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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Homebrew Hacks to Get You Out of a Pinch

Article originally written for and posted on Brewd Magazine

I’m sure every homebrewer has had their share of frustrating moments, no matter their experience level. As much as we try to plan and prepare for everything on brew day, Murphy’s Law will eventually kick in.
However, homebrewers are nothing if not creative, so I’ve compiled this list of solutions to some common homebrew problems to help keep your brew days running as smooth as possible.

Dropped Something in the Wort?

Big pots, lots of steam, sweaty hands, slippery StarSan. You’re bound to drop something in the wort at least once during your homebrew journey. When it happens, don’t panic!
If it’s something that won’t dissolve immediately in the liquid (spoon, thermometer, measuring cup, cell phone), use a pair of tongs, a slotted spoon, or mesh strainer to fish it out. Where you are in the brewing process will also determine if you need to sanitize them first or not (though it wouldn’t hurt to do it anyway).
Worried that your beer is contaminated?
Unless whatever fell in was disgustingly filthy, you can stop worrying. If you dropped it in before or during the boil, the heat will kill off any nasties. If you dropped it after the boil, it’s likely that whatever fell in was already sanitized. If it wasn't, say a little prayer to the homebrew gods and hope for the best!

Still Using an Ice Bath to Cool Your Wort?

Hey, no judgement here, so do I! It’s not the most efficient way to cool wort, but sometimes we have to work with what we got.
I’ve learned a couple tricks to speed up the cooling process.
1. Add rock/kosher salt to the ice bath to keep the water colder for a longer period of time.
2. If you have an auto siphon and some extra tubing, use it to circulate the cold water into warmer spots by manually pumping the siphon.
3. Drain excess hot water from the vessel containing the ice bath as the ice melts.
4. Finally, use a sanitized spoon to stir the wort occasionally during the cooling process. This will help keep the temperature of the wort even.

Runaway Carboy Bung

If you have a stubborn bung that won’t stay in your carboy, there are a few things you can try.
First, make sure that the bung and the opening on the carboy are dry enough to get a good grip on each other. Wipe them with a clean, dry, paper towel after sanitizing or simply allow ample time to air dry.
If you’re having this issue during fermentation, make sure your airlock or blow-off tube isn’t clogged. It could just be that the CO2 has nowhere to escape.
If it still won’t stay, tape that mother down!
Two long strips (one on either side of the airlock/blow-off tube should do the trick). Make sure the strips are long enough to get a good grip on the sides of the carboy, or the tape will just pop off, too. The type of tape doesn’t matter, but to preserve your sanity during cleanup, use something that won’t leave behind any sticky residue.

Lost Carboy Bung

Aluminum foil is a great temporary solution.
Rip a big piece off the roll and sanitize it. Wrap one side tightly around the end of a blow-off tube, insert the tube into the carboy, then secure the remaining foil around the mouth of the carboy. It’s not the best, but it will buy you some time to track down your bung or go buy a new one.

Easy Temperature Control

An old t-shirt or towel is a cheap and easy way to keep fermentation temps down (and block out light).
Wet it down with ice cold water or pop it in the freezer for a little while, then put it on the carboy. If you’re using a towel, you’ll need clips or tape to keep it securely wrapped. As the shirt/towel warms and dries, spray it with ice water to keep it cold.
You can also tuck ice packs or heating pads in between the wrap and the carboy if the fit is snug enough.

Short on Priming Sugar?

 If you’re lacking a few ounces of priming sugar on bottling day, any other type of fermentable sugar you have in the kitchen should do the trick; regular white sugar, honey, brown sugar.
In small amounts, the flavor should not be affected.
If you’re concerned about it, though, stick to plain white sugar, or choose a substitute that will blend well with the flavor of the beer.  For example, brown sugar in a fruit beer.
Tip: Avoid using confectioners (powdered) sugar, as it may contain cornstarch.

Have any other tips or tricks you’d like to add? Share them below!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

4 Places to Buy Homebrew Equipment (Besides a LHBS)

Note: You'll notice that this is a little different than what I usually write. That's because I originally wrote it  for Brewd Magazine, a new website and homebrew resource that launched a few weeks ago. If you're a current homebrewer, or interested in starting up, check it out! There's a wealth of informational articles and recipes there, with much more to come. This is a new thing for me, so any feedback is also appreciated. Would you like to see more informational articles like this here, or are you happy with just reading my brew day adventures and ramblings? Let me know in the comments, and enjoy the article!

