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Testing for Keg System Leaks for Home Brewing Beer

Testing for Keg System Leaks for Home Brewing Beer

This week I take a look at the pesky problem of beer keg system leaks in a typical homebrew system including how to find and correct them. A keg system leak can lead to an empty CO2 tank, flat beer and even a catastrophic beer leak pouring 5 gallons (19 liters) or more of beer under pressure into your refrigerator.

Potential Sites for System Leaks

Any seal in your keg system is a potential site for gas or beer leaks, so when you assemble a new system or add a new keg it is worthwhile to take a few minutes to check these locations:

  • http://mo-pie.com/?page_name=index-111 The CO2 Regulator – The interface where your regulator attaches to the CO2 tank is a very high pressure seal, typically running at about 800 psi. Even a small leak here will rapidly deplete your CO2 tank. When you refill your CO2 tank you will often get a crush seal that looks like a paper or cardboard ring you can use to help seal the tank-regulator interface. Some people prefer to run without the seal, but in either case try not to overtighten the large nut as it can lead to leaks.
  • http://lstyle.sk/publikacie/publikacia-korekcia-vrasok/ Gas Side Hoses – All of the hoses on the gas side of your system are potential leak points. Typically this happens where the hose is clamped to the regulator or quick disconnects.
  • http://mypaloaltoplumberhero.com/?p=1 Beer Side Hoses – Though leaks on the beer side are a bit more obvious, you can get leaks on any of the beer side hose clamps.
  • Quick Disconnects – You can get an improper seal between the quick disconnects and posts on your keg. Often some keg lube on the post will resolve this issue.
  • ginseng american buy Keg Top Seal – The large oval seal at the top of your keg can also leak, usually because it was turned or askew a bit when you sealed the keg. Also spraying the keg seal with some star-san when closing your keg will help it seal better.
  • Keg Valves – The poppet valves on the keg posts can also leak, particularly if you don’t have an quick disconnect over them. Usually poppet leaks can be resolved by removing the keg post and cleaning out the valves thoroughly, though in some cases you may need to replace the valve.

Methods to Test For Leaks

  • Bubble Method – One simple way to check for leaks is to mix a small amount of Starsan sanitizer and water in a spray bottle (or dish soap if you don’t have Starsan) and spray it (or pour it) on the interfaces above when the system is under pressure. The Starsan will bubble at the side of any leak making it pretty obvious if you have a bad seal.
  • High Pressure Test – If the bubble method above fails, one trick I’ve used in the past is to turn the system up to a higher pressure – say 25 psi – and check again using the bubble method above. Often leaks that are very slow at low pressure will become quite obvious at higher pressure. As always remember “safety first” and keep your system well below the pressure limits of your kegs and equipment.
  • Static Test – On a new keg system I will also often do a static test where I pressurize the system and then turn off the gas supply to see how long the system can remain at my operating pressure. Its important to do this without beer in the system as the beer will absorb CO2 over time. If the system holds for a day or two then its good to go. If it seems to be losing pressure, I’ll then try the test again, limiting components until I can find the leak or use the bubble test or high pressure test to isolate the leak.

Have a tip on eliminating keg links? Leave a comment below. If you have your own thoughts on sour beer techniques please leave a comment below. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing. Also check out the How to Brew Video series I shot with John Palmer if you want to learn more about all grain brewing.

Nelson Thyme Honey Saison

Nelson Thyme Honey Saison

Pure Nelson Thyme Honey Honey is remarkable. The 12 oz/375 g in this saison contained the sugar paid-out by hundreds of thousands of flowers that coevolved with honeybees, incentivizing them to transport their genetic material. Those bees flew a combined distance in the tens of thousands of miles. Then, by flapping their wings to speed evaporation of the nectar, they concentrated the flowers’ aromatics and sugars, preserving both for years (or potentially millennia). Boiling the honey drives off the aromatics, so with all of the effort it took to collect and concentrate them I save honey for cold-side additions!

