Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Disastrous Brew Session

Well, I brewed the weekend before last for the first time in almost 6 months. What a nightmare it turned out to be! I had one problem after another. I actually told someone in the middle of the brew session that it might be my last time brewing – I don’t think I’ve ever said that before, but I was a bit frustrated.

My biggest problem was once again a stuck sparge. I discovered last time that a few grain particles were getting through the slots in my manifold and hanging up on the ridges that resulted from cutting those slots. A few days before brewing, I went to work with a toothbrush both cleaning the inside of the manifold and removing the ridges. I thought I was ready to go.

So I mash-in at 1.25 qts/lb. of grain for @ 1 hour. At the end I topped off my mash tun (cooler) with boiling water (total cooler volume of 12 gallons) and lo and behold, not even a trickle out of the ball valve. I stir and stir with hot wort going everywhere (remember, I filled it to the tippy top) with no improvement. I ladled the mash into my ice cube cooler (which was sitting at a nice 32F because it was full of ice to be used in chilling) and pulled out the manifold to determine that it was clear – no stoppages. As you can imagine, colorful language reached a crescendo. I then realized that the ball valve was stopped up, which was probably the issue the whole time and was probably stopped up from the last brew session. Got the ball value cleaned up, put the manifold back in, added a pound of rice hulls, ladled the mash back into the tun, re-circulated a few quarts and she drained like a champ.

My next issue was that my burner kept going out. After it burned for a few minutes, it would go out every time. In order to ignite my burner, you must hold down the pilot button. Well, I found that if I held down the pilot button the burner would continue to burn, (DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME) so I got a brick and a 2x4 and wedged them under the pilot button to keep it depressed.

At this point, I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, “man, this guy really had a sucky brewing session.” Well, the hits just keep on coming. I had planned to brew a 10 gallon batch of my Amarillo Sky Pale Ale and split it between my normal Cal Ale yeast and the Duvel Belgian strain. I also planned to do my first brew-in-a-bag batch of Northern English Brown Ale. With all of my other problems, I had to cancel the BIAB. But I figured that since I already had a starter of Ringwood going, I’d pour some more water in the mash tun and do a small ordinary bitter on my stove top with the third runnings. Considering the kettle was almost completely unattended other than at my 60 and 15 minute hops additions, it’s almost a shock that I didn’t have a boil-over on the stove while I was outside dealing with the big batch.

My next big oops was when I was carrying a bunch of stuff from my basement to my garage and I dropped my only hydrometer, which promptly shattered on the concrete floor. At least I had enough composure to send some runnings into mason jars so that I could check my starting gravities when I take the time to get another hydrometer.

I actually got everything cooled down quickly and in fermenters and then yeast pitching time arrived. The Duvel starter was at high krausen, so the Belgo-American Pale Ale took off like a rocket. It finished so fast that I didn’t even have a chance to warm it up to try to get some of those wonderful belgiany esters.

I pitched what was probably way more starter than necessary into the little bitter (@ 3 gallons) and I never got any activity. I still can’t explain that one, but after 24 hours of no activity, I pitched a packet of S04 yeast and the thing was done by the next day.

I pitched a packet of US05 into the Amarillo Sky APA (with an expiration of 4/2011) and that also did not show signs of fermentation. I usually like to rehydrate yeast instead of pitching it dry, but with all of my issues, I didn’t get the chance to rehydrate. So after 24 hours I pitched a newer packet of US05 and that also took off and finished pretty quickly.

With these short fermentations, I have a feeling that my gravities suffered tremendously from my mashing issues. If I ever get a hydrometer, I’ll know for sure.

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