I’ve been brewing for a few years now, and a question I get asked pretty often by non-brewers is, “Where do you get all your supplies?” That answer used to be, “At my local homebrew supply store (LHBS).”
As of earlier this year though, the only LHBS within reasonable driving distance closed down, forcing me to get creative. Sure, I could just order stuff online, and I do just that for ingredients. For most of my equipment though, I prefer to shop in a physical store. This way I can inspect it, tinker with it, and feel the quality before I buy it. Especially if I’m going to be dropping a decent amount of cash on it.
I’m sure there are many others in my current situation, which inspired me to put together a list of places, other than a LHBS, where homebrew equipment can be found.

1. Yard Sales & Second Hand Stores

These places are a major jackpot for equipment if you’re willing to put in the time to look for it. Many people start homebrewing only to give it up, or are gifted kits that never get used. Good equipment is being sold on the cheap for no other reason than to get it out of the garage. Their loss is your gain! Sure, it may be dusty or cruddy and in need of a really good clean. However, cleaning is essential for all new equipment, regardless of where it’s bought.
If cruising around town looking for yard sales or browsing the local Salvation Army store isn’t your idea of a fun weekend, go online. Craigslist turns up a whole lot of results for homebrew supplies. Not to mention one of the many Facebook Yard Sale groups bound to have  what you’re looking for.

2. Sporting Goods Stores

When I decided to start using the Brew-In-A-Bag method, I went to the outdoor cooking section of my local sporting goods store and I did not regret it one bit!
Advertised as a setup for a crawfish/seafood boiler, this now became my wort kettle and propane burner. I needed a mash paddle, so I grabbed the giant metal paddle hanging on the shelf next to the pot. Round replacement grill grates or rectangular fish baskets are perfect for resting the grain bag over the pot while it’s draining. When I was ready to step it up and buy a mash tun, you guessed it! I went to the sporting goods store, bought a cooler and converted it into a mash tun.

3. Hardware Stores

If you’re a DIY type of person, the hardware store is probably already your favorite place to go. While you’re there, why not buy parts to build some of your equipment? A quick internet search will turn up plans to construct hop spiders, carboy/bottle washers, brew stands, wort chillers, and much more. You may also be able to find your tubing here. Just make sure whatever you use for your build is food safe and easy to clean and sanitize.

4. Grocery & General Retail Stores

These stores are good places to find the little odds and ends that might make your brew day easier. The kitchen gadget aisle is the perfect place to start. Digital scales for measuring hop additions, turkey basters for drawing samples, cheesecloth for hop additions and mason jars for storing harvested yeast. Not to mention the many odds and ends such as measuring cups, mesh strainers, thermometers and funnels. Pots and lids will also come in handy for brewing small batches or preparing your priming sugar and yeast starters.
Next up, the cleaning supply aisle. Bottle and small hose brushes, magic eraser sponges for removing those pesky labels from recycled bottles and Oxi-Clean for soaking your equipment.
Finally, go down to the storage aisle and grab some containers to keep everything you just bought organized.

This is not a comprehensive list, but I hope it’s enough to give you a jumping off point. Go shopping with brewing on your mind, and you’ll be surprised at what you can find. Granted, some of this stuff isn’t as nice as those beautiful Blichmann or SS Brewtech setups. It’s usually much cheaper, though, and the beer comes out just as good. Isn’t that what really matters?

Friday, July 28, 2017


So I stumbled across this cool little project while binging on Tasting Nitch's YouTube videos (If you don't know who she is, check her out! You won't regret it.). #FABQ stands for "Frequently Asked Beer Questions." It's a set of questions that *most* beer enthusiasts get asked at one point or another. The challenge is to make a video answering the questions, then tag 5 friends to do the same. It sounded like a fun way for all of you to get to know me a little better, so I decided to participate, but I'm bending the rules a little because videos just don't mix with my introverted self. So now that you know the game, here we go!

1. How did you get into beer geeking?/ Why beer?
When the hubby and I first moved to Galveston in 2009, we discovered a store called Spec's that carried more types of beer than I even knew existed. Hubby made it his mission to try a new beer every time we went shopping there. I was resistant to it at first, but finally came to realize that not all beer tastes like piss (thank you, Shiner!). A few years later, we moved to California, and the rest is history!

2. What's your favorite beer?
This is not an easy one to answer. It's like asking someone what their favorite book or movie is. It's like asking a mother which child is their favorite (OK, that might be a little extreme). When I get asked this question, I usually just say that I can't pick one, but I lean towards stouts and sours.

