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Old 11-28-2011, 01:40 AM   #1
CrazyJoeMalloy
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Default Fools Errand or Heroic Effort - Time will tell...

Well, it's been a long time since I've posted last, been lurking here & there and distracted with other real life stuff. I finally got around to taking a crack at doing my first all grain - Hooray! I decided to try brewing the original version of the Free Beer project named "Vores Øl".

I had read about it a number of years ago via an article on Wired and being a software developer who appreciates open source software it immediately piqued my interest in brewing, so it's only proper that I try.

So that was the noble intention...then I made a terrible error in going against my original judgement. Having spec'd everything out I don't have enough equipment to do a full 23L (5 gallon) batch, so I had initially decided I would attempt a half...somewhere along the lines between planning and acquiring the grains I dispensed with that notion - the exact reason why escapes me. I suspect my chomping at the bit for weeks but being unable to start for one reason or another got the better of me, but I'll never know for sure.

In any case I got the full 3.6 kg (~8 lbs) of grain and damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead...knowing that I'd hit a torpedo or two along the way.

Allow me to illustrate how unprepared I was to brew a full batch - my main pot can only hold about 12-13L of water (if I push it) - the next best that I have on hand can only hold about half that. I have my primary fermenter which I used as a holding tank between steeping and sparging. Oh, did I mention that I'm using an electric stove with a ceramic top? Bloody hell.

I'm certain a half batch would've been quite doable and certainly more advisable and this notion crossed my mind, but I was past the point of no return. With my water holding at around 55 degrees C, I added my grains to the 8L of water in my 12L pot. The recipe calls to hold it at this temp for 90 minutes, which proved a challenge for me as I've never done this before. There was a few fluctuations of a couple degrees both ways but it was more or less held at 55 for the duration.

I drained my grains to the extent that my arms would let me, put them aside in my other pot for holding purposes, while I poured the wort into my fermenter to hold while I spared the grains with about 6 additional litres of water. Yes, I realize it should have been more than twice that but at this point I'm making do with what I have.

At this point I accept that I'm in the middle of a...mitigated(?), self-inflicted, disaster - so screw it - go for broke.

I add the wort back to the pot and realize I still have some room, I add my sugar to see how much actual room I have. I estimate I still have approximately 1.5L of room left...So I take my grains that are sitting in my other pot (you know the 6L one) and I start running that water through them and recirculate it a couple times. I know I need every bit I can get out of this because, hey I'm shooting for a high gravity wort! HA HA HA HA HA!!!

I believe this is where I descended into the mouth of madness (I was merely circling up to this point). I happened to notice that my primary had some residue left in it from when I had the wort sitting in it...waste not want not I suppose, I tossed some water in, swirled it around to make sure I can get the most out of it and add it to the pot to be boiled.

So topping up my pot I try to bring my water up to boil so i can add my hops. It's a long wait as my poor stove struggles to heat the water - it seems like the better part of an hour before I actually hit the 95 degree range. I get to 98 degrees and pop in the hops. The recipe calls for simmering everything for 60 minutes.

By the way (slightly off topic), I get the hops thing now. I've heard people almost instantly go to their happy place talking about hops and how it smells...their eyes glaze over, the head tilts back and they blissfully drift away for a moment. I've never smelled actual hops before so the reaction was a bit lost on me - but I get it now - oh my. What lovely stuff it is.

Anyway, back to the liquid train-wreck that I'm piloting!

60 minutes pass and this part has been relatively uneventful, not too much difficulty in holding temp - the aroma fills the house, I'm happy - my fiancé not so much - but I've come to far to stop now!! ONWARDS!!

Time to chill this bad boy...I've got my sink filled with snow and water and ever so gingerly add the pot and watch the temperature drop...until, I realize, the water in the sink is now fairly warm...so I start bailing it out (not even thinking about the siphon I have) - I use a 1 cup, measuring cup because that's about all I can get to fit in ye olde sink. So I bail as I'm adding new water, and with the help of some ice the temperature finally drops to something a civilized, around 35 degrees C.

