Hop trellis

Last year, I bought 4 varieties, in small  pots, Hellertau Mittlefreuh, Cascade, Perle and Magnum. It was almost mid of June and I wasn’t sure if they would survive the hot Greek summer. But I planted them right away and hoped for the best.

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Luckily they made it through the summer which wasn’t very hot. They grew up to 2 meters high, but the yearly cycle of the plants was heading towards the end. And then they gave me a few hop flowers, around 9 grams when dried.

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This is the second year of my hop plants. I believe that they will grow well, since they have all the time to grow fully and the roots have been already well established.

Using two wooden beams 10cmx10cmx3m and a horizontal piece of wood, I built today a tall frame. I attached a plastic string from each plant to the horizontal beam so hops can climb. When they reach the top, I will probably place more horizontal strings and attach them to maybe another wooden frame opposite to this one.

 

Information about my varieties:

Magnum

Cascade

Hallertauer mittelfrüh

Perle

The plan

After trying for the first time to make my own malt, I realized that the main issue with my equipment is the third phase, the drying-kilning-curing. So I decided to use a convection, wooden oven that my family has in our backyard.

 

It is a convection wooden oven, meaning that the cooking chamber is separate and above the fire chamber. So the fire, surrounds the upper part heating it according to the intensity of the fire that is burning below.

Before i can use the oven as a malt kiln, some modifications and automation must be developed in order to have control of the whole process and get great results.

  • First I’ll make wooden crate(s) that will hold the grains. These boxes have a fan attached to the bottom that circulate the air of the chamber at all times.
  • I will be monitoring the temperature of the chamber, the air that enters and leaves the grain bed and at last the humidity that enters the grain bed.
  • The front door will be replaced with another smart door. This door will be made out of metal or wood, with insulation for better heating effeciency and it will have two ducts with variable openings, in order to let moisture out and let dry air inside.
  • The whole process will be controlled by a micro controller (Arduino). So depending on the temperature and humidity readings, i will be able to control the drying rate of the malt. I will be logging the data, so I will have the ability to get repeatable process and produce the same malt quality.
  • The last thing to consider is the control of the fire below. The idea is to use wood but there is the possibility to fit my gas burner as well.

After the first phase of the drying is done, I will be replacing the boxes with metallic cooking trays, and raise the temperature to appropriate levels. I believe that the system will be adequate for base malt and some caramel malt, light malt in general.

My first attempt

Back in November of 2014, i was out of malt for brewing beer and i was so extremely low on money. So, i thought, that it would be fun to try to make my own malt. So i went to a local feed store and bought a 5kg of feed barley. Surprisingly it wasn’t very dirty with foreign seeds and stuff. Of course information about source or variety of the barley was out of the question.

Anyway, i took it home, gave it a very good rinse and weighed 4kg. I didn’t measure at that point the original moisture content of raw barley, but i assumed it to be 12%, which is a logic number, i guess.

I did 8-hr steeps followed by 8-hour aeration phases and i was measuring each time the weight of the lot

 

Date Time Step Weight Moisture % Notes
01/11/2014 00:30 1 2940 12 T~13C. Outside on my front portch, with tap water in a big bowl
01/11/2014 09:00 2 3928 34.13 T~19C. I moved it to my basement, for some reason i didn’t note. Aeration time.
01/11/2014 17:00 3 3890 33.49 T~13C. Again, outside of the house, covered in water.
02/11/2014 01:00 4 4374 40.85 T~15C. Aeration
02/11/2014 10:15 5 4348 40.50 T~15C. Steeping
02/11/2014 18:30 6 4644 44.29 T=15. The barley had started to chit now. I moved it to my fermentation chamber, at my basement and split the quantity.
Half of it went into a rotating plastic vessel, from water container, and the other half in a large baking pan.

 

 

After a few days, i checked for degree of modification, and at some point i decided that the conversion was completed. Drying was very difficult.