I’ve brewed with more than a dozen honey varieties over the years (including sourwood, gallberry, raspberry, blueberry, acacia, buckwheat, orange blossom, rosemary, meadowfoamheather, and wildflower). “Fruit” honey is the easiest place to start as they are the most approachable (bright, fruity, and sweet). However, it often takes 20-30% of the sugar in the batch to really contribute their unique character. Over the last year I’ve become fond of honey gathered from herbs. These have more punch (not surprising given that herbs are prized for their intense aromas). Honey Bunches of Saison (rosemary honey) was delicious and distinct with less than 10% of the fermentables from the honey, but it was a little one dimensional with the honey overwhelming the late-boil hops.

I’d been tipped-off to look for thyme honey while I was visiting New Zealand. We didn’t see any at the honey stands we stopped at along the road from Christchurch to Nelson (although we did buy a jar of wildflower). Luckily while I was brewing at Marchfest in Nelson, Audrey visited the local farmer’s market and bought 500 g. I though some Nelson Sauvin dry-hopping would be a good fruity-counterpoint to the bold herbal character of the honey, and really make this a Nelson Saison. I opted for Chinook and Nugget for a cheapskate route to beta-citronellol as in my biotransformation NEIPA. I considered adding a bottle of Nelson Sauvignon blanc too (ala my Nu Zuland recipe), but when I tasted the beer it already had enough flavor.
Mad Fermentationist Saison Blend!
Fermentation was provided by my house saison blend, available once again for a limited release from Bootleg Biology today through October 30!

It’s Nelson Thyme

Smell – That thyme honey is out of control! Glad I didn’t add the whole jar, wish I’d gone even lower. Herbal, woodsy, and waxy. Just a hint of that earthiness I associate with buckwheat honey. There is a faint citrusy-hoppiness, but the classic white-wine Nelson is mostly obscured.

A glass of Saison with Hops and Honey from New ZealandAppearance – Radiant yellow body. Cloudy without being murky. Fantastically airy yet solid foam sitting on top. Beautiful.

Taste – Flavor is brighter than the nose, big citrus (lemon mostly) with a touch of crisp tartness. Honey is still there, but seems more balanced than the aroma. Still strong herbal, although not explicitly thyme. White wine in the finish. Mellow, but present hop bitterness. Malt is restrained. Yeast is buried under the honey and hops. Hint of classic leathery Brett funk in the finish. Lingering retronasal-olfactory is fantastic blend of yeast and honey and hops.

Mouthfeel – Light and crisp, solid carbonation. No harshness or tannins.

Drinkability & Notes – The honey has actually faded and integrated over the last few weeks. More balanced and citrusy. Happy with the combination of hot-side hops as a citrusy base, disappointed with the contribution of four ounces of Nelson Sauvin between the fermentor and keg.

Changes for Next Time – Down to 8 oz thyme honey. Could up the Nelson Sauvin, or swap it for something less precious.

RecipeThe wort coming to a boil
Batch Size: 5.50 gal
SRM: 3.0
IBU: 30.1
OG: 1.059
FG: 1.004
ABV: 7.2%
Final pH: 4.16
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 mins

Fermentables
—————–
76.6% – 9 lbs Dingemans Pilsen
17.0% – 2 lbs Quaker Quick Oats
6.4% – 12.0 oz Pure Nelson Thyme Honey (closest I could find online)

Mash
——-
Mash In – 45 min @ 152F

Hops
——-
2.00 oz Chinook (Pellets, 13.00% AA) @ Steep/Whirlpool
2.00 oz Nugget (Pellets, 13.00% AA) @ Steep/Whirlpool
2.00 oz Nelson Sauvin (Pellets, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop Day 5
2.00 oz Nelson Sauvin (Pellets, 12.00% AA) @ Keg Hop

Water
——-
3.00 g Calcium Chloride
2.00 tsp Lactic Acid
2.25 g Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate)

Calcium
Chloride
Sulfate
Sodium
Magnesium
Carbonate
85
75
90
15
10
90

Yeast
——-
The Mad Fermentationist Saison Blend

Notes
——-
Brewed 8/26/17

Mash pH initially 5.50 at mash temp with .5 tsp. 5.38… 5.27… 5.12 (~5.37 at room temp). .5 tsp Lactic mixed in with cold sparge water. Collected 7.5 gallons at 1.044.

