Thursday, December 31, 2009

High Gravity Hi Jinks, update

I racked the Festivus Ale into the secondary today. I waited until I thought the most active fermentation was over. After racking, the fermentation actually picked up its pace again. The Gravity reading was 1.021, which is only 0.003 above the predicted FG. I use a freeware computer program called Qbrew to help calculate such things (if you Google it, I think you can find where to download it). Qbrew is a pretty good program (especially for free), but it has a few quirks in that it does not allow you to customize the gravity or ABV (based on mash temperature, for example) calculations except for setting your efficiency %. Our FG is always a little lower than the predicted, probably as we mash at lower temps during the winter (due to heat loss). At any rate, the fermentation picked back up after racking, but I don't know why.

I have never bothered to rack into a secondary fermentation tank before, but I have never intended to age my beer a while (in oak). There was so much yeast still suspended on top and yeast/trub at the bottom that I was having a hard time keeping the siphon going. The whole experience made me decide that I need some new and longer hoses, and have me wanting to invest in an electric pump.

I can see that with a pump, I am moving towards a semi-professional fixed station brewery (RIMS or HERMS) system where the pump moves water and wort, and even recirculates the wort in the mash system for a more efficient mash and/or a more consistent temperature control. No more lifting hot pots of water, and depending on the set up and location, no more moving 6 gallons of beer in glass carboys (the two most dangerous parts of home brewing). If stainless steel fermenters didn't cost $800 (compared to $45 glass carboys), I would have eliminated the glass a long time ago. Plastic sucks, and I will never go back to that (not even the new plastic conicals). My brother and I share brewing facilities, so if I go to a fixed station, it would still need to be something that disassembles and moves 3 or 4 times a year. I was thinking of using something like the A/V media carts that we used in school to fix hot liquor tank mash tun and kettle into multiple carts. If they can be separated and lifted onto the truck bed, or into a van, then they take up more space, but are easily moved. If I can fix fermenters into a rolling rack as well...that would be much safer. I will put more thought into it and maybe fire up a plan in CAD.

I digress....
I also learned that my brewery maintains a nice 62-64 degree fermentation temperature (perfect for ales, little high for lagers), as the borrowed carboy that I racked into has a temperature strip affixed to it.

The beer will probably finish above 1.015, which means that it will stop fermenting by the end of the holiday weekend. I transferred it early, as I wanted some fermentation to re-establish the Carbon Dioxide oxygen barrier, but I fear that I may have done so too early. I was glad to get the beer away from all of the gunk (yeast, trub, etc.) from three successive brewing sessions, and I can see more of what is going on inside the fermenter. The oak chips are floating on the surface in the newly re-formed krausen (yeasty top). The big question is now, how long should I let it sit before bottling. I was originally thinking of waiting until about February 1st, but I think it probably has more to do with our schedules (when we can get together to finish this). Probably we won't touch it until late January. The beer tasted sweet, but as I had said, it hasn't finished fermenting, so it is unfair to judge it at this point. The cinnemon taste wasn't overwhelming, but again it may assert itself more as the beer dries out (ferments the sweet sugars). It will be good if the beer stays just a little sweet. The color is a nice mahogany red-brown. Who knows how this one will taste in 3-6 months?

I got my new copy of Zymurgy (of which my name and comments appear in the "Ask the Professor" section), and got Charlie Papazian's latest book for Christmas, so I do have some reading to do. I will sit down and enjoy our Porter and catch up with these items this New Year's Eve.

Despite 2009 being such a personally crappy year, I made some fantastic beers (and a few duds) and learned a lot. I just hope that 2010 exceeds both my low personal expectations, and high brewing aspirations.

I realize that I never had discussed my time living in Fort Collins, and have been contemplating another installment of my personal journey.

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