Monday, January 28, 2008

Daddy's Little Girl Ain't a Girl No More

AKA: My first All Grain Batch
AKA: The little starters that couldn't

Saturday was a day of firsts. First all grain. First completely original beer recipe. First time the starter wouldn't really start. First boil over. First time with a chiller. First time brewing with someone (the illustrious Mike Jones). First time throwing myself down my basement stairs while holding a ring burner. But first a word about the beer.

The beer was, as I said, my first original recipe. It will be henceforth known as Blue Blood Lager. The name is a reference to Vienna (and this was a Vienna lager), home of the Hapsburgs. The Hapsburgs, among other things, were known for having big noses. Also for ruling large parts of Europe, but mostly for big noses. And as I have a bit of a schnoz myself, and admire people with large noses, it seemed apropos. In a further connection, a well known commercial example of the Vienna lager is Negra Modelo, and as the Hapsburgs were also Emperors of Mexico from 1864-1867, the connection is complete.


8 lbs- Pale 2 Row
1 lb- Carapils
1 lb- Crystal Malt 80

1 oz Hallertauer Hersbrucker- 4.75 Alpha- 60 Minutes
.5 oz Crystal- 3.25 Alpha- 15 minutes
.5 oz Crystal- 3.25 Alpha- 5 minutes

Wyeast 2206- Bavarian Lager- pitched from a 600 ml sort of starter

Final stats:
OG- 1.043
SRM- 10 (or so)
IBU- 24
FG- Check back on this. We'll see, as I think I under pitched.
Volume- hard to tell given the boil over. I'll be making a "volume stick" this weekend to help with that in the future. This will be an exciting technological development by the LaVoy Boys Brewing Company, so stay tuned!

The mash went off fairly well, but not without a hitch. I wasn't paying attention to the strike water, and overshot the temperature by 5 degrees, so we had to wait a few minutes for it to cool down. We were still over on our temperature at dough in, but well within the acceptable range, so I left it alone. I didn't want to get into a vicious cycle of adding hot/cold water to get to the exact temperature I was trying for. The mash tun (a converted 5 gallon cooler with a false bottom) held up nicely temp-wise and without any leaks. We added a gallon of mash out water, as the mash tun didn't appear that it would take another drop. The fly sparge went as planned on my rigged three tier gravity system (a rickety ladder, plastic picnic table, and burner), and the $2 sparge arm setup (a spihon sprayer, and a couple of 2x4's cut up, screwed together, and drilled in such a way as to sit on top of the cooler with the hose through the middle) worked like a dream. We able to nail the water flow out of the HLT (my bottling bucket) and the mash tun, so the whole lauter/sparge process took no more than twenty minutes. We were a little short on the gravity, but on a first all grain, I think that's probably to be expected. We ended up with 71% efficiency. That left us a little low for a Vienna lager, but I'm not going to quibble about style rules just yet.

We then got the mixture on to the burner, got the flame going, and promptly had a boil over of epic proportions. I'm guessing we lost a good 3/4's of a gallon of wort, which resulted in a smaller amount of liquid into the fermenter than I was hoping for. A 10 gallon brew pot is in my future. I was disappointed that we had lost so much brew. Mike was disappointed that he didn't have the camera ready to take a picture of my face as the kettle turned into a wort launching cannon. After we got things back under control, everything ended up pretty normal for the rest of the boil. The wort chiller was great, and we were able to go from knock out to 75 degrees in about 20 minutes. Mike was pretty impressed that something so ugly actually worked. I also managed to drain the water out right on to the stairs leading down to the basement. Which turned it into a skating rink. Which I threw myself down during the cleanup process while holding the ring burner. Somehow I didn't mess my back up, which, as it is already messed up pretty good, is no small thing.

Where was I? Oh right. Yeast pitching. I had made my starter the night before. I figured that 20 hours on the stir plate would give me a nice big slurry to pitch on to my first lager. Except that the starter never really started. It would foam up a little, and then go back to looking dead. We ended up making a trip to Brew and Grow, and bought a different yeast (also not perfect for the Vienna style, but given the fact that the selection was pretty limited and the Brew and Grow dude was unhelpful, it'll work). I tossed the first starter down the drain, and made a fresh one. It hadn't really gone much by late that night either, but I wasn't willing to risk letting my wort sit there overnight, so I pitched the yeast. After about a 20 hour lag time, some krauesen started showing, and I've got it at a good temperature.