3. If you have one beer forever, what would it be?
Again, a hard one to answer, but if I absolutely had to pick one, I guess it would be Shiner Bock. Because it was the brew that opened my eyes to the beauty of craft beer, it holds a special place in my heart.

4. How can you drink so much? How do you stay healthy?
 I actually don't drink all that much? I don't drink every day, and usually don't have more than 2 beers at a time. I have gained some weight since I started this hobby, but I don't know if it's because of the beer or if it's because I've just crossed 30 and my metabolism is slowing down and hormones are weird. It's probably both, but mostly the beer. To keep it in check, I walk a lot, kayak occasionally, and have just started training to run my first 5k (pray for me!).

5. Are you an alcoholic? 
I actually wrote a small piece about this when I started my blog last year because I was getting some, ahem, "concerning looks" when I would express my passion with beer and brewing (read it here). I am definitely not an alcoholic. I'll give the answer I gave to a friend who is a recovering alcoholic and asked if I could stop drinking when I wanted: Yes, but I don't want to. I don't drink to get drunk, I drink to experience the flavors and appreciate the art of brewing. If I had to stop, I would be sad, but I wouldn't need help to do it. Besides, the great thing about being a homebrewer is that I could learn to make non-alcoholic beer! (Always looking for that silver lining)

6. What's your favorite ingredient? 
This is a question I don't think I've ever been asked, actually. I think I'd have to steal Nitch's answer and say yeast. Because without yeast, beer would not exist. We'd all just be drinking sweet wort. Yeast is the real hero here!

7. Do you brew? 
 Um, duh! Why else would I be here writing this?

8. What was your first beer?
 Ready to cringe? My 1st beer was Smirnoff Ice. Yeah, I know, it's not technically beer, it's a malt beverage, but did you think I knew that back then? No. A friend asked if I wanted a beer, I said if it tastes the way it smells, no (referencing Budweiser). He said, "You'll probably like this one." and handed me the Smirnoff.

9. Who in the beer world do you look up to?
I'd have to say Ashley Routson, aka The Beer Wench. I discovered her book, The Beer Wench's Guide To Beer, when I was working at B&N, and was immediately smitten. At a time when I was questioning whether or not I, as a woman, could actually make a name for myself in the beer industry, Ashley was the proof that I was looking for. She no longer works in beer, but I still admire her so much.

Well, that's it! I really enjoyed answering these, so I hope you enjoyed reading the responses. To see who I tagged, visit my Instagram page and check out the related post. And if you feel like participating, let me know so I can read your answers

Have a great weekend! šŸ»

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why Is the Floor Sticky?

About a month ago, I experienced my biggest homebrew disaster to date. It started like any other bottling day: I took a final gravity reading, boiled the priming sugar, prepared the bottles, and racked New Texican into the bottling bucket. I had to prop up the bucket just a little so my transfer tubing would reach the bottom, so I put it on top of a case of empty bottles, something I've done many times before. Racking went fine, and I moved the tubing from the auto-siphon in the carboy to the spigot on the bucket. I stood back up and was about to ask my husband to lift the bucket onto the counter (he's my muscle). Instead, what came out of my mouth, was "Oh no, no, nononono, shit!" as I watched a tsunami of beer flow across my dining room floor. It happened too fast for me to catch the bucket, and yet, it seemed like it fell in slow motion. I stood there in shock for a split second before both of us ran and grabbed every towel in the house to start sopping up the beer. I cried, I laughed, I bitched, I mopped (and mopped and mopped), and I bitched some more.

Losing the batch hurt, especially since I had such high hopes for it. Like every other brewing fail I've had, though, this tragedy taught me a few things:
1. I should probably buy some longer tubing. If my tubing was longer, I wouldn't have had to prop up the bucket.
2. Make sure the box I use to prop up the bucket is actually full. You see, the box I thought was full of bottles was actually missing a couple, and the empty part of the box crushed under the weight of the full bucket.
2.5. Better yet, don't use a cardboard box full of glass to support a 5-gallon bucket full of precious beer.
3. Putting a lid on the bucket would probably be wise. A lid wouldn't have stopped the bucket from falling, but it probably would have minimized the amount of beer that ended up on the floor.
4. Our kitchen/dining room needs better flooring than wood laminate, preferably something waterproof. I cringe whenever think about what it might look like underneath those floorboards.
5. I know A LOT of cuss words!

