Sunday, June 24, 2007

adventures in all-grain

What an adventure. It's still not over.

I had purchased some grain back in November to try my hand at all-grain brewing. I thought I was ready then. I was wrong. Lesson: Don't buy until you are fully committed and absolutely sure you are ready, otherwise the milled grain will sit until late June and won't be any good really at that point. But what the hell, might as well use it for a practice run, eh? It don't cost nothing. And if it sucks balls, you can just dump the corny.

Seven months later, I've finally gotten a 30-qt. stainless steel turkey fryer set-up (this is after buying an aluminum one and realizing that it's aluminum after opening the box when you get home and realize that the stainless-steel ad on the box cover refers to the burner stand. oops!) I got an old propane tank from a buddy for a couple of six-packs (he'd probably have given it to me for free) to trade-in so I wouldn't have to pay the tank deposit fee.

I used the scale to get started on grain weights for water calculations. I lost the receipt, so I can only guess as to what I intended to make 7 months ago. There are some dark roasted malts, 2 varieties, so I'm guessing it was a porter. That sounds right for that time of the year. 11 pounds of grain total, 8 base, 3 specialty. Figure out the water needs, or at least I thought.

Turns out, 11 pounds of grain and 2.75 gal of water takes up quite a bit of space in the 5-gal mash tun for just the protein rest. Don't think I'm going to be able to fit 5.5 qt. in to bring up to starch conversion temp. Must try using hotter water than literature recommends, will add until temp is suitable.

Ooops!! Mash tun is full and I'm only at 145, seven degrees shy of target. Looks like it's time to decoction mash!

Four or five decoctions later, I've ramped up about 3 degrees at a time to finally end at 158 F. Iodine test somewhat confirms starch conversion, can't really tell thanks to dark wort color. Looks good enough. Time to sparge.

Sparging went okay, only problem was I lost too much heat between the HLT and the lauter tun so I only ended up lautering at about 146 F. Kind of crappy. Really crappy. Tried upping the temp in the HLT (another 5-gal cooler, actually the one I used for the mash tun) to fix it, but still didn't get it where I wanted. But, didn't end up with a stuck sparge (my worst fear) so things end up better than expected and the remaining wort in the lauter tun when the brew pot is full (about 7 gal) is starting to run light. Finally, something went right. I think.

For anyone thinking about all-grain, keep in mind all work up to this point has taken about 3 hours. Part of that is my fault, but prepare for the unexpected.

I had to meet someone at 3 pm, how convenient that I'm done sparging at 2:50. This means that boiling will not happen until after the wife's birthday party that starts at 8 pm. Put a lid on it. It sits there in the kitchen for about nine hours until 11:40 pm.

So now I'm boiling on the back deck. I'd like to do it on the concrete pad downstairs, but that requires too many stairs to the rest of the equipment and the kegerator. It'd be worth it if I had a buddy and we set up the captain's chairs and shot the breeze, but unfortunately I don't have many friends (at least in the metro-Atlanta area) willing to do that at 1:30 am on a work night.

Now I get to figure out how to crash cool it. I might have to straighten a tube on my homemade immersion coil. No, I'm not cool enough to have a counterflow chiller. And you can read that really as "I am on a budget based on a teacher's salary." Yes, technically between the household it's a little better financially but I like to do things the hard way. It makes way better stories and tends to cost less, leaving more money for the important things in life such as strippers, fishing lures, and beer ingredients. (I really only spend money on one of those items. Your mom strips for free and I fish like a real fisherman with beer, not bait)

I'll be sure to update when we actually get to taste it. I expect it to be uber crappe after letting cracked grain age for months in a non-hermetically sealed container. But who knows? It might end up being the best damned beer I've ever made.

Update #1: Here we are at 3:30 am and wort is cooled and in the primary fermenter and sealed up. Made a 1 pint starter and will pitch as soon as it seems ready. The yeast was bought at the same time as the grain. O.G.: 1.039 (not as high as I wanted, but I probably should have let it sit a little longer before lautering and I should have maybe had some extract on-hand to up the gravity)


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