Monday, July 5, 2010

The biggest holiday disaster since the "Star Wars Holiday Special"

There were so many things that went wrong this weekend I don't even know where to start. I guess I should begin with the one thing that actually seemed to work.

Filtered and kegged: 100503 Hook Me Up

This batch had been in fermentation for about 5 weeks before I finally got to a place where I could keg it. I had already decided that this would be the test case for my beer filtration setup. I had shopped around and listened to some podcasts on The Brewing Network to finalize the design for a keg-to-keg filtering system, and what I finally decided on was an adaptation of the same water filter I described last October.

The filter idea is pretty straightforward. I took another Omni U25 whole house water filter and traded out the 3/4" NPT connections for a pair of reducing bushings and 1/4" barb fittings. I then attached about a foot or so of beverage tubing to the barb with a hose clamp, and at the other ends I added swivel flare fittings. To those I attached a pair of liquid ball-lock quick disconnects.

Once the assembly was completed, there were some setup tasks for the filter. First, I took an already clean keg and put about a gallon of water into it. I then used my compressor and a gas ball-lock QD I already had, and pressurized the water keg. I then attached the filter to the "out" posts of the water keg and a separate corny. This allowed the water to flow from the water keg through the filter. I did this part of the setup with plain water because the filter cartridge was new and I wanted to get any activated charcoal dust out of it before I started running sanitizer or beer. After I had flushed all the water through, I went back to the water keg (bleeding the pressure first of course) and added about a gallon of Star-San solution. I then pressurized the keg with CO2 and bled the air out of the headspace, so that there was mostly only CO2 remaining. I hooked it back up to the filter and ran Star-San through the assembly for about three minutes. When I had gotten all of the sanitizer out of the keg, the filter emptied (mostly) and the remaining space was filled with CO2. At this point I disconnected everything - the filter was ready to go.

In operation, the process went as follows. I racked the Hook Me Up batch to a clean, sanitized corny keg in the usual fashion, taking a gravity sample along the way (more on this later). Once the keg was filled, I sealed it and bled the air out by filling the headspace with CO2. I then prepared another clean, sanitized corny and purged its interior with CO2. I connected the "in" side of the filter to the liquid post of the full keg, the "out" side to the liquid post of the empty keg, and pressurized the full keg to about 4 PSI (to the limit of my ability to read the gauge on the regulator).

Slowly but surely, beer started filling the filter assembly and moving into the empty keg. I kept the lid cracked open on the destination keg so that the CO2 inside would escape as it was displaced with beer from the bottom of the dip tube. I didn't keep a close eye on the clock, but I would guess it took between 20 and 30 minutes to push the beer through the filter and fill the destination keg. At the point where it started pushing foam through the line I turned the filter off, even though there was about a pint or so of beer left in the filter. It appears that that's the dead loss for the device. I sealed the keg and put some CO2 in to set the lid.

Cleaning up was fairly simple. Basically I backflushed the filter with sanitizer from a keg that I pressurized with air. I guess it's a reflection of how much sediment had already dropped out before I racked, but it didn't look like there was much material in the effluent from the backflushing. (There was some, so the filtering wasn't a totally wasted effort, but it wasn't like the effluent from, say, the pool filter, which is probably a good thing after all.) I opened the filter up and drained the dead-loss sanitizer but left everything wet, then sealed it up. I don't think there will be a mold issue but only time will tell. I'm wondering if I should have left it full of Star-San instead. I guess I could just go fill it up.

And now for the bad news

The 100503 Hook Me Up finished at 1.020. That's really high compared to what was predicted, which was 1.013. I don't have any idea why after four plus weeks it didn't attenuate any more than that. The flavor is OK, but the finish is a touch thick and a little sweet. I was expecting it to be drier.  That wasn't the worst news for this batch however. In my rush to get it ready for the Fourth of July, I managed to overcarb it pretty badly. I think I have it bled down now, but I really can't tell. Why I can't tell will become evident soon.

So I have a lot of family around the house on the third, just hanging out and enjoying a strangely cool day for this time of year. The Honey Half-Wit, as expected, has proven to be the crowd favorite, and at some point during the day I am dispatched downstairs to draw a few pints for the card-playing crowd. I crack open the tap and...nothing comes out. Not foam, not CO2, nothing.

I quickly check some of the other taps and beer flows from them, so I know there's CO2 in the system. I change out the beer line from the tap to another keg and beer flows, so I know there's no blockage in the tap or line. Not knowing what else to do, I bleed pressure from the keg and open the lid, at which point I notice that the beer is frozen. WTF? A further examination shows that the bottled beer filling in the spaces in the floor of the keezer has suffered the same fate. I check the setpoint on the temperature controller, and it shows 34 F, same as usual, with the current reading being 31 F. Since the setpoint hasn't changed in months I don't know why the keezer picked Saturday to decide to freeze beer, but it did. I pulled the keg out and set it in a bucket of water to thaw, and in about an hour it had re-liquefied and I was able to return it to the keezer (after raising the setpoint several degrees).

Thinking all was well, I went about my business and we had a reasonably good remainder of the day, capped off by a trip to the local Double-A team's game and fireworks show. I discovered that they were serving Gordon Biersch brands at one of the beer stands and had about half a Maibock, but was underwhelmed.

Independence Day dawned and we were caught up in the whirlwind of finishing all the entries for the dessert contest at the annual Indian Springs Village Fourth of July barbecue. Returning home, everything seemed OK and the day wore on well, until I was again dispatched to draw a pint or two. Once again, I opened the tap, and once again, I got nothing. Fearing the worst, I went straight to the "beer is frozen" diagnostic and started to bleed the keg preparatory to thawing it again. However, it turned out there was nothing to bleed. A quick glance at the CO2 regulator told me the tale: the gas was out. How in the hell did that happen? I just exchanged that cylinder!

Needless to say, I wasn't very popular when I went back upstairs with the news.