Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Out With the Old...

In with the New Year! We've got some people coming over tonight and we'll be tapping the very first all-grain batch - the Hefeweizen. It is a *bit* young (I had a sample last night), but it will have to do.

The whole all-grain endeavor is moving along nicely. The big problem right now is scheduling. We have to make sure we have the right vessels (primaries, secondaries, kegs) when we need them. We screwed up a bit recently when we brewed two 10 gallon batches only 7 days apart and now we'll be forced to move one of the batches to kegs earlier than normal. This is not a big deal, but I don't know what I was thinking when we brewed that second batch...

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Last of the Extracts

Last night we killed off the last of the Strawberry Blonde (which was great) and the last of the extract Hefe (not so great - I'm starting to suspect a problem with keg #4).

These kegs were the final extract batches that I brewed. Extract brewing was the right way for me to start brewing beer. It let me refine many parts of the brewing process without the extra complication of mashing grains, etc.

From now on (actually from Batch #18 on), everything will be all-grain brewed. I put the first all-grain brewed beer in the fridge to cool down and carb up last night, so in a few days we'll be able to taste the fruits of our labor.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Fermentation Temperature Control

Controlling the temperature of fermenting beer is key. Remember my swamp cooler? We're not going to need that anymore...
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chiller / Lid Mod

Shawn did an amazing job altering his wort chiller so that it is much easier to use. The connections are now outside the pot making leaks inconsequential. We altered the lid as well and simply left the chiller in the pot for the entire boil.
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Awesome Thermometer

Shawn installed this awesome thermometer on our HLT/Keggle. Nothing is as cool as a big-ass analog dial!
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Batch #21 - Our First Lager

Shawn and I brewed up 10 gallons of Pilsener on Friday afternoon. The brew day started off rough with traffic accidents closing Route 70 between our houses and our normal homebrew store being completely out of any lager yeasts. We overcame though and the actual brew session was the smoothest one yet.
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Shawn's Kegerator

Shawn picked up this old kegerator along with a CO2 tank and an empty 1/2 keg (now our keggle) the other day. It's big enough to hold 3 corny kegs. He has big plans for it including a 3 tap system and off-road tires. Imagine being at a party and seeing that roll up on a trailer! I know a lot of people who wont have to imagine for long...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brew Day Report

Saturday was another big brew day as Shawn and I brewed up 10 gallons of Belgian White.

Shawn brought up his newly converted "Keggle" and propane burner and we used them for a Hot Liqueur Tank setup.

We again had issues hitting our Mash Temps, but we kept at it and finally prevailed. I blame the freezing ambient temperatures for most of our problems.

We used the large Mash/Lauter Tun for the first time as well and it performed as expected.

Jess was a big part of the team as well helping out and she even surprised us with a 'tank-o-bloody marys'!

We used our existing lid for the boil although Shawn is working on a new version that will be even better. The biggest foul-up of the day was mine. When I wrote my shopping list for ingredients I had to double the recipe since we were brewing a 10 gallon batch and I forgot to double the hops and spices. DOH! This is the first time I have ever screwed up a recipe, but I think the beer will be fine. It will just be sweeter than intended.

Overall it was a great day. Shawn finally got a brew session under his belt and we've got a total 25 gallons of All Grain beer fermenting in the basement. We have a long way to go with regards to working efficiently (something over which Shawn and I both obsess) but we're on the path.

One of the big thrills if the day was seeing and tasting the Hefewiezen that I brewed 2 weeks ago. The color is amazing (see the carboys in the picture) and it tastes fantastic - totally different from the extract version.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Craft Brew's Mad Genius

I have gained a new respect for Dogfish Head after reading this New Yorker article. Ty sent it to me a while ago, but I finally got around to finishing it (long article is loooong). It is a fascinating look at a man who has refused the conventional notions of what beer should be.

I've tried a lot of DFH beers and have yet to find one that I would drink again if given a choice. Clearly I'm not ready for 'extreme' beers. But after reading this article, I can see why DFH is a hero to many beer lovers and most home brewers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Batch #19 - Whitetail Holiday Ale

Brew Date: 12/6/08
Recipe: See Brew Sheet

I brewed up five gallons of this holiday ale for a friend's snow-tubing party that takes place in February.

This, my second all grain batch, went much more smoothly than my first attempt. My new thermometer worked well and I generally fumbled around less.

Shawn had built a top for our kettle (with an adjustable steam port) out of lexan which worked great. It took much less energy to keep the boil going and we didn't loose so much wort to boil-off. The only problem: the lexan started to loose rigidity due to the heat, sagging almost an inch. We'll have to start over with another material.

The big lesson I learned was this: I get tired by the end of a 7 hour brew day and start making mistakes. More experience will help but having a brewing partner on Saturday for the next batch will be great.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Brew Day!

What a day it was. Overall it was an exciting experience and went OK, but it had its moments of panic for sure.

First of all everyone in the house was sick. I was just feeling run down, but Jess and Mia were both down for the count. In addition my brew-partner Shawn was also sick and could not make it. I was on my own and dragging ass. It was also freezing out and raining.

Near Major Disaster #1 - My digital thermometer is full of hate and lies. It nearly had me attempting to mash at 110 instead of 152 degrees. New thermometers are a must-buy before the next session. Update: Done!

Near Major Disaster #2 - Stuck Lauter. I'm not sure what happened, but I think our braided wire filter in the mash/lauter tun collapsed. Or floated to the top. Or both. I don't know. I got the wort out eventually after much shenanigans. We'll try the big MLT next time and see if that works better. Update: The FOAM guys say that when mashing a recipe that includes wheat malt, rice hulls should be added to the MLT to help prevent stuck mashes. We will try this on the next batch.

Near Major Disaster #3 - Too much boil-off. Even with my awesome homemade lid (tin foil over plywood, yeah!) we lost too much wort during the hour boil I suppose due to the massive surface area of the liquid. Need a better lid and probably need to adjust recipes to allow for more boil-off. Update: Shawn is working on an awesome lid!

Near Major Disaster #4 - Wort chiller full of water when I dropped it into the boiling wort to sanitize it. It was full of cold water so it instantly stopped the boil. Oops. I cranked up the heat and recovered in about 8 minutes.

Near Major Disaster #5 - Not using a hop-bag when planning to siphon out of a very wide pot. I lost at least a gallon of wort and got tons of hop matter in my primary buckets. Hops in the primary is not a big deal but loosing a gallon of beer is.

I ended up with about 8 gallons of wort split between two primaries instead of the planned 10. Possible major disaster #6 - the airlocks are not bubbling yet... Update: Everything is fine!

On the upside our mash efficiency was above 80% which is awesome.

Also Shawn's wort chiller was incredible taking about 9 gallons of boiling wort to 80 degrees in 12 minutes and down to 65 in 20 minutes. The thing is a monster!

I'm not going to bother posting a brew sheet for this batch. Even if the beer comes out great I could never reproduce the parade of missteps that made it happen.