Our first mead… Pirate Pancake Syrup

Way back in May Brian and I took the plunge and made our first batch of mead.

I’d tried a few meads in the past and hadn’t been very impressed with what I’d tried so I wasn’t necessarily excited to try this out however Brian brought all the goods with him to tMHBC and I do like making alcoholic beverages so I was game.  We brewed it and stuck it in a closet then we’d peek in on it every few weeks to see how it was coming along.  Our recipe was based off Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead, a popular first mead from HomeBrewTalk.com.  Now we’re never been known to make anything as is, cause we’re rebellious like that, so we did make a few changes along the way.

We totally made this mead.

We totally made this mead.

This Saturday we bottled it up and made some piraty labels for it.  We even charred the edges of the labels to give it an old ragged map look.  Since we only set the smoke detector off once the process was an overall success and we liked the results.  After bottling we immediately tossed one in the freezer to try and about an hour later popped it open.  Hoe. Lee. Sheet.  I was shocked by how good it was.  Sweet honey and orange with just enough spices to add to the character.  Without a doubt the best mead I’ve ever had and, it pains me to say this, probably the best thing we’ve brewed so far. (Please don’t tell our Mostly Mosaic pale ale that I said that.)

There will definitely be another batch of Pirate Pancake Syrup in our future.  This is the first brew we’ve done where I can say there’s nothing at all I’d change about the recipe.  The major bummer here is that we only got eight 375ml bottles out of this batch.  The shortage of bottles brought out our greedy side and we immediately felt the need to dig a hole and bury this treasure so none of our freeloadin’ friends and neighbors would want to try it.  We’re normally generous with our brews but not this time, screw you guys, this is our mead.

A little bottle of gold.

A little bottle of gold.

Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

 

Tragedy at the brewery.

Sometimes I like to just jump into things without thinking about them too much.  Actually, that’s usually the way I do things.  Then I screw something up and I think, “Oh, OK… I shouldn’t do that.”  This is how I like to learn things.  So far I haven’t killed myself with this method so it’s working for me.

I took this approach with kegging beer.  Buy a keezer and kegs and put beer in them.  Done.  This is where the learning part comes in.

Since I had a fancy-shmancy kegging system I wanted some tap handles to go with it, so I made some.  I wanted to make sure that I got the insert in the bottom on the handle straight so I figured the best way to do this was to put the insert on the tap and screw the wood into the base.  This worked well for getting the insert into the tap handle.  It also snapped the faucet lever inside the tap.  This gave my tap handle a nice, smooth 360° rotation thing like one of the Apple computer joysticks, anyone remember those.  However the nice and rotaty tap quickly turned into the will not close tap and I found myself standing there with a 12 oz glass trying to catch 5 gallons of beer.  After about 10 seconds of confusion my ninja-ing skills kicked in and I yanked the keezer open and pulled the beer line from the keg.  However I did not pull the CO2 line off the keg.  I closed the lid, confident that the crisis had been solved because I’m a friggin’ genius.  This is what I found the next day…

Just go ahead and scoop yourself a pint outta the keezer.

Just go ahead and scoop yourself a pint outta the keezer.

My best guess here is that there’s about 3-4 gallons of Rawktoberfest ale in the bottom of the keezer there, the keg was still foaming out of the beer plug when I opened it up.  He’s where I got some learning to do, I’m not sure if it did this because I failed to remove the CO2 or I have a faulty seal on my plug.  I’m sure my Google-fu will solve this one soon enough.

On a positive note I’ll have the parts today to fix the tap and I have a great opportunity to gain more knowledge of the kegging system.  I imagine I’ll be building my own Corny kegs from old paint cans within a week.

It’s Harvest Time! Wet Hop Simcoe IPA Brewday

Tis the season for fresh, wet hops!  We’ve never brewed with wet hops before, mainly because we’re newbies and this is the first harvest season we’ve brewed in.  We had to make a fresh hop brew so we got our hands on some Simcoe and found a recipe we liked, we tweaked it some and brewed this on Saturday.

