have you done this before?

That’s the question I was asking myself last sunday while I was brewing the first batch of Early Bird Breakfast Stout. The brewday didn’t exactly go as smoothly as I would have hoped. In fact I have never had such a bad brewing session. Even my very first all-grain brew went much better. Let’s just hope that the resulting beer will turn out well.

After milling the grain bill by hand (I can never get my drill to work with the Barley Crusher) I proceeded to dough-in, hoping for a mash temp of 68°C. Problem # 1: Stirring the mash I thought that it seemed a bit thick. After taking a reading of about 64°C I knew I had made a mistake somewhere. Normally this would not be a huge problem. A bit of quick math and heating up some extra water will bring the temp right up to 68°C. Done. Problem # 2: .. wait… why is it now at 65.5° C? By this time I was highly confused. The mash was now too thin to add more water and I didn’t want to bother with decoction mashing, so I just let it go at 65.5° C.

After the mashing problems I hoped that the rest of the day would go well. The first runnings came out of the tun smelling fantastic. There where some nice roasty toasty coffee and chocolate notes with a distinct oatmeal aroma. I was actually surprised that the oats came out so evident on the nose. Problem # 3: Sparging went well for the first 8-9 liters, but then the flow came to a stand still. The dreaded stuck sparge. Great, the brew day just got worse. After cutting into the grainbed I was able to eek out the rest of the wort to get my desired 25 liters. Problem # 4: Unfortunately the gravity reading was a bit high. Some more quick math told me that I needed 2 liters more water to get to the right SG. Thats when I realized the 2 liters I needed to add to get the correct SG was also why my mash looked so thick and the temp was so low. Yup, somehow I measured the strike water volume wrong.

The boil did go much better. In fact I was quite pleased with how the raisin addition went. With 20 minutes to go in the boil I placed the 225g of organic raisins in a steel pot and tapped off about 1 liter of boiling wort. A few minutes with a hand blender then puree was dumped back into the boil kettle. After the boil was done I cooled down the wort and ran it off into the bucket.  Problem # 5: I only got out about 5 liters before the run-off siezed up. Apparently the raisin bits were blocking the flow through the copper manifold. Running off the remaining 15 liters took a long time. I had to take my brew spoon and continuously run it back and forth under the edge of the manifold like windshield wipers to clear away raisin bits. I suppose a bonus is that all the raisin bits stayed in the kettle. It was also nice to see that the black raisins were now a light brown color so I can feel confident that all the raisiny goodness was pulled out of them during the boil.

The low mash temp now meant that the beer would turn out drier than I was aiming for. To adjust for this I decided that I would use a pack of Wyeast 1968 London Ale yeast (even though I had not made a starter) which is less attenuative than the US-05 I had initially planned on using. I activated the smack pack during the mash to hopefully start to wake up the yeast before throwing them in. Problem # 6: By the time my stretched out brew day was done the smack-pack had not swelled at all. Feeling quite desperate at this point I dumped it in anyways. I waited patiently for signs of fermentation. 24 hours passed by. Worry started to set in. I waited some more. 48 hours after pitching there were still no signs of anything happening. I popped open the lid and sprinkled a pack of US-05 on top of the lifeless wort. Problem # 7: Another 24 hours later there were still no signs of action in the airlock. However, there was a faint indication of something happening through the plastic bucket. The next day at work is when I remebered that the black rubber bung in the lid isn’t air tight (thats why I normally us the red ones). A couple sheets of plastic wrap and the problem was solved. The airlock is now bubbling happily.

Thats were the story ends for now. I really hope that bottling goes well or else I may just pour this beer down the drain in spite. I still have hopes for this beer though. The hydrometer sample tasted great and the recipe still looks solid to me. If it doesn’t work out this time, or if it is way too dry, then my next brew will be a re-brew of this beer. Now let’s all pray to the beer gods.

3 thoughts on “have you done this before?

  1. All the problems you listed are not really problems… They are problems that make you want to RDWHAHB 😉

    Seriously, this beer will turn our great, I wouldn’t; worry about it. Those smack packs often don’t swell but the yeast are still viable. That’s happened to me plenty of times. Maybe add some rice hull to your sparge next time.

    Cheers,

    J

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    1. Yeah, I’m trying not to sweat it. I think the beer will still turn out well, just not 100% what I intended… but hey, it’ll be drinkable!
      The smack pack i used was the first one I had ever ordered through the mail… so I was already skeptical of it. I am sure there was some viable yeast in there and it will probably contribute to the flavor but I have a feeling that the US-05 took hold before too much of the WY 1968 got going. Normally I would have definitely made a starter but as I mentioned I wasn’t planning on using that yeast. Oh well. It was a learning experience.. I learned I need to brew more often!

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