Getting back to the basics

It wasn’t long ago when we were talking about how much we were about to “ramp things up” and all the contests we were about to enter with our “dialed in recipes”. Since then you may have noticed an absence in posts and not as much going on with our Facebook page. There are a few reasons for this, but the long and short of it is “life happened” and as a result much of the forward momentum we had needed to reigned in for a bit while more important things were attended to. Yes there are more important things in our lives then brewing beer. Not many, but they do exist.

So what’s been going on? Well things did ramp up considerably in the brewing department. Last weekend we have over 30 gallons of beer kegged and ready to be bottled/consumed. However, only 10 of that 30 gallons got bottled and or saved for later. What happened to the rest? DUMPED! If you’ve never dumped a batch of beer (which we hope you never have to do, but it’ll probably still happen) it’s one of the more soul crushing things that you can do or witness. It’s not really the monetary loss, but rather the amount of effort that went into all aspects of the brewing process. All of those things go through your head while you witness your frothy, handcrafted creation pour down the drain.

Minutes before everything went wrong. Look how blissfully happy we were!
Minutes before everything went wrong. Look how blissfully happy we were!

It was the crescendo to what has been a string of weird and not so great results from our last bunch of brews. Version 2 of our Black IPA? Some how it managed to taste more like a porter with hardly any hop or dry hop characteristics at all. The new ESB? Not bad, but also missing the dry hop character. Version 3 of our Porter? Sour. Version 2 of our Cream Ale? Also Sour! What the frick is going on here? Did somebody open our fermenters and hock a loogie in them or did we fly too close to the sun? Luckily it appears to be neither of those and more about what we changed.

Luckily with all of those brews we know (because of our relentless note taking) that each one of them involved a new part or a change to our normal brewing routine. Black IPA? Fermentation stalled and we re-pitch the yeast. Also we bagged the dry hops rather then just dumping them in. ESB? It was a 10 gallon batch so we used a different fermenter as well as bagging our dry hops. Porter? Also had to re-pitch, but we took a lot more gravity readings before racking which could lead to a higher chance of infection. We also waited until the yeast was completely done before racking which means there’s not even a small amount of CO2 protecting the beer in the secondary. This increases the chance of infection even more. Given that we carried that habit over to the Cream Ale, we can start painting a picture of what could have happened and how we might be able to prevent it next time around.

Unfortunately “could” and “might” don’t really fill us with enough confidence to go ahead and simply brew the same beers with the same new equipment, using the same new processes. The chances that one of those changes affected the results are still too high for our liking. This means that for our next brew day we’ll be “kicking it old school”. No more fancy shmancy keg turned fermenter for the primary. No more waiting until the final gravity is hit before racking to the secondary. For this brew we will be going back to our more laid back (and slightly impatient) fermentation schedule using our tried and true equipment. Will we still make changes to our brewing setup and process down the road? Absolutely! However, from here on in we’ll be adjusting our brewing process and equipment just like we adjust our recipes. One change at a time.

Cheers!

SVB

Adventures In All- Grain

First ever beer brewed? Check. Second beer brewed properly? Check. Legendary home-brewing status achieved? Not even close. Time to play with the big boys and brew our first all-grain!

Before we got too far into our first all-grain brew, we delayed the brew date a little longer so that we could do some proper research on what it was we were actually supposed to be doing. There was a lot more to know this time around and we were being extra causious. We learned our way around a mash tun and plate chiller we’d borrowed (again, THANKS JACK!!) and even ventured into constructing our own recipe. We’d also spent countless hours reading and watching YouTube how-to videos. Things were shaping up and, unlike our first brew, we felt we were prepared. Or so we thought.

Mash Tun Filled!
Mash Tun Filled!

For this brew we had planned for simple IPA using only Cascade for our hops. We decided to brew a “full bodied beer” which meant we’d “mash in” (steeping the grains for you non brewers) at a higher temperature. This would also mean we’d need more grain as well. We had read that it’s best to slowly add the water and grain bit by bit. What we didn’t realize was that you should have a nice layer of water BEFORE you start adding the grain. So, by the end of the mash, all that thick doughy grain at the bottom of the mash tun had made its way under the false bottom and was now preventing any wort (none fermented beer) from draining out of the tun. This is what you call a “stuck mash” and, let me tell ya, it sucked. We’re talking three hours to drain the mash tun kinda suck. Eventually that painfully late night ended with the yeast being pitched and the fermenter being transported down to Jesse’s basement to do its thing. It would be clear sailing from here on out. Right?

Not exactly. I said that we used Jesse’s basement for our fermentation room, but what I forgot to mention was that we were brewing in the middle of a cold January. Unfortunately for us, that part of Jesse’s basement was not known for its heat retention. Needless to say we were freaking out after we racked (transferred) the beer into the secondary. Why was our gravity still so high? Were we going to end up with a 3.5% IPA? Fun fact: if yeast is too cold it’s not going to ferment much of anything. So, after our initial freak out, we moved the carboy to a warmer climate. Luckily things finally kicked into gear and the airlock began bubbling like it should. While we were at it we had also noticed, from our gravity sample, that this beer was seriously lacking in the hop aroma and flavour department. We decided to give dry hopping a try and threw an once into the carboy for good measure. Disaster avoided!

You can dry out the grain to use for making bread and other great snacks.
You can dry out the grain to use for making bread and other great snacks.

The results were not bad actually. I think Dennis described it best as “a good entry level IPA for the none hop head”. Bottom line was, even with all of our trials and tribulations, we ended up with something that was miles ahead of the two extracts we’d previously brewed. We would end up doing one last extract brew, but from here on in it was all-grain for us.

Something good was happening here, but we didn’t start to really tap into our full potential until our local brew club threw out an interesting challenge.

Check back soon for our next post “The Challenge“.