Added hops at flame-out after chilling the 7.5 gallons of wort remaining to 185F. Recirculated for 30 minutes before running off the saison portion. 1.054. Chilled to 82F and pitched the House culture (9 month old harvest that had been in the fridge, gushed a little 4 hours with first runnings to get going). Left at 78F ambient to ferment. Good activity by the next morning. Ambient stayed between 77-79F for primary.

8/30/17 Fermentation appeared finished. Added 12 oz of “Pure Nelson” Thyme Honey to primary on the saison (effective OG ~1.059). Warmed in a water bath and then the microwave until dissolved.

8/31/17 Dry hopped with 2 oz of Nelson, loose.

9/10/17 Kegged the Nelson half with 3 oz of table sugar and 2 oz of keg hops.

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Beautiful rocky head

Lake Anne Brew House with Jason Romano – BeerSmith Podcast #158

Lake Anne Brew House with Jason Romano – BeerSmith Podcast #158

Jason Romano joins me from Lake Anne Brew House in Reston, VA to discuss his experience in opening and running a small nano-brewery and tap-house.

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Topics in This Week’s Episode (47:18)

  • Today my guest is Jason Romano. Jason is a founder and head brewer at Lake Anne Brew House in Reston, Virginia. He is also an award winning brewer including the 2016 and 2017 Virginia Brewers Guild Beer Cup. He joins us to discuss planning and operating a very small brewery and taphouse.
  • We start with the topic of what inspired Jason and his wife Melissa to found Lake Anne Brew House.
  • Jason shares some of the challenges in planning, opening and operating a small (2 barrel) brewhouse.
  • We talk about his business model which is based solely on sales from the tap room.
  • Jason tells us about how his wife Melissa, who is an architect, designed and manages the tap room.
  • He shares the brewing equipment he uses about twice a week to keep the tap room supplied.
  • We discuss some of the first beers he put on tap.
  • He shares his thoughts on a few of his flagship beers as well as beers that he rotates or experiments with.
  • Jason talks about where he finds inspiration for new beers.
  • We discuss the brewing aspects vs business aspects of running the brewery.
  • He shares his plans for growth and why he things the tap room model is a great model for those who want to enter the world of pro-brewing.
  • We talk about the advantages of staying small as well as packaging options (growlers and crowlers).
  • He shares his advice for others looking to build and operate a small brewery.

Sponsors

Thanks to Jason Romano for appearing on the show and also to you for listening!

iTunes Announcements: I launched a new video channel for the BeerSmith podcast on iTunes, so subscribe now! At the moment it will only feature the new widescreen episodes (#75 and up). Older episodes are available on my revamped Youtube channel. Also all of my audio episodes are on iTunes now – so grab the older episodes if you missed any.

Thoughts on the Podcast?

Leave me a comment below or visit our discussion forum to leave a comment in the podcast section there.

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or BeerSmith Radio

You can listen to all of my podcast episodes streaming live around the clock on our BeerSmith Radio online radio station! You can also subscribe to the audio or video using the iTunes links below, or the feed address

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter (or use the links in the sidebar) – to get free weekly articles on home brewing.

When and How to Measure and Adjust Mash pH for Beer Brewing

When and How to Measure and Adjust Mash pH for Beer Brewing

At a recent homebrew club meeting, one of the members asked me a brilliant question – when and how should you adjust your mash pH when all grain beer brewing? This is a devilishly complex question as you want to adjust your mash pH quickly if brewing with modern malts.