We used Maris Otter for the base malt as well as some 2-Row, vienna and carapils.  We also added a pound of corn sugar to boost it up some.  Once all is said and done this will have a pound of Simcoe in it.  We brewed with 12 oz and I’ve got 4 oz vacuum sealed in the freezer to dry-hop for 5 days.

Fresh Simcoe Hops in a Box

Fresh Simcoe Hops in a Box

Simcoe Hops Ready to Drop

Simcoe Hops Ready to Drop

Hop Spider in Action - Full o' Simcoe

Hop Spider in Action – Full o’ Simcoe

Boo helped us brew, she was not impressed.

Boo helped us brew, she was not impressed.

There are a few sites that have fresh hops, prices seem to be all over the place but from what I’ve seen an average is about $10.99 – $15.99/lb depending on the variety.  When using fresh hops you need to use 4-5X more by weight to get the same results as you would with pellets, due to the water weight these carry.  Note that wet hops and whole leaf dry hops are not the same, for whole dry hops I’ve read you need about 20% more to get the same results as pellets, YMMV.

FRESH HOP SOURCES (Availability changes quickly, these sites have fresh hops as of this post.)

DIY: Stainless Steel Hop Spider

I’ve seen a few write-ups on DIY hop spiders around and decided to make one myself.  Most of the other builds use a PVC pipe coupler, PVC is not safe at high temp.  A lot of people building them with PVC say it doesn’t touch their wort during boil but I’ve also seen a lot of posts where the PVC has warped from the heat, I ain’t taking any chances.  As a disclaimer, this isn’t my design but I can’t find the post where I first saw it to give credit, probably a post on HBT.

Hop Spider ready to rock

Hop Spider ready to rock

Material and tool list:

  • Stainless steel sink / garbage disposal flange. (I paid $18.00 at Home Depot but found this one on Amazon for $12.78 with free shipping 2-day for Prime members.)
  • 3 ea. stainless steel bolts.  Measure your kettle to see what total diameter you need.  My kettle is 15″ across, I used 3/8 x 8″ bolts
  • 6 ea. stainless steel nuts to fit your bolts
  • Stainless hose clamp big enough to fit the sink flange
  • Reusable hop bag
  • Power Drill
  • Metal punch
  • Metal drill bit, one smaller and one the same size as your bolts
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Pliers
  • Safety glasses so you don’t get metal shavings in your eyeballs

What you need to do:

I always mean to take pics of the process on these things but I forgot to here.  The build on this isn’t that complex though so it should be simple enough.  You can do it, I believe in you.

  • Measure the inner diameter of the flange and mark equal spaces for your three bolts, centered along the height of the flange
  • Using your metal punch, mark a starter spot to drill your holes
  • Drill a hole with the smaller drill bit, if you have a drill press and vise you can likely skip this step, but this made it easier for me
  • After drilling the pilot holes, drill out the holes the same size as your bolts
    • Be careful doing this.  The metal can grab the bit and spin the flange and can hurt you, which sucks.
  • Put a nut on each bolt and screw it about 1/2″ onto the bolt, these nuts will be on the outside of your flange
  • Place the bolt through the hole and adjust the outer nut so just enough bolt is inside the flange to secure the second nut
  • Put another nut on the bolt inside the flange, use the pliers to hold the outside nut and tighten the inside not to secure the bolt to the flange, repeat the last 3 steps for each bolt
  • Take your hop bag and put it through the center of the hose clamp
  • Place this over the bottom of the flange, most of the flanges have a lip at the bottom that works well to keep the clamp from slipping.
  • Measure the depth of your kettle to see how much of the bag you’ll need hanging down, you want a bit of clearance so it’s not setting on the bottom of the pot but you also want to make sure it’s deep enough to stay in the wort when full of hops.
  • Pull the bag through the hose clamp to adjust the length and then tighten the clamp down.
  • You now have a hop spider, go brew some beer.

