Why You Need An Auto Siphon

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Siphoning is one skill that is essential to the home brewer. There aren’t many reasons in a day to day life which would require you to siphon anything so must home brewers will not have ever had a chance to practice it. The problem is, home brewing involves moving lots of liquids around whether it is beer, wine or mead and it is important not to aerate the home brew to get the best results. A piece of kit that is indispensable to racking beer or wine, in my opinion, is an auto syphon, it is one of the most efficient methods of racking beer or wine at the same time as being the easiest and most hygienic.

auto siphon

What Is An Auto Siphon?

An auto siphon is an all over upgrade to a regular siphon hose which might not sound like much but a regular syphon tube has some inherent issues that make it difficult if you are not used to siphoning or starting a siphon.

An auto siphon comprises of a racking cane with a filter, a PVC tube and an outer housing for the racking tube which is vital for starting the siphon automatically. This might not sound like a lot but in practice the auto siphon is a whole lot easier and more efficient than a regular siphon tube and racking cane.

When using an ordinary siphon tube the issues begin in starting the siphon. If you have ever had occasion to siphon fuel before then you may, unfortunately, know that the most common way to start a siphon is by sucking it (if you want to know how to siphon read this). For the home brewer this is probably the worst way you could consider to start a siphon as we want to keep bacteria out of the beer in all cases. Starting the flow is where the auto siphon comes into its own.

The way in which a siphon is able to start a liquid, in our case beer or wine, is to create a vacuum that pulls the liquid from one vessel, down via gravity into a lower vessel. This initial stage of creating a vacuum is handled by the auto siphon with a simple pull on the tube the siphon is housed in. As you do not come into contact at all with the beer this is a much more hygienic way to start a syphon and introduces no air at all.

Using An Auto Siphon

Using an auto siphon is very easy and takes even a complete beginner only one or two practices to get perfect every time. The first thing you will want to do before using the auto siphon is to thoroughly sanitise it inside and out.

1. Position the vessel to siphon from higher than the vessel you are siphoning into. The auto siphon still relies on gravity once you have started the siphon.

2. Lower the sanitised auto siphon into the beer or wine to be siphoned. The rigid end with the racking tube goes into the home brew, carefully, to avoid disturbing the sediment and the PVC hose goes into the empty vessel to be siphoned into.

3. To start the auto siphon you need to pull the inner racking cane upward while holding the outer tube stationary in the beer, this draws beer or wine into the outer tube of the auto siphon.

4. Next push the racking cane back down and the liquid will be drawn into the tube and down into the awaiting vessel. The siphon is not working via gravity and there is nothing else for you to do.

The auto siphon works with a simple pull – push motion. It becomes so intuitive after a few attempts that you will wonder why you ever bothered with a regular siphon at all.

Key Benefits of Using An Auto Siphon

The biggest selling point of the auto siphon is the ease of starting the siphon. Using a regular siphon you have to either pre-fill the siphon or the biggest no no is to suck the hose which is not recommended under any circumstance. The auto siphon take all the bother out of actually starting the siphon so you can concentrate on keeping the beer or wine from splashing into the vessel.

Oxygen is another problem for home brew, you want to minimise oxygen exposure for your beer and wine and the auto siphon removes all possibility for oxygen pickup, all you have to do is make sure the end of the hose is submerged. This is a really key point, for a new home brewer, poorly siphoning a beer can greatly diminish the quality once it all bottled up. Using an auto siphon removes the hassle of siphoning and pretty much anyone will be able to do it perfectly.

If you do not have an auto siphon I thoroughly recommend you get one. Out of all the vast array of home brewing gadgets out there a simple auto siphon has to be on of the best in terms of ease, efficiency and value for money.

Fermenter Heaters: Home Brew Heat Pads & Brew Belts

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Fermenter Heaters

Brewing as the weather cools can pose a few problems depending on where you live. As the weather cools we have to make sure we are still getting a good temperature for yeast to ferment the beer. Ideally, we want to control fermentation temperature as close as possible to the optimum temperature range for the yeast strain we are using. Using the help of fermenter heating devices like brew belts and heat pads it becomes a lot easier to dial in a consistent temperature in the fermenter even when ambient temperatures begin to fall.

Most ale yeast strains require temperatures ranging around 18°C – 23°C depending on the strain. Devices like brew belts and heat pads provide enough heat to keep the fermenter warm but not enough to warm the fermenter too much and distress the yeast.

