Saturday, July 26, 2008

A new Mash Tun, a plan, a pale ale

So I may still have no idea what's going wrong with all my brews... but I have a bit of a plan. First off though... some encouragement in the form of new equipment!

I ordered a new Mash Tun and Sparge Assembly from I got the 48-QT model, which is big enough to do 8%abv or so 10gallon beers, so it should last me basically forever (I don't see myself ever doing 20gallon batches, I like too much variety for that much of a single brew, and I don't even see me brewing more than 5-gallons of some big beers). I got this "loaded" if you will, so I had the sparge assembly installed in the lid, and I ordered the sparge faucet which I will adapt into my old Mash Tun to re-fit it as a Hot Liquor Tank. This setup should allow me to reach 75%+ efficiency, Brewd00d reports 80-85%. This will save me some money, in some cases up to $10 on grain per batch. Next thing I need to do is build a 3-tier stand for my coolers to sit on for gravity feeding!

So as far as my infection problems go... These are what I see to be the possible causes of my problem:
-Infection from the air
-Infection on the thermometer that sits in the wort post-boil
-Overall sanitization
-Infection in the Fermenter
-My Cat?

If the infection is coming from the local (as in Grand River Valley, Portland MI) air, there's not much I can do about it, except be VERY careful not to splash the wort, and keep it covered at all times after boiling, and then use an oxygen tank to oxygenate, rather than shaking for aeration.

The thermometer? I'm not so sure... it's possible though, so I will not leave the thermo sitting in the wort. I won't even read the temp for 30 minutes after boiling, I know the wort chiller takes at least that long for now. Then I'll use my small steel thermo which will have been in the sanitizer, and put it back in the san when I'm done with it.

As far as overall santization goes... I don't honestly think I've been doing anything wrong there. I've brewed a few times with other people, and so far I seem to be slightly more anal than most I've worked with. There has however been one big difference. Nobody I've brewed with has ever used Iodophor as their sanitizer! They've all used an acid-based sanitizer, Star-san or off-brand equivalent. Now there's lots of discussion on the homebrew forums about which is better, and people seem to stick with what they like with no clear indication of which is the "best". All I know is that something I am doing is not working right, so I've got a bottle of Acid-san and will try that.

An infection in the fermenter, like a scratch with some bacteria growing in it? This seems to be the most likely scenario to me, and I don't know if I think it's very likely... The only thing I can do to combat this is to clean them real good, and sanitize them real good. Theoretically chlorine is no better at sanitizing than Iodophor or Acid-san, but I think I'm going to whip up a stiff bleach/water solution to soak my fermenters, lids, airlocks etc in, after giving them a thorough cleaning.

Lastly, my cat... Now I've heard that Cats harbor all sorts of bacteria, and I wonder how much of that is present in the air in my house? I wonder if my stuff that has been sanitized is getting infected post-sanitization? Or perhaps I'm picking up the bacteria in the air during transfer? I'm not sure... but next time I think I'll sanitize my fermenter and stuff, and then let them drip outside and transfer to my fermenter outside. Then I should never have to have my beer open to the air inside my house until after alcohol forms.

So, next weekend I will put my new Mash Tun and refitted Hot Liquor Tank to use, along with new sanitization methods, to brew me up a pale ale. I've got plenty of Summit to use as my bittering hop, and I picked up a couple of ounces of Glacier for my aroma and flavor. I think I'm going to skip dry hops on this, as most of the pales and IPAs I've made have been dry hopped, and I just want to know if I notice a difference right off. Since Summit and Glacier are both low-cohumulone hops (cohumulone being the compound in hop oils that causes very coarse, resinous, harsh, and strong bitterness) they should provide nice bittering without overpowering coarseness. Because of this I've taken this recipe right to the edge of American Pale Ale IBU range, which tops out at 50. Assuming gravities hit right, this should be basically 48 IBU. I'm very curious how the flavor will turn out, as I haven't had a beer with Glacier as the main flavor hops survive yet. Glacier is reported to have peach, apricot and orange notes, and Summit should be citrusy, grapefruit and tangerine perhaps, though there's not going to be much Summit flavor in this, the Glacier should really dominate. And with Summit and Glacier hops, I'm thinking I may have to dub this Frozen Peaks or something... So here's the recipe:

Frozen Peaks Pale Ale

8lbs American 2-row $12
1lb Victory Malt $2
.5lb Crystal 40L $1
9.5lbs Grain $15

.5oz Summit 16.7% FWH $0
1oz Glacier 7.4% 15min $2.50
1oz Glacier 7.4% 0min $2.50
2.5oz Hops $5

2-packets US-05 $4

9 gallons Absopure Spring Water $11

Total cost: $35 (not including propane, maybe another $5?)

