I’ve been slowly chipping away at my to-do list and steadily adding to the How-To Videos page for BrewzNET. There are quite a few videos showing how to use the various pipe components and main rendering components – I still have a few for static, multi-state and animated graphics to work on as well as demonstrating how to incorporate the BrewzNET screen into .NET applications of your own, but they are on the near horizon.
I’ve also switched to a new video capture / screen casting tool that is simply fantastic called ActivePresenter from Atomi Systems. While CamStudio did an OK job, the quality of the resulting video wasn’t everything I wanted and it generated ENORMOUS files (like 50-80 megs) that took quite a long while to upload to YouTube. The ActivePresenter generates files in MPEG4, AVI and many other formats in a much more compact and higher quality package – like 4-6X smaller. For anyone doing screencasting videos, I highly recommend it. The Label video is the first one I’ve used it for, and I think you’ll see the difference if you compare it versus earlier videos.
Over the past few days I’ve been working on some new videos that focus on using the Screen Designer application. Progress has been somewhat slow because I’m struggling to find a decent recording codec and finding quiet time alone in the house is rare. Why quiet time? Because I decided to swallow my pride and actually record a narration to accompany the screen capture video.
So you will notice there is now a new page link at the top of the blog called “how-to videos“. That is where I intend on arranging and hyperlinking to the BrewzNET videos on YouTube that have always been available in the Blogroll, but this puts them somewhere more visible for folks.
Videos are relatively few at this point, but I will try to knock out a few each week.
Wow. It appears I fell off the planet for quite a number of months – With my last update in September 2011 and it now being 8 months later, any rational person would wonder what happened. I could probably waste several hundred words elaborating, but it boils down to the following simple facts:
- I haven’t been brewing very much recently
- I’ve been somewhat in statis switching over to new stainless steel vessels in place of my igloo coolers (leading to bullet #1)
- I have been considering redesigning my electronics to utilize the Netduino
platform, but have been unwilling to make the time commitment to do so
- I haven’t done much programming recently on BrewzNET due to lack of motivation stemming from the previous items
- We’ve had a few home renovations projects that easily chewed through 2-4 weeks of spare time
- I picked up yet another hobby obsession (pistols & shooting) that has been chewing through my time and funding
- … oh hell, I’ve got a hundred more excuses.
In other words, life happens. I am thinking that many of these issues are behind me now, and hopefully you’ll see more updates from me in the near future. A recent post on the Brewtroller forum prompted me to go back and check out what I had done with BrewzNET and quite honestly – I’m astounded with how much cool stuff I accomplished and yet never went anywhere with. I think at some point I “burned out” and just walked away for a while… but it really is amazing.
- At risk of being immodest – I am a bad-@$$ pixel-slinger. The component rendering classes are really good and provide a solid foundation for displaying brewing type information in a graphical format.
- The rendering classes are easily imported into any .NET application through the DLL making them basically a drop-in
- I proved out the rendering classes can also be used in an ASP.NET application for web display of information / setup. (!!!)
- The Screen Designer application is reasonably easy to use and has quite a few features, making the displays very easy to assemble.
- The main BrewzNET application, while having some issues, is still 75% better than most of the things I’ve seen on the web for homebrewing setups.
So that said I’ve got a few short-term goals to start working on beginning with my homebrew setup:
- Complete the plastic cooler to stainless conversion. This pretty much just requires getting the insulation jackets for the kettles finished.
- Create some documentation for the BrewzNET foundation. I see this as some pages here on the blog with screenshots, new example applications, and maybe some new YouTube videos showing it in action.
I have longer-term goals too, including reworking my grant / pump control electronics so they are wireless (XBee) and use the Netduino, compartmentalizing my data historian as a Windows Service, and a few others.
I sincerely hope that during this next iteration / evolution I finally strike that balance between technology and simplicity I’ve been looking for in my brewing setup. The technology should be an aide and not an obstacle during batches – If you have to fiddle with the electronics for 20 minutes to get them to work the way you want instead of just going old-school, that is a big issue. If the quality of the beer suffers because the electronics aren’t doing the job as well as you could manually, that is a big issue. If the electronics actually IMPROVE the quality of the beer and IMPROVE the brewing experience – Then that is how I measure success.
