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?


SWART said...

I was able to brew my first batch of the year on Sunday. I also used my outdoor cooker for the first time with fairly good results. Unfortunately, weather was not friendly for me either. They had been calling for rain all day but I kept seeing sunny skies so I went for it. Of couse, with about 15 mins to go in the boil, the rain came. I was able to get a shelter over the pot quickly though and the rain didnt last long so it should be ok. I did, sadly, have one boil over which I blame on all the steam from the contrasting temps that made it difficult to see into the pot. I would imagine it was much worse for you in Minnesota. It was still fairly warm here at about 40 degrees.

Anyway, made the Tripel but the kit came 1lb short on the DME. Hopefully that doesnt impact it too much. I feel that I definetly need a wort chiller at this time because it wasnt until 2:00am, 8 hours later, that I was able to pitch the yeast. Luckily I was up anyway with the baby. As of now it is in the primary with an O.G. of 1.072. That should be an alc content of 9-10%! Any chance you guys want to come try it this spring and bring some of your own??? I bet the wee heavy will be pretty high. Any guess?

As for the Miller book, its not really inspiring or anything but the science is well explained. Just brewing yesterday got me excited to do more so I dont think there will be as much of a lag in between beers this time.

Question, do you guys still bottle everything or have you gone to kegs exclusively?

Bri said...

I started kegging in soda kegs last fall. It cuts down on a huge amount of time. I was lucky and got a fridge for free. So my initial investment of a CO2 tank and one soda keg was about $125. It was definately worth it for me. Right now I only have one CO2 line and one tap line, but I have plans to have 3 kegs and taps at once. This way I might be able to catch up to how many batches Rich has at any given time.

rich.tessler said...

Actually Jeremy, it was about 40 by me too. I'm getting spoiled.

The tripel sounds awesome. In a pinch, especially for a belgian you can always throw in regular table sugar. It ferments out completely and raises the gravity without adding color. I don't think you'll be at 9% though. Try the calculators here: I'm guessing around 7ish. Still plenty strong. The 3 I'm drinking right now are all around 7 and having a couple will give you a buzz. I haven't run the numbers on the wee heavy or brown yet, so I'm not real sure yet. Probably around 8 or so for the wee.

I am bottling, but still have a few of the mini kegs laying around. Typically I bottle half the batch in 22 ounce bombers, 1 or 2 36 ounce flip tops, and the rest in 12 ouncers. That cuts down a little on the number of bottles, not as much time, but it's still a PITA. I have been recently tossing around the idea of getting a corny keg setup for the beer fridge downstairs, but I don't know if I can save my allowance enough to kick in the cash. I really do like being able to age bottles though, so if I did it I think I would just brew one crowd/Kristen pleaser for the keg and bottle the crazy stuff I like to drink.

Bri, did you buy your CO2 tank or do you do an exchange? How much is it to get filled or exchanged, whichever you do?

Bri said...

I bought a 5lb tank filled, it came with the regulator, lines and one soda keg all at once. I can buy used soda kegs for $25 each at my local homebrew store. Right now they have a huge inventory. The prices in Norther Brewer are pretty high since it's all brand new. Try to find used. Veterine homebrewers are great resources and may sell you some stuff for pennies.

This equipment, if handled correctly will last a very long time. I believe I'm on my 4th keg. So far I have not had to have the tank filled. My local homebrew store can refill the tank once she's empty. I'm not sure of the cost for refills.

Also, for on the go or aging, I can tap beer right into bottles. All I have to do is turn down the pressure.

rich.tessler said...

Bri, does your LHBS always have kegging setups for $125? NorthernBrewer sells a used keg and regulator for 114 but then if you want a CO2 canister they charge you like 80 bucks!!

Bri said...


$169 for the whole set-up. includes double gauge regulator and full co2 tank. refills on the 5# tank runs about 10 bucks. i have that sale going on this month-additional kegs for $25. hope that helps, cheers!

Bri said...

Well I tried my coffee stout when I racked it into the secondary. The coffee flavor is definately there in aroma and taste. It is only slightly acidic. So I'm thinking if I were to ever steepe coffee grounds after the boil, I would lower the temperature of the wort first to about 160 rather than up at 200.
I've got one solid week before I'm back in school. So I think I'll try and brew a batch this week yet. I'm hoping the Anchor Steam ingrediants will be available.

SWART said...


Not sure what I did wrong but my batch of Tripel did not take. I posted about the brewing and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I pitched the yeast (white labs abbey ale) at 72 degrees and waited. Three days later there had been no action. I called a local brew store and talked and they recomended waiting 5 days before attempting a re-pitch. Did so and nothing happened. Purchased a second yeast, Sarfale yeast for Belgian Ale. Added this and again, after 5 days, no action. Checked to make sure there are no leaks. Made a point of aerating when I pitched the yeast so that isnt likely to be the problem. I am out of answers. Therefore, the batch of Tripel went down the drain week after pitching the second yeast. Really have no idea what went wrong. You guys have any ideas. Need help, especially considering a batch of beer last year required a second pitch of yeast to get going. Am I missing something????


rich.tessler said...

Pitching at 72 is probably too high for anything but a belgian, but that wouldn't kill the yeast, just give off flavors. Are you sure about your temps? What kind of fermenter are you using - glass or plastic? Is there any kind of krausen or scum or anything at the top? Did you use liquid yeast the first time? If so, Wyeast or White Labs? Sorry about the billion questions, just trying to help. I anxiously await your reply, cuz this is spooky.

Bri said...

The one time I tried white labs nothing happened and I ended up pitching a wyeast a few days later. Sorry to hear about the loss. Once I had similar issue with no response from the yeast, but realized the temperature was too cold. I moved it to the correct temp and the next day started bubbling. If you have a sticker temp guage on the side of your carboy, it may have been damaged. Maybe test it with water before your next batch.

SWART said...

The first yeast was a liquid yeast, white labs. The second was dry, sarfale. My primary is the plastic bucket. Checked for leaks, found nothing. Checked my thermometer and it appears to be accurate. At time of second yeast it was 67 degrees. Looking back, both this time and last year the yeast that failed was white labs. Doesnt appear to be any scum at the top. Still confused, guess I just need to try again...unfortunatelly the baby is now fussy all the time.

rich.tessler said...

I think with that White Labs yeast it would be a good idea to make a starter so that you know the yeast is active and also to build up the cell count before pitching. I'm really sorry about your loss. That sucks man.