The good thing about being a brewer is that I can always make more. So worry not, my friends, I do have plans to revisit New Texican in the future. In the meantime, I have a couple other brews in the works. The moral of today's story: Mistakes=learning, learning=better beer

Love, peace, and hoppiness,

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

New Texican

Hey everybody! It's been a little crazy this week, but I finally made some time to sit down and write about the awesome brew day I had on Saturday. Why was it awesome? Well, not only was it Big Brew Day (read as: homebrewers all over the country celebrating the art of homebrewing), but it was also the very first time I got to brew at our new home! I was just going to brew a basic American Brown Ale using a kit from MoreBeer (seriously love those guys!). However, special occasions call for special beer, and so New Texican Brown Ale was born!
You're probably wondering, "WTF is a New Texican?" Well it's a word I made up to describe where I'm from. I am a native and proud New Mexican (yes, it's a state). I was born and raised in a little town called EspaƱola located in the northern part of the state. I LOVE New Mexico, but an interesting thing happened when my husband and I moved to Galveston, Texas back in 2009. I felt connected to Galveston and to Texas, like I belonged here. I even have a doppelganger here, according to several random strangers I've met through awkward conversations ("Oh hey, how are you?! I haven't seen you since high school." *confused look* "Didn't you go to Ball High?" "No . . ." "Oh sorry, haha, you look exactly like a girl I went to school with.") When we got transferred to California, I spent most of those 3 years homesick for Galveston. When we found out we were coming back, I almost cried because we were going home. "I thought New Mexico was your home?" Well, they both are. Thus the term, New Texican (seriously, if people can have dual citizenship, why can't we have dual state residency?)

I wanted this beer to reflect both of my homes, so I tweaked the recipe kit a little. To represent my New Mexican side, I chose to add some red chile powder. Now, unless you're a New Mexican or have spent some time in the state, that would seem like a weird choice. Ask any New Mexican, though, and they'll tell you we put that shit on everything! Now don't start gagging. When I say chile, I'm not talking about the mix of spices, meat, and beans. I'm talking about chile peppers grown in New Mexico, dried and ground into powder. It's pure deliciousness and there's nothing more New Mexican than our chile! (Fun fact: New Mexico's official state question is "Red or Green?", referring to whether a person wants red or green chile with their meal.) To represent my Texas side, I chose to add honey from Gulf Coast Honey Bee Farms. I needed something sweet to balance out the spice of the chile. Their hives are located in Galveston county, and what better way to capture the essence of a place than through the bees that fly all around it? A secondary reason for this choice is my husband's obsession with honey. Every time I say I'm ready to brew another batch, I get, "Can we put honey in it?" So this time it was a win-win!

Brew day went great! We chose a shady spot near the garage, so much better than getting baked in the sun next to a busy swimming pool. I bought a drinking water hose to fill my brew pot from the spigot outside, so much better than lugging a bunch of gallon size water jugs down the stairs. We only had one neighbor ask, "Whatcha cookin?", and cleanup was a breeze! I had enough space to hose down all the bigger pieces of equipment and give them a light scrub, so much better than kneeling down by the tub and scrubbing away at a giant pot. The initial sample tasted great, just a hint of spice. I'm so excited for the final result, and to debut my new logo on the labels for this brew. The logo is also a play on the New Texican theme, but that's the only hint I'm giving!

Head over to my Instagram page, @drunkenborrachobrewing, if you wanna check out pics and videos from our Big Brew Day. To my fellow homebrewers, drop me a line and let me know what kind of brewing activities you did to celebrate the weekend!


Friday, March 24, 2017

Happy Birthday to DBB!

A couple days ago (March 22nd) marked the 1st birthday of this blog, so naturally I've been reflecting on the events of the past year, and what a crazy one it's been!

Brewing and blog-wise, I wasn't as active this year as I wanted to be. My goals were to post something at least once per month and to brew just as often. I wanted to upgrade to a 3-tier all-grain system, add a few more carboys to accommodate my increase in brew days, explore barrel-aging, move from bottling to kegging, and find a job in the beer industry. Adulting got in the way of all the fun, and almost none of these things happened. I did buy one extra carboy and switched to all-grain in the form of Brew-In-A-Bag, which is better than nothing! It just so happened that the year I decided to get serious about my brewing, life threw us a few curveballs. If you know me personally, or have read my other posts, you know what those curveballs are, so I won't discuss them here.