See you all back here soon with more frequent updates.
I finally got some brewing momentum going this past weekend and decided to brew a 10 gallon batch of beer befitting the season – a pumpkin brown ale. I made a similar recipe a few years ago that I seem to remember as really tasty, so repeating it with some small modifications seemed the way to go.
My day started early at 7am by slicing and roasting the victi… er… pumpkins. I baked them in the oven for two hours at 350°F, then peeled them and mashed the flesh with a potato masher. I then mixed in four pounds of crushed 2 row and 3 quarts of water to form a somewhat thick minimash. I held this on the stove at around 127°F for about an hour, followed by another rest at 150°F for as long as it took me to mash and sparge the main grain bed.
One I had about 9 gallons of wort from the main mash (look at that gorgeous color! It is a deep brown with red highlights), I put a large steeping bag in the kettle and dumped in the pumpkin. I left the pumpkin mush to steep for about 30 minutes, removed the bag and let it drain out, then topped up the kettle to my desired volume.
Things went went reasonably well. I haven’t brewed much because of the heat and running out of starter wort, so I felt a little rusty… but I came close to my 10 gallon target and had a pretty fast fermentation. We will see if I truly did ok in a few weeks when this goes on tap in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving.
I’ve got another brew coming up this weekend, but in front of an all-grain class at How Do You Brew?. I believe we are making a saison, which always turns out nice. It’s a bit late in the season for a saison, but I don’t care – I’m just glad to be brewing again.
Where the heck has all the time gone? Here it is, July 1st just minutes old, and I haven’t written a blog entry for over three months! In my defense we’ve had alot going on around here, like international travel with the kids and a big home remodeling project, but still – wow.
So let’s turn back the clock a few months to March – I brewed a 10 gallon batch of Hefeweizen at How Do You Brew? at an all-grain class. The weather cooperated and it turned out to be a gorgeous day, and we had a great turnout – nearly 25 brewers in all. The class went relatively well and I managed to avoid getting a stuck mash or missing my mash-in temperature, and things were wrapped up and in the car by 5:30pm or so.
A few weeks later, we headed out for a 1 week cruise to the Carribean with our kids, and when we came back we jumped right in to a complete kitchen remodeling. I bring this up because it basically put our kitchen sink out of comission for nearly a month – all of the month of May, which meant pretty much my brewing activities ground to a halt. The kitchen sink is where I do all of my janitorial stuff like cleaning carboys, kegs, and kettles – so not having one made all that activity near impossible. Sure, some industrious homebrewers might take that as an opportunity to innovate and adapt their brewing practices to do things differently, however not I. The kitchen did turn out fantastic and was worth the wait, but I was very grateful to see the kitchen sink again.
I did manage to squeeze in one brew day during our kitchen remodeling – On May 20th, I took a day of vacation and brewed a batch of Citra Pale Ale to celebrate my birthday. A couple of friends came over to enjoy the day with me and participate in the process, and things went pretty well – I will say that cleanup was not quite easy, but I managed to get it done with the hose and a scrub brush. It was enough to convince me to hold off doing any more brewing until our kitchen was squared away again.
After we got our kitchen back, the next few weeks (first half of June) were seriously consumed trying to put everything back in the appropriate places and clean up the drywall dust that had spread throughout the entire first floor of the house. I think we mopped 3 times, dusted and vacuumed an equal number just to feel like we were back to status quo.
My next brew day occured this past Sunday, June 26th. I hauled up the big boy kettles and brewed up a 20 gallon batch of American Wheat. The brew day went pretty well except for three small glitches – first, I stuck the mash after only collecting about 4 gallons. I stirred, did another vourlauf, and didn’t have any issues after that. Second, I somehow ended up with a final gravity of 1.058 instead of 1.048, so my intended light summer quencher is going to pack a heavier punch than I had intended. Last, our groundwater temperature has risen such that I pretty much can’t cool anything below 80 degrees, so I ended up having to do the wet t-shirt water batch thing for a few hours to cool them down to pitching temperature.
10 gallons of the American Wheat will get a dose of 5 pounds worth of hand-picked and chopped cherries from Walnut Springs Farm in the secondary followed by a tertiary before kegging. The other 10 gallons I plan on leaving alone as a regular wheat beer. That should refill my empty kegs that are standing by, and I’ll have to get back to drinking again.
Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to brew again in a week or two – I’m thinking maybe a belgian-style beer as my bottle stash is running pretty low and I need to replenish. With cases and cases of empty bottles, and plenty of belgian corks – I really need to put them to good use. If I don’t go belgian, I’ve got a few other ideas swimming around in the back of my head – maybe an amber lager or munich dunkel, or maybe I’ll go the other way with something high-octane like a barleywine or imperial stout. We shall see.
… and hot liquor tank, and mash tun, and transfer pumps… yeah, basically, let’s pimp out the whole brewing system with a couple handfuls of sweet all-stainless quick disconnect fittings. Now that sounds like a birthday present worth getting – and I did (even though it’s couple months early)!
I’ve been longing for a better connectivity solution on my brew gear than hose barbs and hose clamps for quite a while. I’ve lived with it for this long mostly because the only other option I liked was the tri-clover fittings that professional breweries use, but those things were incredibly expensive and I had to be honest with myself – why use tri-clover fittings that attached with threaded fittings to the vessels? Yeah, you will be sanitary at the connection points, but those threaded fittings could still harbor all kinds of bacteria and what not. About the only way clover fittings made sense was if I were to replace all my brew gear and had 100% sanitary welded clover fittings, and while I’d be envied by all of my brewing buddies – come on. I just couldn’t justify it. Fortunately MoreBeer finally dropped the price on their stainless quick disconnect fittings, so I jumped at the chance.
I picked up 9 of the female connectors with barbs for the hoses, 11 of the male threaded parts to go on the kettles and pumps, and a bunch of replacement gaskets just in case I needed some. That should be everything I need to completely convert over all my brew gear – from my 3 quart grant all the way up to the 28 gallon monsters. No more wrestling 1/2″ hoses on and off the barb fittings, fighting with a screwdriver and hose clamp to seal it up, and all that jazz. From now on I’ll be plug-and-play all-the-way, baby. My 10 and 20 gallon systems are enjoyable to use as it is, and this will make it even more so. I can’t wait to take them out for a test drive.
Thank you wifey and children! You’re the best!
Yesterday I took advantage of the good weather and brewed 20 gallons of English brown ale. The brew day was long (8+ hours) and went pretty well, despite a couple small hiccups. I left the mash tun valve open while I was pumping the water over from the kettle, which then dumped hot water all over my shoes and the grant electronics box. The grant box is pretty well sealed so it didn’t hurt anything, and all I had to deal with was a slightly thicker mash than I would have otherwise (and a wet foot). I also ran out of propane once, but I stole the one off the grille and kept on going. The yeast was a re-pitched slurry from the Smoked Porter a couple weeks ago, and since all 20 gallons are vigorously fermenting this morning (<12 hours), I'm taking that as a good sign of health.
The original gravity is also a little higher than I intended at 1.058, but even though it doesn't fit within style guidelines I doubt anyone is going to complain. I used 36# Optic pale and Maris Otter base malts, 2# Crystal 60L, 1# Special Roast, 1# Carabrown, and 2# Pale Chocolate malts with 2oz Magnum for bittering and 5oz Sonnet Golding for flavor and aroma. This is the first time I've brewed this recipe, and I realized that breaking out the 20 gallon equipment for "experimental" batches doesn't freak me out anymore. I'd never make 20 gallons of something totally wacky without testing it on a smaller scale, but for run-of-the-mill mostly-to-style kinds of beers – sure, no problem. Besides, I'm likely giving away 10 gallons of this batch anyways.
Nearly all my fermenters are occupied right now – I've got one 6.5 gallon fermenter that's empty and a 3 gallon that I hardly ever use, but the 8 others (1 12gal, 2 6.5 gal and 5 5 gal) are all full… That should help fill most of those empty kegs I've got sitting in the basement.
I probably won't brew again until March 27th – my next All-Grain class at How Do You Brew?. I was in there on Thursday picking up 3 sacks of grain and Marlana told me the class (20 people?) is already full. Teaching all-grain is always rewarding, and hopefully the people get something useful out of the class too. If nothing else, they should realize that if this bozo can do this, so can I…