All in all, not a bad day. My ingredients and gravity are a little off of the Vienna style, but I'm not going to worry about it too much. Part of that had to do with availability. I learned a ton about my setup, all grain brewing, and being patient with the yeast. Special thanks go out to Mike for helping me brew. My setup is low tech enough that brewing on that by myself would have been damn near impossible. Which means Kerry would have been pressed into service, and I don't think she would have thanked me for that. Kerry deserves thanks as well, as she dealt with a completely destroyed kitchen for most of the day. And also bought me most of the equipment I used for Christmas. If only she liked beer, she could have a proper reward. She'll have to make do with smooches.

Quote of the day: "I took a picture of your ass over the kettle. That way if the beer doesn't turn out, we can show people that picture and just say it was Shit Beer." Mike Jones

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yeast Redux, Brew Day update

So the yeast starter post yielded quite a range of comments. From "gee, I should probably use them" to "I've been brewing for an age and never had a problem" to an anti The Big Lebowski diatribe from my younger brother (I only beat him several times, and not very badly. What can I say. He's a sad strange little man).

Whatever your feelings about yeast starters, this is my point: use 'em if you want to. Don't if you don't. I've used them in each of my brews thus far, and been very happy with the results. That said, I will be trying some new yeast methods in the future. My next batch will utilize a starter, but the one after that I'll be pitching to the cake from the first batch. And then I'll attempt to harvest the yeast of that batch (there is a great picture tutorial of that on the Homebrewtalk forums). We'll see how that all works. I may have to keep a Saflager in stock to bail me out if those go sideways.

In sadder news, I will not be brewing this weekend. I am an outdoor brewer, and the weather is supposed to be even colder than it is generally this time of year in Atlanta. Something like 4 degrees on Saturday, and 8 on Sunday. Not that that would be a problem for me personally. But I was planning on fly sparging with my bottling bucket as my HLT, and keeping water in a plastic bucket at a constant temperature in 5 degrees was more than I think should be attempted on the first all grain batch. The highly anticipated Blue Blood Lager will have to wait another week. Which is a bummer. I was actually looking to see how fast I could chill 5 gallons that way.

In the end, that is okay. It will give me more time to finish constructing the most ghetto looking immersion chiller ever built. Seriously. It looks like it was "coiled" by a drunken Polack. Which, basically, it was. I'll share some pictures because I'm cool like that, and basically have no shame.

Confidential to "Freak:" No teabagging, sorry to disappoint. It would have been weird since there was a dog there. Also, she's a real lesbian, and I'm not a woman. Also, this is my beer blog. My bachelor adventures are all posted here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Yeast Starters

My buddy Ed has been brewing for years, and was definitely part of the inspiration for me to start brewing myself. He also has a way with words.

Before my first batch, I had asked him a bunch of questions about things that I thought were important, but were really just stupidly obvious that I hadn't brewed a batch yet questions. One of the things that I hadn't given any thought to at that point was pitching yeast. Everything I've read has stated that homebrewers are notoriously bad about pitching the proper amount of yeast. Indeed, some of the homebrew forums I've read have had "experienced" brewers telling newbies that it's fine to spend four hours brewing and then sprinkle a god-knows-how-old packet of dry yeast on their precious brew. Invariably, there are questions by the newbies a few days later about their "stuck" fermentation. Really, it's not stuck. They just pitched some crappy yeast. I'll let Ed take it from here:

"OK, first things first. The most important thing about getting the results you want from the beer making process is the health of your yeast. NOTHING is as important as the health of your yeast. All of my brewing has led me to become some sort of demented mother hen for a bunch of bacteria. Every thing you do in the primary brewing process should be thought of in terms of how productive a yeast colony you can.

First off, I love starters. I tell everyone to use a starter. If you transition from brewing without a starter (as I did) to using one religiously (the ONLY way I brew now), you will weep tears of joy at the reduction in frequency of bad batches and loss of time, effort, and expensive ingredients. If right off the bat you brew with starters, I dunno, you'll think this hobby is too easy or something! The starter is going to be sort of like a nice little kiddie pool for your yeast to get their shit sorted out before you dump them in to the ocean that is 5 gallons of beer."

As Ed went on to say the last time we hung out: brewing, even if you're doing extract brewing, is a lot of work. It also costs money. If you're going to do all that work, and you can do something that is only slightly more work that causes you to increase your chances of success, why not do it?

Make a starter. All the cool kids are doing it.

In brewing news: next weekend will be exciting. Assuming all my stuff arrives on time, I (along with my new brew assistants Mike and Babak) will be brewing my first all grain batch. We'll be doing a Vienna lager. WOO HOO!