How I managed to get a couple silver medals in a local homebrew comp a couple years ago not long afterm oving to all-grain brewing is kind of beyond me now. How I managed to brew my Rye IPA recipe 3 times in the past couple years and get VERY consistent results, only to have all my brews in recent months go haywire… I just don’t get it.
In the past 4-5 months, almost all my brew days have been chaotic. My gravities have defied logic. I’ve been very lucky the beers have been drinkable, and a couple actually quite tasty, after all that went wrong.
- Batch #4 of my Rye IPA was over-sparged resulting in a lower ABV beer than intended. That same beer lost all its hop aroma in the keg after I discovered there was a CO2 leak and the keg was sitting in the kegerator not properly pressurized/carbonated.
- My Zombie Dust clone attempt ran into poor extract efficiency due to a really course crush using the lhbs’s mill (where I always crushed my grain until a couple batches ago). Scrambled, adding over a pound of dried malt extract (DME) to the boil. I rushed this a bit to the keg (drinking 3 weeks after brewday) for our Labor Day party, and amazingly it came out pretty good. Not as intended, but tasty and enjoyable.
- My 2nd batch of Mosaic IPA had similar lower-than-anticipated original gravity (OG). Meanwhile, the same recipe (same grist, different hopping schedule) when brewed the first time a few months prior was much more as calculated.
- My first attempt at a Deshutes’ Black Butte Porter clone had similar low boil-off, low OG results and is currently in it’s 2nd week of fermentation.
In MOST cases I have been hitting near the pre-boil gravity readings my homebrew software (I used BeerAlchemy as it’s made for Mac OS unlike many others) has calculated. The big issue is in the gravity change from pre- ot post-boil. I used to anticipate a 1 gallon loss to the boil. In the middle of freezer Winter temps I found my OG was coming in higher than anticipated, and realized I wasn’t taking into account the seasonal changes (colder temps, drier air, increased loss during the boil as I brew outside only). So I started calculating for 1/5 gallons or more lost to boil. Then I forgot to lessen that when the warmer weather arrived, thus I was using too much sparge water resulting in lower gravities. The weird thing is that for the porter brew as well as my most recent Rye IPA attempt (#5), I went back to the 1 gallon boil-off rate, only to find my gravity increasing about .004 pts form the preboil reading compared to calculations anticipating twice that increase. Hence, more lower than planned OG beers.
I’ve never had a sight glass on my kettle to tell me exact volumes, and I’ve never cared, because my earlier brews always came out very close to my anticipated OG. Also, my grain crush has changed as the lhbs had various issues with it’s mill (inconsistent crushes) and now I have my own mill, which is just another change in my equipment. And a few brews ago I started using a new Blichmann burner as opposed to the burner that was from an old turkey fryer. The old burner wasn’t a banjo style with lots of jets, but more like a stove-top burner on a gas stove in one’s kitchen. Oddly enough, I haven’t found I get to a boil any faster with the new fancy burner (although the heat is much more evenly distributed along the bottom of the kettle).
I brewed my porter 8 days ago, and brewed Rye IPA #5 tow days ago (I jammed in two brew days knowing with Thanksgiving, both of my daughter’s birthdays in December, Christmas, and New Years, brewing will be hard to schedule until mid January). This time, the brand new lab thermometer (broke my other one dropping it a couple brews ago) screwed me over, drastically misreading my mash temp, causing me to over heat the last gallon or stroke water and end up scorching my mash into the 170s. It continued to show me barely hitting 150 (was aiming for 154) so I grabbed the dial thermometer form the turkey fryer as well as a dial meat thermometer, which showed the super high temp. I scrambled and finally got it down to 155 with ice cubes added to the mash! Supposedly, the high temp needs at least 20 minutes to denature and I got the temp down to 155 in about 15 minutes. But I am still assuming I really screwed up the mash and will not get nearly enough conversion to fermentable sugars to make this beer something other than my first to actually dump. I carried it through the process though. Let it mash for an hour, batch sparged, boiled, and chilled. Actually I chilled it to 63° which is a record low for me using only the immersion chiller. I pitched the S05 dry cal ale yeast and used the fermwrap and temp control to raise it to 66 over night. I have not activity all day Monday. Finally, Tuesday morning I was seeing some bubbling in the airlock. The slow start was either due to the bad mash process, or the fact that I pitched at 63°… or a combination of the two.
So now I wait and see just how low this beer will finish. If it gets under 1.020 I will be amazed. I am expecting that the mash scramble with the ice salvaged it a LITTLE, but not enough, and I end up with a beer that finished way too high to be drinkable due to lack of sugars converted in the mash.
I am really banging my head against the wall lately. I know I’m not paying enough attention to detail. I’ve not been diligent with my boil-off/volume measuring. Just can’t imagine how I got so many beers hitting the numbers in the first almost 2 years of homebrewing, and now suddenly don’t seem to know my ass from my elbow.
Just praying the Porter comes out good, and batch 5 of my Rye IPA comes out drinkable, if not one I would share.