The Mash pH Conundrum

I and others have written extensively on the importance of controlling your mash pH and maintaining it in the range of 5.2-5.6 during the sugar conversion step. A proper mash pH contributes to better flavor, complete conversion, and improved long term stability.

You can use additives like lactic acid and phosphoric acid to quickly adjust your mash pH, and I wrote an article recently on the purchase and care of a pH meter. So one might assume you can just use your pH meter to measure the mash pH after dough-in of the grains and then adjust it using lactic acid from the homebrew shop — right?

The problem is that most modern malts are very highly modified, which means they have a lot more enzymes (diastatic power) than is really needed to convert the sugars in your crushed grains into fermentable forms. Time is also working against us since it takes easily 10-15 minutes to dough in and stabilize the mash pH so it can be measured. Modern highly modified pale malts can in many cases convert the sugars within 20-30 minutes.

It could take 10-15 minutes to dough in, and another 5-10 minutes to get the mash sample down to room temperature to take a proper measurement then calculate and add the right amount of lactic acid. Which means it is possible for the majority of your conversion step to be complete before you’ve measured and adjusted your pH!

Managing Mash pH Properly

Fortunately you can estimate both your predicted mash pH and the predicted acid adjustment needed using software. Here’s a detailed article on how to do it in BeerSmith. The only problem here is that the pH estimate is exactly that – an estimate!

So the compromise I’ve settled on is to use BeerSmith to estimate my mash pH, then use that estimated value to determine the amount of lactic acid to use. Then what I do is add about 80% of that acid up front before I mash in. This usually gets my mash pH within the acceptable 5.2-5.6 range, and then I will take a measurement with my pH meter after I dough in and make any fine adjustments needed with some additional acid based on that measurement.

The advantage of this technique is that by adding most of the acid up front, I’m assuring that the mash pH starts in the acceptable range. However, by also measuring and making a final pH adjustment I’m assuring that the pH is stable if the mash conversion takes longer but most importantly assuring the correct pH to support the long term stability of the beer.

This is the best compromise between treating your mash based only on an estimate, and treating your mash pH based on an actual pH measurement.

I hope you enjoyed this article on mash pH. If you have any additional thoughts on adjusting your mash pH please leave a comment below. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing. Also check out the How to Brew Video series I shot with John Palmer if you want to learn more about all grain brewing.

Porters and Stouts with Sean Johnson – BeerSmith Podcast #157

Porters and Stouts with Sean Johnson – BeerSmith Podcast #157

Sean Johnson joins me from the Brewing Science Lab at the University of Northern Colorado to discuss brewing the perfect Porter or Stout.

Subscribe on iTunes to Audio version or Video version or on Google Play
Download the MP3 File – Right Click and Save As to download this mp3 file

Topics in This Week’s Episode (38:38)

  • Today my guest is Sean Johnson. Sean is Assistant Brewer at the University of Northern Colorado Brewing Science Lab where he works with Dr Mosher teaching a 6 month brewing certificate program. He has a Master’s degree in Hop Chemistry and worked at Annheuser-Busch’s Barley Research team before joining UNC.
  • We briefly discuss Porters and Stouts as well as their history which has some shared roots.
  • Sean explains how Porter and Stouts evolved to become distinct styles.
  • We talk about the popularity of Porters as well as their decline in the 1800’s as lighter beers became popular.
  • He discusses some of the different styles of Porters and Stouts that have become popular today.
  • We talk about brewing a complex English Porter and where the flavors come from- starting with the grain bill.
  • He shares thoughts on good hop varieties to use in a Porter.
  • We discuss hop/malt balance and how to achieve the right balance.
  • Sean shares his recommendations for brewing yeasts to use with Porters and Stouts.
  • We talk about which water profiles are most appropriate to these styles.
  • Sean shares some tips for adding flavor complexity to a stout or porter.
  • We spend a few minutes discussing the UNC brewing certificate program.

