Nearing 100MPG with my Chevy Volt

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Chevy Volt with 93.1 lifetime MPG

Chevy Volt with 93.1 lifetime MPG

Gas in Atlanta is nearing $4.00 per gallon. In California and up north in Canada, gas is well above that. I got my Chevy Volt in mid-December and am closing in on 100 MPG lifetime fuel economy.

The car had about 900 miles on it when I bought it. The dealer used it for test drives and took it to car shows. Most of the driving was on gas instead of electric. Since I bought the car I’ve averaged above 100MPG. It can go nearly 40 miles on a charge before the gas engine automatically kicks in.

Now that I’ve found a parking lot near the airport with a regular electric plug, I rarely use gas at all. We did go to the mountains last weekend and averaged 50MPG on the way up there. We drove on gas most of the way.

On the way back we got an extra 20 miles of charge from regenerated charge coming down the mountain. The performance on both gas and electric was surprisingly good in the mountains. Because the battery is always driving the wheels, the Volt is super torque-y and as usual drove like 3 series BMW.

My lifetime MPG is lower because of the nearly 1,000 miles of gas driving at the dealership. Hopefully soon I’ll have the lifetime MPG above 100MPG or even at the 250 maximum.

That is, until I drive across the country.

DIY – All Grain Brewing Mash Tun

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Garage beer homebrewing gear

Brewing beer in the garage

Most of the equipment you need to homebrew you can build yourself.

I bought a homebrewing kit that contained the siphoning/racking hoses, airlock, fermenting bucket and bottling bucket. I got this from my local homebrew shop, Beer Necessities. I did my first five or so brews using my wife’s 4qt stock pots, managing three batches at a time. It wasn’t easy, but it worked.

I now have a proper stainless steel 30qt brew kettle complete with thermometer and spigot that my wife got me as a birthday present. It’s really handy, but you can get away with an aluminum turkey fryer pot. I’ve seen them for under $40 at Walmart.com.

This is all you need for extract brewing (that is, using malt that you buy in powder or syrup form). For All Grain brewing, you’ll need some sort of a mash tun.

In All Grain brewing you start with nothing but cracked grain from your homebrew shop. You soak the grain at 150º for about an hour, then you add water to increase the temperature to 168º and drain (lauter). This extracts the sugar from the grain. I cycle the liquid through twice.

Don Osborn has an excellent step-by-step outline of the process including instructions on building his Mash Tun. I built mine based upon his instructions. I thought it might be useful to document the differences since it’s been a few years since he built his and we’re in different parts of the country. I won’t go into the detail he did.

I got a rectangular cooler from Target for just under $20. I’m sure I could have gotten it cheaper at Walmart, but Target was much closer. Basically, any flat-bottomed rectangular cooler with a drain that screws off will work. Look for the best thermal ratings you can get.

At Lowe’s I got a stainless steel braided toilet hose for about $10. I picked up a valve for about $5 and a four-pack of hose clamps to fit my hoses for about $3. So I built the whole contraption for less than $40.

I put it together in about an hour. Here’s what I did:

I cut the connector fittings off the toilet hose and pulled the steel braiding off the inner plastic hose. It came off pretty easy.
Complete Mash Tun system
I then unscrewed the drain from the cooler so I could work with it. I got some vegetable oil and rubbed it on one end of the inner rubber hose (of the toilet line). I also put some inside the cooler drain shaft.

I then worked the hose through the drain shaft. This easily took the most time of the entire job. It probably took me 30 minutes to get it through (possibly because I fought with it for a while before thinking of the vegetable oil!).

If your hose doesn’t match the size of the drain you’ll have to figure out how to plug the rough hole in the drain. There’s lots of straightforward ways to do it, you’ll just have to scratch your head a bit about your particular situation.

Once I got about 2 inches of the hose through the drain into the cooler, I reinstalled the drain into the cooler.

Mash tun braid fittingThen I put one end of the steel braiding over the hose nub inside the cooler and looped the other end around in a U-shape.

Next I put one of the hose clamps on. I gently twisted the far end of the braid to close it off and fitted it into the clamp next to the hose and tightened the clamp.

Mash tun braided hose inside coolerI now have a braided hose with many little openings that sugar water from the grain can go into but very little of the grain husks can get through. The grain bed itself will also work as a filter for particles.

Outside the cooler, I cut the rubber hose a few inches from the cooler to install the valve. Do whatever length you like. I left about 5 inches so it could hang down off of the counter where I planned to use it.

Mash Tun valvePut a clamp on the hose and insert the valve. Position and tighten the hose on the valve. Use the rest of the hose on the other side of the valve, using another clamp to tighten it on the valve.

