Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Importance of Being Cool

The idea was to go out of town for the weekend. So, it's Thursday evening and I'm sitting there all alone with a new batch of ingredients to make a lager. The idea was to use the unfinished basement as the lagering cellar because it's really freakin' cold down there. That won't last more than another month or so in Georgia so time is slightly critical. So I made the obvious decision that it'd be reasonable to go ahead and brew even though it was a school night. Only childless people that go into my profession tend to worry about such things at my age.

Did I mention that it was my first attempt at a partial grain batch?

Well, it started off well. I borrowed some equipment from school to monitor temperature constantly with a laptop and it worked perfectly. The mash went well and it was time to sparge in my newly fashioned lauter tun. This is when it started to go downhill. Apparently, I either mashed for too long (a possibility since I had to run some movie rentals back to the store) or my drain holes were too small (or both) because I was pretty much sitting there with a stuck sparge. Stirring made about 3 mL squeeze through the drain but it was obvious that I was going nowhere fast. In a pinch, I pulled out the two colanders and made a double tier grain bed. It was slow going but about 45 minutes later I had a pretty decent amount of sweet wort.

Now time for the boil. Temperature rising steadily. About 99 Celcius and boil is gentle so let me run and write some stuff down in my beer journal. Sizzle, sizzle. Oh shit, my first boil-over. Run to the stove, turn off the burner. Switch burners, turn on heat a little lower this time. Clean up mess on the other stove eye.

Eventually, time to pour into primary fermenter. I usually pour through a strainer to remove the hops and to aerate the wort for the yeast. This time, the strainer decides to get clogged just enough to cause a pretty good splash back from the incoming pour. Sugary wort all over the floor and me. And it's hot because it was boiling 2 minutes ago. Not too much loss, just 1/2 cup or so, but it's everywhere and it's sticky.

It's way past bed time so I pop the lid on, set the container in the sink and make an ice bath around it to cool overnight to an appropriate temp to pitch the yeast. I have been using the Wyeast brand since I've been ordering online. They have this pouch inside that you smack to release nutrients to "start" or activate the yeast. I usually do this when I start brewing and it's ready 3-4 hours later, but this time I had planned to hit it before bed and pitch in the morning. So, I smack it and off to bed for 4 hours. Yeah, it's 2 AM at this point. I'll be a happy person at work tomorrow.

Up and ready to go to work. Let me pitch the yeast and be on my merry way. What? the pack is still the same size. What gives? I feel around for the nutrient pack but can't seem to locate it. What gives? Smack again, no noticeable change. Well, it looks a little bigger. The pack says it may not swell "fully." What the heck does that mean. Well, let's open it and see what's going on. Open the pack. Guess what. There's the nice little pack inside, fully intact. I've already opened the pouch so might as well pitch it. It should work fine. Will leave at 70 F until fermetation is noticeable.

Plans change, no longer leaving for the weekend. You mean I could have waited until Saturday?

24 hours later, nothing. No signs from the yeast that everything is hunky-dory. Can't do much at this point so might as well let it sit for a while longer. Besides, I have to go check out the robotics team since we stayed for the weekend.

5 PM Saturday. Get home from the robotics thingy. Airlock on the fermenter is happily popping along. Phew. In 2 months or so, I'll let you know the results.

Basically, everything that could go wrong that I had read about decided to happen all at once. But the important thing was that at no point did I get too uptight, likely thanks to reading Papazian as he repeated the phrase over and over again. "Relax, have a homebrew."

I'm not saying that brewing is easy, but it seems like the more I feel like I'm screwing it up, the more it keeps showing me who's really in charge.


  • At 4:23 PM, Blogger Brian said…

    This story would be better with a frantic orchestral soundtrack a la "Looney Tunes". :)


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