Today was a really windy day. And it was probably not a good day to do an outside brew. In order to stop leaves and other unmentionables from falling into my sweet tea, I put the lid on top of the kettle. So, of course I had a foamy boil over. Sigh. Fortunately, Five Star PBW was up to the task of cleaning everything even if it took twice as long as usual…
I switched from using a ball valve to a butterfly value on my conical due to problems inherit in the ball valve design. It was impossible to get a leak-proof seal with the o-ring. Fortunately, Stout Tanks gladly replaced my ball valves and I paid the difference in price.
It was easier (in theory) to disassemble the ball valve. All you needed was two big wrenches on either end and twist them open. But, in practice, the shoddy build quality meant I had to use two slightly different wrench sizes. While I worked around this problem, I could not get around the o-ring problem.
The butterfly value is a little harder to break down and put together. First, you have to use a tiny allen wrench (number 3 metric size) to separate the handle. There is a hole below middle one of the three stops which reveals the screw. When it is unscrewed, you can pull off the handle and cylindrical guard.
Next, you have to unscrew the four bolts. I use a number 5 metric size allen wrench on the bolt and hold the nut underneath it with a 10mm wrench. Once all four are off, you can remove the large rubber o-ring.
Then you can squeeze the two sides of the o-ring and remove the butterfly valve and also the two plastic guards? on both ends.
I clean everything well and put it back together in reverse order. I also use some vasoline to lubricate the butterfly valve. (I don’t know if that is official though).
It takes longer to clean, but it is a really solid and sturdy product!
I got a vial of Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois from Ryan (which is sold by White Labs). They describe it as: “This Belgian strain, used traditionally for 100% Brettanomyces fermentations, produces a slightly tart beer with delicate characteristics of mango and pineapple. Can also be used to produce effervescence when bottle-conditioning.” And, supposedly, White Labs grew it from Geuze Cuvée Joost En Jessie Blauw Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen.
I poured it into a one gallon Central Market Organics Apple Juice bottle, put an airlock on top, and let it motor boat away.
For my first use with kombucha, I replaced the cap on the bottle, shook it up really well, and then poured half of it (1/2 gallon) into my version 14.0 kombucha. The bottling gravity wass 1.013 @ 77.26 = 1.015, and the pH was 3.5 @ 77.26. I consider this to still be too high in gravity as the yeast will certainly bring it down to 1.02 or so. And that much CO2 makes for quite the bottle rocket when warm.
For the second use with kombucha, I poured another half gallon into the conical after the kombucha got to a desired tartness level (the gravity was 1.012 @ 72.26F = 1.014, and the pH was 3.4 @ 72.26). I will let it motor boat in secondary fermentation until it quiets down. I will then add 64 ounces of R. W. Knudsen Organic Just Tart Cherry juice. According to the label, there are four servings of 24 grams of sugar. Which should come out to 96 grams of bottling sugar.
I have now started bottling with 750ml glass bottles. Given how many Jester King bottles I have bought over the years, I have quite a supply of them. And removing the labels is somewhat of an easy task. And it goes quickly if you do it with a friend.
So I bought a Red Baron bottle capper, 29mm bottle caps, and a 29mm capping bell for Agata cappers. The capper actually supports two different sizes in its crimping mechanism. So you can slide out the metal plates and then rotate them 180 degrees for the 29mm size.
I have now changed how I brew kombucha. I used to use an 8 quart enameled Le Creuset stockpot on my gas stove. To cool it down from boiling to 80F, I would fill my kitchen sink with ice water and let it sit. This takes a while and all of the ice in my freezer.
I looked at Academy for outdoor propane burners. But they were incredibly flimsy. Sigh. People buy such cheap crap. Fortunately, Austin Homebrew had a Bayou Classic Outdoor Propane Burner which was pretty solidly made from cast iron.
The next step was to use my 36 quart Coleman ice chest. I can just barely fit two 16 pound bags of ice for $3.00 in my corner Ice House America. I then bought a pool pump from Home Depot and a hose to connect to a BrewVint Wort Chiller (30 ft) on loan from Ryan (NOTE: I don’t think this is an exact match).
The next step was to buy a large kettle. I went with 40 quart (10 gallon) Stainless Steel Stock Pot Steamer Brew Kettle w/lid BA76-40 from eBay for $76. I now buy 5 gallons of reverse osmosis water from Glacier Water Dispenser next to my Super HEB.
So, kombucha seems to be hot right now. There are a lot of new brands out there. So I decided to buy a bunch and have a taste test.
Kosmic Kombucha / Stay Home Brew – A little sweet. Cannot taste the kombucha at all. 7g sugar/serving. 100 Calories/18 oz.
ThéBÜ Kombucha / Melon – A little sweet. Cannot taste the kombucha at all. 56 Calories/16oz.
Reed’s Culture Club Kombucha / Hibiscus Ginger Grapfruit – A little more sour with some sweetness. 50 Calories/13.5 oz.
holykombucha / Blood Orange. Kombucha taste was muted. 60 Calories/16oz.
Buddha’s Brew Kombuca / Tart Cherry Melon – Much more tart. You can taste the cherry and the melon. 112 Calories/16oz.
My tastes lean towards sour and away from sweet. So Buddha’s Brew is still my favorite.
While I have been trying to convince Ryan to buy a conical fermenter for some time now, I bought one before he did. It is kinda of a crazy jump up in equipment for me. But I need a new toy. The thing about kombucha is that the gelatinous scoby forms at the top of the liquid and covers the entire surface area. So if the vessel then constricts at the top, it is rather difficult to man handle around the scoby. Such as when you drain the kombucha, or when you remove the scoby.
Blichmann sells a 7 gallon conical fermenter for $600. One weird thing is that the price does not scale up linearly as the volume increases. A 14 gallon fermenter is $640. I went for a cheaper version made by Stout Tanks (the 7.3 Gallon Conical Fermenter with wheels and thermometer for $479).
The build quality is quite nice except for a couple of issues. The first major one is that the center of gravity is not in the middle of the three wheels. One of the three sides is off balance, where if you push it, the conical will tip over. This is not fun when it is full of liquid. The other problem is with the default sanitary ball valves. These are cheaply made and have slightly inconsistent dimensions of the wrench fittings. Also, the o-ring that they use have a major flaw in them. When you tighten the valve back up, the o-ring will squeeze out of the gap rather than stay against the side. This is incredibly frustrating during a brew day after I have broken down everything to clean it and then discover that it cannot hold liquid. Fortunately, Stout Tanks took them back and gave me the better butterfly valves.