Sunday, January 6, 2008

My First Outdoor Brew Session

After Mother Nature forced me to abort my New Year's Day brewing, I finally got around to brewing yesterday. As I mentioned in my last entry, I was debating what to do with my starters, and I decided to toss them in the fridge on Tuesday or Wednesday. On Friday night I brought out the Wee Heavy's starter (Wyeast 1728 - Scottish Ale), warmed it up to room temperature, poured off the spent wort, then added another cup and half of DME boiled in 1500 mL of water. That got it going super active by Saturday morning. The Wee Heavy is actually sending massive amounts of foam and stuff through the blowoff tube as we speak, I've had to suck water out of the pitcher full of sanitizer that my blowoff tubes run into twice already today. The American Brown is also active, but not as much as the Wee Heavy. I think one of the reasons is that I also poured off the spent wort on that starter (Wyeast 1056 - American Ale) but didn't step it up because the Brown isn't as big as the Wee Heavy and also just pitched the slurry. Normally I pitch the whole starter when it's active. Regardless, the Brown's lag time was about 6 hours, but the Wee Heavy was only 2. Knowing that there's less time for bad bugs to take hold in my beer is reason enough for me to use starters.

Back to the brewing. I got off to a little bit of a late start, but I hooked up the propane, did a leak test, poured in 6 gallons, and turned it on full blast. I had read that for brewing in an aluminum pot you should boil just water in it first to create the dark gray coating on the inside of the kettle, so that's what I did. I was a little disappointed in the boil time though. It took about 25 minutes or so to bring it to a good boil. I was hoping for a little less, but there was a pretty good wind all day, which probably (hopefully) had some effect. I actually shoveled a big snowbank as a windbreak when I started but then the wind shifted and kept shifting all day so I just said screw it. After about 30 minutes I got impatient and hooked up the wort chiller. That was impressive! I got the water down to 75 degrees in about 12 minutes. I realize the water's pretty cold in winter, but if I can get anywhere close to that in the summer I will be happy.

I started the American Brown Ale right after that, pouring 5.5 gallons into the kettle plus the half gallon I steeped my specialty grains in. I thought this would be fine since I lost about a half gallon during my test boil, but when I added the malt extract that brought the level up too high. I was dangerously close to a boil over for about 10 minutes. Things settled down for a while but when I threw the flavor and aroma hops, my late addition extract, and the chiller to sterilize, I did have a minor boilover. Not as big of a deal as indoors on the stove, but it's still not cool. A 30 quart brewpot is not quite enough to boil 6 gallons without worrying about boilovers, but it's still a major improvement over the little pot I was using on the stove.

While that was chilling I was sanitizing my siphon and collecting water for the next boil, and while I was pitching the yeast on the Brown I had started the Wee Heavy's boil, this time with 5 gallons of water plus the half gallon of steeping grain water. The Wee Heavy was weird though because I didn't lose that much volume over the course of the boil. Maybe because I added 12 pounds of liquid extract? Mwahaha. That is going to be a huge beer.

Overall, brewing outside is pretty awesome. Even though I think my burner is not super powerful, I still dropped the time it takes to make a batch quite a bit. Plus, it was only 20 bucks, so what the hell. It took a little less than 2 hours from the time I started boiling water to pitching the yeast. I think that if I build a windscreen of some sort I might be able to drop that a little more, so I'm happy. Kristen's happy because the house doesn't stink, and cleanup is easier since I can just hose off the patio. In addition, since you're not supposed to use oxiclean, bleach, or other harsh chemicals on aluminum pots, cleanup is even easier and faster since I just add some hot water and mild soap and wipe it down with a rag, give it a rinse, and I'm done. I'm still debating whether I should drill a hole in my brewpot and add a valve to make transferring the wort into the fermenter faster, but the new high capacity auto siphon I got only takes about 5 minutes, so I don't know how much time I would actually save, although if I let the cool wort splash into the fermenter through the funnel I might be able to skip shaking the crap out of the carboy to aerate.

Anybody else do some brewing this weekend?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Mission Aborted

Happy New Year!

My original plan for this break was to bottle my cherry beer (The Full Monty) first, then brew my Bourbon Brown and a Wee Heavy. I was dying to finally test the new turkey fryer and the immersion chiller and new glass primary (#2) that Santa brought me. Because of family stuff and food induced laziness, the bottling was put off even before Kris Kringle visited. To get in the brewing spirit, Eli and I made a pilgrimage to Northern Brewer last Friday, where I picked up their Wee Heavy kit and the ingredients for an American Brown Ale that I designed. He's an awesome little helper; he had a lot of fun helping me pick out my grains and run the mill in the grain room. I made both yeast starters on Saturday morning and also steamed an ounce of oak chips that are steeping in 5 ounces of Makers Mark right now, waiting to be tossed in the secondary of the brown ale. The plan was to brew both batches on New Year's Day, but the temp never got above 5 degrees today. That's too cold for me to stand outside and brew 2 batches, so I bitched out. Instead, I bottled The Full Monty today, and set up my turkey fryer stand and the hoses and fittings for the immersion chiller. So, brew day has been moved to Saturday.

I do have 2 questions for the loyal readers of this blog (all 2 of you): Do you use yeast starters? If so, how often? I'm trying to figure out what to do with the starters I made. They'll be 7 days old by the time they're pitched, so they'll be dormant I'm guessing. Should I let them ferment out for another day, then toss them in the fridge and maybe add some more DME on Friday? Or, should I just let them hang out and pitch them as is?