Another BeerBug, Another Review

The BeerBug folks were kind enough to send me a replacement BeerBug (with a green LED instead of blue) in view of the problems I had with my early model.

I happened to have a beer fermenting so I tried it right away, but had some issues likely related to the line holding the torpedo weight being too long so that the weight partially rested on the fermentor.  And the beer was about done fermenting.

After shortening the line, I tried in again in a carboy of water to make sure things were sorted.

3g allon carboy

Normally the BeerBug is supposed to go to sleep after not talking to the app after a while, but in this first trial it never slept: the LED didn’t go to more the more dim flashing that indicates the low-power sleep mode, and the battery didn’t last very long.  Turns out you can soft-reset it by pulling the battery for a moment (it saves your data through this), but I didn’t do that this time.

Another trial of leaving it in water (starting with a new battery) for a while worked out much better:

new tare test

There is some drifting with the mild temperature fluctuations, but if you look at the scale you will see it is only about 0.04 gravity points.  The spike in mid-morning of May 12 is when I squired a little StarSan down the snout of the BeerBug just to see what sort of impact it would have.  Not too bad.  Overall this BeerBug seems pretty stable and definitely much better than the last one I had.

I look forward to trying it in a fermentation.

BeerBug Review

UPDATE: a newer BeerBug unit seems to have resolved these problems – see Another BeerBug, Another Review.

SECOND UPDATE:  Further test results reported here

THIRD UPDATE: the currently most recent fermentation trial here.  For all my BeerBug stuff, check my posts tagged BeerBug

To follow up my first impressions, here are my experiences after using the BeerBug hydrometer to measure the gravity of a batch of beer as it brewed.  As one of the first recipients of the device, I understood that there might be some snags, and so far the people at BeerBug have been very responsive in answering questions and the like.  For example, several of the issues I had were resolved by new Windows software.  Despite this, I found that my BeerBug is not (yet) usable for its intended purpose of measuring gravity during fermentation.

The beer I’d planned was a weizen. After letting the torpedo stabilize in water for a couple of hours while I finished the brew, I put it in the wort which was intentionally under-pitched.  The first few hours showed what seemed to be a vigorous fermentation with a quick drop in gravity, but there was actually no airlock activity.

Incredible fermentation

This was my first encounter with a wicked tendency of the BeerBug to drift.  Shortly after this, the battery died: turns out the BeerBug has a built-in memory so it’s better to leave it disconnected from the Bluetooth connection to the PC which will spare the battery and also allow the on-board software to average the collected data (over a user-selected period of time, recommended as 10 minutes) while discarding any odd outlying points.  The data was also preserved while swapping the battery.

With the new battery the BeerBug seemed to work OK for a few days.  The weather was such that the air temperature in the basement varied considerably between day and night, but the beer in the 10 gallon fermenter held a relatively stable temperature.  There’s not yet an immersed thermometer and as a result, it seemed that the temperature compensation of the BeerBug over-corrected in calculating the specific gravity, as seen in the beginning of the below data with diurnal swings.

the beginning of the end

The chart immediately above begins at a time near the end of fermentation with the BeerBug SG matching closely with that determined by a conventional hydrometer.  But a downward drift began that had the SG at times below 1.000, well below the actual beer which finished at 1.011.  Then the depicted gravity started drifting upward substantially.

Around the time the above chart ends, I bottled the beer and put the BeerBug in water to see what it would read.

Then things got really weird:

drifting and oscillating

The BeerBug went from the fermenting beer into water at around the time of the big spikes in the above chart.  The upward drift continued and then some really strange oscillations began as well.  I have no idea what caused this.

Here’s a photo of the “guts” of the BeerBug after I opened it up so see if some crud from the fermentation might be causing some problems.  There was a little yeast but it didn’t seem like enough to produce the weird results.  The oscillations happened even after I cleaned up the little bit of material in this photo.

bug guts

In summary, the performance of the device has been very erratic to the extent it’s not really useful for me right now.  Hopefully this can be fixed in software, though so far the cause of the drift and oscillations remains obscure.

Krausening Sour Beer

I just took my Flanders Brown beer out of primary after 27 days. It fermented with the Wyeast 3763 Roselare blend which has a mix of yeast and bacteria to make a nice sour beer, though it requires aging for good results.

