Blichmann Tower of Power reviewed

homebrewing,tech — commander flatus @ 5:42 pm June 25, 2013

So, first off, this thing is expensive and I personally think there are WAAAAAY too many self-congratulatory reviews on the internet for expensive products. Like everything else, this thing has pluses and minuses. If you want the short-but-sweet version: it works, it has some nice features, several drawbacks and I think it’s too expensive to give it a sound recommendation.

Very small form factor
Stainless enclosure is nice
PID controller eliminates overshoot (but is of questionable utility)
Flame rectifier
Works for natural gas or propane setups

PID seems unstable
PC software is clunky, poor user interface, and only runs on Windows
Communications cable is overpriced
Programming your own mash steps is tricky
PID controller has insufficient documentation
Installation not straightforward

Some additional information that I’ve gathered and think is useful:

The PID they’re using appears to be the venerable Love Series 16B. At least they appear similar in appearance and they’re also using the same software! The “TOP-Link” software has the same appearance/look/feel of the “Love-Link” software from Love Controls. This is very disappointing to me because this software is a stinker, only runs on Windows and has a craptacular UI.

I’m reasonably confident that they’re also using this Fenwal 120v ignition module (or a similar product from the same manufacturer), and here’s an appropriate electrode.

I’m not saying this whole thing is a piece of cake, but I do think it’s overpriced but by how much is hard to say. The PID is about $90, the ignition module is about $200, and the electrode is between $20 and $50. So that’s at least $350 before you add wiring, a case, a solenoid valve, etc. It retails for about $575, so I guess it’s a matter of how much you like doing this stuff and how much it’s worth to you.

New Orleans municipal water analysis for homebrewers

beer,homebrewing — commander flatus @ 3:23 am June 20, 2013

I tried googling for this, to no avail. If you’re interested in the New Orleans water supply for homebrewing, here it is (links to PDF).
The commentary from the scientist that passed it along follows:

The hardness and alkalinity vary as our source water (MS River) varies. Currently, the total hardness of the tap water on the east bank is about 150 mg/L as CaCO3 and the alkalinity is about 120 mg/L as CaCO3. Typical chloramine levels uptown are 2.5 – 3.5 mg/L; typical free chlorine levels are <0.2 mg/L.

Brew Year’s Resolutions

homebrewing — commander flatus @ 2:15 am January 1, 2013
Resolutions for 2013:

Rosemary/Brett saison
Delicious IPA
Decide what to make for my 1000th gallon of homebrew
Set up a thermostat for the HLT without breaking the bank

Noisy ASCO valves

homebrewing — commander flatus @ 7:54 pm January 29, 2012
Is anyone else experiencing this? I’m a little concerned something may be wrong.

Quick review: Bazooka Screens and their ilk

homebrewing — commander flatus @ 8:28 pm January 12, 2012

Recently purchased this. Short version is that it works, but it gets clogged when using it in the boiler. I have not tried it in the mash tun.

Long version is that for beers with highly-converted malts and low/no adjuncts and (probably leaf hops) it performs well. For adjuncts, less converted malts, and pellet hops, it has to constantly be scraped off with a spoon or paddle.

Previously, I just ran from a 1/2″ NPT nipple to a 90 degree elbow in the pot and just used a stainless scrubber/sponge stuck on the nipple to strain. This is cheaper, but can still clog.

I remain unsure of the proper answer. I really don’t want to spend the time and energy and (lotsa) money to setup some kind of whirlpool. However, when the kettle gets stuck and the wort is coming out of the counter-flow slowly life sucks.

Anybody have a cheap and easy setup that works?

Recipe review: Trappist Crappist

homebrewing — commander flatus @ 9:09 pm January 2, 2012
I based this off of a reciped found here. With the exception of software screwups (I usually brew 10 gallon batches and wasn’t paying attention to the volumes I was being handed…)
Tasting notes will follow.
Batch 1 of Trappist Crappist
Date Brewed: 1 Jan 2012 Date Racked: 1 Jan 2012
Date Packaged: 1 Jan 2012 Date Ready: 1 Jan 2012
Selected Style and BJCP Guidelines

18B-Belgian Strong Ale-Belgian Dubbel

Minimum OG: 1.062 SG Maximum OG: 1.075 SG
Minimum FG: 1.008 SG Maximum FG: 1.018 SG
Minimum IBU: 15 IBU Maximum IBU: 25 IBU
Minimum Color: 10.0 SRM Maximum Color: 17.0 SRM
Recipe Overview
Target Wort Volume Before Boil: 24.30 qts Actual Wort Volume Before Boil: 24.30 qts
Target Wort Volume After Boil: 21.13 qts Actual Wort Volume After Boil: 21.13 qts
Target Volume Transferred: 21.13 qts Actual Volume Transferred: 21.13 qts
Target Volume At Pitching: 21.13 qts Actual Volume At Pitching: 21.13 qts
Target Volume Of Finished Beer: 20.08 qts Actual Volume Of Finished Beer: 20.08 qts
Target Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.064 SG Actual Pre-Boil Gravity: -No Record-
Target OG: 1.074 SG Actual OG: -No Record-
Target FG: 1.010 SG Actual FG: -No Record-
Target Apparent Attenuation:: 85.5 % Actual Apparent Attenuation: 0.0 %
Target ABV: 8.5 % Actual ABV: 0.0 %
Target ABW: 6.7 % Actual ABW: 0.0 %
Target IBU (using Tinseth): 19.0 IBU Actual IBU: 33.9 IBU
Target Color (using Morey): 37.8 SRM Actual Color: 37.8 SRM
Target Mash Efficiency: 65.0 % Actual Mash Efficiency: 0.0 %
Target Fermentation Temp: 64 degF Actual Fermentation Temp: 64 degF
Ingredient Amount % MCU When
US Pilsen Malt 12.00 lb 73.8 % 2.3 In Mash/Steeped
German CaraMunich I 2.00 lb 12.3 % 13.2 In Mash/Steeped
Sugar – Candi Sugar Dark 1.00 lb 6.2 % 52.1 In Mash/Steeped
Belgian Special B 1.00 lb 6.2 % 27.8 In Mash/Steeped
German Carafa I 0.25 lb 1.5 % 15.9 In Mash/Steeped
Variety Alpha Amount IBU Form When
Slovenian Styrian Goldings 4.5 % 1.00 oz 12.9 Bagged Pellet Hops 60 Min From End
German Hallertauer Hersbrucker 3.5 % 1.00 oz 6.1 Bagged Pellet Hops 20 Min From End
Other Ingredients
Ingredient Amount When