Home Brew Fermenter Heaters

Heat pads and heat belts are the most economical way to keep you fermenter temperature from dropping too low. Rather than having to heat a whole room you are directly heating the fermenting beer or wine. Both types of device use very little energy and are suitable for both fermenting buckets or carboys and demijohns (although I would urge caution directly heating cold glass).

Heat belts and pads are also fairly inexpensive and with the addition of some other tools can be used to accurately control fermentation temperatures to within a few degrees.

Home Brew Heat Pads


Heat pads or heat trays are designed to sit your fermenter on top of. Heating the fermenter from the bottom and maintaining a constant temperature throughout fermentation.

Power Usage: Most heat pads have heat sources around 30 – 40 watts so are pretty energy efficient, more so than a traditional incandescent light bulb in most cases. This provides a low heat so as not to shock the yeast in the fermenting beer.

Big swings in temperature are not good for yeast health and may cause unwanted flavour compounds to be produced by the yeast. The gentle heat from a heating pad gradually brings up the temperature of the beer and depending on the ambient temperature will maintain it in temperature ranges required for most ale or wine fermentations.

Controlling Fermentation Temperature With A Heat Pad

Most home brew heat pads do not have thermostats which means you will want to monitor the temperature closely throughout fermentation.

The concern is that the fermentation temperature will rise too much and this will put the yeast under stress which will generate undesirable flavours in the finished beer. A few things you may want to consider are:

Placing the fermenter in an area that is fairly stable in temperature (albeit cooler), without large fluctuations in the temperature range.

Enclosing the fermenter in a confined space such as a cupboard will gradually build up heat compared to an open space.

Additional measures like timers or third-party thermostats will give much finer control of fermentation.

Additional Fermenter Heater Temperature Control

With regards to the last point a means of moderating the heat output can be a very good way to ensure the fermenter stays exactly in the range you want. If the heat pad has a tendency to warm the fermentation too much then by cycling the heat pad on and off with something like a timer can greatly aid the degree of control you have.

Another option could be to use a dedicated thermostat controller such as an Inkbird which I have reviewed here. This will cycle the home brew heater according to the current temperature of the beer or wine. This would be the most precise way to control the fermentation temperature with a heat pad or tray.

Home Brew Heat Belts – Brew Belt

Heat belts or Brew Belts are similarly energy efficient like heat pads but are designed to wrap around the fermenter and provide heat along the length of the belt.

Most fermentation brew belts are simply a rubber strip with the heating element inside that has the flexible power cord threaded through. The heat belt is wrapped around the fermenter and the cord pulled tight so it grips around the fermenter at the height you choose (more on this in a moment).

Power Usage: Most fermentation heat belts are pretty efficient, using between 25 – 40 watts in most cases so running for a week or two costs very little.

One benefit of a heat belt is that they tend to be slightly cheaper than heat pads in some areas.

The real difference between brew belts and heat pads are that you position the heat belt up or down the fermenting vessel allowing some degree of temperature control. Generally, it is advised to place the belt lower down the fermenter to provide more heat and higher up the vessel for less heat. Without taking a direct temperature reading of the beer this is quite a tricky thing to get right and I would still be inclined to use some additional controls mentioned above, such as a temperature controller or a timer.

Direct Heat From A Fermenter Heater

The way in which a heating device heats the fermenting beer or wine is another thing to consider.

A heat pad heats from the bottom of the fermenter whereas the heat brew belt is positioned around the side some way up.

The thing to think about here is that the heat pad spreads heat across a large surface area, however, at the bottom of the vessel where all the yeast tends to flocculate toward the end of fermentation. Heating the yeast directly for too long is probably not ideal so you may want to limit the length of time you use a heat pad to just a week to avoid putting too much stress on the mass of yeast.

A brew belt applies heat in a smaller surface area but directly on the fermenting wort or must rather than the yeast which you may or may not be better. I have done no tests on this so you have to decide for yourself which you prefer.

Are Fermenter Heaters Worth It?

I use a brew belt during the cooler months of the year as the room where my fermenter sits is a little colder than the rest of the house. I would find it a struggle to ferment properly without one. I use the fermenter belt with a temperature controller so it cycles on and off and keeps my home brew within a few degrees either side of my target temperature.

In my setup it is indispensable, I have talked before about how important temperature control is so if you find you need some help keeping your home brew at a good temperature range a fermenter heater such as a heat mat or a brew belt may be an inexpensive way to do it.

