Thanksgiving, Beer Brewing, and a bit of DIY

Thanksgiving in Texas

Even though it’s been some time since Thanksgiving, I found myself in Dallas during Thanksgiving (or the day before Black Friday, depending on what’s more important). Despite the fact that I got sick the night before, I found my first experience in the Lone Star State quite enjoyable.

I’m guessing to no one’s surprise, everything is over the top in Texas. While I didn’t get a chance to experience everything that’s “bigger in Texas”, I did get a chance to enjoy the new James Bond film Spectre the way I want to experience all movies on the big screen in the future.

Like a lot of places in Dallas, typically ordinary venues can be quite extravagant. Take for example your typical driving range. Nothing too exciting, right? Well, it can be quite the event in Dallas. We stopped at the Top Golf facility just to see what it was like. It’s by far one of the most lavish driving ranges I’d been to. How could you go wrong with a restaurant, a bar, and electronic chips in golf balls all in the same place? Sadly, we only checked out the facility and the amenities. Even though the stalls were heated it was quite chilly outside, so we chose not to play. If (AKA when) I go back to Dallas, I’ll be hitting some golf balls at this high tech driving range.

When I went to see Spectre, I saw it at the iPic Theatre. While watching a movie on the big screen is always a good time, watching a movie on the big screen in a plush recliner with a blanket, a nice pint of beer and an appetizer (or main course, if you desire) is the best way to watch a movie. I really wish I was watching the upcoming Star Wars that way. While it can be a bit pricey, it’s well worth the additional cost in my opinion.

My mom (bottom right), Aunt (bottom left), my sister (top right) and me (top left) getting comfy for Spectre.
My mom (bottom right), Aunt (bottom left), my sister (top right) and me (top left) getting comfy for Spectre.
That pint of beer was mighty delicious.
That pint of beer was mighty delicious.

All in all, Texas is quite the place. I didn’t get to experience everything it has to offer since I was only there for 3 days, but I look forward to heading back in the future.

Upcoming Brews

My beer supply has been (not surprisingly) diminishing. Prior to Thanksgiving I hadn’t been able to brew much, since I’ve been back I’ve upped my soon to be ready supply. So what’s on tap?

Almond Joy Porter

This one was a bit of a nuisance since the recipe called for orange peel and coriander during the boil. Transferring the wort to the primary fermenter was a mess, since the pulpy remainder of coriander, orange peel, and hops kept clogging up the siphon hose. Also the fermentation called for hazelnut flavor, which I added to the primary and shredded almond, which I put in a grain bag and added to the secondary. It’s in bottles and should be ready in the new year.

Almond Joy Porter in Secondary
Almond Joy Porter in Secondary (The bag contains coconut)

Belgium White

The Belgium white taught me a valuable lesson: If I’m pouring malt extract into the brew pot, take it off the heat. I’m not sure how I didn’t figure this out before, but I scorched the malt extract. As least I learned how to clean a scorched pot. 1 part water, 1 part vinegar, and a lot of elbow grease.

A Nicely Scorched Pot
A nicely scorched pot. Guess where the burners were?
All Clean!
All Clean!

The scorching might give the ale a bit of a different flavor, though I can market it as a “toasty” flavor. I have yet to see if this completely throws off the flavor of the beer. If so, lesson learned. The real test will be not making the same mistake twice.

Detroit Steam Pale Ale

This one was a pale ale and I enlisted the help of a friend to assist me in brewing this batch. A helping hand makes things go a lot quicker and it makes it a lot more fun. Right now it’s primary fermentation, I’ll be transferring it to secondary very soon.

Differing Specific Gravities
Differing specific gravity of the water and the wort.

I got the chance to try out my new hop spider, which I’ll take about in the upcoming section.

