Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brew morning, brew day

It's a mark of how old I am getting that I'm reduced to making bad headline puns based on song lyrics from bands I don't even like. At least it's from one of their least objectionable albums. The headline refers to this weekend's brew sessions - yes, that's a plural - wherein I laid down 15 gallons in an attempt to refill the pipeline after a long brewing drought.

Brewed: 100501 Geordie-Boy Ale

First up was a 10 gallon batch of the house favorite. I've been disappointed with the last couple of batches of this beer, so I decided to go mostly back to basics. I went back to plain tap water (unfiltered), I didn't use the hop sack, and I cut way down on the agitation of the immersion chiller.

I used the rectangular cooler mash tun, because it was the only one I have that is big enough for the grain bill for this recipe. As before, I heated the strike water in the tun, and after it got to about 140 F I added the grits to get them hydrated before the mash got started in earnest. That allowed me to keep them stirred up and loose instead of having them get all clumpy. I also stirred a lot when adding in the rest of the grain to make sure that there were no obvious dough balls or layers. I got a respectable 1.048 OG out of it, for an efficiency of 79% or so, so it must have been OK. The temperature held just fine as well, so I think the lesson to be had is don't use the big tun for a 5 gallon batch - but with a 10 gallon batch and sufficient preconditioning, it's fine.

When cooling the wort, I realized it was summertime again and my tap water wasn't as cold as it had been. I managed to get the volume down to about 78 F in 35 minutes, at which point I went ahead and put it into the carboys and put them in the cooler to ramp the rest of the way down overnight, with just some aluminum foil to seal the opening. The next morning, I added Nottingham yeast to each carboy and put on airlocks.

Brewed: 100502 Honey Half-Wit

The Honey Half-Wit is proving to be popular with more casual drinkers, so in anticipation of summer visitors I went ahead and put down another 5 gallon batch. I actually considered doing 10 gallons, but as it turns out, getting 4 carboys into the cooler is a bit of a challenge and I didn't want to mess with it. I had logistics challenges enough with this batch without the aggravation.

Alabrew moving closer to the Fork and Hay worldwide headquarters proved to be as useful as I expected it to be. When I inventoried raw materials I found I was short the yeast and all the malted wheat required for Honey Half-Wit, so I sent the Head Apprentice over to Alabrew to pick it up. I learned an important lesson - write out specific product names. It took me going over there to help straighten things out before I had 4 pounds of crushed wheat malt. On the shopping list I had written "4# wheat malt crushed." Turns out the Head Apprentice asked for "4 pounds of wheat malt," which was reasonably interpreted as a request for wheat malt extract. Unfortunately there were two problems with that: first, 4 pounds of malt extract is a lot more expensive than 4 pounds of crushed grain; and second, I probably won't use 4 pounds of wheat malt extract in the entire future of Fork and Hay. I still have an unopened one pound bag of DME I bought a year ago. In the end, Kim worked it out and I got the grain I needed to brew, along with some WLP400 Belgian Wit yeast. I have been using the Wyeast smack pack equivalent (3944) but Alabrew carries White Labs, and this table at Jamil Zainasheff's website says they're the same thing, both being derived from Hoegaarden.

The original Honey Half-Wit batch didn't have much sweet orange character after the boil, so I decided to add an additional ounce of orange zest into the carboy to see if it added some flavor tones. I also dumped the honey in before the wort in hopes that they would mix and I would get a more accurate OG reading. Either the honey didn't mix correctly or my recipe calculations are off dramatically, because I still came in at .010 lower than the prediction of 1.050. The first batch turned out OK even so, so I'm not all that worried about it - just a little puzzled.

Edit: It turns out that part of the issue was that I had the BeerSmith template set to expect 75% brewhouse efficiency. If I ramp it back to 65% the prediction becomes 1.044 which is a lot more reasonable. I calculated 58% actual efficiency for this batch so I need to figure out where I'm losing my sugar.

The first batch fermented so vigorously it blew out through the airlock, so I decided to go with a blow-off tube this time. It looks like three carboys and a blow-off bucket are about all that I can get in the fermentation cooler at a time, so now I know what the real production bottleneck is. I suppose I could bring carboys inside and do the T-shirt trick to keep them cool, so there is a workaround available if I need the throughput. I can only serve 5 at a time anyway, three on real taps and two on picnic taps, so there's an upper limit on demand for ready product.

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