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bierblog: March 2006 Archives

March 11, 2006

first brew day of 2006

it feels like ages since our last brew day in november, so at the beginning of the week when the weather man started talking about saturday being unusually warm and the only sunny day all week, my interest was piqued. i thought it was too good to be true, but as i checked each day they were consistently saying the same thing: warm and sunny on saturday, rain the rest of the week. by thurdsay it was decided: saturday would be the first brew day of 2006!

for a while now i've been curious to try a solo brew day. so far all the brewing i've done had been with one or more of the other biergotter guys, but i figured at some point the time would come when i'd want to brew a batch and nobody else was available. so i figured i'd try my luck with a single 5 gallon batch. with most of our equipment stored at my place, i had everything i knew i'd be set in that department. i've got a small stock of grain, so i figured i'd have just about everything i'd need for a batch of this size. i had a bit of hops, but not enough to really do anything with. yeast would be a problem, but i could make a run to the wine and beer factory and see what they had in stock. i know they usually stock Wyeast liquid yeast, and worst case i could always grab some dry yeast and give that a whirl. we usually use White Labs liquid yeast, but i've heard many great reviews of the Wyeast stuff from the guys in the homebrew forum on Beer Advocate.

when i arrived at the shop thursday evening the (new) owner was very apologetic because his yeast selection was limited, and the most recent stuff had expiry dates of nov 30th, 2005. however, he said he'd give me a discount because of this. i flipped through the selection and was able to find two packages of wyeast 1968, London ESB ale yeast, both with the nov 30th expiration. i knew the rule of thumb for Wyeast was to allow an extra day of swelling for each month past the expiration date, but since i was planning to brew on saturday i didn't want to take a chance of having a dud. so i bought both packages and he only charged me for one! great deal. i grabbed some hops and a pound of carapils and headed for home.

when i got home i smacked both packs (making sure that the nutrient pouch had burst) and stuck them in the pocket of my sweatshirt to incubate. within a couple hours they were visibly swelling, and by the time i went to bed they were both about an inch thick. when i woke up friday morning it looked like they were going to burst at any moment, so i quickly boiled up some DME, cooled it, and pitched both packs in. i gave it a really good shake to make sure it was aerated well. no turning back now! after work i got the garage setup for brew day and went to bed early, excited for the brew day.

saturday morning i woke up around 8:30am, grabbed some breakfast, and headed outside to get started at about 9:30. it felt odd only weighing out a total of 8.5 pounds of grain, especially after stuff like our imperial stout that was 45 pounds for a 10 gallon batch (about triple the size of this one). oh yeah, this batch is an attempt at a "small" beer, an english pale ale that should finish at about 4% ABV. In the last 6 month we've done lots of "big" beers (high gravity/high alcohol). we did try an english bitter in october, but we weren't all that happy with how it turned out. it was ok, especially considering it was basically "free" (second runnings from our DIPA), but with it being about half DME it just didn't have the malt backbone to stand up at that gravity. This time it was all grain, with Maris Otter as the base malt, so i figured it'd be alot better off. Also used an english yeast rather than the more generic White Labs California Ale yeast, which should make a big difference.

overall the day went pretty smoothly. no real problems to report. hit all my temps ok. probably the biggest "problem" was that i hit 85% efficiency, so instead of being around 1.043ish it ended up being 1.050. i had accounted for it still being in the same area if i got as high as 80% efficiency (which we have on several occasions), but hitting 85% threw it off a bit. oh well, worse things could happen...

so by 5pm i was done with cleanup and the wort had been aerated and the yeast was pitched. hopefully it'll be rockin' along in no time.

on with the photos!

8.5 pounds of grain, crushed and ready.

after the first infusion (1qt per pound). time for the 30 min protein rest at 122F/50C.

after the second infusion (0.5qt per pound), i wasn't quite up to the 150F i wanted for my mash, so i had to throw it on the heat to bring it up to temp.

checking the temp... not quite there yet.

stir stir stir. don't want to overshoot my target temperature.

after the 1 hour sacch. rest, it's time to bring it up to 170F for mash out.

here's our bucket tun filled and ready for sparge. the bucket works great for up to a 15 pound grain bill, so it was more than enough to handle the 8.5 pounds for this batch. no need to use the cooler tun (which is in the background of this photo).

done with the vourlaf, so time to start collecting wort.

the usual tin foil top cover on the tun. poke some holes and you'll be sure to avoid any channelling or over-compacting the grain bed.

now the pot is on for the boil. notice the pot and strainer for skimming the hot break as we approach the boil.

the pre-boil gravity sample, with a shiny new hydrometer. i put the old one in the sample, and about a second later i saw a stream of air bubbles coming up from the bottom of the hydrometer. i quickly pulled it out and noticed a small crack in the bottom. fortunately, jenn was nice enough to run over to the local wine shop and grab me a new hydrometer while i monitored the boiling wort. the hydrometer read 1.034 at 93F, which works out to 1.039. with 7 gallons of wort collected, that means i hit 85% efficiency. nice!

wort chiller in action.

the nicely cooled wort going into the carboy.

the carboy down in the basement after a minute of pure oxygen. that'll make the yeast nice and happy.

speaking of yeast, here's the stars of the show. i decanted off most of the spent starter wort this afternoon, then took about a quart of wort from the pot and boiled it for about 15min, then cooled it and added it to the starter. by pitching time the yeast was happy and ready to conquer some wort, even if it's a small one.

here's the beer-in-training after aeration and pitching the starter. it's got lots of headspace, but i fitted it with a blowoff tube anyway.

so there it is. my first solo brew day was a success. lets hope the resulting beer turns out well!

Posted by grub at 7:49 PM

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