A Bit of DIY

The Hop Spider

After my experience with the pulpy mess making my almond joy porter, I discovered that some home brewers use what’s called a “hop spider”. This is basically a mesh bag that allows the hops and additional ingredients to break apart and absorb into the wort while keeping them contained in the bag. It keeps the pulp at bay. Some purists may argue that you lose some flavor, though for now I’ll go for less clean up.

It was pretty easy to put together. The parts list is below.

  • PVC Pipe Reducer (I used a 4″ to 3″)
  • Worm gear clamp
  • 3 stainless steel carriage bolts, nuts, and washers
  • Paint straining bag
Everything needed for a Hop Spider
Everything needed for a Hop Spider

I picked everything up at home depot. All that’s required is drilling holes through the PVC reducer to fit the carriage bolts through. The only tool needed is an electric drill. Once I put it together, I tried it out while making the Detroit Steam Pale Ale recipe. It worked like a charm!

Hop Spider in Action
Hop Spider in Action

It held back the hoppy pulp that’s created after the hops break apart during the boil. It made transferring the wort into the primary fermentation vessel a heck of a lot easier, considering that it didn’t clog the siphon hose.

Garage Floor Containment Mat

In an effort to keep my garage floor somewhat dry during the winter, I decided to put a garage floor mat together. There are garage floor mats you can purchase for +$300, whereas I figured I would make my own. It’s not the best solution by any means, but I figured it’s a good temporary system for holding any melting snow and water at bay that falls off my truck in my garage. At least then just maybe I can keep the other side dry for some workshop space.

I used the following for the mat:

  • Large Tarp (20′ x 30′ tarp from Home Depot)
  • 2″ x 4″ lumber
  • Staples

There should be enough of a lip to keep the water at bay. The materials themselves were about $60, so if it turns out to be an utter failure, well at least I learned a few things along the way.

The Frame:

I used 9′ sections of 2″ x 4″ lumber to make the frame. I left ~2″ between the two side sections so that the mat can be sorta folded to contain the water should I try to drain it during the spring when the snow starts melting.

Frame of the Garage Mat
Frame of the Garage Mat

I laid the tarp underneath and lined up the tarp with the lower right corner. I left some of the tarp hanging over the side so I could roll it over the 2″ x 4″ and staple it into place. I put staples into the frames at about 1′ apart.

Tarp Laid Out
Tarp Laid Out

I cut the tarp to size and stapled it to the frame. There was a good amount of extra tarp left over, which I would discover I needed later on.

Flipped Over and Stapled
Flipped Over and Stapled
It Fits my Truck
My Truck Fits!

I learned a few lessons the hard way. The first one is that I should have assembled it right side up. I assembled it upside down, then tried to flip it over by myself. That was a really bad idea. The corners of the tarp ripped during the process of flipping it over. I ended up doing some patch work with the tarp I removed. I cut some sections of the leftover tarp and stapled them over the sections that ripped. I also got some silicone caulk and sealed around the sections that were ripped. I did some sealing around the rear and left side edges since the water tends to flow that way. We’ll see how it works for the time being, it ended up being a bit of a hacked up DIY. Knowing what I know now, I think I could make another that looks a bit cleaner in the future. But I only have plans to keep it for short term, so it doesn’t have to last forever.

The Near Future

I’m hoping to get back into my Beaglebone Black as I’ve got some ideas for projects in the near future. I keep telling myself I’m going to get better at using sensors for controls based projects. The timelapse project is still on my mind. The temperature logger I put together was going to be used for beer brewing, however I never got around to getting myself a better soldering iron or making myself a decent work station for electronics projects.

I also plan to build a keezer! For those who don’t know, this is a chest freezer that’s converted into a refrigerator to hold kegs and a CO2 tank. Here’s an example of what I’d like to do. I’ve discovered that even though kegging might be a bit more costly initially, it saves a lot of time considering there’s no bottling to do. The perfect at home draft beer system.

I’ve got lots of ideas for the New Years. I’m starting my Masters in January, so it looks like life is about to get really busy!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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