What Are The Best Home Brewing Books?

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Home Brewing Books

Home brewing books are a secret vice of mine, I seem to accumulate them and it doesn’t really matter what area they cover I will read them cover to cover. If you want to be a better brewer, understand what is going on in the fermenter and really push up your home brew beer to the next level will want to pick up a few home brewing books. You don’t have to be like me and spend a fortune on a home brewing library because I am going to recommend the best home brewing books I have read.

My Picks For Best Home Brewing Books

If you have followed the blog at all you will know that I am a big fan of reading, refining and then practicing what you have learned. Where to start, though? There are so many home brew books available and depending on your level of skill you might want to choose a more advanced one or a complete beginners book. I will start this list though with the first home brewing book I ever bought.

Brew Your Own British Real Ale

 

Out of all the home brewing books I have on the bookshelf, this one, in particular, has by far the most recipes. This is I guess part of the reason for it’s popularity, all of the recipes in Brew Your Own are clones of commercial British Ales. For many brewers being able to duplicate something you can buy in the shops or be able to replicate your favourite beer is a great goal. If you are brewing to save money then being able to obtain the same tasting end result for a fraction of the cost is a huge benefit.

As well as the extensive list of recipes you have an introduction to brewing which details equipment, procedures and ingredients. They are concise and pretty good introductions and ultimately will cover everything you will need to know but in the end, if you really want to get into the nitty gritty and finer points, then you might need to do some further reading. I am sure many other brewers will use this as the foundation of all their brewing knowledge before becoming more interested and developing their skills.

One thing I particularly like is that the recipes are formulated for all grain but also for partial and all malt extract versions where possible. Each of the brewing methods is detailed in the first section of the book then the recipes are marked in the index for which brewing methods you can use. This really opens out the book to all levels of home brewers so a beginner, as well as a more advanced brewer, will benefit from the book.

Ultimately I would say if I didn’t have this book I would not be brewing today because I was brewing something that I could go out and buy and I knew what the finished beer was going to taste like. If you are starting to brew I recommend this book whole-heartedly

How To Brew

 

I guess this is probably the most recommended of any home brew book and there is a reason why. Maybe you have got a couple of brews under your belt and you think, hey these are pretty good, but they aren’t great on top of this you are maybe you aren’t entirely sure why you need to hold a set temperature for x amount of time and add hops for the last 5 minutes. If this is you (I can definitely say it was me) then How to Brew by John Palmer is the best book you can buy.

Content wise this is one of the most comprehensive books you can find on the actual practicalities of home brewing. So comprehensive that for the first time brewer a lot of the content may seem overwhelming. Don’t let this put you off however the book is broken down into clear sections from “Brewing With Malt Extract” to “Brewing With Extract and Speciality Grain” to “All Grain Brewing” and “Recipes, Experimenting and Troubleshooting”. Within each of these section Palmer covers everything in great depth from water profiles, the technical aspects of mashing, malt and hop profiles and calculations like efficiency and bitterness.

If you’re a beginner or advanced brewer, I would recommend this book to either of you because it really does set the foundations you need to properly understand the brewing process. If you are already brewing good beer then it may open your eyes to things you hadn’t thought about before such as mash pH or even metallurgy.

The great thing about this book is the linear fashion it presents the information to the reader. As I said before the depth of knowledge on offer is unrivalled in most home brewing books I have encountered however, you start from the basics of malt extract brewing and are given all the information to understand how it works and the processes involved then as you progress you are presented with grain brewing and the information is being built upon that foundation that has been set earlier. This is really why this book is so good. It can turn you into an expert on home brewing in no time giving you the broadest scope of knowledge all whilst brewing beer for the first time.

Radical Brewing

 

Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher comes a close second for the sheer amount of beer recipes outlined in the book. However, it is a whole lot more than just a recipe book, this is the book that got me thinking differently about home brewing and beer in general and it contains a lot of the philosophy that goes into making different beers.

There is a fairly comprehensive overview of how to make beer but I wouldn’t suggest Radical Brewing as a beginners book, you would be much better off reading How To Brew if you are just starting out. I would recommend Radical Brewing if you want to discover a whole world and history of beer styles and how you go about brewing them. This is one of those books that will really broaden your horizons and give you a taste of what is really possible as a home brewer, including making some of the most obscure beers in the world, beer recipes that you will find no commercial brewery making.

