Wednesday, April 24, 2013

First All-Grain Brew!

Last Friday was a good day.

My equipment was prepped and ready to go, and I invited a couple of buddies over to lend a hand with the brewing process.

Including one cute little boy :)

It was by all accounts, the perfect (and much needed) guy's night.

I mean you can't go wrong with this kind of beer selection, right?

Don't worry, I made sure to make a schedule just in case we drank a little too much while brewing...

The beer we made was an old kit that Jennifer got me a few years back. I wasn't sure if the grains were still good, but I figured there was really only one way to tell. And even if this batch didn't turn out, it would still be good practice for the big Russian Imperial Stout I've got lined up.

First up was mashing the grains. We heated our strike water up to 168* so that it would drop to around 153* after adding the grains. We ended up hitting our target temp right on the money, so we sealed up the pot and wrapped it with a sleeping bag to try to hold the temp as close to 153* as possible for an hour.

The burner was OFF in case anyone was wondering.
Don't go burning your house down by leaving it on -- I'm sure sleeping bags are HIGHLY flammable!

We ended up checking the temp and stirring the grains every 15 minutes or so. First, to make sure the temperature was holding, but also to make sure the water made good contact with all the grain.

Our little sleeping bag trick worked pretty well - we only lost about 5* over the hour.

To sparge (that is, to rinse the grains with clean water to get as much sugar out of them as possible), we heated more tap water up to 170* and used an extra fermenting bucket to dunk the grains in it for 10 minutes. Then, we poured the sparge water into the boil kettle with the rest of the wort (sugary water we just made) and began our boil.

I was assuming that if the grains weren't good, we wouldn't get good conversion out of our mash. In other words, we wouldn't get as much sugar out of them as we were expecting. Since the yeast and hops don't enter the picture until after the mash, I figured if that happened we'd just dump the wort and try it again later with some fresh grains.

The problem is that this was my first time doing an all-grain batch, so when it came time to measure my efficiency, I was a little lost.

So while the wort was coming up to a boil, I ran inside to crunch some numbers. As best I could figure, it seemed like we ended up with around a 56% efficiency, which is really bad. (75% - 80% seems to be petty standard.)

So would it be beer? Yeah, I think so.

Will it be any good? I'm not sure. This could turn out to be the best beer I've made to date, or it might be terrible. Either way, I wanted to brew it to find out.

So then what did the bad efficiency affect? Really, the only affect should be that instead of a 5% abv beer, we'd end up somewhere around 3.5 to 4%. I can live with that.

After updating the efficiency in hopville, I realized I needed to reduce the hops a little so we wouldn't end up with a bitter hop bomb. So I scaled the bittering hops back from 1/2 oz to somewhere between .3 and .4 (our scale only shows the nearest tenth, and I didn't care enough to figure out the grams).

The directions called for a 90 minute boil. Initially I was going to shorten it to 60 minutes, but with our poor efficiency I knew we'd end up getting closer to our target gravity by letting it go longer. So that's what we did. (The more water that boils off, the more concentrated the wort becomes, which would help it to be less watery and closer to the original recipe.)

And how do guys entertain themselves while patiently waiting for beer to boil?

We split wood and drank beer, of course!

I made sure to watch the timer so I didn't miss our additions, but there were only 3 so that was really easy (bittering hops with 60 minutes left, Irish moss at 15, and aroma hops at 5).

With about 20 minutes left in the boil, I began rehydrating the yeast.

Weird looking stuff!

When the boil was complete we cooled it all down in about 15 minutes with the wort chiller, poured it into the fermenting bucket, tossed in the yeast, and sealed it up with an airlock.

The gravity came out low, as expected. Instead of 1.051 we ended up around 1.037 (so we're probably looking at a 4% abv beer). We ended up with just under 5 gallons, so our calculations for how much mash and sparge water to use, as well as how much boil-off we'd have were perfect.

After cleaning up, we sat around a fire and drank more beer.

I repeat, this was the PERFECT guy's night.

I can't wait to do it all again in a couple of weeks!

As of yesterday the airlock was bubbling away, so I'm confident the yeast is hard at work in there. Where we'll end up is still unknown, but it WILL be beer!

Man, I miss brewing.


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