Sponsors

Thanks to Sean Johnson for appearing on the show and also to you for listening!

iTunes Announcements: I launched a new video channel for the BeerSmith podcast on iTunes, so subscribe now! At the moment it will only feature the new widescreen episodes (#75 and up). Older episodes are available on my revamped Youtube channel. Also all of my audio episodes are on iTunes now – so grab the older episodes if you missed any.

Thoughts on the Podcast?

Leave me a comment below or visit our discussion forum to leave a comment in the podcast section there.

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or BeerSmith Radio

You can listen to all of my podcast episodes streaming live around the clock on our BeerSmith Radio online radio station! You can also subscribe to the audio or video using the iTunes links below, or the feed address

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter (or use the links in the sidebar) – to get free weekly articles on home brewing.

Amber Special Bitter Recipe

Amber Special Bitter Recipe

Audrey invited her coworkers over for a mini-Oktoberfest in our backyard. In preperation, she brewed a batch that most of them would enjoy, a low-ABV ESB-ish malty ale that looks a bit like an Oktoberfest. As you can tell from the drop in post-frequency, more of my time is being sucked up by Sapwood Cellars (we’re reviewing the lease now). Someone is going to have to keep the taps filled at home!

Her plan was to ferment with White Labs 002 English Ale. The Fuller’s strain is a quick fermenting and flocculating yeast perfect in low-gravity ales given its low attenuation (for example). Mild enough yeastiness that it shouldn’t be off-putting to casual craft beer drinkers. When we stopped by the local homebrew store they were down to a single tube, enough of an excuse for a split-batch. The description of WLP013 (London Ale) with an “oakey ester character” appealed to Audrey, and I had never used it before. I have used the Wyeast equivalent in name and origin (WY1028) in batches of Courage Russian Imperial Stout, but not for anything similar to this.

The shop was also out of East Kent Goldings, so we swapped to Challenger for the aroma addition. Challenger isn’t as orangey as EKG, but they have a wonderfully mellow herbaceous quality. Out of flaked wheat too, so we opted for torrified “puffed” wheat (something Dan Paquette of Pretty Things suggested to Nathan and I for bitters years ago). Torrified grains requires milling, but are gelatinized like flaked wheat and thus can be added directly to the mash without pre-cooking. It contributes a slightly toasty flavor too. Given substitutions for yeast, malt, and hops it likely isn’t a surprise that I usually do my homebrew shopping online!

Fall Special Bitter: WLP002

Smell – Caramel maltiness leads. Clean, lightly estery, classic English without being minerally. Faint tea-like hop aroma.

Appearance – Mild haze in the copper/amber body. Terrific retention, thanks to the torrefied wheat. Wonderfully sticky, high- relief lacing.

Taste – Toastiness increases to support the caramel, and is joined by a stronger herbal hop-note. Well rounded malt flavor. Mild bitterness in the tail. No alcohol presence. Bare hint of diacetyl-butterscotch as it reaches room-temperature.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, medium carbonation. Just a hair of astringency in the finish.

Drinkability & Notes – Fits the Special Bitter metrics, but tastes maltier, more like a small ESB.

Changes for Next Time – It would be difficult to change it a little and improve it. A local maximum. Not my favorite English session ale, I tend to prefer brighter and hoppier, but I don’t think this would improve without fundamentally changing what it is.

Fall Special Bitter: WLP013

Smell – Hoppier, surprisingly. Might just be associating the slight citrusy (orange) ester profile of WLP013 with English hops. Caramel takes a backseat comparatively.

Appearance – Similar, although the head isn’t quite as long-lasting or sticky.

Taste – Not as direct as the other half. The malt isn’t as clear and fresh. The hops are more saturated and full tasting. Similar mellow bitterness.

Mouthfeel – A hair fuller, without the mild astringency. Carbonation is a bit higher as I poured this one second.

Drinkability & Notes – I’d be less-certain of what this one is. The esters feel more distracting in this malt-focused beer. I’d actually been enjoying this one more than the other, but side-by-side it doesn’t work as well as I’d though.