A large section of the book is dedicated to ingredients, not the base ingredients in beer, although, these sections are covered thoroughly. It’s the sections on adding fruit, spices and other flavourings to your beer that is covered in much more depth than any other book I have read. If you are interested in adding something different to your beer recipes then Radical Brewing is the place to look. Randy Mosher covers how fruits, spices and other ingredients interact with the beer with full tasting notes.

History and culture are covered as well, not in a dull or boring way, these sections I found particularly interesting. Randy Mosher has a knack for storytelling and you will soon find yourself wanting to brew a Kvass beer with old rye bread or a beer made with pine needles. That is where this book really shines.

Brewing Elements Series

 

This next selection is actually four books in a series. Each of the four books covers a different brewing element; Malt, Hops Yeast and Water. A whole book is dedicated to each of these ingredients so you can imagine the depth of material each cover.

I wouldn’t recommend these to a new brewer, they are a perfect choice for the more advanced home brewer wanting to push their knowledge up to the next level. Some of the details the book covers are going to be overboard for the home brewer and more relevant to a professional brewer in a microbrewery setting. However, that doesn’t mean the information is irrelevant for a home brewer.

The writing is accessible but does get a little technical in places, anyone with a basic understanding of chemistry and biology should have no problems understanding the content. Each of the books is really a mini-textbook on each of the subjects. I did find some more enjoyable than others, in particular, the Hops book which is a more entertaining read than the water book for example.

The Brewing Elements series is good for any home brewer that wants to get their head around the complexities of beer, granted some of the information laid out is overkill for the home brewer who will have no practical use for it, however, there is a lot more content that will have you making better beer and understanding the brewing process in a lot more depth.

Classic Beer Style Book Series

 

I guess this is cheating because it’s a whole series of books with each book focusing on a different style of beer. There are hundreds of home brewing books that focus on the general aspects of brewing but not many that drill down into the details.

The Classic Beer Style series of books covers around 17 beer styles;

  • Altbier: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes
  • Barley Wine: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes
  • Bavarian Helles: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes
  • Belgian Ale
  • Bock
  • Brown Ale: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes
  • Continental Pilsener
  • German Wheat Beer
  • Kolsch: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes
  • Lambic
  • Mild Ale: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes
  • Pale Ale: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes
  • Porter
  • Scotch Ale
  • Smoked Beers: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes
  • Stout,
  • Vienna, Marzen, Oktoberfest

These aren’t just brewing book, they cover the history, origins and commercial examples as well as the brewing process, recipes and ingredients of the beers.

Each book of the series is written by different authors and are thoroughly researched because they were published a little while ago now hard copies are difficult to come by but the whole series has been released as ebooks now so there is no reason not to pick one or two up.

Delving into the details is what really sets apart those good at making beer to those great at making beer if you have an interest in a beer style I thoroughly recommend you pick up one of the titles in the Classic Beer Style series.

Kenridge Classic Wine Kit Review – Merlot

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Kenridge Classic Wine Kit Review

I recently made one of the Kenridge Classic wine kits, in this instance the Merlot. I’m a big fan of wine making kits. In terms of the quality they produce, wine kits have really opened my eyes to different winemaking possibilities and compared to many beer kits they often produce a far superior finished product. I have sampled a few over the years and as with many things the more you pay the better the product you get. The reason I want to review this wine kit however is because I was really surprised at just how good it is.

The Details

Wine Kit: Kenridge Classic Merlot

Price: £59.99

Why It’s Good: Higher quantity of grape juice than other kits, simple and clear instructions and very good finished wine for a very reasonable price.

What You Get: A full rundown of what in the wine kit is laid out just below, here

What You Need: Only a few items of equipment are need and they don’t cost a lot if you don’t have them already. Here is what you need to get started.

If you have had no previous experience with wine kits then I suggest you take a look at this article on completing a wine kit. This article takes you through all the steps of actually producing a wine from a kit and tells you exactly what equipment you’ll need.

Wine kits seem to be superior to beer kits in my view because the base i.e. grape juice retains more of its flavour and aroma after being concentrated. Beer kits on the other hand tend to lose some of the subtle and delicate flavours when it’s concentrated into a syrup. That however is just my opinion based on my previous experiences.

Anyway, onto the review of this Kenridge Classic Merlot the reason why you probably arrived here.

Kenridge Classic Merlot – What You Get In the Box

Grape Concentrate: The biggest selling point and the reason the Kenridge Classic is at the slightly more premium end (£60 for 30 bottles) of the range of wine kits is the amount of grape juice you get.

