Saturday, May 23, 2009

Most Accurate Brew Day Yet!

It's not safe yet to start calling today's brew day a success, that'll take at least a week, maybe two before I can say that, and even then I can't be sure the beer is a success! However... what I can safely say is that today was the most technically accurate and tight brewday yet. Short of some minor temperature issues, and forgetting to close a valve, NOTHING went wrong!!

For starters, timing today was just about perfect. Here's how the day broke down:
1:00 - Start gathering equipment and heating water for mash
1:50 - Mash In
2:48 - Mash Out
3:00 - Start Sparge
3:40 - Finish Sparge
4:00 - Boil
4:10 - Hot Break
5:15 - Chill
5:30 - Pitch & Seal

Three hours and 40 minute from Mash In to Pitch! That's pretty darned good! Now it took me a while to get cleaned up... but it always does, I'm normally lazy by that point.

My mash started a little low, around 145°F. I was hoping to get 154°F or so, so I added almost 2 quarts of boiling water, and got it to 150°F. Good enough... I was going to run out of sparge water if I used any more. Also, my mashout didn't seem to raise the temp of the mash at all, and I can't figure that out. I thought the mash-out water was above 180°F, so it should've raised the temp at least a little bit! I'm not sure what happened there... but I'm not too worried about it. My sparge water was hot enough and the sparge went great.

Which brings me to the absolute best part of the brewday:


Ok, to be honest, I overshot my gravity based upon my efficiency in the past, and hit my volume within about 1/16 of a gallon. But this is a pretty serious win for me, as this is the very first time I have hit 75% efficiency, which is basically the sweet spot that brewers shoot for.

I was starting to get a little frustrated by the fact that I was constantly undershooting my gravity. On the last batch, Van Den Heuv Ale, my mash Ph had been right on, and the sparge had gone very well as far as I could tell; there were no areas of sweet grain left in the grainbed, it was all very well rinsed. Ph and sparge are the two variables, not including temperature (which has never been the issue), that I have control over on brew day that will affect my efficiency. The other variable (which unfortunately is NOT easily correctable on brew day) is the crush of the grain; the more crushed it is the more sugar you will be able to extract. However, if the grain is over-crushed you can end up with basically a porridge that is impossible to sparge. Fortunately this "porridge" affect can be overcome by adding rice hulls to the mash to make it more porous. So this time around I had Brett at the Red Salamander double-crush my grain and give me some rice hulls. The end result is that I ended with around 13.5-14° Plato, at least a full degree higher than Beersmith said I should get! Awesome. And I managed to collect just under 5-gallons of wort at that gravity, so I'm feeling pretty good. Needless to say I am going to pay special attention to the crush of my grist in the future.

My only concern (besides the ever-lingering concern that I will get another infected batch...) is that the beer may be more hoppy than I would like... but this should be exactly as bitter as the first River Grand Brown Ale was, so if it's too bitter I just need to make it less bitter next time =)

I used my bottling bucket for a primary today because I am going to need my "primary" bucket for my secondary fermentation since it's such a PITA to get fruit in and out of a carboy. Unfortunately I forgot to close the valve at the bottom of the bottling bucket until after I had poured the wort in. I got it closed very quick... but I'm willing to bet that I would have had just a little over 5 gallons of wort if I had had the valve closed in the first place.

Anyway, brew day went well, and in honor of the eventual berry goodness that this beer should bring, I am currently drinking the original incarnation of Mount Pleasant Brewing Company's Coal Stoker's Blackberry Ale: 3-parts Raspberry Wheat, 1-part Steam Engine Stout. Subconsciously, this beer is probably the motivation for Choco-Berry Brown in the first place!

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