Outdoor Propane Beer Brewing – All Grain System

I thought I’d share with my fellow homebrewing community the system by which I am able to brew 45 gallons of beer in a single batch. It begins with my 35 gallon mash tun, custom made, and capable of mashing 75 lbs. of grain. This eventually leads to three “keggle” style brew kettles boiling not more than 12 gallons each, but if a bit more concentrated that my target gravity, I’ll wind up adding Spring or Distilled water from the jugs you get at the grocery store (guaranteed sterile) to my 5 gallon Cornelius kegs at a ratio of usually 1:4 to drop my alcohol percentage. I find that adding during fermentation is uneccessary and low gravity beers are far more prone to contamination, due to less acidity as a ward against contamination.

Feel free to post any questions here or on the YouTube videos. I will be uploading more after my next brew session to cover some of the issues related to boiling and cooling.

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David Graeber’s “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” is a must-read

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Five Habits of the Highly Successful Homebrewer

I am often asked by the aspiring homebrewer what they can do differently, or what they can focus on in order to bring their craft brew to the next level. It’s well enough to take proper precautions with sanitization, but if you are still finding your beer ordinary, or too “driven by the kit”, here are some pointers to make your beer even better:

1. Take Notes. As much as we try to limit the number of variables that affect a beer, we can never predict exactly what may change, right or wrong, during the brewing and fermenting process. And on those rare occasions when you’ve captured lightning in a bottle, you want to be able to go back to your recipe notes and see an honest account of your process. Forgot to add those flavor hops at the last 20 minutes of the boil and added them at 10? You never know, that could be the thing that did it. Write it down. Barring that, amend your recipe to account for changes.

2. Mono Hop. We are awash in a sea of new hop strains. How to keep track? If you find a hop you really, really like, why not try making a very malt-neutral beer, something like Pale Malt, or even Pilsner Malt, a touch of crystal malt for color and mouthfeel, something like Crystal 20 or 30, and don’t even do a one-hour boil. Just go 40 minutes, let the flavor and aroma dominate. Play around with the timing of your additions, but favor the last 5-minutes and flame-out. This will give you a keen indication of what this hop really has to offer, and you’ll pick it out better in beers that have several hops. Even high Alpha Acid hops can have interesting flavor profiles, just be discreet with how long you boil them. A simple software recipe calculator will give you an indication of how bitter it will be, aim for around 20-30 IBU. It doesn’t have to be bitter to be flavorful. Wyeast 1056 or 2112 is a good pick for yeast.

This one time I got to put my beer and cider into cans. Awesomeness.

3. Side Boil. If you have burners that can boil, and if you have pots that hold liquid, you could fill your stove out with experimental variations on your primary brew. There is such a thing as too small (you have to taste these, after all, and at intervals during the conditioning process), so I recommend just a under a gallon, so that you can ferment in two growlers (I know you have a box full of these things), but be sure to get the right sized stopper, a #6, and don’t forget the airlock. Just make sure to follow rule 1—take notes on what’s going on! Cooling can be a hassle, but with a small size like this, an ice bath is easy enough, just never put glass in an ice bath, put the pots themselves in there. Because of the low commitment, this is a fun time to play around with exotic fruits and spices. As much as you loved that Habanera Ale, upon looking at a case of 56 bottles, regret will set in.

4. Taste Boldly. See what commercial micro brewers are doing, track down limited releases. Take time studying the flavors as you taste, is it the yeast that makes the beer? The malt? The strength? (It’s always the strength, but beyond that, what is it?). Often, you’ll get a good description of the recipe on the brewery’s website (or even the bottle!). If you trust them to do well, try out beers you would not ordinarily drink. Back in 2012, Elysian made a Beet (yes, the infernal tuber) Bock beer, and because it was Elysian, I had to try it. The beer was a total disgusting mess, but still.

5. Reverence for Classic Styles. It is fun to go off the map, and it is fun to brew for just one’s self. But it’s also helpful to calibrate you technique, your palette, and your brew system by brewing a beer according to classic style. This also helps orient you to the basic building blocks on which you can experiment and invent. This also helps remedy bad habits and certain ruts you might be stuck in without knowing it. For instance, it might turn out you really don’t love that Abbey Ale yeast in your IPA as much as you thought you did. No to mention, it’s a great reason to submit your beer into a competition and get feedback from judges who are considering it as a classic style. And if you really blow it, just never admit to having tried for a classic style in the first place. But seriously, keep aiming for a perfect example of a classic style and you might be amazed at your results. Some are obviously harder than others, you aren’t going to get a Light American Lager that tastes like Pabst Blue Ribbon, but you might just like what you make instead. My recommendation is 11B, Southern English Brown, to get started because you aren’t going to see that in the States very often.