In a 30 bottle wine kit you get 10 litres of grape concentrate whereas in other kits such as the Beaverdale range you get around 7 litres of grape concentrate. Generally the more grape concentrate you use the more flavour you are going to get. When preparing the wine you dilute the concentrate with water, with 10 litres of concentrate you need less water to make up the batch so you end up with more robust flavours in the finished wine.

Wine Kit Yeast

Lalvin Yeast: The yeast supplied with the Kenridge Classic wine kit is not a generic, no label sachet that you will sometimes find with other wine kits. The yeast with this wine kit is the Lalvin EC-118 which is a real workhorse, fast fermenting and has clean, neutral flavours. The temperature range for this Lalvin yeast is also fairly wide so is forgiving enough to do a good job even where temperature during fermentation may be variable.

Oak Chips: This Merlot varietal kit comes with oak chips to add a further dimension to the finished wine. It is of course completely optional whether to add the oak to the wine, if you don’t particularly like oaked wines you can leave it out. Having the option to add more complexity to the wine though is a definite plus point.

Finings & Stabilisers: The Kenridge kits come with all the standard additives to both stabilise the wine and clarify it within the space of a few weeks. This means you can go from grape to glass within a relatively short space of time. The wine is ready to bottle in around 4 weeks and drinkable almost immediately, although it is highly recommended to age some of the bottles as the will improve markedly over time.

What Sort of Equipment Is Needed?

The Kenridge Classic wine kits are typical of most wine kits on the market in terms of preparation. They do take slightly longer to produce in terms of fermentation, conditioning and clearing, which as I said above is around 4 weeks.

In terms of equipment though you’ll only need the following items:

2 x Fermenting vessels & airlocks: The suggestion is to ferment in a fermenting bucket for primary then rack to a carboy clearing and conditioning. I however just used two fermenting buckets and there was no issue here.

Syphon tubing and racking cane: Moving the wine between vessels you’ll need to syphon it. It is pretty important to have a racking cane to leave as much as the sediment behind as possible. This will help to clear the wine a lot quicker and more effectively.

Hydrometer: Checking the gravity to begin with and to ensure the wine has finished fermenting is important. Check out this guide if you aren’t familiar with using a hydrometer.

Wine bottles & corks w/ corker: The kit makes 30 bottles so you’ll need 30 x 75cl wine bottles and of course some corks and a corker to seal the bottles.

Sanitiser: Keeping everything clean and sanitised is so very important.

I won’t go into the process of making the kit right here, although it is very simple and the instructions are very clear. I have documented the process in the article here and there are plenty of pictures to help you along with the process.

Wine Must

How Does The Kenridge Classic Merlot Taste?

This is what I expect most people will be looking for. How does the wine kit taste?

This Merlot is a medium bodied and smooth wine. The taste is of red fruits and if you use the oak chips like I have then you get notes of vanilla and leather on the palate.

I have to say compared to the slightly cheaper wine kits the Kenridge Classic is definitely worth the extra money. The flavour and body even at this early stage of just a few weeks after being bottled is on another level compared to kits like the Beaverdale varieties. As with pretty much all wine kits they get better with age, you can keep bottles for a couple of years and they will get better. That is the beauty of wine kits like this, of course with 30 bottles you can afford to keep a few aside for a while to see how the flavour and quality progress.

If you were to go out to the supermarket to buy a similar quality wine to the Kenridge Classic Merlot you would have to spend £6 or more in my opinion, that is the kind of wine it seems to sit alongside. This particular wine kit however turns out at £2 a bottle so you can’t really go wrong with a price like that.

Fermentation Temperature Control & Inkbird ITC-310T Review

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I think every brewer asks himself the question, “how can I make better beer?”

The answer to this question lies in having a greater control of processes that go towards producing beer.

If you are a regular reader here at home brew answers then you’ll know just how many times I mention how controlling your fermentation is such an important part of brewing better beer. In particular controlling the temperature of fermenting beer has such a large impact on the flavour and quality of the finished product.

In the UK the climate is favorable for brewing because at most times during the year the temperature only rarely gets above the ideal temperature range for fermenting ales. Many homebrewers will spend lots of time controlling the variables to produce wort, but when it comes to fermenting just leave the fermenter in the corner of a room at ambient temperatures.

