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Old 02-28-2011, 01:32 AM   #1
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Default First Solo Brew - FUBAR

So I've brewed a few batches with a friend before and I read these boards religiously, so I figured that I would be able to bypass some of the typical beginner's mistakes that people often come on here and tell us about after their first brew. Well, today I was humbled. Thoroughly.

Partial mash pale ale - pretty standard recipe, about 4.5 lbs of mashing grains (two row, vienna, crystal 60 and cara-pils) and 4 lbs of amber dme (all late addition). I used a german ale yeast to bring out a little more of the hop aroma, because I really love the smell of a hoppy beer but I want to keep the bitterness on this beer down to a more reasonable level. I used magnum for bittering and cascade for the rest. I made a 1.5 liter starter yesterday morning and a pretty thick ring of yeast at the bottom of my jug by the time brewing started. So far so good right?

So I bought one of those turkey fryer sets, burner and a 7.5 gallon kettle. I also had a 5 gallon kettle that I was going to mash in. But when I put 2 gallons in the 5 gallon kettle I realized I might have a problem - the grains were put in a pretty tall and narrow bag and the water wouldn't come up all the way over them. So I went to 2.5 gallons in the regular kettle because it was taller and just laid the grains on their side. So problem #1: I feel like my grains were compacted way too tightly and that the water wasn't able to work its way into the middle and suck out those sugars.

Then, my dog decided to sneak out while I was coming in and out and take a sprint down the street after another dog. When I managed to chase him down and get him back in the house, I noticed that my burner had been going and had gotten up to close to 170, so I cut the heat, poured in a little room temp water and stirred it a bit. I went inside again to organize a few more things, and when I came out five minutes later, the temp reading was 140! So problem #2: wildly fluctuating mash temps.

After "mashing" for 45 minutes, I went to the sparge - did that for about 25 minutes at 170-175, which actually went fairly well.

I combined the two and managed to get through the brew portion without much incident. I added all 4 lbs of DME at about 10 minutes, a quick hit of hops at 1 minute and then proceeded to knockout. I had a little over 4 gallons of wort after boil off, and I was surprised by how quickly I was able to bring it down to a little over 70 by using an ice bath. The problem, I had put two gallons of top off water in the fridge expecting that I would need it to bring the temp down after sitting in the ice bath for a while. So problem #3: probably too cold to pitch my yeast.

Of course, I panicked - I didn't take a sample and check the temp like I should have, I just freaked out and pitched anyway. Oh, and even better, I topped off to 5 gallons before adding my starter. When I added it, it was almost to 5.5 gallons. So problem #4: I didn't account for my starter's volume.

And I didn't even mention yet that I accidentally dropped and shattered my hydrometer, so I have no idea what my OG was. Did I RDWHAHB, and grab a sample for the fridge until I could go get a replacement hydrometer? Of course not! I freaked out and pitched anyways. So problem #5, I will have no way of measuring my efficiency.

So to recap: 1) grains in too small of a bag; 2) wildly fluctuating mash temps; 3) probably pitched too cold; 4) didn't account for starter volume; and 5) no hydrometer, no OG and no efficiency.

At this point, I need to RDWHALotOfHB. I'll be shocked if this batch comes out well.

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Old 02-28-2011, 01:42 AM   #2
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Cheers to sticking with it. Got to love dogs.

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Old 02-28-2011, 03:10 AM   #3
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Who cares how the efficiency went? You've still made beer! As you said, a thoroughly humbling brew day. You'll hit the efficiency next batch.

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Old 02-28-2011, 03:17 AM   #4
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You'll be fine... RDWHAStoreBoughtBrewUntilYoursIsDone

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Old 02-28-2011, 03:37 AM   #5
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It will be beer... What it actually tastes like, and how what the ABV value of it is anyone's guess... Since you weren't able to take an OG reading, and with how much the mash was messed up, it could be anywhere. I think the biggest issue could be when the mash got 'close to 170'... Without knowing for how long, you might have effectively sparged at that point.

Next time, plan for a 60 minute mash. If possible, get a refractometer at least to take your OG reading. Or pick up a spare hydrometer, since you've already broken one.

The grain bag size issue is something you can address for next time. I've seen the tall bags, which are made to mash in a 6.5-7.5 gallon bucket... Look at your LHBS for the wider bags (more square)... I've used the square ones for a few batches so far without issue. I usually mash (with 1.5-2qt/#) about 11-14# of grain in my 8 gallon pot. I typically sparge in a 5 gallon pot (can be a wee bit tight there)... Been getting 78-82% efficiency with that method... Getting the dough balls out of the mash is critical to getting good/decent conversion rates.

4.5# total grain bill would be easy to mash in even 20 quart pots. Well, with the right shaped bag for the pots that is. My partial mash batch was with just over 11 pounds of grain. VERY tight in a pair of 20 quart pots. I was still able to get good conversion, and a great brew out of it.

How much of the different hops, and when did you add them? It might be easier if you posted the recipe...

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Old 02-28-2011, 03:56 AM   #6
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Like the folks above me said: Everything will be fine in the end. You're just learning how to finally go about brewing with the gear you have.

Think of it this way: Helping your friend brew has been like watching him dance. You know the steps, you've seen them plenty of times. However, when it comes time for YOU to do the dance, you're tripping over your own feet.

Don't worry, you'll stop tripping soon.

BTW, pitching too cold isn't a huge problem. As long as the yeast and beer are in the same temperature neighborhood, the yeast will just stay asleep until it gets warm enough for them to take off. The thing to try to avoid is rapid temperature changes or pitching at too-high temperatures.

Think about it this way: Liquid yeast is kept in the refrigerator until it's time to use it. If being refrigerator-cold was going to hurt the yeast, we'd probably do things differently. Dry yeast goes through even worse, and still ends up OK.

RDWHAcraftB until your beer is ready, then RDWHAHB

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Old 02-28-2011, 04:00 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TTB-J View Post
...
3) probably pitched too cold;
Not sure what would be "too cold." I'm reading Chris White's book "Yeast" and he recommends pitching ale yeast around 67 F. You could go even colder, although in a perfect world your starter would be at the same temperature as your wort.

By the way, "Yeast" is a great book, I highly recommend reading it. A bit technical in places for a beginning brewer, but I finally get what those little buggers are doing in their and why they do it better if they are well cared for.
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Old 02-28-2011, 04:05 AM   #8
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Thanks all for the encouragement!

The recipe was:
4 lbs muntons amber DME
2 lbs two row
1 lb Vienna
1 lb crystal 60
6 oz cara-pils

.5 oz magnum at 60
1 oz cascade at 30
1 oz cascade at 1
All hops were pellet

Yeast was WLP029, in a 1.5 liter starter with intermittent shake

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Old 02-28-2011, 04:11 AM   #9
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As far as "too cold," that's really coming from white labs, who said to pitch above 70. My wort was about 74 or so when I topped off with a little over a gallon of fridge temp water. My starter was sitting out at room temp for about 30 hours, so I'm guessing it was in the 75 range. Not sure what exact temp the wort was after topping off, but I'm guessing it was probably close to 67, it just might have been a little chilly for the yeasties, which may slow down my fermentation start. Not a big deal though, because it will still be a little warm tomorrow and I think my swamp cooler will get close to 70 before I get home, which might be good to jump start fermentation and then I can bring it down to the 62 ambient that I was shooting for.

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Old 02-28-2011, 11:52 AM   #10
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Happy to report that as of 12 hours pitching, the airlock is bubbling every 3 seconds and the swamp cooler was holding at a nice steady 62!

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