Nitrogen: Ert or Inert?

20131106-OSEC-LSC-0432I just opened up the newest Zymurgy magazine and found a letter to the brew professor claiming that nitrogen is inert, and thus could not be responsible for the off-taste the professor has experienced. Here is my response I just sent:

Dear Professor,

I have to comment on the letter I read in the Sept/Oct issue of Zymurgy in which the writer claims that the off-taste you associate with nitrogen could not be from the gas because nitrogen is inert. In fact, it is not inert. Only the noble gases are inert, and nitrogen is not among that group. Granted, it may not be the nitrogen causing that flavor (never experienced that myself), but that gas is definitely ert. Or reactive. I guess that is the correct term.

Yes, nitrogen is reactive. Perhaps there is nothing in the beer or hardware that it will react with, but it certainly can react. Think of nitrous oxide, which is essentially beer you can inhale. That is made up from nitrogen and oxygen. Just setting the record straight.

Nitrogen by U.S. Department of Agriculture, on Flickr.

Homebrew Conversions: Grains and Extracts

Anytime you are trying to convert homebrew recipes to your available ingredients, you have to do a little figuring and guessing, even experimenting. This is because different ingredients have different properties and substituting one for another may not give you the exact end product you want. However, in the end it will be beer, so you will never stray too far off course if you follow the directions and get good approximations for your substitute ingredients.

One problem comes in converting grain recipes to extract. I do not like to do this is because my grain recipes list specific grains I want in the mash. If I try to use an extract, I do not know exactly what kinds of grains were used. Plus, my general philosophy is that the more an ingredient is processed, the more it loses nuance and character. The base malts do not differ significantly but you can get more variation with actual grains than you can with liquid extracts. The same goes for the difference between dry malt and liquid malt. The more you process something, the more nuance you lose. This is not a scientific statement, I know, but I believe it to be true.

Top 10 Homebrew Holiday Gifts Under $25

Gift wrapAndy and I set out to find some gifts we think most, if not all, brewers could benefit from having. Here is our list of the top ten things we think you should have to make brewing more enjoyable and successful.

1. Refractometer

A refractometer allows you to read the specific gravity of a liquid without needing to take a large sample from your fermenter, as you would if you were using a hydrometer. This device requires just a drop of solution and a light source so you can read the gradations. In addition, the automatic temperature compensation (ATC) means that you do not have to do any computation to offset the temperature.

2. The Brew Hauler

The Brew Hauler is a carboy carrier that makes a glass or plastic carboy easy and safe to carry. The webbing is tough and strong and the buckle makes the carrier easy to load and unload. I do not (yet) have one of these but my friend Jason does. It is much easier to move carboys around with these, rather than using one hand to steady the neck and the other to cradle the bottom. That is an accident waiting to happen. This device can save you some time and energy and possibly help you avoid a trip to the hospital.

Hurray to the End of Prohibition!

prohibitionEighty years ago today, prohibition – that dark scourge that ravaged America – officially became a thing of the past. Prohibition reigned for nearly fourteen years until being repealed on this date in 1933. To celebrate, here are two of my favorite quotes about it by famed writer Don Marquis:

Drinking used to be a mighty commonplace matter; but Prohibition has brought a smack of adventure into it that makes it really enjoyable.

Prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer and denies you the beer to cry into.

Beer vs. Liquor: Differences in Brewing Processes

stillI have made a number of presentations about brewing and home brewing and often get asked what the difference is between brewing beer and making moonshine, bourbon, or other spirits. In truth, beer and whiskey are made of the same basic ingredients – grain, water, and yeast. So what’s the difference if you simplify the ingredients this much? Other than the various ingredients you might use to flavor beer, the big difference is the process used to make it.