My next project is a wort chiller. I’ve made do without one until now, but it’s critical for clear beer and to limit the risk for contamination.

Homebrewing resources

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Glass of Beer

I like beer

Everybody learns differently. I’m the type of guy that when I want to do something, I look it up on the web, read about it, then go try to do it myself.

That’s basically what I did with homebrewing. I’m having a blast making my own beer and, without buying in bulk, I’m drinking ultra-high quality beer for between 40 and 50 cents a bottle (excluding the cost of my time). Inexpensive, high-quality beer is a huge benefit.

Homebrewing is also appealing to me because of the wholesomeness of the ingredients and the reduced bottle and can waste. When I make an all-grain batch (my preference), I put in fresh grain, water, natural hops, natural irish moss, a bit of priming sugar, and yeast. That’s it. I know exactly what’s in my beer and I know the quality of the entire process. I have to say I suspect the giant global beer conglomerates cut some corners with their brewing and put some extra, less than natural ingredients in to save money.

So the number one resource I used to learn about homebrewing (and continue to use with every brew) is Don Osborn’s excellent homebrewing log. As you’ll find, Don has built most of the equipment he uses himself. I’ve built much of my own following Don’s examples and tweaking as necessary. Don has great step-by-step instructions with pictures. Don also has links to more advanced resources like John Palmer’s How to Brew. Palmer goes way deep into the chemistry and biology of what’s happening during brewing. I find that level of detail interesting, but in general, it’s way more than anyone needs to know to start brewing.

IMHO 95% of successful brewing is cleaning. Everything else will workout OK — even if you make major mistakes — as long as you are relentlessly sanitary.

And lastly, for those of you in Metro Atlanta, I get my brewing supplies at Beer Necessities in Roswell. They’ve been very helpful in answering questions and helping me get started.

Getting Started Homebrewing Beer

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Mr. Beer Homebrewing kit

I got started with a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit.

I had been curious about homebrewing beer for a while. I had put off trying it because I was concerned about the prices for all the gear. I didn’t want to buy a bunch of stuff and find out that I couldn’t do it.

This January, while watching the NFC Championship with my friend Peter, he gave me one of his homebrewed beers. It was fantastic. I didn’t know that he homebrewed. He told me he had just started doing it. He told me he bought a Mr. Beer Kit at Bed Bath and Beyond for about $35.

I went there the next day and got one on clearance for $14!

I had read about how to brew on a variety of web sites. It was hard to keep all the details straight without actually having done it. The Mr. Beer kit came with an instruction book. I read it cover to cover.

The next day I followed the instructions and made my first batch. I sanitized everything, I boiled the water,  the extracts and hops following the instructions. My wife and kids weren’t thrilled about the smell of hops in the kitchen, but they survived and humored me.

I put my concoction in the Mr. Beer fermenter. I accidentally almost melted it. I forgot to put some cool water in before pouring in my near boiling wort. Fortunately, I caught it in time and saved it by quickly putting in the cool water.

I put in my yeast and put it away in a cabinet above the refrigerator to let it ferment in the dark.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure it would work. It all seemed so complicated from what I had read. I probably thought there was a 25% chance I’d get it right.

The next day when I stood on a chair and peeked at the fermenter, I could see all kinds of crazy bubbling. It was working! The magic of yeast still amazes me.

After about a week the beer was ready to bottle. I hadn’t bought the kit with the plastic bottles and I didn’t have a capping tool or empty bottles to use. During the week I had looked around trying to figure out what I could use cheaply.

It turned out we had a 3L table wine bottle with a screw on cap in the recycling and another one almost empty in the kitchen. The Mr. Beer fermentor only holds 8L so this worked well. I sterilized and filled the two 3L wine bottles with beer, priming sugar and yeast. I bottled the remaining 2L in screw cap beer bottles and capped using the plastic screw caps in the kit.

After about another week, it was time to see if I had made beer or pond water. I opened one of the wine jugs, a perfect blast of carbonation escaped and the beer started to foam. I poured myself a big mug and took a sip. It was actually pretty good!

This batch had a orange, cidery taste that I came to realize was caused by the warm temperature where I fermented the beer. I fermented it above my refrigerator where it was probably 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I should have kept it someplace cooler.

I liked it anyway. I was amazed I had created BEER. It just seemed like magic.

I also discovered the bottled beer with the screwcaps weren’t tight enough, so the beer was flat. I also discovered that the beer in the wine bottles lost their carbonation a few hours after opening. I had some flat beer over the next week or so and thought about how I’d make the next batch better.

I was amazed that I had made beer.

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