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Weekend of beer

Wow, What a weekend.

It began on Friday, when I took the day off to go and provide labor to the Twin Lakes Brewery in Greenville. Mark has been very kind and worked with me to schedule an opportunity, and after many changes it finally happenened. My morning began there at 4am, where we filled the tun with some foundation water and opened the grain hopper slide valve… They had milled the first batch the previous night, so I had a slight reprieve from hauling grain bags. One the grain was mashed in, the tun’s steam jacketing quickly raised the mash to temperature. We were ready to mash out and transfer sometime around 5:30am. That’s when the fun began…

We opened the valve at the bottom of the mash tun and waited for the grain slurry to run down into the lauter tun. Nothing came out except a tiny trickle of wort. A flurry of panic and activity ensued for the next 45 minutes trying to unclog an enormous plug of grain right at the exit of the mash tun, which is near impossible to get at. I won’t explain exactly how the situation was resolved, but suffice it to say that the solution bordered on dangerous. The guys (Mark, George, & Jack) were acutely aware of that fact and did everything they could to position folks out of harm’s way. I dare say DuPont would be proud. No one got hurt or scalded, and with only a minor mess to clean up, the grain slurry ran into the lauter tun in short order. I asked Mark if that had ever happened… he said no, it was a first.

Since there was such a long delay, the grain hulls got a little soggy, and we ended up with a stuck mash 3 times on the first batch – It took about 2 hours to sparge enough to get the required 725 gallons. The remainder of the batch went without a hitch.

I witnessed and participated in all kinds of very interesting activities:

  • Hauling and slicing open 1450 lbs of grain and sending it up to the mill for the second batch
  • Emptying the lauter tun using 55 gallon trash cans (Man, that was alot of grain!!!)
  • Measuring out 12 lb charges of Cascade hops into a trash can, and adding them to the kettle
  • Shoveling spent hops out of the hop back
  • Pitching 60 gallons (!!!) of yeast into the giant 1550gal conicals they’ve got (Mark’s a genious here… very cool setup).
  • Running the yeast out of the other 2 conicals

While they ran the first batch’s wort through the heat exchanger to the fermenter, they began mashing in the second batch. This time mark gave me some directions and let me actually add the foundation water, and do some of the mashing in. While the second batch mashed, we did many of the activities listed above. Time came to lauter the second mash – STUCK AGAIN, just like the first batch. I couldn’t believe it – that had never happened before, and it happened twice in one day. Fortunately this time they knew just what to do, and we had the mash unplugged and in the lauter tun in under 10 minutes. The second batch lautered EXTREMELY well, and we didn’t get a stuck mash at all.

About the time they were finishing up lautering the second batch, I headed out to get some food – it was about 1pm and I was starving. I ran down the road, grabbed a sandwich from Einstein Bros, and came back to find all the overhead lights out. “What’s up??”, I asked… no one seemed to know – It hadn’t ever happened before. About 15 minutes later… BAM!!! Everything shut down, after they had been boiling for about 20 minutes. No electricity meant no steam boiler, and no steam boiler meant no boiling. Long story short, an Electrician from Shure-Line showed up, checked around, and they found that some power lines had gotten twisted due to the high winds. He couldn’t fix that, and it was going to be 4pm at the earliest before Delmarva could show up. To pass the time, Mark, George, Jack, another avid homebrewer Ryan, and I sampled the two beers I had brought – Hopocalypse and Saison. They seemed to enjoy them. About 3pm, I bid my farewells, knowing full well that 4pm to Delmarva means like 5 or 6pm. Mark was concerned that they would have to dump the second batch – but I don’t know how all that turned out. I will have to find out this week.

It was a fantastic experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope I get another opportunity to do it again. I am also very appreciative of how much hard work being a professional brewer is, and admire them for being able to do it day in and day out – I don’t think I could.

I arrived home to find a cord of wood dropped off on our driveway, which meant more labor as it was hauled around back and stacked. An hour later, I sat exhausted on the couch, relaxing until our club meeting that night. The meeting went well, although many of us departed early (9:30pm – 10pm), myself included. It had been a very long day.

Saturday was the All-Grain demonstration at How Do You Brew? in Newark. About 6-8 people showed up to watch us brew 10 gallons of Oatmeal Stout, which went pretty well. I missed my mash-in temperature by 5 degrees – I hit 148 instead of 153, so it may be more fermentable than I wanted, but fortunately it lautered very well. We got all the wort volume needed in about 30 minutes and didn’t have a stuck mash at all, and were right on (if not a little higher) gravity-wise. The whole process went much faster than the last demonstration, and I was packed up and headed home by 5pm – so it was a 6 hour brew day. I went home with very little dirty equipment to clean, 1/2 of the batch (5 gal), and enough 2-row for my next 10 gallon AG batch – Many thanks, Joe and Marlana!

On a related note, I think I have several theories on why my last few batches have all ended in stuck fermentations, and I hope to eliminate that little nuisance going forward. I think alot of things have all come together to cause the problem (finer crush on the grain, longer sparging times, thicker mashes, etc) and once I work through them it should go away. I also have a much better perspective after watching a 1450 lb mash get stuck several times, and seeing what kind of clarity they typically look for before running to the kettle – As homebrewers we may spend entirely too much time on the inconsequential minutia instead of seeing the big picture – Is crystal-clear wort a requirement to make good tasting beer? Hardly. Is a stuck mash a big deal? Not really.

I have alot of stuff to do tonight while the wife is at Welding school – Keg the 10 gal of Nightmare Stout and rack 10 gal of Porter to secondaries and throw in bourbon oak chips. Doesn’t sound like much, but between the cleaning and sanitizing of 2 kegs and 2 carboys – it takes time. I’ll probably still be racking when she gets home.

Next brews on the Sever agenda:

  • 10 gal Choking Sun Stout
  • 5 gal Foggy Moor Peated Scottish 80/-
  • 5 gal Clan Morrison Scotch Ale
  • 5 gal Homegrown Ale 2006
  • 5 gal Summit Pale Ale

Of course I think I am going to run out of time & allowed capacity well before I get through all of that.

Categories: Uncategorized
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  1. June 11, 2008 at 8:26 pm

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