White Labs WLP550-Belgian Ale

Water Profile
Target Profile: No Water Profile Chosen
Mash pH: 5.2
pH Adjusted with: Unadjusted

Total Calcium (ppm): 0 Total Magnesium (ppm): 0
Total Sodium (ppm): 0 Total Sulfate (ppm): 0
Total Chloride(ppm): 0 Total Bicarbonate (ppm): 0
Mash Schedule
Mash Type: Full Mash
Schedule Name: CAP (50-66C/122-149F)

Step Type Temperature Duration
Rest at 122 degF 15
Raise by infusion to 151 degF 1
Rest at 151 degF 60
Mash Notes
Boil Notes
Fermentation Notes
Packaging Notes
Tasting Notes

Reviews: BeerAlchemy and BeerAlchemy Touch

homebrewing — commander flatus @ 8:13 pm January 2, 2012

I recently switched back to an iPhone from Androids. Why did I switch? Crappy battery life. That’s another story for another day. Around the same time, my Dell laptop (which was only a year old) crapped out, so I bought a Mac. I had previously had a Mac but sticker shock drove me away. Anyhoo – I had been using BeerSmith (which is great) but found myself wanting for some OSX brewing software love.

Beer Alchemy has been all the talk lately, so I gave it a whirl. It has the distinct advantage of having an iOS app that can sync with the desktop version (or work on its own). The price is a bit steep at $29.95. It has the usual feature set – nice builtin ingredients list, mash profiles, etc. One thing that BeerSmith has that Beer Alchemy lacks is builting equipment profiles (dead space, thermal mass, etc.).

Clearly, the sync feature is great. The iOS application is very full featured with lots of builtin calculators for refractometer calculations, ABV, etc. One thing that’s maddening about the iOS version is that adjustments of recipe parameters (IBU, OG, SRM) are all done with slider bars in the software. This makes it very difficult to get it set to the exact number you want. Also, it lacks a builtin countdown timer which I think would be an awesome addition (and one that I believe some Android brewing software has).

Also – note to others – if you’ve not used brewing software recently, make sure that the volumes that it’s feeding you for your recipe are accurate for your equipment.

I learned this the hard way yesterday when I (ahem) made 3 gallons of dubbel.

Fortunately, topping up with water still got me close to my intended OG.

Would I recommend the software? Yes. Major limitations I’ve hit are above and workable.

Review: Yeast by Zainasheff and White

homebrewing,reviews — commander flatus @ 5:05 pm May 16, 2011

I bought this book because I wanted to (maybe) start doing some yeast ranching over at my place. See, I really love this Wyeast/Rogue Pacman yeast, but it’s got very limited availability (special edition/once a year/blahblahblah). So I was hoping that this book would be a good one for the homebrewer that wants to get into yeast ranching to read.
Unfortunately, it’s not. That’s not to say it’s not a great book (it is). Jamil Zainasheff has risen to the height of homebrewing royalty and is clearly a really smart guy. Chris White is the founder of White Labs, provider of pure liquid yeast cultures for homebrewers and commercial brewers. These guys are both experts in beer and brewing and the book is full of great information for beer geeks who really want a better understanding of yeast and fermentation. I would recommend it for the advanced homebrewer or commercial brewer. However, if you want resources on simple, reproducible yeast ranching, I would recommend the following (free) links instead and save your money for some other book or yeast ranching equipment.

Here you go:

The free information in those articles is much more practical and usable than the book. You will need a pressure canner like the one of the left here. I looked around at Wal-Mart and they don’t really have anything suitable. I usually like to buy this kind of stuff at wally world because it’s so ridiculously cheap.

The book is available here (Amazon).

Hard cider

homebrewing — commander flatus @ 3:25 pm April 29, 2011

It’s about the easiest homebrewed beverage in the world to make:

5 gal unpasteurized cider from Whole Foods
2 quarts organic sour cherry juice
1 packet Lalvin V1116 yeast

This is a 6 gallon Better Bottle carboy.

Should be ready for Christmas.

Our logo…

homebrewing — commander flatus @ 1:12 am April 27, 2011
is back. It’s an alchemy sign for alcohol. Happy to find it again sitting ’round the computer.
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