Saturday, March 30, 2013

First Brew Day

Today is my first brew day.  I was stoked about all the possibilities but a little worried about making any mistakes that would lead to skunky beer and a wasted effort.  I got my burner out and started it up on the front porch so I could access the kitchen as fast as possible.  After filling the 5-gallon kettle with 3-gallons of water, I dumped all the steeping grains in the mesh bag and the brew was underway.

The stout recipe called for steeping the grains for 30 minutes until the temp reached 170.  A few minutes after dropping the bag in I saw where stouts get their dark color.  The kettle turned a dark tannic like something you'd see if you were in a black water swamp.   This is where my first (but not last) rookie mistake occurred.  I had tied the mesh bag to the kettle, but I didn't do a great job of tying up the bag itself, so some of the grains started escaping.  But this was quickly remedied with a slotted spoon.  After reaching boil, it was time for the NASA bag of malt extract.  Since I was worried about caramelization on the bottom I had my wife stir while I squeezed all 7 lbs of extract from the bag.  That stuff was pretty thick.  I basically had to wring the bag to get the last bits.  Then it was time to bring it back up to a boil and add the bittering hops.  I've become a big fan of hops since I helped a friend brew last Saturday.  Hops smell really good to me.  My perception of beer has changed a lot since I started learning about brewing.  Before, yeah I knew beer was made of some grain called malt and some hops, whatever those were.  But it wasn't a full appreciation. It was like going to Publix and grabbing a cellophane wrapped container of meat or fish, or a can of spaghetti sauce.  You're distancing yourself from all the raw materials and hard work that go into making the finished product.  I'm not going to go off on some rant about having a Neanderthal diet (a great idea if your goal is to live until you are 30) or the omnivore's dilemma.  But understanding the raw materials, what quality smells like, makes you better able to detect those same elements in a finished beer.  So to say the least, it's been a real eye opener for me.

The thing all the books, recipes, and friends warn you about is boil over.  It's not the end of the world if it happens, but more of a mess.  Once I got things going I was working on other things like figuring out how to chill the wort, sanitizing stuff, getting the labels off my used bottles.  So I was back and forth pretty regularly.  I left the lid partially closed with the thermometer allowing a little venting.  I was going to grab a chair when I noticed some foam building up.  I quickly popped the lid and cut the burner way down.  Crisis averted.

The Cool Down
This was what I was most concerned about - cooling the wort quickly.  I was really tempted to go out and buy a wort chiller after reading all the reviews about their usefulness, ease, and leading to better beer.  But I also didn't want to blow $50 on something and then turn out to be a terrible brewer and never brew again.  I was planning on getting a bag of ice the night before (and bottled water for the partial boil method) but forgot.  So after the wort was done I filled the sink with ice, dropped the kettle in there and headed to the store.   I got 4 bags of ice.  Which maybe a little overkill after reading online reviews, but it seemed worth it to minimize cooling time and the potential for contamination.  Filling the tub with water and 4 bags of ice worked really well.  I'm not sure of the exact time, but once I got the kettle in there it was less than 30 mins.  I resolved to freeze some water or stock up on homemade fridge ice next time to save on costs.

Here is where I made my second, mostly likely worst, rookie mistake.  The wort was ready to go (actually a little cooler than anticipated after I added 1.5 gallons of cold bottled water), but the yeast was still chill'n in the fridge at 40 degrees F.  I couldn't believe it.  So I ran the tap hot, filled up a large plastic cup that you get from a college or pro stadium, and put the yeast bottle in there.  A little while later, maybe 5-10 minutes, I took it out and pitched it.  When I opened the top of the yeast vial, some air came out so maybe they were started to get active, but I'm pretty sure they had somewhat of a rude awakening.  I'm going to have to consult with some experts like Mr. Splobucket, but I feel like this has the most potential to negatively impact this batch.  Nevertheless, I'll find out in a few days if the yeasts like their new home.

-Brewer Brendan

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