Changes are afoot!

Not with the blog, so don’t worry! 🙂

But the DreadBrewer and I have made some changes to BeerCat Brewing this brew season and I wanted to update you all on what they are and how they’re going.

First up: kegging! As I posted a few weeks ago, DB and I got fed up with the messy process of bottling and decided to make the leap into kegging. Naturally we had to build a super-deluxe keezer, which has proven to be awesome. The only issue with the keezer is that DB gravely miscalculated didn’t realize that it won’t fit the four kegs we purchased. So we have an extra keg sitting around, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We can either store cleaning solution in it to make cleaning the tubes and taps even faster and easier or use it to store an extra beer so there’s never a chance of running out. There are worse dilemmas to have, right?

How has kegging impacted our beer? Well, for anyone who is on the fence, I can say whole-heartedly that kegging is awesome! It won’t take a crappy beer and make it taste like Westvleteren, but it does make our reasonably good beer reasonably great. And once we figured out the trick to force carbonating the beer ((Our first keg we were slightly baffled at how long it was taking. Turns out you really have to crank the CO2 up for a few days. Like, really crank it. We’ve been carbonating at 20 PSI for a few days and dispensing at 11 or 12 PSI.)), it’s been easy breezy. And it’s so nice to be able to go out and pour a beer and not worry about the yeast sediment in the bottom of the bottle and not worry about whether the beer has bottle carbonated yet. And not worry about washing and sanitizing 30 bottles every time we want to get a beer ready for drinking. The only drawback, as far as I can tell, is the lack of portability. We used to be able to give out bottles of homebrew to our friends to sample and we haven’t figured out a way to do that with kegged beer. Which really just means more beer for us. 🙂

One unintended consequence of kegging (combined with the fact that I’m riding the baby train) is that we are brewing less frequently this year. When we were bottling, we had enough bottles to store probably 5 or 6 beers at a time. Since we’ve only got 3 (maybe 4) kegs and I’m not consuming my fair share of homebrew, we’ve had to seriously scale back our brewing this year. I’m not going to say that I miss the expense of brewing every weekend or two, but I do miss dedicating those 4 or 5 hours to sharing an enjoyable activity with the DreadBrewer.

Next change we made was filtering our brewing water. The DreadBrewer and I have actually agreed to disagree about this change. I think it’s a colossal waste of time ((I mean, one of my friends brews tasty beer with water from their hose!)) and DB insists it has made our beer taste much better. We purchased a Pur filter that attaches to the faucet and we get the 7 gallons we need on brew day through that, a process that takes forever as it is the slowest filter I’ve ever seen in my life. But DB loves it and it’s not a real inconvenience, so we continue to filter. We’ve tossed around the idea of getting either an inline filter or a whole house filter ((DB insists our tap water tastes terrible. I don’t think so, but I am kind of oblivious to things like that.)) but haven’t decided on a course of action yet.

And finally – and this is a big change for us – is we’ve switched our yeast. In my (sadly unfinished) “How to Become a HomeBrewer” series, the section on yeast stressed the importance of making yeast starters. Well, once we had a more active child (as opposed to a lump newborn), we realized that ain’t nobody got time for that. So last year we started pitching more SmackPacks rather than making starters. And then this year, we’ve actually switched from Wyeast SmackPacks to White Labs vials.

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I’m honestly not sure what prompted the change. It may have been the terrible attenuation we had with our last batch of Wyeast. It may have been that the homebrew store was out of 1056 one day and we had no choice. It may have been that you get a free vial of yeast for every 10 purchased from White Labs and Wyeast doesn’t have a program like that. Whatever the reason, we made the switch and we have been very pleased with the results. Some of our beers have been fermenting machines!

There is a trick to using the vials, which we had to learn the hard way. You have to shake them up to get the yeast back into suspension, which creates quite a bit of pressure in the vials. If you are foolish enough to open it fully right away (as we were), yeast will spew everywhere. You have to crack the lid just the tiniest bit and let the pressure fully escape before you can open the vial all the way. Other than that, the vials are easy to use and offer great attenuation.

The DreadBrewer and I both agree that, whatever the reason, our beer this year has been particularly tasty. And since we haven’t figured out how to share it with anyone other than in person, you all will just have to come over and sample a few!

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