Brewing in a Drought

December 1st, 2014 by Steve Travis

tap-waterCalifornia, as most know, is in a very serious drought. This got me thinking about how we, as brewers, utilize water and where we can conserve. Some of the obvious steps are being diligent in our water measurements so that we brew with only that which we need, but after I did a take on my last water use during brewing, I was a bit appalled at how much water I went through on a normal brew day

To be fair, I knew there was much room for improvement in my water usage. As I took stock of each time I turned on the hose or faucet, I made a quick note. I’ll break some of these down later, but here’s how it went:

  • Cleaning kettles and lines – 8 gallons
  • Cleaning fermenter – 18 gallons
  • Brewing water – 18 gallons (average)
  • Sanitizer bucket – 5 gallons
  • Clean up water – 8 gallons
  • Water for plate chiller – 40 gallons (yikes)

There’s nothing I can do about the 18 gallons (on average) that I use for brewing the beer, but I know I can cut down in other places. Lets begin. I boil 5 gallons of water and run it through the entire system – kettle to kettle, through the lines and pumps and finally, through “beer-in/out” portion of the plate chiller. This sanitizes the lines, valves and screens in a way that not much else would. So what can I do with that water once it’s done? AH! dump the 5 gallons into my fermenter, let cool for 15 min, then dump in my PBW cleaner! There, saved 5 gallons immediately. It’s a start.

Next, on to the fermenter. This needs to be as clean as I can possibly get it, so I really don’t have a lot of choice here. However, I now have a 5 gallon head start. This is a 15 gallon conical, so I’ll fill up with the 10 gallons and add my PBW. However, after I let it soak for a few hours while brewing, theres no reason I can’t use that PBW water to clean out my lines and valves. I’ll scrub the fermenter, an hour or so into the brew day, then let the deposits settle on the bottom, dump them out and use the residual water as cleaning solution for the pots and lines.  8 gallons of clean up water saved.

Sanitizer bucket is critical, but I may not need a full 5 gallons since I’m really just dropping stuff in the sanitizer while I’m not using them to keep them clean. Let’s do a 2.5 gallon sanitizer bucket, which still lets me submerge everything in the sanitizer. Also, I picked up a small spray bottle, which I filled with distilled water and Star San, so I can “spot sanitize” items as we go. In distilled water, Star San will last for months, so I only need make a bottle a few times a year. 2.5 gallons saved.

Ok, on to the real problem – the cooling water for the plate chiller. The obvious solution is to use a limited amount of very cold water and pump it through the chiller. It would be great if we could recirculate the water as well, thus creating a closed system. Here’s my first-pass, simple solution:

  • Get a small, submersible pump that can push 2 to 5 gallons/minute. This one fits the bill. The reason I like this little pump is that it has just the right amount of output (about 2.5 gallons/minute), which I can run, full open or restrict just a bit if I want to slow it down.
  • Next, cooling the water. I have a nifty little ice maker in our fridge that can crank out several pounds of ice in a few days (or I could just buy a bag for a few bucks a the store, if I’m in a rush). If I put, say 5 or 6 lbs of ice in a 5 gallon bucket, fill that with water, let drop to the 35 degree range, then start pumping it through the system, recirculating the hot water onto the top of the ice bath (the submersible pump sits at the bottom, remember), how long can I pump that through the chiller until the temperature of that water isn’t useful for cooling the wort anymore? I’m going to start with the 5 gallon bucket, even though I’m pretty sure, the temperature will rise quickly. I can always graduate up, but I’d like to see exactly how minimal this can be. Even if I have to graduate to a 10 gallon bucket to make this work, I’m still saving 30 gallons of water. The best part is, after I’m done chilling, I’ll take that water and use it to water plants, or clean some dishes, you name it!

So that’s the start. Doing some simple steps to mitigate water usage without sacrificing any quality to the brewing process and I’ve saved approximately 45 gallons of water in a few easy steps! Now, if that doesn’t sound like a lot of water, understand that I brew an average of 15 batches per year, thus creating a water savings of 675 gallons of water per year. I know at least 40 brewers just here on the Coastside alone, imagine if we all started brewing this way?

Yes, I’m Still Around!!