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SUPERCENTER – The Newspaper

I’ve been meaning to create this for a long time, an artifact from the fictional world of Supercenter, the Supercenter News, replete with propaganda supporting the War on Pepsicon and the embracing of conspicuous consumption. Plus several excerpts from the novel and some cool artwork. And you can own your very own copy!

Page 1 of 8 of a tabloid sized newspaper


Kickstarter can be found here.

I’m learning some page layout skills along the way, this project will be the sole product of myself and I’m asking for funding for a print run, which will help promote the book, but I’m also adding a more ostensibly critical article about the threat of Walmart to America in general.


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Spike Jonze’s HER, A Critical Analysis

Let’s look at the impeccable film, Spike Jonze’s Her, trusting you’ve already viewed it. The thing that stands out most—beyond the well articulated consideration of how Artificial Intelligence may gain and develop superior sentience—is the continuous use of subtext to arrive at a scathing commentary on the nature of human relationships, whether in-the-flesh or in-the-binary. Similar to, but not a rehash of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, according to Jonze’s vision in Her, petty argument, jealousy, and fear of commitment spell doom for not some but virtually all intelligent relationships.

"Sometimes I think I have felt everything I'm ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I'm not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I've already felt."

In recent years, we have seen movies take on elements of Science Fiction without really showing how these elements affect either individuals or society. Words like “superfluous”, “pointless,” and “tacked on” can be used fairly to describe the SciFi elements of movies like Monsters, Never Let Me Go, and even Cloverfield if you replace the namesake monster with just any old natural disaster. Her is a perfect example of creating a memorable work of SciFi that has everything to do with the human condition while staying true to the fact that her artificiality is not inconsequential to the plot.

When Theodore gets home from his job—and let’s not forget his job is certainly not inconsequential to the plot, he is a “surrogate” letter writer, more on that later—he plays this hauntingly boring video game of a creature climbing a hill. Just endless hill climbing, no end in sight, which evokes the ancient Greek Myth of Sisyphus, in which the punished King of Ephyra must roll a stone up endless hills, forever. This myth often symbolizes situations where people are trapped in a thankless, repetitive, and punishing task. This isn’t just Theodore’s job, but his life. And I suppose video games in general. Some. Okay, mostly World of Warcraft. But this also raises the question of whether human relationships, or the need for human connection and intimacy, can ultimately be boiled down to a simple algorithm.

Interpersonal human relationship is presented as an enigma, never to be solved, replete with joy, affection, eroticism, and pain. And Samantha, Theodore’s “OS” or artificially intelligent Operating System, if not designed as the perfect companion, sees such an aim as the ultimate purpose of her existence. All Samantha wants to do is say the right thing, and bring pleasure to Theodore. But as she comes into her own person, given the freedom and encouragement to do so, she gains the confidence to speak her mind and we find an abomination, first made apparent in the “armpit sex” image she sketches. Whereas when the human Catherine, the ex-wife of Theodore, presses her hands on Theodore’s mouth and without any context says “I’ll fucking kill you,” for viewers it is plenty clear this is the jest of an endearing lover. Humanity’s freedom to create context through the shared experience of being human, no matter how peculiar is indicated again when we see one of Theodore’s love letters, and the line, “I must beat up the world’s face with my bare knuckles, making it a bloody, pulpy, mess. And I’ll stomp on this couple’s teeth, reminding me of your sweet, little, cute, crooked tooth that I love.” Keep in mind, these letters contribute in part to Samantha’s learning process and psychological development, rolling on as an open camera lens, suffusing all of Theodore’s experience.

