Saturday, April 25, 2015

Handbrewed Soaps Brew Tips of the Day! April 2015

Did you miss our Handbrewed Tips of the Day?  Well catch up on them here in one post!

Brew Tip #1:  Boiling an Easter Egg:

Brew Tip #2:  Brewing a Great Cup of Coffee!

Brew Tip #3: Using Tea as a Seasoning

Friday, April 24, 2015

Meet the Team behind Handbrewed Soaps

Handbrewed Soaps is a family operation! As we have expanded, we've enlisted more family members and friends to help! As they say, to raise a business, it takes a village!

Beer Brewmaster: Eric Swihart
The talent behind the homebrewed beer.  When he's not brewing, you can find him teaching middle school band and orchestra here in Oakland!   Eric enjoys the outdoors, playing with his kids, and playing in his band Fast and Vengfully. He is also the mastermind behind many of our slogans, video ideas, and other Handbrewed Soaps shenanigans!

Soap Brewmaster: Alyson Swihart
That's me!  I'm the soap maker!! When I'm not making soap or any soap related activity, you can find me hiking, hangin' with the kids, or gardening.

Assistant Brewer: Fred Noel
That's my dad!  He's the brains behind the expansion.  He's always into making things bigger.  For example: he's the dad that when you say you want a dog as a child, he thinks Mastiff or Great Dane when you ment Yorkie. Or as a child you want to decorate the outside of the house for Christmas, he's the Dad that makes a bigger than life size wooden Santa Claus to stand on your lawn, when you were thinking maybe just some lights on the porch? So, he's built bigger soap molds, a soap studio, and now helps make soap as I get bigger in my pregnancy. 

Soap wrapper extraordinaire/ Daytime child overseer: Donna Noel 
That's my Mom!  Without her, soap production would slow WAY down! She watches the kids when soap needs to be made! And she's the person that wraps the majority of the soap! She is such a master of soap wrapping, that she goes into a zen like state reciting the mantra, "Peel, Wrap, Stick."

Soap testers: My kids
They are the ones who are first to wash their hands with a newly made batch of soap! They are also marketing managers as I often find video on my ipad that they have made talking about Handbrewed Soaps: See recent video.

Promotion Guru's: Friends, Family, You!
These are the people that have answered the call when we needed help with running a booth at a festival, needing homebrew because we have run out, mentioned us on social media, walked into stores and have talked to retail owners about our products both here in California and out of state.  Most importantly, it's the users of Handbrewed Soaps that enjoy and give feedback to what we do!! Thanks for all you do!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

DIy Growing Hops Part Two: Preparing the Soil

There are many things to factor in when you are planting your hops including placement, soil, and watering routine. Again, I have left this to the brew master in our family to outline this for you! 

Choosing the location:
South-facing, with 6-8 hours of sunlight per day

What kind of soil and nutrients do hops need?
In his book, “Homegrown Hops,” author and fellow hops-grower David Beach shared his discovery about soil amendments in the famous Willamette Valley hops growing region in Oregon.   This was the ”correct” fertilizer blend used on one particular hop farm:  (blends and supplements will vary, depending on the original soil conditions)
(amounts are in pounds per acre)
Step One:  Dig a hole
Nitrogen - 90
Phosphorous – 200  (organic source:  wood ash)
Potassium – 190  (organic source:  rock phosphate)
sulfur - 50
boron – 3

Based on this information, and various other sources I read, here the custom soil blend I created, using soil mizes from American Soil and Stone in Richmond, CA:
  • ·      3 gallons Ultra-Potting mix (Coconut Coir, Sand, Red Lava, Dolomite Lime, Nitroform 38-0-0, Iron Sulfate, Triple Superphosphate, Calcium Nitrate)
  • ·      3 gallons Ultra-Bedding soil blend  (Coconut Coir, Greenwaste Compost, Rice Hulls, Chicken Manure, Grape Compost, Red Lava, Sandy Loam)
  • ·      2 gallons veggie mix (Sandy Loam, Greenwaste Compost, Rice Hulls, Chicken Manure, Grape Compost, Fir Bark, Cocoa Bean Hulls)
  • ·      1 handful of wood ash (pot ash)
  • ·      1 pinch (1/2 teaspoon) borax
  • ·      straw mulch – a 2-3 inch layer on top, surrounded by ¾” fir bark mulch, to minimize weeds and retain moisture.
Step Two:  Fill hole with soil
The ultra potting mix (nitroform) and veggie mix (chicken manure) are both very high in nitrogen, which hops don’t really need a lot of.  What hops really need are the OTHER 2 elements in the standard N-P-K formula for fertilizers:  phosphorous and potassium.  Two other lesser-known nutrients that the hops also need:  molybdenum, and boron.   In order to get these nutrients in the soil, I added a handful of wood ash to the top of each hop hill, and a pinch (1/2 teaspoon) of borax.  Although, I’m slightly concerned that the Potting soil blend has a mixture of fertilizers in it, and the borax I added to the soil might not even be accessible to the hops.  I won’t be able to tell until the plant starts to grow, and I see what potential issues I have by looking at the leaves and hop cones, and can troubleshoot from there.  But, hopefully, I have created a happy place for my hops plants to start growing and start providing me with free hops for my homebrew for the next 5-10 years!!!