I transfer the 12L of highly concentrated wort to the freshly washed and sterilized primary fermenter. Time to dilute this puppy down so I can pitch my yeast. I check the gravity - 1.094 - okay, that should give me some breathing room - my aim is to get to 23L, so I start by adding 4L at a time and rechecking the gravity at each interval. Slowly but surely I get to 1.052, which is comparable to the O.G. of the other versions of the Free Beer recipe (the original doesn't list one). I pitch the yeast, seal her up and begin the clean up. 6+ hours in, I'm exhausted but I'm finally done.

I realize that time & yeast can heal many wounds in brewing and I'm hoping that will be the case here, but I'm steeling myself for a different and far more unpleasant reality. My bet is that this will become something I'll chaulk up to experience and have little else to show for it except being a little wiser and adding one more item to the list of things I've learned the hard way.

After all of that you'd think I'd be fed up and frustrated, but I'm not. I made, some horrendously bad decisions for this brew and I expect the results will not be positive, I can live with that - I learned a hell of a lot in the process, and education has it's own rewards. I now appreciate the value of the equipment that I was missing that I thought I could do with out and what I had at my disposal. The process and what goes into it, all feel more concrete and now I have a baseline upon which I can improve.

Challenge accepted.

I'll update this post with results as things progress. I plan to see this thing through to the end...hopefully there will be beer at the end of the proverbial rainbow

Any thoughts, pointers, ridicule, words of encouragement, predictions - I welcome it all at this point.

Happy brewing


UPDATE 1 (28-Nov-2011): The yeast are churning away and the air lock is popping along. Still smells and looks good at this point. Does anyone else get kinda transfixed by the swirls and currents of the yeast doing their work or is it just me?

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Old 11-28-2011, 02:08 AM   #2
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Hey, don't knock yourself. Many of us went through much the same experience on our first AG brew. I know I did! I was sure that beer would be terrible. But it wasn't. It was the best beer I had ever made up to that point. Now you're hooked, and will be mentally refining your process till you brew again. The next brew will be smoother. On a side note, there are many easy to make brewing tools that won't break your bank. Two I would recommend would be a double bucket lauter tun(2 buckets stacked 1 inside the other , with holes drilled in the inner bucket bottom to strain and sparge your wort. If you have a bottling bucket ,that's an excellent outer bucket because its got a hole and spgot for draining.$10-15. The second is a copper wort chiller. 25 to 50 feet of soft copper tubing , bent in a spiral around a cylinder(like a co2 tank) and attached to your sink with an adapter. $25 to 50 depending on the length. Anyway , good luck with it all.

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Old 11-28-2011, 02:18 AM   #3
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or easier still just set the kettle out in the snowbank to chill....

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Old 11-28-2011, 02:21 AM   #4
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Great story and a perfect title - I know I went back and forth a couple times between the two and as you say, only time will tell My favorite part is noticing there is 1.5 litres space left in the kettle and deciding to top it off. Love it and hope it turns out well, in any case I'm guessing there's no way in hell this one is getting dumped.

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Old 11-28-2011, 02:43 AM   #5
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Heh - thanks folks. Glad to know I'm not a complete outlier and yes I am definitely refining the process and things in my head. Next time (and there will be a next time) will be different.

bighorn - the idea had occurred to me, living situation didn't make it advisable though, it was either take it down a bunch of steps to my back yard, or trapse through the house while trying to mind two cats...neither was an appetizing thought with a bunch of very hot, precious, liquid...though i might take the time to pile some up on the back deck next time around, should it be vacant like this time

Glad you enjoyed the story Student7, I think my favourite part was rinsing out the fermenter for every bit of wort I could scrounge - smacks of desperation. The only way this is getting dumped is if it's toxic