Whilst this will produce satisfactory results, it won’t necessarily make a beer that lives up to its fullest potential. In many people’s homes the temperature ranges can fluctuate up to 10°C over the course of a day and night. These fluctuations aren’t ideal and put stress on the yeast which in turn can introduce undesirable flavours and compounds.

The ability to control temperature to within a few degrees can turn a beer from being good to being exceptional. This is where the Inkbird Temperature Controller comes in.

Inkbird Temperature Controller

Inkbird Temperature Controllers

Inkbird are a company that produces a range of temperature controllers that are ideal for home brewers. The basic idea of a temperature controller is to hold the temperature of the fermenting beer within a few degrees of a set target.

The way the temperature controller works is by attaching the temperature probe to the fermenting beer to read it’s current temperature. The controller will then detect if the temperature is too high or too low. If the temperature is too high the controller will power on a cooling device such as a fridge which is connected to the controller. If the temperature is too low it will power on a heating device connected to the controller. This means the temperature can be accurately controlled to within a degree or two throughout the entire fermentation.

Setting Up A Temperature Controlled Fermentation

To ferment a beer or wine using a temperature controller you’ll need a few things:

  • Temperature controller
  • Insulated fermentation chamber
  • Heat source
  • Cooling source

One of the easiest ways to set up a temperature control fermentation is to use an empty fridge.
You place the fermenter inside the fridge with the temperature controllers probe attached to the fermenter. The fridge is of course highly insulated and provides the source to cool the fermenting beer should the temperature rise above the desired range. If the temperature rises too high the temperature controller will provide the fridge with power to drop the temperature back within the target range.

A heat source, such as a fermentation heat pad or a brew belt, can be placed in the fridge which will also be triggered by the temperature controller should the temperature drop too low.

Of course other setups are possible, the idea is to provide sources of either heating or cooling depending on the need of the fermentation. You could of course build an insulated box rather than use a fridge for example if ambient temperatures are already quite low and only a source of heat is needed.

Inkbird ITC-310T Temperature Controller

DSCF4538

 

I have recently been sent an Inkbird ITC-310T temperature controller. The features it has will allow the brewer to completely control fermentation, crash cooling and fermentation temperature rests with next to no input after the initial setup, the whole thing is completely automated.

Let’s take a look at some of the features of the Inkbird ITC-310T and then we can see how we can use it to control our fermentations.

6 Stage Temperature Control

This is one of the features of the Inkbird ITC-310T that you won’t find in other temperature controllers. You are able to set individual temperatures for 6 different periods of time, these temperature stages then self execute without any need for user input other than checking the condition of your beer.

It is not often the case that a commercial brewery will ferment a beer at one specific temperature throughout the fermentation. It is common practice to hold the temperature down at a lower range for primary fermentation, after this initial growth phase and burst of activity the temperature is then allowed to rise after 3 or 4 days. This second temperature stage is called a diacetyl rest and allows undesirable and off flavours to escape from the beer. After this temperature stage the beer is often cooled to condition for a period of time and then crash cooled to nearly freezing temperatures.

Take a look at this graph from Cloudwater Brew Co in the making of their highly popular DIPA where you can see the target temperatures that were set throughout fermentation and conditioning.

DIPA Fermentation Chart

This kind of fermentation schedule is completely automated if you are using the Inkbird ITC-310T temperature controller, all you need to do is monitor the beer, take samples and check the gravity. This kind of control just isn’t possible without a temperature controller like the Inkbird.

Plug & Play

Some temperature controllers on the market require some assembly and you have to fit wires and probes yourself. However, the Inkbird can literally be taken out of the box plugged in and used immediately all you need to do is set the temperature and a few other settings.

The output sockets are clearly marked heating and cooling so you know what to plug in and where, it couldn’t be any simpler to use.

DSCF4539

 

Temperature Setting Differential

On this particular temperature control unit as well as setting the target temperature you can set a differential temperature either side. If you plan to ferment at 19°C for example you can set a differential of 0.5 degrees or 1 degree either side. This means the heating and cooling equipment isn’t constantly being switched on and off as temperatures fluctuate.

Constant switching of equipment can damage it and is very likely to shorten it’s usable lifespan

Refrigeration Compressor Protection

On a similar note, there is an inbuilt delay on the Inkbird that insures the compressor in the refrigerator you are using isn’t damaged by constant switching.

A 3 minute delay is set as default in the unit so the pressure in the refrigeration system is able to equalise, if the system is constantly switched on and off the motor in the system is likely to get damaged or burn out.

