Harper’s Regular Farmhouse: Brewing a variation

A few weeks ago I ended my long hiatus in brewing with a rebrew of the saison that I made for my wedding last year. That brew was a bit of a mess, I didn’t have a hydrometer flask so I couldn’t take any gravity readings, volume measurement was questionable, temperature measurement was also questionable, and to top it off I drank more than the recommended amount of “inspiration.” That being said everything turned out well!


I’m happy with the beer. I took it to a homebrew meeting and a lot of people there liked it as well. When I took it (besides being under carbonated) it was about 1.010 SG. One of my friends from the guild said that the yeast will bring it down into the low single digits if handled properly. That motivated me to take the carboys for a walk and let them keep fermenting. Yesterday I kegged that beer and measured the gravity at 1.005! I’m amazed at how low the yeast (Danstar – Belle Saison) got the gravity. Since I can only guess about the original gravity I’m estimating that this beer came out to 5.7%.


With that batch under my belt I felt the need to experiment with the saison style and yeast. I decided to brew a series of saisons and tweak the malt bill each time. For yesterday’s brew I decided to try and move the recipe more into the middle of the style guidelines. Where my original “Little Farmhouse” recipe was too light, too weak, and not very bitter my goal was to nudge those numbers closer to the middle of the range for the style. The plan is to brew 3 or 4 beers total and to move those numbers (color, alcohol, and IBU) higher with each iteration.


For this iteration I used Caramunich III (I wanted II but the shop only stocks III) to darken the beer to 8 SRM. This is mid-range for the saison style but it’s worlds darker than my original recipe. With the addition of Caramunich to the recipe I didn’t have to add much more malt to nudge¬†the OG (alcohol) to where I wanted it. I didn’t add any more base malt to the recipe. I just increased the flavor and head malts to 2# and called it good. This brought the target OG to 1.055. Not a huge jump but it’s a start. As for the hops, I mostly kept them inline with what I did to the gravity. So I really didn’t do much. I was forced to make some quick substitutions however. I thought I had a large bag of Cascades in my freezer when I really had less than 2 oz. I ended up using some Halertau and Spalter Spalt (yum) remnants that I had. I’m afraid that the bitterness will be lower than I wanted because the hops were old and I accidently left some Hallertau pellets out of the boil. Oh well: relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew! I do feel really good about the brew session. I took excellent notes and everything (mostly) went how I wanted it to go.

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Calibrating Sir Ballington

Today I finally got around to calibrating the boil kettle on Sir Ballington. I have had the sight tube installed for a long time now but I never took the time to calibrate it. It was shipped with convenient stickers to use as markings. Unfortunately I let them sit out in my brew hut which isn’t really doing a great job of protecting my equipment from the elements, so the stickers are ruined. I got around this by making my own marking system. Check out the pics below to see my method.


Appropriate measuring devices.

Appropriate measuring devices.


I decided to use growlers as the measuring device to fill the kettle. I had been putting this off for a long time because I couldn’t think of a good way to measure out the water for calibration. In the end I decided that I didn’t need anything super accurate (this was my big hangup) and that I just needed to get it done. I was thinking about it while filling and decided that with my size of vessel and amount of error wouldn’t make a big difference (say 1 oz extra for 48 half gallon fills is only 1.5% error.


Calibrating the boil kettle on Sir Ballington.

Calibrating the boil kettle on Sir Ballington.


I made a calibration device using cardboard, printer paper, and a sharpie. I thought that I’d need to put in at least 1 gal for every mark on the kettle to see any change in the sight tube. I was totally wrong about that. Every half gallon increment made a decent change in the level of the sight tube. Starting after 8 gallons I made a mark for every growler dumped in the pot.


This is what a good meniscus looks like.

This is what a good meniscus looks like.


While I was filling I think I may have made some inaccurate marks around the 17 gallon mark. The tube was dry and the meniscus compressed. I manually siphoned (instant regret btw) the water up the tube and when it settled it formed a perfect meniscus. You can see the difference where I crossed out the initial mark.


Finished Sir Ballington boil kettle calibration.

Finished Sir Ballington boil kettle calibration.