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Old 11-28-2011, 10:57 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bighorn_brew View Post
or easier still just set the kettle out in the snowbank to chill....
I hate to say it but this is a bad idea. Once the snow in contact with the kettle melts away it forms a very good insulation, keeping your wort from cooling, just the opposite of what you want. Putting the kettle into a container of water and adding snow to that works much better.
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Old 11-28-2011, 02:57 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RM-MN View Post
I hate to say it but this is a bad idea. Once the snow in contact with the kettle melts away it forms a very good insulation, keeping your wort from cooling, just the opposite of what you want. Putting the kettle into a container of water and adding snow to that works much better.
Hmmm....You raise an interesting point, the insulation properties of snow is the basis of igloos...I suppose it would be entertaining for the neighbours to watch me dipping the pot in snow bank after snow bank, melting circular holes all over the place though!

Fun as that idea is, I'll be aiming for a wort chiller. It makes the most sense by far...well that and half batches. Then a proper mash/lauter tun for when I scale up...and maybe a brew proper kettle...
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Old 11-28-2011, 11:03 PM   #8
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True, it does, I noticed it melted a 2 inch ring in the snow bank I put my keggle into. To prevent dead air from forming I just kept kicking the snow against the keggle caving in the ring of air. I had to stand out there anyway and monitor the situation 'cause when I formed the snow pile, then plopped keggle into it, the keggle was about 2 feet off the ground and wanted to melt unevenly on the bottom. Visions of keggle sliding off and spilling the wort kept me close to the situation.

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Originally Posted by RM-MN View Post
I hate to say it but this is a bad idea. Once the snow in contact with the kettle melts away it forms a very good insulation, keeping your wort from cooling, just the opposite of what you want. Putting the kettle into a container of water and adding snow to that works much better.
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Old 01-24-2012, 01:08 PM   #9
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Default Long Overdue Update

Between Christmas, New Years, family, a case of the flu and a few other things I never did get around to relaying how the brew turned out.

Well, it seems that it was a heroic effort after all. (and there was much rejoicing)

It's not the best beer I've ever had but it's no slouch either (6.1% IIRC). I imagine if I were able to properly sparge it I would've gotten some more flavour out it, but all in all I'm ecstatic with the results.

I did notice that there wasn't as much carbonation as I would've liked - I used table sugar, rather than dextrose not sure if that would've made much of a difference or not.

While I've always had a great sense of accomplishment when I finish up a beer or wine kit, it doesn't quite compare to the feeling of doing it from scratch and succeeding. Time to get better gear and to set my sights on the next big game...maybe a mead or taking a crack at my grandmother's blueberry wine (which I've recently acquired the recipe for).

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Old 06-22-2012, 01:16 PM   #10
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Well this batch is long gone now but I forgot to relay the final lesson of my first AG batch. I forgot to dissolve my priming sugar in water before stirring it into my beer before bottling. I just tossed the sugar in and stirred...this was a very bad, but entertaining mistake.

The first several beers I had were lightly carbonated, I thought I hadn't added enough sugar - until I hit one wit NO carbonation...I suffered it down as the horrible reality dawned on me. "If THIS beer has no carbonation...then the sugar didn't dissolve and disperse evenly. Which means I must have at least one that's been over-carbonated...oh my."

It was at this point I decided that none of these beers could leave the house - some could be duds, others could be bombs - the threat must be contained!

Sure enough I found one of the bombs - at first it was just an enthusiastic SSSHHHHHHTTT out of the bottle - and then before I knew it I was holding a foamy volcano in my hands, running to the sink while trying to siphon off/contain the geyser with my mouth - not a pretty sight, messy, but hilarious.

About half to two thirds of the bottle was lost to this, the rest when I poured it out into the glass was still churning and fizzing - all of the sediment was well mixed into the beer, a torrent in it's own right - it was basically just ripped up from the floor of the bottle. It was incredible.

The extra carbonation added a nice texture to things, though the sediment detracted from it - so between the two I can estimate what it would've tasted like if it were carbonated properly.

Thankfully, there was only one more bomb and one more dud in the batch - the rest were the lightly carbonated beer I had been enjoying all along.

Here endeth the tale and the lesson.

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