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Old 02-22-2011, 05:32 PM   #1
bhop2112
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Default A tale of my first all-grain brew day

I had my first all-grain brew day yester day and my second brew day overall. There were some things about the day that went great, in fact much better than expected. Others, well, not so much. I definitely learned a few more lessons that I will apply to my next attempt.

After re-reading this, it is a bit of a novel and is mostly therapeutic because I'm having a hard time concentrating at work while thinking about all of this stuff, but here's a rundown of how the day went.

First, I would say that the mash was a glowing success. I built a pretty standard, simple, MLT out of an Igloo MaxCold 50 qt cooler and a CPVC manifold. My plan was to do a single infusion and a single batch sparge. I went with around a 1.25 qt/lb water to grain ratio, used BeerSmith to calculate my strike water infusion temp and hit my target mash temp spot on. The cooler held the temp for the full 60 minutes. I ended up collecting about 2.75 gal from the first runnings. I then batch sparged with just over 4 gal. hoping that I wouldn't lose much more to grain absorption, but I only got about 3.75 gal from my second runnings. I'll have to account for that next time. As a result, I had just a bit under what I wanted for my initial boil volume. The good news is that I calculated my mash efficiency at 80% (I had projected 70%).

The boil went fine for the most part except that I had put about a half ounce of Willamette in the hop bag with my flame out addition instead of where it belonged with the 30 minute addition. Luckily, the Willamette pellets looked a bit different from the other varieties I was using and I was able to pick them out and get the hops squared away before it was too late.

At flame out is where my problems started. I realized right away that I had underestimated the amount that I would boil off. I started with about 6.5 gal, and ended up with about 5 at flame out and that was before the cooling shrinkage. My 38 qt kettle is wider than it is tall, so I think that contributes to the high evaporation rate. Then, when I fired up my chiller, I noticed that the compression fitting was leaking a bit and dripping some hose water into my boil kettle. I went over to turn down the flow at the garden hose outlet, but accidentally turned it up instead. When I walked back over to the kettle, the thing was now shooting out a fine spray of mist in about a 3 foot radius. I freaked out and ran back over to completely turn off the hose. I finally got the right amount of flow to keep the chiller from leaking and proceeded to cool down the wort.

It was probably in the high 70s yesterday, so I couldn't get the wort down to pitching temps. I ended up transferring to the fermentor when I got it down to around 80* and put the fermentor in my swamp cooler to let it finish cooling down.

Due to the high boil off, I ended up with about 4.5 gal in the fermentor, so I decided to boil and cool some tap water to top off so my gravity wasn't too high. I acidentally topped off a bit too much and ended up diluting to the point at which my OG was below my target.

I had made a yeast starter about 10 days ago as I was planning to brew the previous weekend, so I had taken it out of the fridge yesterday morning to come to room temp. I decanted most of the "beer" from the starter, gave it a swirl, and pitched once my wort was down in high 60's. Afterward, I noticed that the flask that held my starter had a sour smell to it. Was it infected? I have no idea. Maybe not, but I should have tasted it or something before pitching, but too late now.

So, lessons learned:

  1. Prepare more sparge water than I think I'll need in case I don't collect enough wort
  2. Be more careful getting my hops ready
  3. Account for my gargantuan boil off rate so I don't end up with too little in the fermentor. Maybe I'm boiling too vigorously... I should run some tests.
  4. Tighten the compression fitting on my chiller and test it to make sure it won't drip/spew
  5. I need a better chilling method as it's only going to get hotter here. Maybe a pre-chiller in a bucket of ice or something.
  6. Check my process and sanitation for my starters.
I'm now trying to RDWHAHB, but as a n00b, this is difficult to do. I'm hoping everything will turn out OK. Worst case, I learned a few things for next time.

There... I feel better now. Back to work!

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Old 02-22-2011, 05:35 PM   #2
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Congrats! I don't think there's ever a post where a first time AG brewing says "meh; piece of cake, no problem."

Starters often smell bad - for instance, smell your fermenting beer at about day three....

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Old 02-22-2011, 06:58 PM   #3
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I wouldn’t worry too much about the chiller water. Before I got the Therminator I used a regular chiller and it would leak all the time into my chilled wort with no negative effects. And yes like AZ said yeast can smell good, bad, sour, rotten..... chances are its normal and all will be fine. Congrats on the AG batch. I also ended up short on my first few AG in the end. After a few boils you will get the evaporation rate down and you can easily adjust.

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Old 02-22-2011, 08:26 PM   #4
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Awesome! Thanks for sharing your experience. Im going to do my first all grain batch this weekend.

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Old 02-22-2011, 08:46 PM   #5
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Default Congrats

Way to go and taking the plunge into AG - something I have yet to do. (Partial Mash kinda guy) I am certain that when I do take the plunge, I will have plenty of things to share on what went wrong or I could have done differently. Its all part of the learning process.

As a fellow Austinite - I am happy to see and hear more stories from local folks getting into the hobby! Maybe one day we can meet and share a cold one and similar stories.

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Old 02-22-2011, 09:46 PM   #6
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Heh, thanks all for the encouraging words. I'm sure everything will turn out fine. Based on what I've read on here, it almost always does!

astropunk, good luck with your AG batch this weekend.

ButcherBrew, yeah, we should definitely grab a beer sometime and swap war stories. I'm only a couple of batches in, so you've heard most of my war stories already, but I'm sure after a couple of beers, I could make some up

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