October 15th, 2014 by Steve Travis

c_happy-halloweenI know, I know, I’ve not been posting. Well I aim to change that! Lots of stuff has been going on and now things are nicely settled down, so I can actually talk brewing again! Having been to this year’s Homebrewer’s Conference in Michigan, hanging with the Devil’s Slide Brew Club and the near launch of my professional brewing career (stay tuned on that one), there’s lots to talk about.

I’ve been posting our Brew Club presentations here. Feel free to take a look!

Finally (for now) I’ve managed to brew up my annual PumpkinFest beer for our beloved Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival! You can also find full brewing instructions here.

Happy Brewing!!

Brew Club Update and The Homebrewer’s Conference

March 24th, 2014 by Steve Travis

1973383_276218432542436_1925275367_oIt’s already March of 2014, and I think I’ve finally caught up with 2013! Major accomplishment, to be sure. The last year saw the creation of the Devil’s Slide Brew Club, which has become a very successful and vibrant gathering of Coastside brewers! We held elections last month and while I was voted in for another term as President, I now have the good fortune to have lots more help!

If I’ve learned anything from this past year of running the club it’s this: recruit help fast! I absolutely love the DSBC, but man, was that lots of work and I didn’t even get to do probably a 1/3 of what I wanted to do! Still, a great learning experience and the club is still going strong, so at least we got that right. 🙂 If you find yourself in the area on the 2nd Wednesday of the month, drop in and say hi!


Another item I’m always looking forward to is the annual Homebrewer’s Conference! This year was a little nerve wracking due to the introduction of the lottery system for tickets. I really feel for the committee who puts this conference together every year, and I do commend them for trying something with the ticketing to get more people in who want to go. However, I fear it turned into a bit of  a PR mess, judging by the comments I’m seeing on the Facebook page. Hopefully they get it ironed out next year, but at least I’m going without any problems! This is also nice since Mrs. Brewer is originally from Grand Rapids, so we get to double up on this one as our yearly trek home.

Now to get back to regular brewing! I’ve been slow the past few months due to lots of commitments and I’m MORE than ready to fire up the brew rig again!

Happy Brewing!

What’s Been Brewing?

October 1st, 2013 by Steve Travis

It’s been a while since I’ve had a free moment to sit down write, which is actually a good thing, because a lot of what’s been keeping me busy is brew related! Between getting the Devil’s Slide Brew Club rolling, to hanging out with the guys at Hop Dogma, to finally getting to see some concerts, not to mention brewing quite a bit of beer, it’s been a full schedule! A couple of updates:


First, sadly, I want to acknowledge the passing of one of my favorite characters in the local brew scene here in the Bay Area. Greg “Griz” Miller, the giant, beautifully cantankerous, always opinionated owner of SF Brewcraft in San Francisco, passed away on Monday. Simply put, Griz was the guy who taught me to brew. Everything I knew about brewing in the first few years came from a combination or Griz and Brew Your Own magazine. Griz was always available for questions about brewing, but his real passion was obvious when you got him talking about music. I remember running into the store to grab a few things, figuring I’d be out of there in 10 minutes or less, only to hear a really interesting song (I wish I remember the tune) coming out of his satellite radio. I casually asked who it was, and after 45 minutes chatting about our favorite deep cuts, I finally had to head out to wherever I was going next. He will be missed. Check out the video below for an idea of just what kind of a outstanding character he was.

Second, on a more up note, an update on Devil’s Slide Brew Club! We’ve had several great meetings with an average attendance of around 20 brewers each month! There seems to be a core group of 10 or so folks and a great group of casual drop-ins each meeting. We’ve done several tech talks (available online) and have the beginnings of a group forum going on Facebook. I’m incredibly pleased with how fast this has come together and am really enjoying the people we’ve met so far! Stay tuned for information on a super not-so-secret project to spin up a Half Moon Bay Beer Festival! The club now meets the 2nd Wednesday of each month at Hop Dogma. Come on by if you’re in the area!

**Note: if you are not a Facebook user, we also have a groupsFaviconGoogle Group!

Finally, man, have I been brewing a lot! I’ve been averaging two brews a month for the past 4 months, with very little fermenter down time! Having the new conical fermenter has been a big boost. It’s super easy to clean and my beers are all so much clearer now that I can dump the trub and excess yeast. I plan to start collecting the yeast for reuse as well, since it’s just too easy now! One of the ideas we had for the club was to pick a different style theme for the evening, which has forced me to brew things that I normally would skip. It’s been a fun way to broaden my skill set.

