the setup

To prep for my upcoming brew day on saturday (check back monday for results) I decided to make a yeast starter.

  • to be honest, I had never made a yeast starter before, and had relied on wyeast smack packs as a sort of “mini-starter” for my batches.
  • however, I have been running into some bad luck with recent smack packs that didn’t fully inflate, and one which didn’t take off at all.  this made for a headache on brew day.
  • in addition, as long as I have been brewing, starters have been getting pumped to me as a good idea for a fast and vigorous fermentation.
  • I am also interested in reconstituting bottle yeast in the future, and there’s no way I can do this without a starter, so I had to start sometime.
  • the kicker was that my shipped brew ingredients had been sitting out in the hot sun all day yesterday, and despite being wrapped with a cold pack, my smack pack was already swollen when I got to it.  I could either let the swollen smack pack sit in the fridge for a couple days and potentially run out of nutrients or make a starter.

I recently purchased a few items for the yeast starter process.

  • a 1000 mL erlenmeyer flask – realistically, you can use any type of container, but you can toss this flask right on the stove top and dump it into an ice bath without any problems.
  • some yeast nutrient – I got this mostly for reconstituting yeast so they would have a proper diet.  my smack pack already had nutrient in it, so I didn’t add any to this batch.
  • you will also definitely want some foam reducer, dry or liquid malt extract, and some aluminum foil.  I had all of this lying around from previous batches.
  • however, you can realistically make a starter with just water and some leftover DME or LME and any container.  the stuff above just eliminates steps from the process and/or makes the process easier.

for those interested, here’s a quick breakdown of the process I followed, based on various online tutorials:

weighing DME

  • I added DME and water to the flask in a ratio of 2 oz. DME/400mL water.  note here – if using a flask, add the DME first.  I waited until the water was boiling to add the DME – big mistake.  that stuff is like crazy glue once it gets warm and went everywhere but through the neck of the flask.

boiling wort

  • ADD FOAM REDUCER to your flask before the boil, or you will get a gnarly boil over, or if using a flask, a wort eruption.  In my opinion, this is the most important note of the whole process.  My 600 mL starter became a 400 mL starter in about a second before I realized I forgot to add the foam reducer.

i use star san

  • I whipped up a quick batch of sanitizer while I was waiting for the boil to complete.  you can never be too anal/safe!

ice bath

  • after boiling for a little over 10 minutes, I placed the flask in an ice bath, and cooled it to about 70F.

denny's fav

  • I then shook my smack pack and added the yeast.  I am using wyeast 2450PC – Denny’s Favorite 50.  Denny Conn is one of my favorite brew forum contributors, and I have used his recipes and followed his advice multiple times.  why not give his yeast a shot?


  • after adding the yeast, I topped the flask off with some sanitized foil and shook it up.  some people use stir plates or oxygenate their starter, and some use an airlock or foam stopper.  I was going to use an airlock, but the stopper I got was too small for the flask.  william’s brewing recommends a #7 stopper for their 1000 mL flask, but you need more like a #9.5 from what I read.
  • every once in a while (5-6 hrs or so) you will want to swirl the starter around to keep the yeast working.
  • another note – I have heard of people making multiple batches of wort like this and canning them using a pressure cooker.  They then have sterile wort ready every time they want to make a starter!  I might have to look into that.

presidio blackberry kölsch

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009


Although the majority of the recipes I do (at the moment) are partial mash, when it comes to my kölsch recipe I do full extract.

  • to make matters worse, I get the kolsch ingredient kit from williams brewing.  I love william’s, but some people give them crap for not disclosing their ingredient proportions in their kits or labelling their hops.  It doesnt bother me much with the kolsch, i mean with one type of LME and two hop additions, it’s not that hard to reverse engineer.  I’ll figure out a comparable all-grain recipe when I switch over next year.
  • plus, williams has good prices, and best of all, they ship the same day for orders before 3pm pacific.  since they are located in san leandro (a quick shot north of SF), i get my packages from them next day for a flat rate (usually $6 or $7) ground shipping price.  they’re a great option if you’re located in the pacific northwest.
image courtesy of

image courtesy of

I feel i have a special connection with kölsch.

  • Specifically, kölsch can technically only be called such if it is brewed in Cologne, Germany, where my maternal grandfather’s ancestors hail from.
  • It is the perfect session beer and is a very social beverage, being served in small, narrow glasses called  “stanges.”
  • It is also an interesting beer in that while it resembles a pilsener, it uses ale (top-fermenting) yeast and is lagered after a relatively warm primary fermentation.
  • as for the pronunciation – some places say it is “cole-sch,” others (including the bartender at suppenküche) say it is “cool-sch.” whatever.

to mix this batch up a little bit, I wandered around the Presidio picking wild blackberries.

  • according to a pamphlet i read some time back, the Presidio recommends against eating any growth in their park except for wild blackberries.
  • i ended up with a couple pounds of the fruit, enough (hopefully) to add a little color and fruit aroma to the beer.
  • additionally, i was hoping some wild yeasts on the fruit would kick off a secondary fermentation, but so far i don’t see any activity worth mentioning.

the kölsch has been in primary for about a month, with the fruit added after 2 weeks.  i am going to wait a few more weeks (to hopefully get some more color/sugars out of the fruit) and then keg the batch.