Is It Worth The Money?

Temperature Control Probe

 

Looking at what you get for your money and what it can do to the quality of your beers and wine I would say getting an Inkbird temperature controller is one of the best things you can do to improve your home brewing.

Currently the model I’m reviewing is only £40 and when you see the build quality and the features that you get, you do wonder how they can be produced for such a price.

Honestly, controlling your fermentation is one of the most important yet overlooked aspects of home brewing and setting up temperature controlled fermentations isn’t that hard. The Inkbird makes this even simpler, I think it’s one of the few things that I have been using that I just wouldn’t go back to brewing without it.

If you are interested in the Inkbird they are available from Amazon here.

How To Spend £2000 on Home Brewing

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Starting any hobby means having an initial outlay to equip yourself. The beautiful thing about home brewing though is in the long run you’ll save money. Brewing your own beer for as little as 20p a pint is a huge saving compared to drinking in a pub and even supermarket beer.

What happens down the line though is you’ll want to upgrade, to make bigger batches or maybe just have shiny pots and electric switches. Have things gone too far though?

Semi Automated Brewing Systems

There is a new breed of complete brewing systems hitting the market. Boasting more automation, digital control panels and even access to the internet!

Let’s face it some of these machines look great but are they really worth the price tags?

Is It Too Much?

S[eidel Braumeister

First let’s take a look at the Spiedel Braumeister. I am not positive if these units are directly aimed at homebrewers but I have seen lots of talk about them in home brew forums.

The Braumeister comes in 10, 20 and 50 litres brew lengths with a 200 litre option presumably for commercial production.

The 20 litre and 50 litre units look the most suitable for the home brewer and the engineering looks top notch, the problem is though the unit will set you back £1200 for the 20 litre option and £1600 for the 50 litre option.

That isn’t everything you’ll need to brew beer though, the braumeisters will produce wort but that’s it. To actually finish a beer you’ll need to add a wort chiller, hop screen plus a fermenter which will need to be bought separately and set you back a further £150 – £170.

Will the unit make a better beer than just using a pot and burner or electric heated brewing kettle … I don’t think so.

The Braumeisters do have network connection though, which my brewpot doesn’t.

The Magpie Syndrome

I think it must be human nature to not settle for what you already have. To always be planning a new addition to the brewery, a larger brew length or some way to automate the process with PID controllers and switches.

A large part of the hobby that appeals to some is the equipment and the gear, planning elaborate setups with recirculation and heat exchanges and this is fine of course. That is just one aspect of the hobby, the main part for me though is making great tasting beer.

Making great tasting beer can be done in a plastic buckets at a fraction of the cost and with a lot more hands on approach which is what appeals to me.

The next product I want to look at is the Picobrew which I believe sells for $2000 in the US. This machine will produce wort with very little user input. It will control mash temperatures, add hops at timed intervals and all with hardly any interference from the brewer.

Picobrew

It’s $2000 though.

If you don’t want to do much during a brew day then I guess it’s the machine for you.

Can you really justify the expense?

The problem with some of these machines is they try too hard to automate something that in a lot of respects is very organic. Just like cooking the more time you take to prepare a meal and the more attention and love you give the ingredients the better the meal. It doesn’t matter so much what pots, pans and utensils you use as long as they fit the purpose.

The beauty of brewing is that beer can be made with very basic equipment that doesn’t have to cost a lot.

Take the cool box mash tun. A regular picnic cool box is still the most popular choice for a mash tun and most people already have a cool box gathering dust in the garage or shed that can be converted for brewing.

You can perform a single infusion mash in a cool box that will be just as effective as a stainless steel thermos pot that costs 4 times as much. You can even at a push do a step mash with hot water additions but that’s for another article.

Building electric control panels with automatic switches and temperature displays is a great project if you like electronics and looks cool but it doesn’t make better beer.

Visit most microbreweries in the UK and the only control panels you’ll find are the switches to turn on pumps and heat liquor or wort. Most of these are not automated, you’ll have to turn pumps on and off yourself.

Spend More on Controlling Fermentation

These expensive brewing systems all leave out the most important aspect of brewing beer and that’s fermentation.

If you have money to invest in your craft then fermentation is the most important part of the process to control. Creating the wort is the simple part, creating the ideal environment for fermentation is where you can get the biggest improvements in the quality of your beer.

