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Build a Better Spunding Valve

I’ve actually been doing a lot of brewing over the past few months, creating and refining pilot recipes for 2MBC. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for the most interesting brew days, let alone the most compelling blog material. Suffice it to say that NHC in San Diego lit a fire under my ass, and I hope to get back into some more experimental home brewing. Being able to go outside again doesn’t hurt either.

Anyway, one problem I’ve been trying to troubleshoot during this process has been the performance of my Belgian ale strains, specifically Wyeast 3522. It was turning out what I, at least, thought were some great beers in the past, but since moving to Leadville they’ve been chronically over-attenuated and phenolic, lacking in the ester profile that made me a fan of this strain in the first place. At this point, I’ve all but convinced myself that this is the result of switching from fermenting at about 12 psi to just under 10 psi, but lacking any way to control for that variable there is of course no way to be sure. Enter the spunding valve, a relatively simple device that allows one to ferment under controlled pressure.

I’m just kidding with the title, by the way; I see no major flaws in anyone else’s design. I just like callbacks. If you aren’t mechanically inclined enough to screw some fittings together, you can also stop reading here and buy one off the shelf, although it appears to have some issues, like maxing out at 15 psig and requiring a wrench to adjust the valve.

I do think that using an adapter as opposed to a length of tubing lends it a certain aesthetic appeal, but the chief advantage of this design is that all the parts are available on Amazon, which is convenient if, like me, you don’t have a big-box hardware store nearby — or if, like me, you just don’t like to leave the house. You can actually put one together for a few pennies less; I selected these particular components because they total $35.07 and therefore qualify for free shipping:

You’ll also need a ball- or pin-lock quick disconnect (grey for gas), a nylon flare washer, and some thread-sealing tape (yellow for gas), but if you’re reading this I assume you already own a keg and therefore have that stuff on hand.

Assembly instructions are left as an exercise for the reader.

Assembly instructions are left as an exercise for the reader.

Piecing the spunding valve together was the work of just a couple minutes, obviously, and I’ve spent the subsequent week playing with testing it prior to my first actual pressurized fermentation. Here’s the procedure I’ve come up with for setting the pressure:

  1. Attach the spunding valve to the liquid-out post of the (empty!) keg.
  2. Tighten the PRV to maximum pressure.
  3. Pressurize the keg via the gas-in post until the pressure gauge is reading somewhat higher than desired.
  4. Slowly back off the PRV until gas begins to flow.
  5. Once the gauge has dropped to the desired pressure, tighten the PRV until audible flow stops, then an additional one-quarter turn.

Using this procedure, after 48 hours the pressure had dropped from 10 psig to 6.5 psig — not ideal, but more than sufficient given the rate of CO2 evolution during fermentation.

Incidentally, don’t think you can cheap out and ignore the pressure gauge. These little PRVs are designed to be safety devices, after all, not precision instruments. You may be able to see in the photo below that the pressure is about 12 psig while the valve is set to a little over 30. You could elect to use a higher-range gauge, but with 30 psig being roughly what’s needed to carbonate at room temperature I don’t anticipate needing to go any higher than that.

Pressure-testing the assembled spunding valve.

Pressure-testing the assembled spunding valve.

Freaky French Fry-Day

Instead of the customary excuse for not posting for a long time, I give you a pun that would have worked out better had I gotten this up yesterday.

Just editing this image made my mouth water.

Just editing this image made my mouth water.

As co-owner of Two Mile Brewing, one of my sacred duties is to personally taste-test everything on the menu. So, over the past couple weeks I’ve been eating a lot of french fries. It’s a dirty job, etc.

It turns out that – as you can see from the ingredients – there isn’t really much to making great french fries. It just takes a little more time than making bad french fries. Not using a commercial deep fryer and several quarts of oil makes it take that much longer, but who cares? They’re worth the wait.

The perfect french fry should have a skin that’s crunchy and savory, never charred, with enough oil still hanging around to make things interesting, but not enough to get soggy once the fries cool. Inside, they should be uniformly fluffy and tender, like a well-steamed baked potato, and neither bland nor noticeably seasoned. The subtle variation in proportions of these contrasting textures and flavors is what makes each fry its own experience, something to be savored and sought out again and again.

Anyway, let’s cook some.

  • 1 pint vegetable oil (I use canola)
  • 2 lb Russet potatoes
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • seasoning blend, to taste (see below)

If we were making potato salad, skins would be our friends, but in the fryer they’ll just turn into carbon, so peel the taters and slice into batons about 1 cm on a side. In a large bowl, toss with salt and vinegar, then add just enough cold water to cover. Rest for 30 minutes, then drain and thoroughly shake off any excess water. Blot dry if you’re really paranoid about spattering.

Pour the oil into an 8 qt stock pot – it should cover the bottom to about an inch. Heat to 150°C. Working in small batches (for 2 lb, probably six batches total), add the potatoes and fry for 3 minutes or until the batons are not quite cooked through, monitoring the temperature to maintain 150°C. Remove to paper towels and allow to cool to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. The residual heat will fully cook the interior of the spuds without letting more oil penetrate, and the outsides will firm up. The smaller fries may pick up a little color, but there shouldn’t be any significant browning. We’re just setting the stage for the Maillard products that will create our perfect crust in the second frying.

Once the fries have cooled, heat the oil to 180°C and fry for another 3 minutes, or until golden-brown. Again, work in small batches to keep the oil temperature up. Remove to paper towels and shake or blot dry of any excess oil. Toss with your seasoning(s) of choice and serve.

As far as seasoning, anything other than salt is of course optional. I’m still playing around, but here’s what I’ve liked best so far:

  • 1½ tbsp coarsely ground salt
  • 1 tbsp flaked parsley
  • 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder

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