At first i put the grain inside my fermentation chamber (an old fridge), with a floor heater-blower, regulated by an STC-1000, at 50C. It didn’t do much because the air flow wasn’t correct and the sealing of the fridge couldn’t let moisture out. Frequently i was opening the door in order to let the moist air out and let new dry inside, and wiped all the surfaces of the fridge which was dripping wet!

After 10 hours or so i moved the malt to my kitchen. It’s a very old model, without a fan, and with a very bad thermostat. I tried to regulate it by manually and hours of attention but the temperature frequently was rising over 50C. Finaly i decided to terminate the drying-kiln phase with an hour at 80C.

It was obvious that the moisture was not down to at least 10%. The rootlets couldn’t fall off the grain. So a large amount stayed attached.

 

 

After a few days i did the final test, a brew with this malt. At the time i had no crusher, so i tried to crush them with a kitchen food processor. The crush was far off ideal, since i had lot’s of flour-like material and at the same time whole uncrushed malt. Nonetheless i tried it in a mash.

It was a very long mash, with multiple steps, in order to be sure that my mash schedule helped the low quality malt i produced.

 

  • 20’@45C
  • 20’@60C
  • 200’@64-67C followed by mashout
  • Boiled the wort for 90 minutes with addition of 15g Magnum@60 minutes  and 15g Saaz @10minutes.
  • OG:1.030 at 11.5l

Efficiencies according to biabacus excel spreadsheet:

  • Efficiency into kettle: 56.5
  • End of boil efficiency: 52.0
  • Efficiency into fermenter: 45.0

I coold the wort with a copper chiller and then pitched a yeast i had harvest from previous fermentation US-05. It was smelling funny, but i pitched it anyway.

 

After fermenting was over, FG was 1.013 but i think i has an infection for sure:

It was smelling kind of funny as well. I think it’s the harvested yeast to blame. But  bottled it, since i had nothing to loose and that was the colour of the beer, right after bottling. I guess i had kilned the malt at higher temperatures, that gave it this colour:

 

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I did try it once it had some weeks to stablize. I had no foaming from the bottle, carbonation was as expected and the taste was not very off from a light ale. I didn’t drink this batch.

The whole epxerience was very fun and educational. Future malt batches will be improved!

Measuring water content

Malting begins and ends by measuring the moisture of barley or malt.

So i thought a small oven would be usefull to dry the samples.

oven4

Materials:

  • A metallic can from honey, with a lid
  • Insulation from water piping
  • A light bulb (E27), a suitable base for high temperatures, cable and wall plug
  • An arduino Uno
  • A digital temperature sensor DS18b20
  • A relay module for arduino
  • a metallic can from a beer kit

I cut a round hole at the lower part of the can, on the side, in order to screw in the base of the lamp with a snug fitting. The lamp got screwed in the base, and fits just fine.

The beer kit can privided a tray that will hold the barley sample and a base that the tray will sit on, above the lamp. On top of the tray, i have installed the temperature sensor which fits inside a hole from the side of the honey can.

At last, the whole oven got wrapped with water pipe insulation all around, top and bottom.

 

Of course the wiring is NOT SAFE at all, and i will put them inside a proper box. Especially the relay module, that has live AC 240V. Probably i should ground the metal box as well, to be on the safer side.

I used a PID library for arduino http://playground.arduino.cc/Code/PIDLibrary in order to achieve a steady temperature and it is holding the temperature very well. The arduino is connected to my computer via usb and i log the temperatures to a csv file using ruby.

Finally i use dygraphs (www.dygraphs.com) in order to make the graph live

plot

Blue is the setpoint, Purple the actual temperature above the barley tray and finally with green the percentage of the time that the relay is active.

 

A new beginning

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My first barley seeds

This is the first barley that i seeded in my life, in October of 2015. I don’t know the variety, but i hope it will make good malt.

At the same time this is the first blog post. I hope it will become a journey full of experiences and satisfaction. After all, anything creative is satisfactory.