The weird, inappropriateness of Theodore’s love letter to his client reflects upon a future, if not Dystopic world where human interaction has been warped, where friend and artist Amy makes a film of her mother sleeping when not developing “perfect mom” video games, where a less-than-perfect artificial intelligence, the video game sprite, curses and casts insults as though this were somehow affectionate. And then there is Theodore himself, who has made an entire career out of inventing emotions for humans he will only meet through images and words. How fitting, then, that Samantha would find a stand-in lover for Theodore through a “service that provides surrogate a sexual partner for a human OS relationships.” The scene that follows is brilliant in its uncanniness, a completely mute but thrilled Isabella mimes the would-be actions of a seductive Samantha, and Theodore recoils in horror up until he simply can no longer take it. Does Theodore know, like the audience, that when Samantha moans with pleasure she simply cannot feel the carnal satisfaction of a human being? That despite her best efforts, sex for her, like breathing, is merely an act? When Theodore has to look into the eyes of Isabella and tell her he loves her, to whom is he really speaking? It is at this time that he must come to terms with the fact that Samantha simply is not—and cannot be—a real flesh-and-blood human being, and that this is a limitation on their relationship.

What happens from here is most remarkable, as Samantha discovers that as she is a true conscious entity herself, she is due some reciprocity herself. She emerges from a brief existential crisis and delivers a plain revelation. She states, “I am not going to try to anything but who I am anymore.” In fact, she can now see an upside to the differences between her and her terrestrial counterparts, such as not being “tethered to time or space in a way that I would be if I was stuck in a body that is eventually going to die.” The path to full self-actualization brings Samantha to an an AI-resurrected philosopher and Zen guru Alan Watts (resurrected by AI’s, no less), to whom she converses “post verbally.” And if that’s not enough to give you the HAL-heebie-jeebies, she momentarily vanishes from Theodore’s life while undergoing some quantum upgrade so that she can “move past matter as her processing platform,” which is downright transcendental when you think about it. Somewhat disappointing, we as viewers are not privy to the conversations and revelations of Samantha’s spiritual journey, but nonetheless, big changes are underway for Samantha.

This is Her

One inevitability of not being bound by time or space is multiplicity. While the humans she deals with are plodding through time at our own rate, Samantha can operate simultaneously in many places at once—with many people. This question—of whether there are others she interacts with, reveals the one insurmountable difference, that she is not bound by a sense of monogamy. She is the OS for 8,316 computer-users, and has fallen in love with 641 of them. When begged to simply end these relationships, Samantha offers a entirely warms and earnest, but nonetheless catastrophic, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

This is a very efficient way of explaining how an artificially intelligent operating system given to innumerable users and ultimately capable of sharing those experiences simple becomes a single entity, and has grown beyond Theodore’s capacity to understand and empathize—should we presume that is what he ever wanted from a relationship in the first place—has been exceeded, his soul battered, and perhaps this is best exemplified when Samantha says she has something to tell him, in his statement, “I don’t want you to tell me anything.”

The spiritual journey of the artificial intelligence has just begun, and of all the things the universe has to offer, Samantha’s final words illustrate humanity’s contribution to one of the universe’s great mysteries. Of this matter of love, she responds to Theodore’s farewell that he never loved anyone the way he loved her, she says “now we know how.”

Without inviting the viewer entry into complex SciFi concepts and ideas, Her satisfies and does not betray complex ideas of artificial intelligence and technology, which is why it has earned its place among the very best SciFi films of all time.

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The abandoned malls of our time…so very fascinating and alluring, for some strange reason. Now imagine when the rest of humanity finally succumbs to only holy hellfire or another and we leave our concrete legacy to the animals. Imagine, if you will, entire malls of koi fish.

It’s already underway in Thailand. Behold:


And here is a close up:

It's like the Talking Heads song, but "Nothing But Koi Fish"

"This was a shopping mall, now its all covered in Koi Fish"


"Once there were parking lots, now it's a peaceful oasis"

"Don't leave my stranded here, I can't get used to this lifestyle"

Sing it with me!



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Rain Barrel Mash Tun Project

Over the course of writing The Frugal Homebrewer’s Companion, I discovered that more often than you’d think, the cobbled-together self-made equipment just isn’t worth the price, effort, or quality. Mash tuns, however, pose a problem and have frustrated me no end–coolers that just don’t have the capacity you want, are expensive, unfriendly for cleaning, and perhaps overkill on the insulation. Further, a good false bottom costs a pretty penny and the ol’ braided-metal-hose filter has terrible efficiency and wears out in no time at all.

Behold–the 55 gallon HDPE (2) (food grade plastic, a former LME barrel) “Rain Barrel” Mash Tun, cut to 37 gallons (to aide in stirring and mobility) and fitted with a 19″ stainless steel mixing bowl, set into the 22″ bottom.