Setting up a fridge with temperature control to keep the beer from getting too hot or cold is simple and doesn’t cost a lot to do. A simple temperature controller can be set to power the fridge to keep it in the exact temperature range you want for the beer you are brewing.

Is The Grainfather The Best Solution?

The problem with these new devices is primarily they cost so much. If you are looking for a complete solution to making beer though that hasn’t got such a high price then I think the best solution at the moment is the Grainfather. I am in no way affiliated with Grainfather, it is just the solution I would pick out of these new breeds of brewing systems.

Grainfather

The Grainfather will produce a wort ready for fermentation, it has a recirculating mash and will cool the wort with a built in wort chiller. The current price is £645 which I think offers the best value of all of these new all in one brewing devices.

If you do have some money set aside specifically for brewing then I think the Grainfather is currently the best choice. I can see it producing consistent results and has a good balance between hands on brewing with automation in terms of mash temperatures and controlling the flow of wort through the system.

Check out the Grainfather website for more specifications.

I still use a pot with elements in for a boiler and a coolbox mash tun and I’m more than happy with my beers.

The Sonic Foamer Review

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I wrote a little about beer foam not too long ago. How the home brewer can ensure a good level of froth seemed to strike a chord and not long after I was sent the Sonic Foamer.

 

Sonic Foamer

Whereas before I was talking about adjusting the recipe and process of making the beer. It seems there is another way to try and produce a nice layer of beer foam.

What you can see in the picture is a fairly large plastic device. You fill it with batteries (six AA’s to be precise) and you sit your beer on it. Press a button and take a look at what happens.

Helping With Beer Foam

There have been attempts before to enhance the head of a beer. The simplest of these is in the way you pour the beer. If you are pouring the beer from a bottle changing the angle of the glass will affect how much foam is formed. The more agitation during the pour the more head.

Glassware is designed to aid head retention. Some glasses have nucleation sites. Etched markings at the bottom of a pint glass for example generate a steady stream of bubbles and lead to bigger and longer lasting heads.

Champagne glasses often use this principle. The number of etchings will ensure enough bubbles are released but not too many to make the Champagne go flat. Studies in this area also suggest that the effervescence created, does directly impact key sensory properties making it more enjoyable to drink.

I mentioned this before, in the UK, a sparkler is often attached to handpulls in pubs that serve cask ale. Cask ale has less carbonation than bottle or keg beer and the sparkler agitates the beer enough to encourage a creamy, thick head.

Many may draw comparison when looking at the Sonic Foamer to a device released by Guinness called the Surger. The Surger unit along with special Surger cans were available in supermarkets in the UK for use at home. They were withdrawn shortly afterwards though.

It would appear the Sonic Foamer works on similar principles to the Guinness Surger. You place the glass of beer on the plinth in a couple of teaspoons of water. Press the button and sonic waves travel through the beer knocking out the CO2 out of the beer. This operation definitely creates a head on the beer but let’s take a look at what other effect it has on beer.

When I tested the Sonic Foamer I tried it on a fairly well carbonated, fridge cold Citra / Cascade IPA. Take a look at the pictures and you’ll see the Foamer created a nice layer of dense foam. I would add that the beer has fairly good head retention anyway but the Sonic Foamer seemed to create a head that lasted slightly longer.

What Effect Did It Have On Flavour?

I tried the beer before I used the Sonic Foamer and then after using it twice on the same beer. The aroma of this IPA is pretty strong anyway but you could definitely smell a little bit more of the hops.

The taste was smoother, primarily I think because some of the carbonation was knocked out. Could you achieve the same thing by swirling the glass, maybe.

I did try the Sonic Foamer on a cask beer that was served via gravity. It didn’t work nearly as well as the bottled beer. I would hazard a guess that there just wasn’t enough CO2 in solution to generate a layer of foam.
Most cask beers have low levels of carbonation so it would seem the Sonic Foamer isn’t really going to benefit those of you taking it down the pub to drink cask beer.

Is it worth buying? If you like gadgets maybe. I am not too fussed with the way a beer looks and couldn’t say it added too much in terms of flavour overall. I do know people who are fussy about these things though, so it maybe something for them. As I said it did enhance aroma.

If you leave your pint for 10 minutes and the head has died down, the Sonic Foamer would definitely reinvigorate it.

Apart from that though, it would definitely start a conversation if you took it out down the pub or if you have your mates round to drink.

If you are interested in buying a Sonic Foamer they can be found here on Amazon.