This setup worked great for me, I used it this weekend to brew an IPA with fresh Simcoe hops.  It held 12 oz of hops with plenty of room to spare.

Hop Spider in action

Hop Spider in action

How to make super sexy tap handles.

Some more DIY action here at The Mostly Harmless Brewing Co.

With our recent keezer addition we kegged our first beer last weekend, an Oktoberfest Ale dubbed RAWKTOBERFEST!  We also brewed a Pumpkin Pie Ale that we hope will be our most awesome and highest ABV beer to date, estimated to hit ~9.5%.  With amazing brews like this coming along we needed some awesome tap handles to pull our pints from.

Disclaimer:  I am not a carpenter or wood finisherer.  There may be better methods to do this but this worked for me.  If you have a suggestion please feel free to leave it the comments.  Also, I probably should have taken some pics along the way but I didn’t, sorry.  I’ve just got a nice pic of the finished product but you’re smart guys and gals, if you figured out how to brew beer and make a keezer then I’d bet a dollar you can figure this out.

Super Sexy Tap Handles

Super Sexy Tap Handles

What you’re going to need.

  • Wood.  Pick whatever you like to use but just make sure it’s thick enough to install the threaded insert and not break.  I used maple for mine.
  • Threaded wood inserts.  Probably a 3/8″ x 16.  You can get a pack of 10 on Amazon for $6.37 with free shipping for Prime customers, that’s the best price I’ve found.
  • A saw.  I used a jigsaw, it got the job done but a tabletop scroll saw would be even better.
  • Screwdriver.  A thick flat tip for installing the threaded insert
  • Paint or stain of your choice
  • Wood glue
  • Foam brush
  • Plastic squeegee.
  • Lint free clean-up rags
  • Protective finish.  I used gloss spray polyurethane with good results.
  • Fine sandpaper.  I used 400 grit wet sanding pads, worked well for me.   It will depend on the quality of your lumber and your finish.
  • Optional: Pre-stain wood conditioner.  Good idea for woods like maple that tend to blotch when stained.

How to make this happen.

  • Decide on a shape and length for your tap handles and mark the outline on your lumber.
  • Cut that sucker out.
  • Sand it real good.  Get it as smooooth as you can as that’s going to help get a good finish.
  • Mark the center point of your tap base and drill the hole for the threaded insert.  The insert I used required a 1/2″ hole.
  • Install the threaded insert.  Be careful here, if the hole you drilled is too small the insert can break when you’re trying to screw it in.  Make sure to get this straight and centered when you install it.  Use an extra-wide flat head screwdriver.
  • Touch up any rough edges with your sandpaper.
  • Stuff a piece of paper into the threads before you start finishing the wood.
  • Optional step, use wood conditioner if you’re going to stain your handle.  Follow directions on the can.
  • Apply paint or stain.  I was going to stain these but wanted it darker than the stain I had so I used gloss black spray paint.  You’ll likely need a few coats to make it look nice.  Don’t get sloppy here.
  • My paint had a bit of the orange peel look to it.  After painting I sanded with wet 400 grit sanding pads and it smoothed out nicely.
  • Affix the label (if you’re putting a label on yours) with wood glue.   Put a very thin layer on with a brush, coat the entire area where the label will go.  Place the label and then use the squeegee to get out all excess glue, make sure to really squeegee it well.
  • Use a damp cloth to clean up the residue.  Make sure it’s not too wet or you’ll damage your label.
  • Chill out and have a beer and let this dry.
  • Apply your finish.  I used gloss spray poly and like the way mine came out.  You’ll need a few coats, just eyeball when it looks like you’ve got a nice layer on there.
  • Let it dry for a day or two
  • Polish the finish with wet sanding with super-fine sandpaper.
  • Install on your tap and party on.

And there you have it, handmade tap handles.  A pretty simple project that gives you a nice custom touch to your setup.  I can’t wait until our beers are ready to flow with these fancy tap handles, I’m sure they’re going to make the beer taste even better.