First Homebrew – Chocolate Milk Stout – Day One

So! I finally did a thing. Since living in West Michigan, where the craft beer variety to resident ratio is roughly one-to-two, I’ve wanted to try my hand at making my own. Having had the chance to talk through the process and taste the results of brews made by friends, my interest only grew. The sweet combination of science and art that requires precision and patience definitely appeals to my sensibilities.

Living in the Pacific Northwest now, it seems that the law of the land is “money may not buy happiness, but it can buy hoppiness.” Given that I’m much more inclined to darker beers, particularly stouts and porters, and that IPAs are the far-and-away leader of the pack in the region, brewing my own has never made more sense.

Enter Craft A Brew’s Chocolate Milk Stout “we give you everything but a kettle and bottles” kit. I was gifted this for my birthday last month and have finally gotten a chance to put it to use. Everything came neatly packaged and labeled, and the directions have been very easy to follow so far.

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The directions were very clear and straightforward. It made my first trek into brewing much easier, especially since I didn’t have an experienced brewer to walk through making this batch with me. I will definitely speak well of Craft A Brew’s kits with respect to ease of use.

In the image slideshow, the captions will describe the general workflow so you can see the corresponding visuals for some of the steps. This kit is a partial grain setup, so the first thing was to get my gallon of water up to 155 degrees, add the grains in the including grain bag, and maintain that temperature for 15 minutes. Once that was done, I pulled and discarded the grains and grain bag.

Then, it was on to bringing the steeped result up to a boil. At first sign of boiling, I took it off heat, added the malt extract and lactose packets, and made sure they were thoroughly stirred in. Then, back to the burner.

Brought the brew up to a steady but low rolling boil and added the first round of hops. The packet and brewing instructions said to start a timer for 60 minutes, so I did. Then, the second packet of hops in this kit was for late bittering, saying that it needed to go in at 30 minutes into the 60 minute boil. So in it went.

And this is about where I found out, too late to prevent/minimize the problem in the first place: Hops smell when boiled. I wasn’t expecting brewing to be an odor-free affair by any means, so I opened the kitchen window. But it wasn’t until deep into the boil that I realized the entire house had been made smelly from the batch. So! Open those windows and run those fans in the future!

Honestly, I’m going to look into doing outdoor (or at least garage/shop) brewing in the future to get away from this issue.

As the boil was winding down, I got out a gallon pitcher, filled it with water, and used half of the packet of sanitizer solution. Since a lack of sanitizing is apparently the number one thing to ruin a potentially good beer, I took the demands quite seriously. I sanitized the stopper, the tube, my thermometer, the fermenter itself, and so on.

Once the boil was done, it was into the sink for an ice and cold water bath for the pot. To minimize contamination and such, I covered the pot and continually ran the cold water to get the temp down to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally hitting temp, I put the funnel into the jug and carefully poured in the brew. The directions, to my surprise, said to add cold water if needed to bring the batch up to the one gallon mark. Once we were there, in went the yeast and on went the stopper. To get it all mixed up, a sanitized thumb was put over the hole in the stopper and the whole thing was shaken for over a full minute.

Finally, it was basically done and ready to begin fermentation. I just pushed the tubing into the stopper as directed, then put the other end into a glass half filled with water for CO2 release. Fermentation should ramp up in a few hours from now (I did the brewing last night) and last a couple of days at high-activity. Then, it’ll be replacing the tube with a proper airlock and moving the brew to a closet for two weeks. In the middle of that, the chocolate nibs will get added.

Then it’s on to bottling and letting it carbonate and such. So, all in all, I should get to taste the results around Thanksgiving. Hooray!

Simple Farmhouse Bench

I’m new to woodworking. I’ve done oddjobs and patchwork around the property as my wife and I cut our teeth on hobby farming for ourselves. For my birthday, my wife gifted me Ryobi’s 4-tool 18-volt kit and sent me a bunch of ideas from Pinterest. Knowing that we needed more seating for a party later in the month, I chose to get started with a simple design bench.

So, I took to Google to find a good design plan. I quickly discovered Ana White’s website, and followed her directions for Beginner Farm Table Benches.

I started by gathering up lumber found around the property that I could utilize for the project. Cut everything to my needed dimensions (I made adjustments to how long it was to better fit our table), and did a bit of rough sanding since I was using old and sometimes rough lumber.

For the sanding, I bought Ryobi’s One+ random orbit sander. It’s lightweight and very manageable. I’m definitely a fan. I decided to do a rough sand before assembly due to the used nature of the wood I was working with.

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Once the pieces were all cut, I assembled the bench according to the design plan using 2.5″ interior wood screws. I drilled pilot holes more often than not. It seemed to help.

After getting everything assembled, I did another quick sand of the finished product, took it outside, and painted it. I used canned spray paint this time around. I may choose another option next time.

All in all, I’m satisfied with the result. It’s had no trouble supporting any weight we’ve thrown at it. It’s stable. It was easy to make. There are definitely some imperfections that I’ve noticed, but those imperfections have already led me to learn about better technique, including more effective use of the speed square.

I already look forward to building another bench.