This past Saturday, several friends dropped by for the inagural brew of my new setup. I haven’t brewed in almost 14 years and decided to jump feet first into all grain beers. After a few months of research, prep, and equipment build, the day arrived to find out if all our hard work was for nought.
After spending a long time on the Homebrew Talk forums, I settled on a recipe called BierMuncher’s Centenniel Blonde Ale. It seemed to be a pretty forgiving recipe. I used an open source brewing programm called BrewTarget. I’ll be calling this beer “Saazy Blonde”.
The day started at 9:00am with the setup of the brewery. I had planned on stacking the MLT on two five gallon buckets (not as sturdy as I’d like) but I saw my old Workmate bench and realized it would be perfect, and provide a space to mount the pump switch. It also gave me a good, sturdy step to use when peeking into the MLT.
I filled the brew kettle with eight gallons of water and fired up the propane burner. It’s only a 14,000BTU burner, but I don’t use propane (I’m a charcoal man!) so I was a little nervous lighting the thing. I was really pleased with his quickly we hit our strike water temp (175°) to preheat the mash tun. I tweaked the gas to hold the temp at 175° for a few minutes. We opened the valves and turning the pump on recirculating the hot water through the system while I watched the temp on the BK to settle back to the right temp. we adjusted the valves until there were 4 gallons in the kettle, leavin gjust under four in the MLT (because of what was in the hoses). Pump and burner off and we waited for the strike water to cool to our mash-in temp of 165°.
Once we hit strike temp, I poured in the 12 pounds of grain, stirring every few pounds to ensure a well-mixed mash. No dough balls here. My target strike amout at 3.8 gallons, which I’n pretty sure I hit. The smell was amazing. Sort of a cross between the county fair and a bowl of breakfast cereal. Once the mash was thoroughly stirred, I placed several layers of aluminum foil over it and close the lid tight. After 15 minutes, I hit one of the first snags of the day. I didn’t have a decent way of checking the mash temp! I’d intended on installing a thermowell in the tun and never got around to it. No worries, I grabbd a big-dial meat thermometer and stuck it right down into the foil.
We were five degrees short of our 155 target temp, so I added a kettle of boiling water and the temp hit it perfectly. Kept the thermometer in the foil for the rest of the mash, and used it to monitor temps for the rest of the hour. They held very well. Once the mash time was over, we brought the kettle water up to 170 and opened the MLT out valve slowly to begin recirculating again. It took a while to figure out how to balance the pump sleed and mash drainage. But we got it eventually. After about 15 minutes of recirculation, we closed the kettle out and allowed the wort to drain completely from the tun.
While Jake and I recirculated the mash and prepared for the boil, Josh and his boys went to the playground. We heard a ruckus and I looked off the deck to see 12-15 wild turkeys in the back yard! I’ve never seen anything like that before in the back yard. They were apparently wandering through the neighborhood. Maybe we should call this “Turkeys in the Back Yard Blonde Ale?” Anyhow, the wort was drained and we collected about 6.75 gallons, which was far less than I expected to get.
We drew a sample and placed it in the freezer to check the gravity while we brought it up to a boil. After checking the gravity of the sample, we were at 1.050, slightly over our target OG of 1.043. I figured the boil off would correct that. Hop additions at 55, 35, 20, and 5 minutes and flame out occured exactly on schedule. However, I forgot to add the BewVint yeast nutrients and irish moss. Oh well, fermentation will be slow and I can clarify with gelatin later, I suppose.
My homemade immersion chiller was dropped into the brew with 20 minutes left in the boil (second to last hop addition) and was ready for action. We turned on the hose and were amazed at how fast the wort cooled down. I didn’t check the exact time, but I would say it took about 20 minutes to bring the beer from 212° to 65°. Not bad. I expect to do better with a bigger coil or an actual plate chiller, though. Next time.
My co-worker Paul arrived with his dog and he assisted with the cooldown and fermenter filling. He and the dog supervised while Jake filled up the carboy. My original intent was to have seven gallons of end-product, the sight gauge on my kettle showed only five. The SG of the last sample we pulled was 1.048, only .003 higher than taget, though. I’ll have to hit the forum and see if we can do a post-mortem of the brew and figure out A) where I lost so much water and b) where my efficiency must have been. We were going to split the batch between my six-gallon glass carboy and a blue Aqua Tainer water jug and pitch two different strains of yeast; but with only five gallons, we put it all in the carboy and only pitched the Nottingham yeast.
We moved the carboy into the basement, added a blowoff tube to the carboy stopper and stuck the other end into a jar of StarSan. The space under the stairs has been around 60°+/-, and I’m not seeing any activity yet.
In all, the brewday took six hours, and I spotted a few places where improvements can be made to the setup and my process. But it was fun. Great times with friends and we should have five gallons of … something in a few weeks. Stay tuned!