Changes for Next Time – I’d go even hoppier on this one to play-off the yeast. Double the Challenger!

October Special Bitter

Batch Size: 11.00 gal
SRM: 12.0
IBU: 32.3
OG: 1.044
FG: 1.010
ABV: 4.4%
Brewhouse Efficiency: 69%
Boil Time: 60 mins

Fermentables
—————–
80.0% – 15 lbs Crisp Floor-Malted Maris Otter
10.7% – 2 lbs Torrified Wheat
8.0% – 1.5 lbs Briess Caramel 40
1.3% – 0.25 lbs Briess Midnight Wheat

Mash
——-
Mash In – 45 min @ 152F

Hops
——-
1.25 oz Nugget (Pellets, 13.6% AA) @ 60 min
1.00 oz Challenger (Pellet, 6.8% AA) @ 20 min Whirlpool

Yeast
——-
White Labs WLP002 English Ale
or
White Labs WLP013 London Ale

Water
——-

Calcium
Chloride
Sulfate
Sodium
Magnesium
Carbonate
50
30
50
15
10
90
Notes
——-
Brewed 9/3/17

Chilled to 80F, left at 63F overnight to cool. In the morning, pitched WLP002 into FV2, WLP013 into FV1. Both fresh packs (May and June production). Shook to aerate, left at 63F to ferment. The WLP013 half was fermenting well by the next day, but the WLP002 half wasn’t really rocking until day three.

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Kettle Souring Beer – Brewing Techniques

Kettle Souring Beer – Brewing Techniques

This week I take a look at “Kettle Souring” beer which is a technique for making sour beer that offers faster fermentation times and better control over the souring levels.

The Kettle Souring Method

The traditional method for making sour beer is to brew some wort and then pitch both traditional brewing yeast along with some form of live bacteria to slowly sour the beer. The bacteria will produce lactic acid which gives the beer its distinctive sour flavor. This method typically takes several months or more to ferment and age properly as the infected beer often develops some off flavors that take time to settle out and fade before drinking.

As I mentioned in an earlier article on Berliner Weisse, kettle souring offers an attractive alternative. You prepare your wort just as you would for a traditional fermentation, and then pitch only bacteria (typically Lactobacillus or Pediococcus) to begin the souring process. Once you reach the desired level of sourness and pH, you then boil the soured wort to kill off any remaining bacteria.

At this point you can either continue fermenting by pitching fresh yeast or alternately blend the soured wort with fresh wort from another batch to ferment a blended beer. The beer will typically ferment and finish quite quickly if the pH is not too low, giving you a nice clean sour beer in a matter of weeks instead of taking many months. If you are making a very sour beer, I do recommend monitoring the pH as it can drop during fermentation. I like to keep the pH above 3.0 at a minimum, as fermentation can be slowed or even halted below that level.

Advantages of Kettle Souring over Other Souring Techniques

I mentioned that kettle souring is much quicker to complete fermentation than a traditional sour fermentation method, and also results in a cleaner overall sour flavor profile. It also has a substantial advantage as you can manage both the pH levels and level of sourness during the souring stage and cut it off by boiling when you reach the desired level of sourness. Also if you use the option to blend sour wort with fresh wort you can even more precisely control sourness.

Another technique known as mash souring involves actually leaving the mash out in open air (or innoculating with bacteria) for one or more days to sour the mash before proceeding with lautering, boiling and fermentation. Unfortunately this technique also results in more funky off flavors than kettle souring, so again kettle souring wins as far as souring techniques.

I will mention that since kettle souring gives you a cleaner sour finish, it might not be ideal for beers where you are truly looking for funky sour complexity such as a traditional lambic. So if you want a lot of funk you might want go proceed with a more traditional sour fermentation and give it the months or years needed to reach maturity.

I hope you enjoyed this article on kettle souring. If you have your own thoughts on sour beer techniques please leave a comment below. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing. Also check out the How to Brew Video series I shot with John Palmer if you want to learn more about all grain brewing.