So that’s the update! Feel free to email me if you have any questions on the club, or brewing in general! I’ve had some great conversations with folks over the past few years across the country, and I really enjoy hearing from others about their brewing experience!

Building Your Own Brew Sculpture

August 23rd, 2013 by Steve Travis

… Or how I built The Black Mamba!

photo (4)

I wanted to document the building of my brew sculpture so were I to do it again, or build one out with a friend, I could quickly look back over my notes to see what went right and wrong. In doing so, I thought it might be useful as a guide for others who wanted to do the same.

Click here for a PDF version of this article

I started by scouring the Internet for plans that others had done, but never found one single plan that I liked. I then decided to take the parts I liked from a few different ideas and mash them up to create the brew sculpture that I wanted. Simply put, I wanted a sculpture that:

• Was easy to move around for both storage and to be able to take to a friends house to do co-op brews
• Had quickly accessible, simple controls. I pared this down to just switches for turning the pumps on and off. After watching some friends with more “advanced” control systems, I quickly determined that, for my needs, fancy temperature controllers and float switches were complete overkill.
• Was capable of 10 gallon batch sizes
• Was a single tiered system for easier cleaning and storage

What I ended up with was a system that I have brewed very happily with for over a year now. There are a few small things that I would change, mainly to make things a bit easier on the build, which I will denote in this writing.

The bottom line: I don’t claim this to be the ultimate brew sculpture. I encourage you to take a look, steal the ideas you like and make it your own! Also feel free to email me if you have any questions!

The Parts List

Lets start with an itemized list of what you’ll need to get this project going! As much as possible, I’ve listed which parts I picked up, where I bought them and the price at the time of purchase. I encourage you to look around for deals, obviously, but do yourself a favor and don’t cheap out on critical parts like the pumps, kettles and quick disconnects. I did my best to spend money where it made sense both for durability as well as upgradability.

1. The steel for the brew stand (2” tube steel. I picked it up at a local metal shop and had them cut it to the sizes I list below. See the diagram in the next section for how these fit together) Total cost: $132

a. 60” x 4
b. 15” x 8
c. 28” x 4
d. 12” x 2

2. Gas pipe fittings. Total cost: $86 (Home Depot. ½” fittings)

a. 1.5” x 3
b. 3” x 3
c. 90 degree elbow fitting x 4
d. Tee fitting x 5
e. Plug fittings x 3
f. 24” flexible gas pipe x 2
g. Gas ball valve x 3
h. 1.5” spacers (optional. I need them due to my valves not being able to turn due to the flange on the 90o elbow fittings. See images in the gas manifold section)
i. Gas pipe tape (The yellow stuff)

3. Propane regulator. Total cost: $37

3. Propane burners x 3. Totalcost: $160

4. Winware 15 gallon kettles x 3. Total cost: $459

5. SS ½” ball valves x 5. Total cost: $48

6. Weldless thermometer. Total cost $33

7. SS pipe fittings. Total cost: $60

a. ½” male nipples x 5
b. ½” coupler x 3
c. ½” female to hose barb x 2

8. Weldless sight gague. Total cost: $60

9. ½” High temperature silicone tubing x 20ft. Total cost: $33

10. ½” Male quick disconnects x 6. Total cost: $72

11. ½” Female quick disconnects x 5. Total cost: $85

12. 30 plate wort chiller. Total cost: $93

13. High temperature pumps. Total cost: $260

14. Heavy castors x4. Total cost: $48

15. Water heater blanket (for the mash tun. Purchased at Home Depot). Total cost: $22

16. Loc Line for sparge arm. Total Cost: $44

a. ½” assembly pliers (pn. 78002)
b. ½” Circle flow kit (pn. 51837)
c. ½” NPT Connector (pn. 51805)
d. ½” hose kit (pn. 50813)

17. Krylon High Temperature Engine Paint – Flat Black x 2 cans. Total cost: $14

Grand Total for the project: $1,782


How it all goes together

I’ll use both diagrams and pictures to try and convey how I put this whole thing together.

