Thursday, January 7, 2010

Brewing Session 1: Disaster Mitagation (an American Pale Ale)

"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods"  Albert Einstein
It was one of those days.  It was supposed to be an easy day, but everything went wrong.  I have been brewing some decent beers as of late.  I was bursting with pride.  I was starting to think I was hot shit, but now I know myself to be a fool.

The high was 11 degrees today, but the cold just made a bad day miserable.  The brewing session started badly.  We got a late start.  My friend had purchased the grain from his local homebrew shop but the weather delayed his arrival.  So, I was in a hurry to get going.  I poured the grains in the mash tun without checking to see if the false bottom was properly seated.  It wasn't.  I had to dump it out, reclean out the vessel and start again.

Since the grains came from a different source, I knew that their milling was going to be different, and from the last time we used this source, I knew it would be a little finer.  It was a lot finer.  For the first time, I had a stuck mash (where the grains get compacted and won't allow wort to flow out of the mash tun).  I had to stir the grain bed to get the wort out.

Since the sparge took extra time, I had a boil over when I was pre-heating the first runnings. We didn't have enough water to sparge (with the stuck mash and all), so had to heat some more.  For some stupid reason (I can't fathom now), I thought I should add water pre-boil to make up for some of the loss.  No sooner did I add it then my friend came out with the last of the wort (I thought I had it all).  So after all that, we didn't have the time to boil off my mistake.

Oh, and I almost forgot.  I used extra water to rinse some of the boil over out onto the driveway.  Where it promptly turned to a sheet of guessed it.  I set myself a trap and went sprawling on my way to the dumpster....thank goodness I wasn't carrying the hot kettle, or holding a beer.

I also decided to use my American II Ale yeast for a 4th generation, but instead of racking onto the yeast cake like I had done the other times, I racked the last beer and took a cup per carboy or so of the cake a couple of days ago.  It had shown signs of life in the jar, but so far, after 4 hours, no signs of fermentation in the carboy.  If there is nothing in the morning, I will have to grab fresh yeast from my local homebrew shop..

At the end of the day, I have a 1.044 starting gravity on a beer that was supposed to be 1.055, and may not have it fermenting.  I did learn a couple of things, however.

First.  The stuck mash convinced me that I need to buy a good grain mill like this one from Monster Brewing Hardware to control my own grist milling.  My homebrew shop obviously doesn't mill it as fine as others (as such, this is probably the reason that my efficiencies are consistently so low).  I also learned that when you have a more fine milling, my usual method of batch sparging does not work.  The weight of the water compacts the grains and creates the stuck mash.  The slow sprinkle method using a sparge arm finally makes sense to me now.  We were only able to get the sparge going by adding just a little water at a time.

Other problems were caused because I set up my mash tun in the basement (usually it is outside near our boiling operation) due to the cold weather.  I did not know that I didn't have all of the wort, and added water.  There was nobody there to question my actions since my friend was downstairs doing some clean up.  It would be nice if I could work all in one area.  This is a flaw of my house, my brewery set up is kind of like a bad kitchen layout.  My clean up area is in my laundry room on the north side of the basement, the spigot outside is on the south side of my house, and my boiling area is in my detached garage on the west side of my lot.  A lot of trouble would be solved if I had a sink in my garage and could do fermentation out there somehow.  I have to work out some better system.  Maybe someday I will build me a proper brewery/shed/man cave with running water.  Another item for the wish list.

Well, the beer won't be what we expected, but if it starts to ferment at all, it will be beer, and it might surprise us.  I hope that this brewing session isn't a harbinger for 2010.

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