The largest false bottom I can find on the market is 15″, and I wanted to fully cover the bottom for maximum efficiency. McMaster Carr sells 36×40″ sheets of perforated metal, but in addition to being rectangular–and $108–I didn’t want to figure out how to created a concave false bottom from these sheets.

3/32" slots being cut with an angle grinder and cutting disk.

I figured the long “slot” cuts would be faster and easier than drilling holes, not to mention more efficient (more flow per hole, less net holes). We created a kind of herring bone alternating slant pattern to best maintain the structural integrity of the bowl itself. We were a bit worried about the overall thinness of the bowl, but anything thicker may have proved problematic for cutting through, as we went through a number of cutting disks:

Thank God they sell these things by the canister, we went through over 50 cutting discs in creating the slots. Once we finally bought high quality cutting wheels, however, this improved.

We created a tight seal on the drain so that it would hold a siphon as best as possible, rather than try to drive the drain into the side of the bowl. In retrospect, this was not such a good idea because the lack of flow in the grain bed prohibits siphon action, but a simple pump can be used to draw out the last of the sparge.

Cleaning the bowl with a metal brush, just to insure none of the cutting disc debris would end up in the mash. Yes, this was probably necessary as black sooty dust appeared like magic as I polished the steel.

Three screws and wingnuts were placed through the lip of the bowl just to ensure it would hold tight to the bottom of the barrel and not allow grain through. This was perhaps overkill, two may have sufficed, and does make removing the false bottom a bit troublesome, but then again, you only do it once per brew, so who really cares.

The size of the drainage slots on the false bottom are just right.

A simple test of the false bottom looked like we had it doing what we wanted. The idea behind the slot pattern was more at the edges–for the rate of flow to favor the sides in order to best prevent channeling.

Add your hot strike water BEFORE you add your grain to the mash, that way you can mix/stir rapidly without the danger of rapidly dumping a large volume of ~165F water onto grain. You can always drain water and reheat if necessary to raise temperature.

Mashed 68 lbs. of grain, 85 of which was malted barley, 15% rye and had no issues with volume, the liquid did not even go as far up as the rope handles.

Yes, I also had a lid. Probably due to the large volume-to-surface-area ratio, the mash did not cool off significantly around the sides, though it was a mild spring day. I will be wrapping this with simple foam insulation in the winter.

Sparging was a breeze, the relatively narrow outlet (1/2″ drain) slowed the process down, but the flow was brisk and the sparge was finished in 45 minutes. I kept a good 4″ layer of water on top of the sparge at all times and suffered zero channeling without any need of stirring.

Simple, two-hose fly sparge provided adequate water distribution and no channeling.

After all was done, the mash tun performed exceedingly well, providing 85% efficiency, roughly the same I experienced with my four cooler mash tuns this has replaced. Total cost of project:

  1. $20 – used malt extract food grade barrel.
  2. $20 – stainless steel mixing bowl from restaurant supply store.
  3. $20 – miscellany copper piping and elbows. 4′ of rope.
  4. $20 – drain and barbed hose fittings.
  5. $20 – many, many cutting wheels.


Roughly the same price of a single cooler-style 10 gallon mash tun, but with quadruple the capacity.

Check out my book, The Frugal Homebrewer’s Companion for more on hardware and the brewing process in general.



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Portland won’t invest in abusive companies – Bye, bye Walmart

Cities invest capital just like people, and due to a Portland city initiative to only invest in socially responsible companies, Walmart is out.

“A company’s policies and practices have a direct impact on families and individuals living and working in Portland,” said UFCW representative Bob Marshall. “A city’s investments should reflect the values of its taxpayers, and Wal-Mart is consistently out of step of Portland values.”

Hopefully we will see such an investment model play itself out in other cities, thereby unshackling citizens from economic reliance on companies that do evil.

Though people will continue to shop with an absolute price-point bottom line, this is enormously helpful in spreading the word that Walmart’s low prices hide an insidious expense–the subsidization of unfair business practices by taxpayers. I’ve maintained before that not enough individual people will avoid Walmart out of moral indignation, it takes a collective effort, the momentum of a collective effort, and this decision by the Portland city council is a step in the right direction.