I mashed on the warm side to produce relatively more food for the Brettanomyces yeast and Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria as compared to the brewing yeast.  As a result, the specific gravity went from about 1.052 to 1.017 instead of lower as would normally be expected.  There was extra beer after filling two kegs and so I bottled the stuff directly without priming sugar, relying on the natural krausen remaining in the wort.   With a little luck the 15 bottles I have left over will be nicely carbonated and mature later this year.  The two kegs I’m leaving to mature in my basement.

BeerBug Wireless Brewing Hydrometer: First Impressions Review

Today I received my BeerBug Digital Hydrometer as an early backer of their Kickstarter.  I had some minor issues with the setup, but they were quickly resolved by email from one of the project’s principals.  The device is pretty elegant, with a weighted Teflon “torpedo” suspended in the fluid, connected to a head unit by monofilament line.  The head unit has a strain gauge (correlating the weight of the torpedo to specific gravity) and communicates readings by Bluetooth.

At this early stage there appears to only be Windows software – a screenshot below shows some of the expected drift when first using the device (readings are very steady now as I write this post) – at the time I also had it installed incorrectly which couldn’t have helped.

The initial release of the Windows software

The initial release of the Windows software

Here’s a photo showing it in a three gallon carboy, with the white torpedo in water.

showing the "torpedo" suspended in the liquid

showing the “torpedo” suspended in the liquid

Here is a close-up showing the head unit

Capturing the flashing status light on the head unit

Capturing the flashing status light on the head unit

I am very excited to try this in a batch of beer!

A transatlantic IPA

To try the BeerXML Shortcode plugin here is my “Dank Knight” recipe for a dark amber IPA with Columbus hops and English yeast (the odd mix of base grains is what I had on hand).

As advertised, the yeast isn’t very attenuative, which isn’t something I’d planned on.  We’ll see how it tastes – it’s on the dry hops now.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
10.5 gal 75 min 61.4 IBUs 9.4 SRM 1.061 1.016 5.9 %
Actuals 1.07 1.01 7.9 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
American IPA 14 B 1.056 - 1.075 1.01 - 1.018 40 - 70 6 - 15 2.2 - 2.7 5.5 - 7.5 %


Name Amount %
Pale Malt, Maris Otter 12 lbs 47.17
Pilsner (2 Row) Bel 12 lbs 47.17
Caramel/Crystal Malt - 40L 8 oz 1.97
Special B Malt 8 oz 1.97
Cara-Pils/Dextrine 7 oz 1.72


Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Columbus (Tomahawk) 3 oz 20 min Boil Pellet 14
Columbus (Tomahawk) 2 oz 10 min Boil Pellet 14
Centennial 2 oz 5 min Boil Pellet 10
Columbus (Tomahawk) 5 oz 0 min Dry Hop Pellet 14


Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
West Yorkshire (1469) Wyeast 69% 64°F - 72°F


Step Temperature Time
Infusion 151°F 60 min
Mash Out 168°F 15 min


Pitched on yeast from last batch of Innkeeper
Last runnings 6.3 Brix
Starting gravity 17.5 Brix = 1.070

Primary ferment 61F to 67F

After two weeks gravity still 1.020

Added dry hops on March 4, 2013

Stopping the Blichmann BeerGun Rubber Tip from Coming Loose

From the beginning, using my Blichmann BeerGun bottle filler was an exercise in frustration.  It is top heavy and I mistakenly trusted it in a heavy glass pitcher, but the weight of the beer and gas lines knocked it over and broke the pitcher: it really needs to rest in a plastic bucket on the counter or tabletop, which takes up a lot of space I don’t have to spare.  Also, I had some issues with foaming (not really the fault of the beer gun).

The worst part was the bottom rubber valve seat (black rubber tip) would come off at the slightest provocation.  It become a free-floating nuisance that enjoyed a tour of several bottles, pint glasses, and a growler, leaving me scrambling to disconnect the gun from the keg while beer squirted everywhere.  Not to mention the hassle, I anticipated spending a fortune on replacement rubber tips.

