Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brew day: Step Leader Hefeweizen

Okay, quick show of hands... How many of you have ever burned a hockey sock while brewing? Yeah, me too. It's all in a day's work when you're a homebrewer, I suppose. And with that said, I will now report on today's brew day, my first all-grain version of our Step Leader Hefeweizen.

Lately our brew days have gone pretty smoothly, so I should've guessed that something would go wrong sooner or later. However, much like Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt in Twister, I never saw it coming. (Actually, I guess they did see it coming. I mean, why else would they have tethered themselves to a pipe in a barn? But I digress...) I started around 10:30am, heating up my strike water and then draining it into my mash tun when it hit 168°F with a target temp of 152°F. However, with about a gallon left the water stopped draining.

As you can somewhat see below, my set-up is pretty simple: a keggle with a false bottom, fitted with a weldless fitting, with a high-temp hose running from the fitting to my mash tun (hose not pictured). There's not a lot to mess up. But for some reason it wouldn't drain. I even hooked up my pump and siphoned water through with my mouth (slightly burning my tongue in the process) to make sure the pump was primed, but no dice. I ended up having to dump out the water, rinse the keggle with cold water, and disassemble everything. I couldn't find any blockages but once I put everything back together it worked. Weird, huh? The only thing I can think of is that maybe I accidentally flipped the rubber washer and the stainless steel washer, thereby preventing an airtight seal which would cause problems once the water level dropped below the weldless fitting.

Oh, I suppose I should mention that I burned my hockey sock while dumping out the remaining hot water from the keggle. The keggle was obviously quite hot, and I had to act fast, so I grabbed the first thing I could find to insulate my hands, and that was a hockey sock. Unfortunately, it got singed pretty bad (I was grabbing the bottom of the keggle with that sock, and seeing that the bottom of the keggle had been exposed to an open flame for the past half hour, you can imagine how hot it was) but the good news is my hand didn't get burned!

Once I re-connected everything and reheated the strike water things went pretty smoothly. I added 1/2 tsp. acid blend to the mash since I didn't have any dark malts. I mashed in at 152°F at 12:10 and after an hour-long sacc rest I decocted two gallons, boiling the decoction for 15 minutes. I returned this to the mash (which had dropped to ~150°F) and this brought the temp up to around 162°F--six degrees below my desired mash-out but no big deal.

At 1:35pm I started recirculating; at 1:45 I started collecting the first runnings. I started out wiht a rather slow sparge, collecting two gallons after 15 minutes and five gallons after 40 minutes. However, I got a little impatient after that and collected the remaining six-plus gallons over the next twenty minutes. I probably took a little hit in efficiency due to my impatience, but hopefully I won't notice any significant flaws.

By 2:45 I had collected the last of my wort just as my kettle came to a boil. I added my German Tradition hops (increasing my hop bill by 10% since my hops are now over six months old, though I keep them in a relatively airtight bag in the freezer and they still smell fine) and let it boil for just over an hour.

Right before chilling the wort I noticed one last problem... You may recall that when I brewed my Maibock my Thrumometer accidentally fell into the carboy as I was filling it. I got the Thrumometer out when I racked the Maibock to the keg, but didn't notice until today that there was a bunch of gunk INSIDE the Thrumometer. Not a good idea to run freshly-cooled wort through that, right? I tried an emergency soak in Oxy-Clean but didn't have much luck, so I did without the Thrumometer for one more brew. I think I chilled to around 70-75°F, but I can't say for sure.

The Hefe came out looking quite light pale, particularly in comparison to the extract Hefes we've brewed in the past (not that it surprises me... those extracts can be quite dark). It also came out a hair light with an original gravity of 1046, a mere point below my target of 1047 which assumed a 75% efficiency. I think if I were a little more patient with my sparge I would've come well above 75% (especially with somewhat of a mash-out) but 1046 will make for a refreshing summer brew.

I pitched a 1000 mL starter of WLP 300 (my local homebrew shop was out of WLP 380 AGAIN) into one 6.5-gallon carboy and two 3-gallon carboys and I'm going to throw all three into my chest freezer set at 65°F before I go to bed. In the morning, assuming fermentation is started, I'll drop it down to 62°F.

So there you have it... One wheat beer down, possibly two to go (if I go down my to-do list in order). Oh, and if you have an extra pair of hockey socks you're not using, feel free to send 'em my way. ;-)


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