Step Three: Add Ash and Straw
One thing is for sure:  this blend drains VERY well!!!  After creating the “hills” for each rhizome, I poured water from a garden hose directly into each hop hill for 2 solid minutes, and the water disappeared immediately, which is perfect, because the soil need to constantly be damp, but not saturated.  As with most other plants, standing water is not good.  So, at least for drainage and water retention, this blend is outstanding!

Did you know?
In doing my research about growing hops, I discovered how important boron is, not only for growing hops plants but for the human body as well.  Some people swear by the use of boron as a dietary supplement to counteract the effects of arthritis.  Apparently, it either works way too well or is actually toxic, because the major pharmaceutical companies deny that it does anything and won’t allow clinical trials to find out if it actually does what people claim it does.  Either way, boron is an important nutrient for hops AND the human body, and it doesn’t get absorbed effectively in either situation when artifical/synthetic fertilizers are present, which emphasizes the importance of using and consuming organic food and soils that don’t have synthetic fertilizers in them. 

Next step:  Plant the rhizomes and hope they grow!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Making Soap While Pregnant

Yep...  you just found out you're pregnant and you make soap for a living.  Now what?  Well, I've been there.  Actually, I am there!  We just found out we are having our third.  Immediately, upon hearing the news, life changed... especially in the soap making department.  So this is what I learned through the first 6 months of pregnancy and soaping.

Cue Top Gun Soundtrack
1) Use protection: (That's what we should have done not to get pregnant!) That's not what I mean!  Just make sure you wear a gas mask, gloves, and glasses when mixing your liquid and lye.  It's important now more than ever.  We don't what you or the baby to have respiratory problems.  Better yet, have someone do this step for you.  I taught my dad to do it.

2) Lift with your legs:  In the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, lifting your oils (if they are in buckets) may not be a problem, but as the pregnancy continues, your back with hurt just because you are caring extra weight.  I use a back brace and lift with my legs. However, now I need someone to help... so I have my dad to help!

3) Push everything back on the counter by a minimum of 5 inches:  Your belly is growing and you may forget.  As a result, your belly may knock over your exfoliants, fragrances or anything that is sitting near the edge of your counter.  This happens to me ALL the time, so push everything back on the counter.

Get sleep wherever you can!
4) Rest:  Your body is working overtime.  The scents of fragrances/ essential oils may make you feel sick to your stomach.  Your joints (especially your hips) may spasm.  Listen to your body and stop when you need too.  Take a break.  If you have a deadline, explain to your stockists or customers that you are working a little slower, they'll understand.  Most importantly...  ask for help and forgive yourself for not accomplishing what you intended to too.  Your health and the babies are the most important.

And if you have asked for help during these 10 months, by the time the baby comes, you've trained someone in soap making so that you can concentrate on the baby and the marketing end of your business!!!  It's a win win for everyone!

What tips do you have for making soap while pregnant?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Soap Equipment Upgrade: New Mixer

For the past three years I have been mixing my oils and lye with a stick blender.  Recently, part of the attachment piece that secures the attachment to the motor broke.  Of course this happened while I was getting my mixture to trace.  Luckily, as long as I put pressure on the motor to keep the attachment from falling off, I successfully made a batch of soap, but I knew I had to buy another.  Needing a new
one desperately, I went out to Bed Bath and Beyond (with my 20% coupon) and bought a new one that afternoon!  Problem solved.

Fast forward to the next week...  I asked my soaping assistant (my awesome retired dad, who always thinks of how to do things better!) to come over and help me make soap. (Side note: Did I tell you I'm pregnant with with our third?  Yep, I am. So I've had to modify my process of soap making a's called, call your retired father to help. More on that later!)  What did he notice about the process? Quite a few things! The problem that needed the most attention though, was that I twerked my back (insert bad Miley Cyrus joke here) in a weird position when I mix my oils, which in the long run, pregnant or not, is not good.  His solutions:  new mixer from

He actually surprised me with it.  He came over for our next soap making playdate with a drill and this rubber blade, called the Willow Way Soap Pot Whipper. At first, I didn't think it was going to work.  It was to big for the amount of oil I was mixing, but I gave it a try and it worked fine.  The one difference I noticed was that though I could control the speed of the blade more, at a certain point, the speed would cause the bucket to spin.  So I had to slow the blade down which doubled the time for the oils to trace.  Working with beer, this is great because the alcohol accelerates it, but using water or other liquids, takes a VERY long time for trace to occur.  Which then brings in the back problem issue thrown in with a wrist ache.