Looking at the way the tip moved when the filler was actuated, it sort of crept off the end of the clip it mounts on (upward in the bottom photo, taken after I bent the clip).   Because the clip didn’t position the valve seat centrally over the stainless beer tube, the tube would push more on one side than the other causing the rubber part to creep off and come loose.

bent clip in direction of red arrow

bent clip in direction of red arrow

I bent the clip slightly to better align the tip with the gun, and it managed to stay on for a record four bottles with no sign of giving up.  That’s all I needed it for at the time, so I stopped there.  Time for a beer!




Flexible Coupling to Cure Wobble on Drill-Driven Grain Mill

Since I’m a lazy brewer and make 10 gallon batches with typically over 20 pounds of grain, I use a drill to power the grain mill used to crush the grain.  Cranking the grain through by hand would take much longer.  My new 1/2″ corded drill (replacing an old 1/2″ cordless Makita with tired NiMH batteries) was powerful enough to slip off the small flat on the drive shaft, polishing it round.

I first enlarged the flat spot on the shaft using a grinding attachment on a Dremel tool, hoping to provide enough grip for the drill chuck.  In the picture below you can see the polished area of the shaft where the drill chuck had spun around and actually reduced the diameter of the shaft.

The unexpected downside of this was that the drive axis of the chuck was angled away from the axis of the drive shaft, causing a wobble that tended to loosen the chuck which would then grind away still more of the mill’s drive shaft.  This video shows the wobble

I made a brief attempt to grind down other sides of the shaft to better align the drill with the mill, but since I am not equipped for precision milling I decided to try another approach.  A flexible rubber coupling only cost about $10 (made in the USA!) and securely attached to the mill with a set screw.  At the other end I used an extra drive bit, padded out inside the coupling with some scrap sheet metal, for the drill chuck to grab.

As you can see in the video below, the coupler worked remarkably well at eliminating the wobble, up to an ridiculous RPM

Homemade vs. Commercial Candi Syrup

I recently tried making some Belgian candi sugar according to the method described in Ryan Brews in preparation for brewing a strong, dark “quadrupel” type beer in the style of Westvleteren 12.  A commercial product from Candi Syrup Inc. (CSI) is purportedly very good, but I didn’t see any magic to to prevent making it at home: some amino acids from the yeast nutrient, lime as a base to prevent scorching, and the Maillard reactions should proceed.  Anyway I thought it would be a neat experiment.

In my first attempt at making the candi syrup I kept adding water as described in Ryan’s instructions, which in retrospect I think kept the sugar from darkening despite boiling for about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  In the second attempt I let the syrup get much thicker and hotter, which resulted in a nice product.  To make it easier to handle, I added some water at the end of the boil.

The D-180 syrup from CSI arrived today so I did a quick comparison.  The CSI D-180 syrup bag (which has a nice screw top that got cut off in the photo) weighed a few tenths over 16 ounces by weight, so in view of the packaging and water content, it has less than a pound of sugar.

My syrup on the right is thinner with its added water while  the D-180 on the left is very thick.  After accounting for the thickness, I think the D-180 is still darker.  This bears out in tasting: both had definite dark fruit flavor reminiscent of figs and dates, but the D-180 had a pronounced roasted, almost burnt, flavor, that my homebrew syrup lacked.   I look forward to trying them both in the brew.

Recirculating with an Immersion Chiller

I’ve already mentioned my new homebrewing system.  One feature I made sure to include was recirculating the wort with an immersion chiller.  Like a counterflow or plate chiller, this provides for very efficient cooling.  But it retains the advantages of an immersion chiller regarding easy sanitation, by dropping the chiller into the boiling wort for a few minutes.  The key is a pump to recirculate the hot wort over the chiller.

The copper immersion chiller is connected to tap water as normal.  The recirculating flow keeps the hot wort flowing over the chiller for improved efficiency.  In this picture I’ve raised the outlet above the surface to visualize the wort flow (normally I would try and keep it submerged to reduce hot side aeration).  A pump connected to the outlet of the kettle accomplishes the recirculation.  A six inch piece of half inch stainless tubing helps direct the flow and provides weight to keep it contained in the kettle – don’t ask how I learned that lesson.

Growing barley for malting

After growing hops for a few years, I thought I would try growing some two-row Conlon barley to have a go at turning it into malt for brewing.  I probably won’t get a lot of product, but it should be a neat experience.

Not surprisingly, the seed looks very similar to malted barley grain.  I’ve planted most of this pound in a few stray spaces in the garden.   We’ll see how it goes.