So I (barely) managed to get a brew day in during my week of vacation. It was a bit hectic, as I typically have my ingredients a week or so before I actually get to brew, but this time, I hit the LHBS (local home brew store) Sunday for Monday brew session. Things started off rocky from the get-go. At the LHBS, the owner who is always there, was not (for good reason as his wife just gave birth to a baby boy). Plus, I had my whole clan (2 girls, and my wife) with me as we were doing other errands after this stop.
I do my grain crush at the store as I don’t yet have a grain mill of my own. This is a bit time-consuming, so typically I try to go alone or with just one of the kids. I measure out my base grain (9lb of Pilsen malt) and dump 3 lb of it into the crusher’s bin, and start the attached drill. Soon however, I find that it’s turning, but the crushed grain has stopped coming out the bottom. Turns out there’s something funky (misaligned, whatever) with the crusher set up, and I need to reverse the drill every time this occurs. And it occurs every 10-15 seconds. Ugh. I have to crush about 12 lbs of grains like this?!
Meanwhile, my kids are getting obnoxious, driving my wife nuts, thus driving me nuts. Yahoo! Another young guy in the store is helping me out with the grain mill, and I later find out he doesn’t even work there. He’s just a new homebrewer hanging out at the store, chatting up with anyone in there, looking for bits and pieces of homebrewing knowledge. (I pass on a suggestion to check out the Brewing Network site and podcasts) I finally finish the 9 lbs of Pilsen, and then have to measure out the amounts of other malts (wheat and rye) that also need crushing. It’s taking forever, and the last person I need to have more ammo against my brewing hobby is my wife! Finally, I get all the grain crushed (except for the flaked wheat, which is more like cereal and doesn’t require crushing), spot some orange peel bags, as well as some oak chips. Grab the yeast (Wyeast 3522, Belgian Ardennes), hops, and head to the counter. Then I realize I never took the playmate cooler to keep the yeast cold. Ugh. Thankfully, they have some ice keeping a corny keg cold, so a plastic bag and I’m good to go… off to the remainder of the errands (not all, because now we don’t have time for it all, oops).
That evening I boil up some wort on the stove top with some golden DME (dried Malt Extract) for a 1.5L starter. I smack the smack pack in order to release the yeast and nutrients and let it sit for a while. Doze off, wake up at 2 AM, and the yeast pack has not swollen as they normally do. But, I know that not all smack packs swell the same, so I tear it open and pitch it into the wort in the erlenmeyer flask. Off to bed.
Monday morning comes, and I get up before everyone else, but still not very early. I swirl the yeast flask, but don’t see any signs of activity. Should be some foam building up at the top as I swirl, but nothing. I continue getting everything else ready to start the mash, all the while worrying that I’m going to have to get another yeast packet as obviously something’s wrong with my starter.I then take a look in the Wyeast packaging before tossing it and I see the small packet within it has NOT broken as it was supposed to. Basically there are two compartments that supposedly burst when “smacked” or pressed properly. I can usually feel it happen. I see that one has opened, and that’s what I poured into the starter at 2 am. But the other, I believe to be the yeast nutrients, never did. So I cut it open and dump it in. Who knows? But I still think I’m going to need more yeast.
I mash in at around 149° (low mash temp to get this to really dry out). Given it a 90 minute mash as the low temp and pilsen malt tends to need more time to convert completely. First runnings drain into the pot without getting stuck (rye and wheat both can contribute to stuck mashes, and I’ve got both in this… 2 lb of rye, 1 lb of wheat, 0.5 lb of flaked wheat). Batch sparge, run off the rest into the pot, and get it onto the burner. This will be a 90 minute boil, again, due to all the pilsen and it’s tendency to produce DMS (which gives a canned corn off flavor to beer) if only boiled 60 minutes. Due to the longer boil, I had already calculated needing more wort as I will lose more to boil-off the longer the boil.
Took a sample before it started boiling and I pretty much hit the calculated pre-boil gravity of 1.042 on the nose. A good sign!
Again, as this is going on, I continue to swirl my yeast starter only to still see no activity. F%$&!!! The LHBS where I got my ingredients is closed (turns out, due to impending birth of their son) and so I will need to drive 30+ minutes up into Portsmouth to another HBS. That’s over an hour of travel, and this brew day which should take about 5 hrs normally is now really adding up (1 more hr due to the longer mash and boil times, and now a trip to Portsmouth? Ugh!). With 15 minutes to go in the boil, I place the copper wort chiller into the pot, giving it time to sanitize in the boilign wort. Also toss in my late addition hops, cane sugar (recipe has 1 lb sugar in the boil which will help dry out the final beer) and the sweet orange peel. After the 90 minute boil is done I move the pot off the heat, connect the hoses, and start the chiller. Now, while it’s chilling, I’ve got to hustle up to Portsmouth to get the yeast before the store closes. Got my youngest (not too willingly) to go with me, and as I head to the door, I give the flask one last swirl and presto! foam! The yeast is active. OK, no running to NH. Yahoo!
So, I find my wort has chilled enough, I can transfer it to the carboy (glass fermenter). Takes time as I siphon it in from the kettle, leaving as much of the solids behind in the pot. Then I recall I never to a gravity reading other than the pre-boil. Sanitize the turkey baster, and start pulling the sample from the narrow carboy spout. And the tube comes apart from the bulb of the baster, falling into the carboy. I am about to lose my mind. I literally lift the glass carboy and pour it (sloshingly) into a plastic fermenting bucket (which I of course had to clean and sanitize first). One good thing, the sloshing aerates the wort which will help the yeast (if I ever get to that point!). I get the plastic tub out of the carboy, finish taking the sample and then rack from the bucket to the carboy (for the second time). The aquarium stick-on thermometer on the carboy tells me it’s cooled enough to pitch the yeast (high 60s). Typically if I’ve made my starter days before the brew day, it allows the yeast cells to replicate/increase in number. I then refrigerate it, causing the yeast to go to sleep, settling at the bottom in a slurry, allowing me to decant the extra starter wort. But seeing that it hasn’t had that time, this starter likely just woke up the yeast to the point where they were very active and ready to eat sugars. I poured the whole 1.5 liters right into the carboy that evening.
By the next day, the yeast was going nuts, and I had bubbly krausen filling the head space of the carboy less than 18 hrs after I pitched in the yeast. The wort was extremely cloudy, with lots of floaties flying around. (Last time my wort looking like this was my rye IPA, so I am assuming it has to do with the rye malt itself.) Either way, it settled out as the week passed. Today, one week later, I’ve removed the blow-off tube, replaced it with a simple 3-piece airlock, and set the fermwrap to keep it at a steady 75°. When I pitched the yeast, the carboy’s temp was 69. With no temp control on it for the (first 5 days) the yeast activity caused the wort’s temp to go up to around 73 on it’s own. Belgian yeast strains work at this higher temp, and often breweries will even let it rise up into the upper 70s, depending on the phenols and esters desired.
I will soon take a gravity reading to see where things are at. When I returned home(Sat) from a couple nights away I found the carboy’s temp had dropped back to 71°. Very slowly bubbling in the airlock. As the fermwrap brought the temp up, the activity picked up a bit. Given the use of 1lb of cane sugar in the boil, the yeast should work on this and get it down below 1.010 final gravity. Hoping 1.008-1.009. This is a new style and yeast for me, so it’s all a bit of an experiment at this point.