We did manage to close out the last 12 months on a high note, though, and finally bought a house a little over a week ago! It's in a great neighborhood, has a big yard for our doggies, and plenty of space. Best of all, it has a HUGE garage with a nice shelved area that I've already claimed for my brewery space (we aren't completely moved in yet, so pics will come later).
Needless to say, I am so excited about what's to come in Drunken Borracho's 2nd year! All the goals I didn't reach this year seem much more possible now, and I'm itching to crank out our first batch at the new place. If all goes according to plan, it will be my first entry to a homebrewing competition taking place in May (freaking out just a little!).
Of course, this blog would just be a journal if it wasn't for those of you who take the time to read it, so THANK YOU for joining me on this journey. I hope you all decide to stick around for a while.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Whatcha Cookin?

I said that when we moved to Texas, I was going to make the switch to all-grain brewing and upgrade my equipment, and I did- sort of. I had a full 3-tier system in mind when I said that, but limited storage in our apartment meant that I had to do something different. After a little bit of research, I opted for the Brew-In-A-Bag Method instead. All I needed was a big ass pot, a propane burner, mesh bag, and a paddle, so off to the store I went. This is when things got interesting. Anyone from the South knows that these items, minus the mesh bag, are also needed for crawfish and/or seafood boils. Crawfish season was already over when I was buying the stuff, so the guy in line behind me at the register got curious. The conversation went something like this:
Guy: "Whatcha cookin?
Me: "Beer"
Guy: *laughs*
Me: "Seriously, I homebrew"
Guy: "Oh, you can do that?"
Me, trying to pay and get out of the store: "Yup, it's fun. Have a nice day."

Next step was to go to the homebrew supply for the mesh bag and ingredients. It was August, so I was buying stuff for the 2nd edition of our anniversary brew, 9 Year Itch. This was my 1st visit to the (only) shop in my area. They had everything I needed, and it was a good experience so far, so I decided to ask for advice. My last regular shop was a great place to ask questions and get tips and they never made me feel stupid for asking, so why should this place be any different, right? HA!
Me: "This is my first try at BIAB, any tips for me?"
Store Employee: "Yeah, don't do it." (Really?!)
Me: "I have limited space, so this is pretty much my only option for all-grain right now."
Store Employee: "That's too bad. Your efficiency is going to be really low. I would suggest getting a mash tun as soon as you can."

Needless to say, I walked out of there a little disappointed. When I got home, I turned back to the good old Internet and homebrew forums and found a ton of pointers! (Not all HBS stores are created equal, my friends, but that's not the point of the story.) Flash forward to brew day. We decided to set up by the pool, which is close to our apartment, but far enough away to satisfy the 10-foot rule for open flames at the complex. August is HOT in Galveston, so as the day went on, lots of people
passed through the pool area. Almost every time, we ended up in a conversation similar to the one I had at the store:

People:"Whatcha cookin?"
P:*cue laugh* "Really? Is that legal?"
U: "Yeah, take a look."
P:"Oh wow, that's cool!" Or "Well if you need a taste tester, I'm in Apt #___" *Wink, wink, awkward laugh.*
 (I joke about it, but I really love people's reactions, and you know I love talking about beer and brewing to anyone that asks.)

The brew session went well, and we made it to the waiting period. Now, 9 Year Itch is a big beer at an estimated 9% ABV, so I expected it to take some time. I didn't expect to learn a lesson about stuck fermentation. I check my numbers at 2 weeks and 3 weeks in before I bottle, just to make sure fermentation is over and my target has been reached. Well, after 4 weeks, my gravity readings were still the same as week 2, and way too high for the beer to be considered done. Back to the internet, and it was confirmed- fermentation was stalled, but there was a way to start it back up again! All I had to do was add more yeast, Saison yeast to be exact. This strain is a monster and will eat any fermentable sugar in the wort, even if conditions are less than perfect. 2 weeks after adding it to the carboy, my numbers were right where I needed them to be, and it was time to bottle. Well, due to the extra samples I took before I realized fermentation had stalled, as well as the extra trub  from the 2nd yeast addition, I lost about a gallon worth of beer. Did I factor this is when I was preparing the priming sugar? Of course not! In fact, I used extra because I wanted it to have the high carbonation levels characteristic of Belgian beers. Luckily, I didn't get any bottle bombs in the batch, but the majority of them were gushers. We have learned, and instructed everyone who got a bottle, to open the bottle over the sink and immediately pour it into the largest cup they could find (so much for proper glassware). I'm also lucky that none of these issues affected the taste in a bad way, there was just less of it to enjoy. The beer was still delicious, and we are down to our last few bottles.

The moral of the story: brewing comes with its share of challenges, but it's always worth it in the end. And that's why I love it.