The Brew Stand

Black Mamba

The only “tricky bit” about this image is that on the Side image, I can’t show depth. Just note that the centered brace bar (Back post) is actually in the back of the stand and the front brace (Front post) is off-centered between the hot liquor tank and mash tun (I tried to show this with the blue arrows). The reason for the offset on the front is to not interfere with the center burner valve and to create a hard point for you to be able to mount a control panel in the front of the sculpture, if desired.

photo (3)

The finished stand, ¾ view. Above is from the back, below is the front



Looking sharp!

The finished stand front view. Note the offset front brace post (there’s only supposed to be one post here, not two. My welder and I had a miscommunication)

The Gas Manifold

This is where I made a “mistake” when putting this together. I decided that I would simply weld down the tee fittings for the gas pipe directly to the bottom bar of the stand. This proved to be a bit leaky and I had to use a bunch of JB Weld to patch the leaks. To do it over again, I’d weld down 3 plugs and simply screw the tee fittings on to them! Much easier. I used the yellow flex pipe instead of building out an entire black pipe manifold. This gave me some wiggle room if any of my measurements were off.

photo (5)

Note the welded down tee fittings. Not my best idea.

burner assembly

The plug is welded to the base of the sculpture

The Pumps


The Kettles





Sparge Arm

The sparge arm assembled


The Big finish

photo (4)

I originally had a sight glass on the boil kettle, which I later took off. I also use two small surge strips to control the pumps. I’ll add neat switches one day, but the strips work for now!

I had a ton of fun building this and even more brewing on it! I hope you find it a useful guide! Please email me or comment if you find any glaring omissions on either the how-to, or the parts list. Happy Brewing!

Father’s Day and the Homebrew Kit – An Alternative Take – Steven Travis’s Blog – Half Moon Bay, CA Patch

June 10th, 2013 by Steve Travis

A cross-post from an bit I wrote for the Half Moon Bay Patch:

manwithbeer_smWith Father’s Day upon us, all the home brewing supply shops are making the annual push for a big Father’s Day “Sale-a-Bration” with kits and widgets and things that light up – really, everything dad needs. I find myself of two minds on this – first, I think it’s great that folks may try the art of home brewing, love it, and become avid brewers. While that’s always a good thing, having these types of things on Father’s Day promotes the idea that brewing is a “guy” thing, and that’s unfortunate.

In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and up through the Middle Ages, nearly all the brewers were women! Men weren’t trusted with this stuff! They’d all go off and do something insane like, oh I don’t know, put a pound of hops in a light ale! Honestly! “Go take down a mastodon, sweetie. The girls will have a proper brew ready when you get back.”

And life was good.

But you ladies let it slip. Look how easy it is to brew! You probably thought you were doing us a favor, or making your own lives easier, but now look what happened! Men have made this great tradition all about the gear, and the controls (which light up), and what grain efficiencies you’re pulling off your mash tun.

“Oh honey, you girls were doing this ALL WRONG! Dale and I figured it all out! See first, you need to isolate the melanoidins in the malt…”

See? We “fixed” it. You know that’s what we do when we get ahold of something. We make it “better”. Well ladies, might I humbly suggest that you use the opportunity on this Father’s Day to take it back! Sure, get dad that $250 brew kit. Then while he sits there staring at it, wondering how to make it light up, you quietly read the simple instructions and brew a killer batch of beer. It’s in your DNA! Give it a shot. Take back an art form that is rightfully yours!

Happy Brewing!

For more info on women in brewing, check out Pink Boots Society, and brewers of all stripes should come check out the Devil’s Slide Brew Club in El Granada! We meet the 2nd thursday of each month.

Welcome all to the Devil’s Slide Brew Club!

March 19th, 2013 by Steve Travis

We have a winner! Our club is no longer yet-to-be-named! Long live the Devil’s Slide Brew Club! Next meeting will be April 11th at Hop Dogma Brewing Company (our not-so-secret club house)!

Homebrew Club Meeting Agenda for 3/14/2013

March 12th, 2013 by Steve Travis

First club meeting!

Looking forward to the meeting on Thursday! Here is the official agenda for those interested!

  • Welcome and social time
  • Club name discussion – Think of some good ones!*
  • Suggestions for events outside the regular meeting
  • Tech Talk – Building Your Homebrewery on Any Budget
  • More social time!
  • Goodnight, everybody!

* We’ll be handing out slips of paper for anyone who wants to suggest a name, then I’ll have a survey up on our Facebook page (or perhaps Survey Monkey) and see which name wins!

See you Thursday!