Monday, April 22, 2013

Preparing for the Brew Day

In order to better prepare for the big Russian Imperial Stout brew day, I wanted to do a smaller beer first to make sure I had a good handle on the process.

But first, I had to get my equipment ready.

Speaking of which, I think I left you guys out on an important update for my "brewery" -- a couple weeks ago I picked up a turkey fryer kit from a guy on craigslist! The kit came with everything I needed to move my brewing operation from the kitchen to the garage -- a big 7.5 gallon pot and a propane tank and burner.

So now I'm able to do full boils (starting with 6 or 6.5 gallons of wort that boils down to the 5 gallons that I ferment) as opposed to the half batches that I had to do on the stove with my 4 gallon pot (boiling 3.5 gallons or so and topping off to 5 gallons with plain water after the boil was complete).

I'm really excited about this because I've heard it makes for better beer, and now I'm able to do some all-grain and partial mash batches, instead of being stuck with extracts (which means I'll be able to come up with my own recipes and really customize the beers I make).
Even though the turkey fryer solved a couple issues I had, it left me with another problem -- I didn't have a way to cool the boiling wort down to fermentation temps. My old method of putting the pot in a sink full of ice water wouldn't work now -- there was no way I was carrying that pot to the sink! I needed a wort chiller, and I needed one quick.
A wort chiller is just a metal coil that you drop into your boil kettle that connects up to a garden hose. The cold water that's pumped through the coil rapidly cools down the wort.

Instead of spending the $75 to buy one pre-made, I decided to save money and build my own for around $60 (not a big savings -- the copper alone was $40 -- but at least it was a fun project!).

I didn't get any pictures of the wort chiller build because it was a 30 minute job (which was done with the help of a cute little boy, I might add), but I did get some pictures of it in action while I was building up the passive oxide layer on the new aluminum pot.

It's not the prettiest thing, but now I can cool 5 gallons of boiling liquid to around 75* in about 10 minutes!

The next issue I ran into was with the pot. The guy I bought it from said he fried a turkey in it once about 10 years ago and never used it again. It looked pretty clean on the inside, although slightly stained, so I washed it really good with regular dish soap before filling it with tap water to boil for an hour to build up that oxide layer.
Note that I'm not really sure what the passive oxide layer does, but I'm sure it has something to do with keeping the beer away from the metal (thus keeping metallic flavors out of the beer). I don't question things like this -- if people who are smarter than me say to do it, then I'm going to do it.
After boiling for an hour or so, this is what I saw:

I don't know what that is, but I do NOT want that anywhere near my beer!

I thought it probably had something to do with the oil residue still in the pot, so I scrubbed it really good with soap again and repeated the boil. The second time around was better, but not great, so the third time I just scrubbed the pot with plain water and repeated the boil. The third time the water came out much clearer, and smelled fine. I even tasted it just to be sure, and it tasted like a flavorless tea.

Here's the oxide layer I was after (notice how the pot is darker where the water was boiling):

So with my new equipment ready to go, I was finally ready to brew again!

I invited a couple guys over to help with the process, and last Friday we made beer. least I think we did...

More on that soon!


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