So, yesterday was my 34th (!!!) birthday. Spent a very low-key birthday with my lovely wife and baby boy. We went to The Thirsty Brewer to pick up supplies for today’s brew, had lunch at the Famous Dave’s BBQ chain that just opened up in town, and wrapped the evening up with a swimming session at the local place Mandie takes Liam for lessons. The only “birthday” stuff we did was enjoy a fantastic cake made by my wife; a mojito torte!
This morning, I woke up at the bum-crack of dawn (well, okay 7:00) and set about getting the brewing equipment ready. I didn’t mention that I broke down, cleaned, and sanitized two kegs yesterday. They were ready to receive 8 gallons of Belgian Strong Ale (think Duvel)!
The mash went especially perfect this morning. 170 degree water went into the mash tun and held until strike temp. I improvised a little plastic-plate thermometer boat to help me monitor the temps. Once the grains went in, mash temp was achieved in just a few minutes and held for the entire hour without losing a single degree (!!!). Since I recirculate my mash, I added the rest of the water and waited until near the end of the mash to bring it up to mash-out temps. Everything went really smoothly aside from forgetting I was out of paint-strainers for a hop sock. A quick trip to Home Depot to get a pack while the mash sat remedied that. The stop by Starbucks for my complimentary Toffee Mocha (Venti!) hit the spot since I was brewing early and didn’t want to start drinking at 8:00am.
The Boil went just as planned. To account for grain absorption, boil-off, hop loss, and equipment loss, I need about eleven gallons of water for an 8 gallon batch. My kettle is only 36 quarts. So I drain off 1.5 gallons of early running and 1.5 of later running for a stove top boil. I don’t do any hop additions to this. Mostly, it to allow for boil-off before adding back to the kettle.
The hop additions were pre-weighed and waiting next to post-it notes (a little trick I came up with) and went into the boil exactly on schedule. I don’t think there’s much else to say. It went exactly as planned.
The Chill is probably my least favorite part of a brew day; even more so than cleanup. It’s like the opposite of watching a pot of water boil. I use a 25 foot copper immersion chiller, which doesn’t quite cut the mustard with large boils. I’ll need to come up with a better chilling method when I build my keggle. The chill took from 11:38am to 12:21pm to get down to 90 degrees. I gave up at that point. I did enjoy a glass of the Rain Delay Pale Ale, however.
It looks much hazier than it really is. I overcarbed it a bit so I have to pour three times, which kicks up the yeast in the bottle. Here’s another shot of it from last night. Looks like a lemon meringue.
Wet T-shirt Contest in my bathroom! Even though the chill stalled out at 90 degrees, I drained the 7.5 gallons (more on the missing 0.5 gallons later) into the two corny kegs from yesterday. I sealed the top and carried them down into my basement bathroom where I placed them in a cooler of room-temp water and wrapped old t-shirts around them. With a few zip-loc bacgs of ice and a fan blowing on the shirts to provide some evaporative cooling, the cornys reached a pitchable temp of 76 degrees (Hey, this is a Belgian. I can pitch high) by 5:00pm. I have ball-lock disconnects on the gas in posts with tubes lowered into the cooler water. Over the next few hours, the temps have dropped even lower, to about 74 degrees. Should be able to maintain temps by adding bottles of frozen water every morning and evening. There was on instance of suck-back into one corny, which has me a little concerned.
I pitched Wyeast Activator packs into the cornys because I hadn’t planned ahead for starters. Since I split the batch, I have both 1762 – Belgian Abbey II & 1388 – Belgian Strong Ale (supposedly Duvel’s strain). It should be interesting to see how they differ.
The ultimate plan for this beer is to develop something to be corked and capped in champagne bottles for my 20th high school reunion. I’ll secondary those on blueberries and golden pears. My high school colors were blue and gold. For now, however, I am calling this beer “Herculean Parrot” in honor of my favorite Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Bonus is that this is a Belgian Strong ale. So the “Herculean” part is fitting as well.