Monday, September 24, 2012

Brewing Gadget Review: Mark II Keg and Carboy Washer

Since I started brewing, most of the money I've spent on equipment has gone into making the final bottling/kegging step easier.

I started with bottling, bought a bottle jet, then a  bottle tree and a  Bottle Rinser (Sulfiter) to help sanitize the bottles. eventually I got tired of washing, sanitizing and filling 50+ bottles so I gave the Party Pig a try, which I decided took up too much room in my refrigerator, and wasn't very scalable, so I moved to kegging (I'll get more into the party pig and kegging in a future post.)

Kegs are great, you clean one 5 gallon keg, sanitize it and fill it with beer.  Connect it to CO2, wait a few days and you can start drinking beer, but that still isn't easy enough for me.

Faced with having 8 kegs to clean, I decided to give the  Mark II Keg and Carboy Washer a try.

Normally, my keg washing goes something like this.
1.) Mix a batch of cleaner
2.) Pour a gallon or so of cleaner in each keg
3.) Seal the keg and slightly pressurize
4.) Shake it up to get cleaner everywhere
5.) Let it soak for a bit
6.) Connect the gas and line out to a faucet and run cleaner through the faucet
Every few washings I also:
7.) remove all the fittings and soak them in cleaner, along with the poppets and gaskets and everything else that can be removed
8.) Rinse it all off with plain water
9.) Reconnect everything
Back to normal cleanings:
10.) Rinse out the keg
11.) Sanitize everything
12.) Transfer beer to keg
13.) Pressurize and put in kegerator

Because I want to be as efficient as possible, I tend to wait for several kegs to need to be cleaned before I clean them, which ends up taking me a couple of hours.  Granted, this means I've spent a couple of hours to get enough kegs ready for several batches of beer, as opposed to the 4+ hours I would spend with the whole bottle cleaning and filling process, but it still ends up being a lot of work.

With the Mark II Keg Cleaner, my process was a little different.
1.) Make batch of cleaning solution
2.) Remove all fittings from the kegs and soak fittings, dip tubes, etc. in some of the cleaner
3.) Fill the Mark II with a couple of gallons of the cleaner, put a keg on, plug in the Mark II, watch some tv, take the current kegs off the Mark II and put another one on every 10 minutes
4.) Spray out the inside of the keg with clean water
5.) Rinse off all the fittings, dip tubes, etc.
6.) Reattach everything to the kegs
7.) Sanitize the kegs
8.) Fill the kegs

I did still fill one keg with keg wash so I could use it to clean my beer lines and faucets, and then rinse and sanitize, and it all still took just as long, but I wasn't working the whole time, I was basically letting the Mark II do all the heavy lifting for me.

I had 8 kegs cleaned and sanitized within 2-3 hours, ready to fill with beer.

I'm not sure if I'll bother trying to use the Mark II on my carboys as I have carboy handles attached to them all, and you need to remove the handle to get the carboy to sit properly on the Mark II, and my carboy washing method is already pretty damned easy, but it worked like a dream on the kegs.

Now, make no mistake, the Mark II is definitely a luxury item.  It costs about $100, and is in no way needed to brew or keg beer, but it definitely making my least favorite part of making beer a lot more enjoyable, and have absolutely no regrets about spending the money on it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Excelsior Brewing Company

This last weekend the wife and I had the opportunity to take a nice, leisurely boat ride around Lake Minnetonka while drinking the current offerings from Excelsior Brewing.  Excelsior Brewing Co. is about two months old, so I thought I could share my thoughts on the brewery with you.

Excelsior Brewing Co. is located in Excelsior, MN, about 20 minutes west of Minneapolis.  Beth and I had signed up for a "beer cruise" of Lake Minnetonka that had shown up on Living Social.  Ben, from Excelsior Brewing, was pouring the beer for the boat ride, and we had a number of appetizers to enjoy for the trip including artichoke dip, buffalo wings, chips with salsa and guacamole and a cheese platter.  We were given four beers from Excelsior Brewing with some pairing notes for the various hors d'oeuvres.

The beers were as follows:
Big Island Blond - A decent blond ale weighing in around 5.1% ABV.  Definitely a beer that could be enjoyed by most beer drinkers, it has a lighter body with a fairly subdued hop flavor.  It seemed to be a favorite with most of the people on the boat.

XLCR Pale Ale - Ben described it as sort of a cross between Summit Extra Pale Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  While it was a decent pale ale, I wouldn't really compare it to either Summit's or Sierra Nevada's offerings.  It was a bit on the sweeter side, but had enough hops to balance it out fairly well.  When I mentioned to Ben that I wouldn't really peg it for being similar to Summit or Sierra Nevada's pale ales, he did mention that the specific batch we were drinking had Glacier hops (he might have said Galena, I don't quite remember for sure) added to it, which the pale ale doesn't normally have.  The beer comes in around 5.8% ABV, and while it's a good pale ale, it's a bit on the sweeter side for my personal tastes, and really isn't a beer that would distinguish itself in any meaningful way to me.

Bridge Jumper IPA - Excelsior's website shows this beer as being 8% ABV, but according to Ben, the batch we were drinking was more like 9% ABV.  This may have been my favorite beer of the evening, although, the IPA label might be a bit off.  The beer has a bit too much fruity character for an IPA, but it's still a very nice beer.  A bit on the sweet side again, and I wouldn't want to drink it all night long, but it would make a nice beer to finish a session off with.  I thought it went really well with the artichoke dip, and may have gone well with some of the cheeses, but most of the cheese was gone by the time I got to this beer.

Bitteschlappe Brown Ale - OK, I'm not sure if that's the actual spelling they used, and I can't find it on their website.  I basically started thinking of it as "Bitch Slap Brown Ale" after Ben mentioned the name was sort of an altered phrase for what they were calling it internally.  According to Ben, we were drinking the first keg of this beer to actually leave the brewery.  It was potentially a little light on the SRM scale to really call a brown ale (although, by the time I got a glass the sun had gone down, and we were sitting on the outside deck without a lot of light, so I could be off on that) but it did have a really nice flavor to it.  This was Beth's favorite beer of the evening.  She describes it as fairly smooth, a little roasty with just a touch of sweet.  Very little hop character, but this will make for a good fall beer.

All in all, I would say that their beer is good, but not a whole lot (in the beer offerings) to make it stand out from the other breweries opening in the area.

That being said, after we got off the boat we took a little walk over to their tap room to check it out.  Here is where Excelsior Brewing does stand out a bit.  Their tap room was absolutely jumping.  They had good music, the staff was extremely friendly, and they had several different sizes of Jenga games strewn throughout.  It was especially fun to watch people try to play the one made from 2"x4" boards after they'd had a couple of beers.

I had won a t-shirt on the boat by answering a trivia question correctly, but Ben gave me the wrong size.  I had asked for an XL, he accidentally gave me what appeared to be a medium baby doll tee, which I gave to my wife (medium would be a bit big for her, but she's hoping to shrink it.)  I mentioned it in passing to Ben as we were leaving the boat, and he promised me an XL shirt if I went to the tap room, which he did make good on, so we got two free shirts.

While I probably won't search out bars that carry their beer, I will buy it if I see it on tap, and will probably make the occasional trip to their tap room, which is where I think they really shine right now.  Their website says their tap room is open until 10pm Thursday through Saturday, but Ben said it's open "until at least 11" multiple times.  It would be nice if they could get a food truck to setup shop near the tap room, I wasn't hungry, but I could see wanting some food if you were hanging out there for a few hours.  If you're in the area, I definitely suggest you try making a trip to their tap room.