Next I scanned my hand written marks into GIMP (free Photoshop clone). I replaced my handwriting with perfect horizontal lines and numbers. Printed it out in the same scale (after much trial and error) and glued it to another piece of cardboard. I also covered it in packing tape to make it weather resistant. Even if this gets ruined by the weather I can always print it out again and make a new one.


I want to do some testing of the calibration and possibly remake the whole thing depending on the results. I’ll definitely cut it down so it’s not as wide. I’d also like to find a method to attach it to the sight tube without occluding the tube. I could use more packing tape but that’s not ideal.

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Sir Ballington Brewstand

This is an accounting of how I designed and built my epic brew sculpture . It started off with a few goals:

  • 15 gal batches.
  • All valve control, no hose switching.
  • 1 pump with fly sparge capability.
  • Propane burners.
  • Automated mash temp control with step mash capability (in progress).

From that list of goals I designed the geometry of the stand. I settled on a two tier design with the Hot Liquor Tank on the top tier so that the route from the HLT to the Mash Tun would be passive so the pump could be used to transfer from the MT to the Boil Kettle while the HLT was draining into the MT. This would allow for efficient fly sparging which requires wort moving out of the MT while fresh hot water it sprinkled on top.

I chose to line up the vessels with the MT on the left; HLT in the middle; and the BK on the right. Initially the plan was to seat the MT and BK under the HLT a little bit to save space. In the end that didn’t turn out to be practical. The BK and HLT would have been too close to the burner under the HLT and the stand wasn’t deep enough for this to really save any space. In the end my stand went from being about 4′ wide on paper to about 5′ wide IRL. It’s certainly not a problem but I do have less space under the brew canopy as a result.

The kettles were purchased from kitchenfantasy.com. Basically the price worked out to be comparable to other SS pots of a slightly smaller size. I got two 18 gal pots for the price of two 15 gal and one 25 gal for the price of a 20 gal. Not a bad deal. In hindsight I wish I would have gotten two 25 gal pots for greater grist capacity in the MT. This works but I’m limited to about 1.077 OG with normal grist weight.

The plan for heating the brew is a bit complicated. 10″ Banjo Burners are mounted under the HLT and the BK. The mash is kept at temperature by the nature of large volumes contained in SS and a Heat eXchanger inside of the HLT. The HX is designed to take the pump output and run it through the HLT without mixing with the contents of the HLT. That means the wort that travels through the HX will come out at a temperature much closer to the temperature of the HLT. For example: on the debut of Sir Ballington I noted that the output of the HX was about 10 degrees below the temperature of the HLT; so the wort entering the MT was about 150 degrees when the HLT was at about 160 degrees. This dynamic can be used to maintain the temperature of the mash or raise the temperature (for step mashes or for mash out). In practice I’ve found that raising the temperature isn’t really all that practical. Perhaps with some refinement of equipment/processes this could work better, for now I’m a bit disappointed .

To put this all into perspective here’s a gallery of the construction and final build of Sir Ballington Brewstand:


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Space Shed Fermentation Chamber

I’ve always wanted to build some kind of space where I could ferment homebrew in a controlled temperature. I’ve finally made the dream a reality.

I got the taste of temperature controlled fermentation earlier this year when I had a dearth of homebrew. I used the free space in my kegerator to lager an alt that turned out wonderful. Coming from that experience my ultimate goal was to create something that I could lager in. Most importantly I wanted a space to control the temperature of multiple brews in our mild PNW climate.

With that in mind I jumped head first into this project.

The catalyst for this was an old AC unit that my folks gave me. It’s a decent size, we kept our ranch style house cool with it in the blazing hot Vancouver, WA summers. The most important feature was it’s analog controls which are able to be overridden with an external control unit. I installed the AC in the top of a two door wood shed. One half would be dedicated to beer storage and the other would be for housing the AC and other random bits.

The counter point to the AC was a heater. Initially I used a radiant oil heater. They work well in homes but for this project I found that it was prone to over heating. I swapped that out for a small heater fan which performs much better for this purpose.

