Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What am I doing wrong?

I don't know what my problem is... but I've lost over half of the batches of beer I've ever tried to brew. Most to, I think, infection and a few with temperature problems.

I decided when I started brewing all-grain, I would kind of start my count over. But that's no good, b/c if I do that I'm at 0 for 3, counting through the first try of Colin's Colsch (I still have a chance with Colin's Colsch-2)

I never posted about this b/c I was so frustrated, upset, and embarassed by it (I don't know a single other homebrewer who has ever had as bad a record as me...), but both Repale (the River Grand Brown) and my River Rat Rye got infected or something in the keg. I hadn't had a pint off either of these in a week or two (and this has been a while now) and one day when I went to draw a pint... they both tasted like crap! Cidery, bitter (not in the good way), tart... really gross. I don't know what in the hell happened to them. My only guess at this point is that my taps were dirty/unsanitary and something was able to infect the beer from there.

So I consider those two partial losses. I made it to finished beer, and just didn't handle them right afterwards. I have a new plan for operation my kegs for at least the next couple of batches, hopefully to eliminate this problem. I bought a hand held faucet and a new section of tap line. I've filled a keg with sanitizer solution, and plan on getting a spray bottle I can fill with some kind of alcohol-based disinfectant (I think I know where I can get some 90% ethanol...). I will use this new faucet exclusively for the next couple of kegs. It will be stored disconnected, and I will flush it with sanitizer before using. I will also spray all connections with the alcohol before connecting the faucet to the beer-keg. After pouring beers, or if switching from one keg to the other, I will flush the faucet and spray the connections again. As I'm thinking about it... I'm also thinking I need to tear apart the hardware in the fridge and clean and sanitize everyhting there too. So hopefully with some more rigorous handling I can eliminate that problem.

However... Colin's Colsch round 1 is now... crap. It seems to have gotten infected sometime prior to going into primary. Chances are that it got infected during the cooling procedure, or while pouring into the fermenter. I think my sanitization process is fine, though I could perhaps 'polish' my process a bit (I don't have a designated sanitary drying location for example...), so I'm guessing that I got the infections while it was cooling, which took a while. To combat this I need to do one or two of these: Cool faster, cool more carefully.

Cooling Carefully... well I don't know what to do there. I sanitize my wort chiller before using, though I could just stick it into the boil before it's done, I could really use a hose to get the water to my kettle then as right now I have to carry the kettle to a spigot. Actually, I think I should probably get a hose, but I think I need one on the drain side to, then I could drain into the street. Normally I leave my floating thermometer in the wort while it chills, and use that to stir the wort a bit, perhaps I need to be more careful not to splash? But this batch was no different than the Repale and River Rat...

Which brings me to cooling. Repale and River Rat both cooled faster, it was cooler outside (Repale even had snow to help). There's lots that I could do to help cooling though... with that I'm basically limited by money. There's 3 main types of wort chillers. I have a single immersion chiller. One option that I am considering is getting a 2nd chiller so I can do a pre-chiller. This is when you use 2 immersion chillers in a line, and the first chiller is in a bucket of ice-water. This pre-chills the coolant water down to around 40F or so, hopefully, translating to faster cooling. A counterflow chiller would be pretty cool, but they're a bit expensive. I've seen them and plate chillers in action, and it is awesome to see wort get chilled immediately, you just drain your beer from you kettle through them and it comes out chilled! Well it's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the basic idea. I think the pre-chiller is more cost effective though.

Something else I've considered doing is having somebody come and brew with me some day while I'm brewing. Somebody with lots of experience, who can tell me if I'm doing something wrong, risking my beer at any point. I've brewed with others before, but nobody's ever come watch me do my brew-day on my own.

It's tough though... this is something I REALLY enjoy, enough of a passion to want to make a career out of it. And yet, I fail half the time. I've sunk a lot of time, money, and effort into this, and I'm currently the most failingest homebrewer I know. This is like wanting to be a professional tennis player, but losing every single game, set, and match you've ever played! (No I don't lose every batch... but I've never met a homebrewer who's lost more!) I get so frustrating that I want to give up sometimes... it seems like if I was meant to brew, I wouldn't do so bad.

Ah well... I've got some plans on what to work on to prevent this in the future. Just the fact that I'm still willing to work on making this happen, produce new recipes, brew new beer (I'm thinking about a mild ale this weekend, real cheap and real quick) proves to myself that I've got the determination. I just need to keep brewing!

No comments: