How to remove paint from beer bottles

This question gets mentioned a lot on forums so I thought I’d share my method for removing paint from commercial beer bottles for reuse in bottling homebrew.  This works most of the time (New Belgium Lips of Faith bottles seem very stubborn) and it does take a bit of elbow grease, but you can do it.

GTFO, paint!

GTFO, paint!

What you’ll need:

Instructions:

  • Fill your pot with about 2 gallons of hot tap water.  (My pot is a 3 gallon cheap stainless steel pot I got at Walmart.)
  • I used a 1 oz / 1 gallon ratio of Star San and water.  So add 2 oz of Star San to the 2 gallons of water and stir gently.  Pro Tip: Filling the pot before adding the Star San keeps it from foaming up.
  • Fill your bottles with hot tap water and submerge them in the kettle.  This method saves on Star San, so you’re only using enough for the water that is actually in contact with the paint.
  • Let them sit for at least an hour.  It could take longer, you’ll start to see the paint sloughing off in a sort of gel.
  • Put on your gloves, don’t skip this part, put on the damn gloves.
  • Grab your scrub pad and start scrubbing.  If one bottle is being stubborn try another and let that one soak a bit more.  As I mentioned above some bottles are just really stubborn, I never was able to get the paint off that Lips of Faith bottle.
  • Once all the paint is scrubbed off rinse the bottles well.
  • Make sure to clean and sanitize before use like any other bottle.

I’ve used this method several times and it works great.  You may notice a “ghosting” on your bottles where the paint previously was, but it’s hard to see.  Now go bottle up some homebrew.

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2013 Brew Year in Review

The Christmas paper has been cleaned up, the hangovers are clearing and we’re ready to roll into an amazing 2014.

2013 was a really big year for us at Mostly Harmless, as it was our first year brewing.  We jumped in with both feet and in a few cases forgot to check the depth of the water before doing so.  All in all we’ve learned an unbelievable amount about brewing, we’ve brewed and shared some great beers and we’ve made some new friends.  I’d say that makes for a successful year.  Here’s a review of what we accomplished last year.

In April 2013 we brewed our first batches of beer.  A stout that we converted from a Mr. Beer kit and an extract ESB batch.  The stout was not very good and the ESB was tasty but lighter than we expected.  Fast forward a few months and we now have a 15 & 6 gallon boil kettle, MLT, countless carboys, wort chiller, Thermapen, fermentation chamber, keezer, hydrometers and refractometers, pH meter and a host of other gadgets and gizmos.  We’ve gone from a simple extract batch to all-grain in 8 months time.  We’ve brewed 15 batches of beer totalling 70 gallons, 2 batches of wine totalling 8 gallons and 6 batches of mead totalling 14 gallons (a few 1 gallon batches here).

We reformulated our stout that was not very good and ended up brewing one of the better stouts I’ve had, of course we’re out of it now so we need to brew more.  We accidentally discovered we make really good mead, so we’ve put some additional efforts into that.  We brewed up a couple batches of quick wine that was quite popular at parties and we made a SMaSH brew dedicated to a friend that got us a bit of exposure on Twitter and even had people offering to buy our beer, they were quite disappointed when we said we were homebrewers and couldn’t do that.

2014 should be a big year for us.  We’ve got our last brew of 2013 in primary now and we’ve got a saison on deck for out next brew.  We also plan to brew another batch of our stout soon and hope we can recreate what we did last time.

We still have plenty to learn but we’re having a great time getting it all figured out, I can’t wait to see where we are at this time next year!  Happy New Year, everyone!  Here’s a quick look at what we accomplished in 2013.

Our IPA tastes like soy sauce.

Dammit.   Dammit, dammit, dammit.

Our most recent brew was a really aggressive IIPA using all New Zealand hops and racked onto kiwi fruit that we’d dubbed Kiwi Kaleidoscope.  We did everything right on this beer.  Mash temps, CO2 purges, oxygenating, finely controlled fermentation temperature, pasteurized kiwi, CO2 purge before racking onto pasteurized kiwi, and even made a super-awesome label.  We nailed this.  So why the hell does it taste like soy sauce?  Well, I don’t know for sure.  But I’ve done some research and there are a few possible culprits.

Kiwi Kaleidoscope, we had such high hopes for you

Kiwi Kaleidoscope, we had such high hopes for you

Oxidation due to hot side aeration.  One expected possible cause of soy sauce taste in homebrew is oxidation due to hot side aeration (HSA).  HSA can be caused from splashing wort during mashing, lautering or cooling post-boil.  There are many people that believe HSA to be a myth, while others say it’s a very real issue that affects certain malts more than others and greatly decreases the shelf life on beer, especially heavily hopped beers – and ours was 126 IBU.  I’ll include some additional links at the bottom of this post on discussions of HSA.

Yeast Autolysis.  RIP yeast.  Autolysis happens when dead yeast cells rupture and release off flavors.  Whether or not this is a legitimate concern for homebrewers is debated as one cause on a commercial scale is the weight of a large volume of wort compacting the yeast cake on the bottom of the fermenter.  When homebrewing, it is unlikely that the weight applied in a typical 5-10 gallon batch would be enough to cause the cells to rupture, even after a long period in the fermenter.  It is believed that you can avoid autolysis in homebrew by using healthy yeast in a well-prepared wort.  Some people advocate for racking to a secondary fermentation in order to minimize the risk, however the necessity or racking to secondary versus the risks of exposure when transferring are another debated topic in homebrewing today.

Although autolysis seems unlikely in most homebrew applications, our beer had another factor that may have contributed to possible autolysis and off flavors…

Protease enzymes in kiwi (Actinidain) breaking down proteins causing autolysis.  Let me preface this section by saying I know very little about the chemistry of how this works.  The info I’m sharing here is from talking with others, Googling, and a discussion of this issue I posted on reddit.com/r/homebrewing.  FYI… r/homebrewing is a great forum for homebrewers of all levels, check it out.

Kiwi contains the protease enzyme Acitinidain, which works in the same way as the protease Bromelain, both of these are used in meat tenderizers and found in kiwi, banana, pineapple, mango and papaya.  It is possible that these protease enzymes broke down the proteins in the wort/beer and caused autolysis and the unfortunate soy sauce off flavor in our beer.  Protease enzymes should be denatured at pasteurization temperatures, but it would likely take longer to denature the enzymes than the shortest pasteurization time.  I did find a few other recipes that used the kiwi towards the end of the boil or at flameout, perhaps these methods would denature the enzymes at avoid any issues during fermentation.

Unfortunately none of these items are 100% guaranteed to be the issue.  However I’ll take the info I’ve learned here and try avoid making these mistakes in the future.  We might even try Kiwi Kaleidoscope again and see if we can beat whatever it is that got us this time around.

Small-scale beer. Brewing a 1-gallon batch.

We typically brew 5 gallon batches but I thought it might be fun to do a smaller batch to experiment some.  I don’t want to do something too crazy in a 5-gallon batch and not have it come out but 1 gallon brews let us experiment without too much time and money invested.  Maybe this is a good way for Brian to try out his Black Cardamom Saffron Lavender Agave Stout?

Jalapeno Saison 1 Gallon Beer Kit

Jalapeno Saison 1 Gallon Beer Kit

Rather than create a recipe for this one I picked up a kit from Amazon for a Jalapeno Saison from Brooklyn Brew Shop.  Since we already had all the brewing gear I just got the ingredient kit, however they do have a full kit that includes the 1 gallon jug, airlock, thermometer, etc.  At only $40.00 it’s not a bad way to try out homebrewing.  Instructions don’t come in the kit but can be downloaded from the Brooklyn Brew Shop website.  You may need a couple of additional ingredients, for mine I needed a fresh jalapeno and agave syrup.  In addition to the kit you only need a few basic items to brew this beer.  A couple stainless or aluminum pots around 3 gallons in size, a large fine-mesh strainer, spoons and some sanitizer.  At bottling time you’ll need bottles and caps, a siphon/racking cane and priming sugar.

Mashing the grains.

Mashing the grains.

Annnd, sparging the grains.

Annnd, sparging the grains.

I won’t go into extensive details here as they are pretty well lined out on the instruction sheets from Brooklyn Brew Shop.  All together the brew day took me about 2 hours and I was able to watch a couple episodes of Breaking Bad while I brewed.  Yeah, I’m a bit behind on the series but I’m getting there.  The process is very simple with this kit.  Heat your strike water and mash in the same pot, drain the mash through your strainer into a second pot and then fly sparge the grains.  Boil for 60 minutes adding hops, jalapenos, agave and Belgian candi sugar along the way.  I didn’t want too much heat in mine so I removed the seeds and veins from my pepper before adding it.  If done properly, pepper beers are amazing.  The best one I’ve tried is No Label Don Jalapeno, the brewery is out of Texas and if you can get this one I suggest trying it out.  After the boil you cool the wort and strain into your jug.  Cap it and shake it like a crying baby… I mean a Polaroid picture… and then pitch the yeast and add the airlock and blowoff tube.  Voila.

In the jug and ready to ferment.

In the jug and ready to ferment.

And now we wait.  After a couple days the fermentation should calm down, mine was rocking in less than 12 hours.  When it slows down I’ll move it to a dark place and leave it alone for 2 weeks before bottling.  Then 2 more weeks before sampling the brew.

All in all I had fun with this kit and I’ll likely do a small batch again.   It helped feed my need to brew without the need to break out all the gear and dedicate a full day to brewing.  I was able to do this in the evening after work and still make bedtime.  Gotta love it.  This would also be a good way to brew if you’re in an apartment and wanted to try an all-grain brew.  Of course all this assumes that the beer is delicious when all is said and done, fingers crossed!

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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

We should change our name to Trainwreck Brewing Co…

Mostly Mosaic - Mashing the grains

Mostly Mosaic – Mashing the grains

Worst. Brewday. Ever.

I’ve wanted to brew with Mosaic hops for quite a while now and this Saturday we finally got around to making it happen, sort of.  We were pretty excited as we’ve upgraded our equipment and were moving up to 5 gallon batches, over our previous 4 gallon batches.  We had a shiny new 15 gallon brew pot, new carboys, oxygenator, fancy heat-resistant gloves… a pretty big upgrade all around.  In addition to brewing we were also bottling our Just the Tip spruce tip pale ale.

Most (OK, maybe all) of the things that went wrong could have been prevented with some better planning and focus.  To start the day off we had to season our 15 gallon aluminum kettle.  For those that aren’t aware an aluminum kettle needs to have water boiled in it for 30-60 minutes before the first use to oxidized the aluminium.   So we did this and everything seemed fine there.  In the meantime we were cleaning bottles and racking our Just the Tip to the bottling bucket.  We forgot to take a final gravity reading on it, but measurements a week earlier showed fermentation was complete.  What we forgot at the time is that we also use our bottling bucket as an HLT for fly-sparging, and this bit us in the rear when it was time to sparge, we ended up having to batch sparge.  Once the boil was going we thought we were in the clear but then it struck me that we had a lot of mash/sparge water (11.25 gallons) for a 5 gallon batch of beer.  Somewhere in Beersmith I must have had something set incorrectly for the batch size and equipment.  Finally, even though we had a second immersion chiller in a bucket of ice to pre-chill the water, it took almost 50 minutes for our wort to cool to 75F, way too long.  We’ll need an upgrade to our chiller very soon.  To top everything else off, I burnt my stupid self on the propane burner stand.  Apparently those things get hot when a flame is applied to them for 90 minutes… how was I supposed to know?

After all was said a done we missed OG by over 20 points.  There’s no telling what we’ll get out of this but it sure won’t be what we intended it to be.  On a positive note we got our Just the Tip bottled up and it’s napping and conditioning nicely.  Also, whatever beer we did brew on Saturday started fermenting quickly and I’ve been able to hold fermentation temps to 68F.  I guess we’ll see in about a month what we’ve got going on here.

Mostly Mosaic fermenting nicely

Mostly Mosaic fermenting nicely

The World’s Cheapest 3-Tier Homebrew System… or damn close to it.

It’s hard to remember back to the beginnings of Mostly Harmless Brewing Co..  That’s been many, many days ago now… maybe even weeks.  But it’s still nice to reflect back on the days we started with a Mr. Beer kit and a dream and to look at where we are now… two guys who know just enough about brewing to be dangerous.  Ahhhh… I do love reminiscing.

This week we had a couple big upgrades to our equipment.  Due to my temporary hiatus from the daily grind I’ve had a bit more time on my hands lately and I’ve been tinkering around with things.  Brian got sick of ice-bathing our wort to chill it and got us a shiny new stainless steel wort chiller and after seeing a friend brew with a fly sparge head I built one for our setup.  While cleaning the gara… I mean brewery out I stumbled on a partially built aquarium stand that a buddy started and never finished and I had an idea.  We’re going 3-tiers, baby!

Pretty simple build out here.  I added a platform to the top of the stand to put our hot liquor tank on (tank, bucket.. whatever) and then put some blocks on the front of the stand to keep the MLT from sliding off and still allowing us to tilt it and get all that delicious wort.  With the addition of a few feet of high-temp hose and some clamps we had a gravity-fed 3 tier system happening.  I’ve run a test with water through it and it works great, this Saturday we’ll be having a Brewbecue and we’ll test it out on a live batch.  Wish us luck.

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The fly sparge head in action.

In addition to the equipment upgrades we also bottled our White House Honies honey ale.  Our Horse Pop lemon wine and an all-grain version of Hair of the Dog Oatmeal Stout (HOTDOS) will be ready to bottle up soon.

 

By the way, if you happen to run into us and try our beers we ARE on Untappd!  So log away. 😀  Have a great week!

Our R&D department is always working.

Our R&D department is always working.