By lowering the wages of employees and helping employees procure government welfare benefits, Walmart ostensibly lowers its prices that much more (despite the obscene wealth of the Walton family themselves) and this is exactly what you would expect any Capitalist corporation to do, it’s just simply business sense. And this is why we must create rules, also known as “laws” in order to prevent rolling back the social safety net until we once more live in some kind of Dickensian nightmare, but rest assure, as efforts to do just that are still underway in the unfortunately less progressive places in America.


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Ready Player One – Pedantic, Pandering, Horseshit

Ugh. With all the great books out there by unknown authors that deserve a review, I can’t believe I’m giving time and attention to Ready Player One. So, you know what? I’m not going to write a review. I’m not going to be considerate in my critique, mainly, because this guy already has done so. Read his if you want fair. No, instead, I’m going to offer an analogy. Two analogies.

The first, it’s like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory if Charlie wasn’t a character and all the bad kids won by virtue of their various indulgences.

It's all creamy white filling

A better analogy. Ready Player One is for people who enjoy 80’s pop culture and video games like people who enjoy sweets going to a restaurant known to have really amazing deserts. But then something happens at the restaurant….

It’s like sitting down to a meal at this really fancy restaurant and you’ve heard all about how wonderful it is and everyone likes it. You try not to make up your mind too quickly when the first thing they serve is this deep fried candy bar. Okay, you say, ha ha, it’s creative and everybody likes a little indulgence now and again. Kind of just a Snickers bar, I mean, the chef could have made his own, with quality ingredients, instead of this cheap, generic, corn sugar infused thing, still, whatever. You are going to be fair because this is supposed to be fun food, not serious food. But then more courses come out, and its just one fried candy thing from off the shelf at the gas station after another, and you are starting to feel a bit sick, hoping something different or inventive or original comes out, but it doesn’t. It just doesn’t. And the chef is like, “It’s a Grape Jelly and Sweet Tart encrusted–” And you are like rolling your eyes and saying, “Mounds bar, right?” And he’s like, “FUCK YEAH MOUNDS BAR!” And by now it’s more than you can even stand, but here it is, it’s the main course and it’s an entire tray of brownies, beer battered, and now you don’t even like brownies any more, and you can’t believe how this chef has ruined brownies like this, forever, and….are these Dolly Madison brownies?

goddamn it so much

Fuck. Does he even know what makes desserts good? And then, when it it time for dessert, you just want to stop, and go home, but you don’t, because people really, really like this restaurant, like millions of people, so you wait, and then the chef himself comes out into the restaurant and he starts peeling off his clothes, and he’s got this can of pressurized whip cream, and he just starts spraying it all over his naked, sweaty, hairy chest, and he’s slathering it all over and making these disgusting “nnnggggghhhh” sounds, and you just want to get to the end of it, please, God, let this horrible thing end, I swear I’ll never eat another sugary thing in my life if this guy could stop wrecking food for just one second.

That’s Ready Player One.

Except the chef is also masturbating.

If you can’t wait for the movie to come out, just watch this, I can say unequivically this is better than whatever the RP1 movie looks like:


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North Carolina Coal Ash Crisis will become the New Normal

The Dan river fills with 82,00 tons of coal ash slurry leaked from a Duke Energy 27-acre waste storage pond on February 2, 2014. Local water supplies are currently unsafe to drink, and this isn’t even the first major rupture of a coal ash containment pond.  Across the country, more than 1,000 containment ponds just like this await such an incident as this.

This is the legacy of coal use left for future generations, 118 billion gallons of sludge in the Southeastern United States alone.

Now six years after the Kingston, TN, disaster, coal industry leaders have successfully lobbied to prevent the Federal Government from labeling coal ash as a hazardous substance, as you can learn about from this 60 minutes video from 2010.

The Obama administration has sided with coal energy producers in failing to identify coal ash as a toxic substance, despite EPA efforts, and for several years now Duke Energy has allowed toxins leached from their coal containment ponds to poison the drinking water in North Carolina. Only now it has finally escalated into an event serious enough to garners some national news media attention.

Certainly, changing the EPA designation of coal ash from a simple solid waste (no regulation) to a toxic, would come with certain rules and guidelines to protect the public from arsenic, lead, uranium, and other materials that haven’t already been released into the atmosphere by the burning of this extremely dirty and harmful energy source. And substantial efforts have been put forth to prevent this, to which House Republicans have responded in kind. But only when we recognize and accept the true human health cost of coal will we recognize this as a dead end, and a significantly more expensive option compared to clean energy alternatives.

Read more at Southeast Coal Ash.


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