Next I went to Lowes and found the thickest rigid foam insulation they had. It happened to have a foil covering which I think adds to it’s radiation insulation. I also grabbed foil tape to match the insulation. When I got home I set out to cover the inside of the shed with the insulation. I went nuts with the tape. I covered every crack on the inside and sometimes the outside and all of the places where bare wood was present in the cool space. It gave it a space age look, hence the name.

The last bit of the build came a week later when I got the temperature controller in the mail. It was the “eBay” type which meant that it was shipped from Hong Kong and came with less than fluent instructions. Installation was simple though. Basically I wired a two sockets to the controller. One socket was dedicated to cooling the other to heating. When the temperature is outside of the set range the controller activates the appropriate socket which turns on the AC or the heater.

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Westmalle Tripel Clone

This is recipe is making it’s debut on my new brew sculpture, Sir Ballington. It’s a 15 gal batch with a total grist weight of 44.35 pounds! That’s nearly an entire sack of malt! This is my second brew on Sir Ballington. The first recipe I used was a single malt and whatever hops I had in the freezer that still looked passable. I’ll be splitting this beer with my buddy Josh so I’ll have 10 gal and he’ll take 5. He will be providing the yeast which he cultured from three beers: Duvel, Pirat IPA, and Delirium Tremens. I got the recipe from the book “Clone Brews.” I’ve brewed several recipes from that source and all have served me well.

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Winging It!

So I made this recipe up on the fly. I’m not sure what I was aiming for when I created it but I’m brewing it today so we’ll see how it goes. I went for ESB style IBUs but the hops I’m using are not traditional.

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How To Write A Brew-log

I’ve heard people ask about what should be in brew-logs a few times. The answer really depends on your situation. The one commonality is the goal of a brew-log, which is to provide enough information to be able to recreate your brew, exactly. I try to record everything that I can control. When I was an extract brewer I didn’t have to write very much. When I moved to all grain I had to redesign my logs to accommodate A LOT more information.

These are the variables that I record on brew day:

  • Recipe
    • Malt Bill
    • Hopping Schedule
    • Yeast
    • Misc Ingredients
    • Adjunct Sugars
    • Spices
    • Salts
    • Finings (Irish Moss, Whirlflock)
  • Recipe Stats
    • Target O.G.
    • IBU
    • SRM
    • Target Mash Temp.
  • Procedure Variables
    • Strike Vol.
    • Strike Temp.
    • Dough-in Temp.
    • Mash Temp.
    • Mash Duration
    • Mash End Temp.
    • First Runnings Vol.
    • First Runnings Gravity
    • Sparge Vol. (into mash tun)
    • Sparge Temp (in mash tun)
    • Sparge Collection (batch sparge runnings out of mash tun)
    • Sparge Gravity
    • Pre-boil Vol.
    • Pre-boil Gravity
    • Post-boil Vol.
    • Post-boil Gravity (O.G.)

Note: The first two sections are important for all brewing setups. The last section is specific to my setup which is a three vessel batch-sparge all-grain system.

Sample Brew-log

Sample Brew-log

Beyond brew day there are other things to note:

  • Fermentation Temp.
  • Fermentation Duration
  • Additional Finings
  • Transfers (secondary, bottling, keging)
  • Final Gravity
  • Tasting Notes

I also tend to fill all the margins with miscellaneous notes like efficiencies, calculations, and deviations from my standard procedure.

When you keep detailed brew-logs you will be able to recreate recipes much easier. In addition it makes tracking or troubleshooting changes to your system much easier. Of course you won’t need to keep logs that are exactly like mine but this is a good starting place. Use the variables that you measure and record them every time for consistent quality brewing.


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Harper’s Farmhouse Ale

This is my house saison. It’s a simple recipe brewed in the American tradition of bigger is better. The bitter orange peel gives a nice citrus flavor, much better than putting an orange on the glass. The hops used are not important to the beer so any variety may be substituted. For best results do not force carbonate this beer.

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Handlebar Brown Ale

This beer is dedicated to all the fine gentlemen out there who wear a moustache.

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Surly Scotchman Ale

This recipe was initially based off a Skull Splitter clone recipe. It produces a full flavored and full bodied scotch ale with a good smoked character. The smoked flavor can be overpowering depending on the peated malt supply.

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