The next dad solution... building or buying a contraption that 1) secures the bucket (allowing me to have lighting fast mixing capabilities) and 2) holds the drill for you so there is no bodily pain to your wrists or back.  I didn't think this was possible, but my dad found one...  really expensive...  but then he found one on Craigslist....  life is good!  I'll let you know how this works...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

DIY Growing Hops Part 1: Purchasing Hops

Recently we have given our backyard a makeover.  It has all of our family entertainment needs, complete with a brewhouse, a soap studio, a play structure, a garden, and soon to come: a fire pit. We have also dedicated several area of the yard to grow hops for our homebrewed beer and handbrewed soaps.

In order to grow hops, you need to plant the rhizome, which is a cutting of the plant's root structure.  There are many different companies that sell hops rhizomes in the spring.  For our hops-growing adventure, we chose ten different varieties from three different farms/cooperatives.   Each has their own speciality and packaging techniques.  I will turn this post over to the master brewer in the family to explain each.

Where to start?
You can get a lot of information online, of course, but Homebrewer's Garden by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher, and Homegrown Hops by David R. Beach provide great information that's not available online.  I started there to get an idea about what all was going to be involved with growing hops.  These resources are a great place to start if you're interested in growing hops.  Important thing to remember:   Hops rhizomes are only available in the spring, from February to April.  So, if you want to grow hops, make sure you plan ahead, and maybe even pre-order your rhizomes, to make sure you get the varieties you want to grow.
Top bags: Freshops, Middle bags: Hops Direct
Bottom Bags: Seven Bridges Coop.

Where to buy the hops rhizomes?
I wanted to buy direct from the hops farms, if possible.  There are many different companies that sell hops rhizomes in the spring.  Choose the one that best meets your needs (location, varieties offered, etc.)  After doing my research, I decided on three different companies from three different growing regions to see how well different varieties adapt to my Bay-Area micro-climate in the Glenview District of Oakland, CA.  (Get Local!)
Freshops - Hop farm in the Willamette Valley (Philomath, Oregon)
Hops Direct - Puterbaugh Farms, a 700-acre, fourth generation, family-owned hop farm in the Yakima Valley (Mabton, Washington)
Seven Bridges Cooperative in Santa Cruz, CA - I chose this company because the rhizomes that they sell are from organic plants grown in California!

What varieties should I grow?
Criteria:  Hops that were recommended for our Bay Area temperature and micro-climate; varieties that grow fairly easily and aren't susceptible to pests and diseases; a blend of bittering hops and dual-purpose (flavor/aroma/bittering).  I purchased 3-4 varieties from each company.  I tripled up on Cascade, knowing that I wanted a large supply of Cascade hops for my IPA's, and I wanted to see whose Cascade rhizome.  Final order:
Freshops:  Goldings, Willamette, Cascade, Chinook
Seven Bridges Cooperative:  Columbus, Magnum, Cascade, Nugget
Hops Direct:  Centennial, Cluster, Cascade

What kind of soil do hops need?
As for the soil, we made a special trip to American Soil and Stone in Richmond, CA-- a favorite local company of ours-- to see if they could help us put together a soil blend that would work best for our hops.  After reading and researching online, I explained to the staff at American Soil and Stone what I was looking for.  They recommended several of their different soil blends, and we decided on a mix of 1/3 ultra potting mix, 1/3 ultra bedding mix, and 1/3 local veggie blend.  Some of the plants are going to be grown in raised planters, so I needed a medium that would maintain water, but also be good to drain water.  This blend has both coconut coir and red lava.  For nutrient needs, the local veggie blend has chicken manure, which is amazing as a short-term, quick-release fertilizer, and the ultra potting mix has a special long-term slow-release fertilizer in it.  The one thing that I'm lacking, that David R. Beach recommends is Boron.  He says that the necessary amount of Boron is a "pinch to the hill." I'm hoping that my special soil blend will get my hops plants off to a great start and provide me with wonderful, fresh hop cones for our homebrewed beer and handbrewed soaps!

Next step... building the planter boxes and planting the rhizomes.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Our New Packaging: From Cigar Labels to Boxes

Our first label

I just calculated how much time it takes me to wrap my soap. From design, to print, to cutting, to wrapping for 60 bars of soap… three hours!  Clearly, I am not very efficient in the area.  Our first label was vellum paper with my logo and ingredients on the label.   It was secured with double sided tape.  The tape wouldn’t hold the label past three weeks.  

Our second label

So the next version was created.  This time, it was printed on Kraft paper and secured with an ingredient sticker.  It gave the soap the look I wanted, but… if it was a hot day and my soaps started to sweat, it would affect the cigar band with wet spots.  Plus, I was cutting labels and stickers out myself which took HOURS!

The Box! 
So now, I’m on to boxes.  It took me awhile to streamline the packaging, but I’m happy with the design.  It tell’s our story, and answers the question I get the most…  Will I smell like beer?  These boxes have cut hours off my wrapping process!  So what do you think of our new boxes? How you have streamline processes in your business to make life easier for yourself?

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