Now I should get a OG of about 1.051 with 75% efficiency, and if I do well I could end at 1.056 with 82% efficiency or so. To achieve 1.051 on my old mash tun would require an additional 3.5 lbs of base malt. Since this recipe is using the American 2-Row, it's only saving me $5.25. However, if this was Maris Otter, it would be $7 savings (and if I, for example, brew a Maris Otter based Barleywine at about 10%, this new mash tun will save me at least $13). In relation to buying beer then... I'm about breaking even on this batch. A case of Samuel Adams might run me $30, plus tax and deposit. This should be a better (read: more flavorful, more grain and hops per gallon) beer than SABL, so I might equate this closer to Sierra Nevada or Founders Pale Ale. The Founder's could run me closer to $40 a case, so I'm doing pretty good there. And, theoretically, I should end up with close to a sixer more than a case of beer in a 5 gallon batch. To cut costs, I think my next step is water filtering, and trying the tap water in Portland. Maybe I can find someone a the club who has a filter I can borrow for a trial batch.

So my future brewer expansion plans look like this:

1. Build wood stand for HLT and MT for gravity sparging, kind of like these setups. This will be made of 2x4s and maybe 4x4 legs. I'll have to decide if I want the mash tun to be high enough to drain into the kettle right on the burner, or if I can drain to a kettle on the ground and go from there. It'll depend on exactly what height I decide I want my mash tun at. I don't want to have to bend over to stir, or climb anything to fill my HLT... but I also don't want to have to pick up a nearly 55-lb full kettle if I don't have to.

2. I might try to find a decent water filtering solution after this, because I think using filtered tap water will be my next big savings. I don't know what my exact price per gallon is on my tap water, but I'm sure it's less than the $1.19 or whatever that I spend on spring water, as my water bill is only $20 a month or so for the whole house. so I figure a water filter, if the water is acceptable, should save me at least another $8 a batch.

3. I think next will be oxygenation. I can get my wort all oxygenated so the yeast start fast and fully ferment with zero risk of infection with an oxygenation system. There's a couple of options, using either an air pump and filter, disposable oxygen tanks and cheap regulator, or "normal" refillable oxygen tanks and expensive regulators. All systems use an air-stone, like in an aquarium, to deliver the O2 into the wort. I tend to think I would go with a refillable O2 tank, so that someday I can upgrade to inline oxygenation, when I got to inline cooling, without having to buy a new tank.

4. After that will be my 2nd wort chiller for my pre-chiller setup I discussed in another post.

5. Then, I will likely try to get a bigger propane tank! Heating my strike and sparge water on the stove is cool and all, but eventually I want to this be an entirely outdoors operation. So I need a bigger tank so I don't have to fill up as often.

6. Next perhaps will be a new boil kettle, one with a spigot and ball valve. This will be in preparation for future upgrades to the cooling, oxygenation and transfer systems. Once I've got spigots on my HLT, MT, and Kettle, I'm ready to add pumps, counterflow chillers, and inline oxygenation. Then my brewery will need to be put an on all inclusive cart, since I won't need gravity anymore. Sweet =)


Sopor said...

Go figure, I forgot a step in my expansion plans... Somewhere in there I need to get a mill so I can grind my own barley. That will allow me to start buying base 2-row by the 50lb bag, roughly cutting my base grain prices in half, and allowing me to experiment for the perfect crush for optimum efficiency.

I think maybe this should be step 2.5? Then my big money savings steps are early, allowing me to save money faster for the rest of expansion!

Sopor said...

So I've decided I'm just going to buy a new fermenter. A conversation on that I started about bleach concentration changed my mind:

It's not worth risking my $35 batch of beer for a $15 fermenter.