Saturday, August 22, 2009

Brew day: F5 Altbier -or- Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

So, we had a federal trial start on Wednesday. I got home from work some time between 9:30 and midnight each night this week (though that didn't stop me from getting a starter done at midnight on Tuesday). I'll be at work again tomorrow, and brewing this morning was supposed to be my chance to relax for the weekend. Oh, how I should know better.

The truth be told, our F5 Altbier is chilling as I type this and, looking back, things ended up just fine. However, they certainly didn't start out that way.

FIRST, I decided to bust out my brand new Barley Crusher last night. My understanding is that you should be able to use a cordless drill to power the mill. Well, I don't know if it's my cheap 9.6V Black and Decker drill or my mill, but it didn't happen. I ended up having to mill 20 lbs. of grain by hand (as you can see in the picture to the left), and when it was done it seemed much finer than the malt I would have crushed at the homebrew store.

SECOND, I woke up at 7am this morning, with the grain milled and the kettle filled so all I'd have to do is run downstairs and turn on the kettle. So I fired up the kettle at 7:11, mashed in at 7:45 (hit my target temp of 154°F) and was ready to pump my 9+ gallons of sparge water up to the hot liquor tank by around 8:30. I turn the pump on and it's working fine. However, after about two gallons nothing's coming out. I take a look at the pump and it's barely turning. Now my pump is designed to be direct-wired so I had to wire it to a transformer from RadioShack. I figured my cheap twist-and-tap method of splicing the wires was coming apart so I re-do it but no luck. I end up having to lift a cooler full of 190°F water six feet in the air (with my wife's help, which actually made me more paranoid because I certainly didn't want to spill any scalding hot water on her). And since I use the pump for running the wort through my plate chiller, I wasn't sure what I would do to cool the brew.

THIRD, after getting the hot liquor tank filled, I discover I'm pretty much out of acid blend, so I'm worried that my efficiency will suffer because my sparge pH will be too high. Whatever. After I pull a 2-gallon decoction, boil for 15 minutes and return to the mash tun for a mash-out, I begin to sparge. The sparge is kind of slow and curiously full of bits of grain. Was my concern about milling to fine coming to fruition? No, my manifold had come disconnected from my outflow hose. I had to dump the whole mash into another vessel, re-connect the manifold, dump it back in, and start recirculating all over again. By that time it was already 9:45, almost three hours after I started. So much for an efficient brew day.

Fortunately, things went pretty smoothly after that. I recirced from 9:45-10am. Leah (with help from Jonas, left) and I took turns watching the sparge from 10am to 11:30am. The beginning of the sparge was rather slow (only 3.5 gallons collected in the first 45 minutes; 5.5 gallons after an hour) but then I cranked things up somewhat down the homestretch, collecting the final two gallons over ten minutes.

We boiled from 11:35 to 12:35, adding German Magnum hops at 60 minutes and Spalt at two minutes, as well as Irish moss at 15 minutes. Also, between the beginning of the brew day and flame-out Leah and I managed to clean two kegs, rack our Oktoberfest beer*, and clean the carboys in which the Oktoberfest beer fermented. It turns out the pump even worked for chilling, though it was a little sluggish still. Of course that didn't really matter since I had to run it pretty slow to get the temp down to 67°F in the summer (even a ridiculously mild summer like this one; today's high is only 71°F!). I decanted half of each 1000mL starter and pitched the remaining 500mL of the WLP 320 American Hefe yeast in the 6.5-gallon carboy and the remianing 500mL of the WLP 036 Düsseldorf Altbier yeast in the two 3-gallon carboys.

In the end, we ended up at a gravity of 1053, four points above target (I'm assuming this is due to the finer crush). Interesting note on the hops... Last time I thought the hops were good but assertive (as an Alt should be) but many commented that it was unbalanced, so I thought I would drop the hops a tad. However, when I went back to my records I found the predicted IBU's were 40, which is actually on the low end of Beersmith's range for the style (the BJCP, by contrast, has 35 as the low end; both list 60 as the high). As such, I didn't really change the expected IBU's this time around, as I wonder if I somehow screwed up my hop addition last time. Indeed, I remember with the last batch trying a sample right after chilling and finding it jarringly bitter; this time it was not the case. Anyway, all's well that ends well, I suppose. Still, I'd like to get the grain mill and pump straightened out before I brew again.

* Speaking of Oktoberfest**, a quick update on our Hoar Frost Oktoberfest beer. It finished at 1013. I had it up to 65°F for one day, then back down to 60°F to finish off the diacetyl rest, then down 5°F each day until I hit 45°F today. As you can see with the sample to the left, it looks beautiful. It tastes just a tad harsh with the bitterness, but I'm expecting the lagering to smooth that out. I'm planning on filtering it after a couple weeks of lagering.

** Speaking of Oktoberfest, buy tickets for my homebrew club's Oktoberfest party (at which you can sample the Altbier I brewed today) here!

UPDATE: I took a look at the carboys (which had by then dropped to 59°F) before going to bed and I could already see tiny white specks on the top of the beer. By morning, each had developed a fairly thick head of Kraeuzen, though curiously the temperature was now down to 58°F. I guess that's what I get for throwing the carboys into a chest freezer that had been set at 45°F earlier in the day. Regardless, the freezer is set to 60°F and I plan on keeping the fermentation temps in the 60-62°F range.


Blogger Keith said...

I have an 18v cordless and I discovered last week that it can't turn my Barley Crusher.

I also tried my next door neighbors @20 year old corded drill which also did not turn the mill.

Still searching for a solution...

9:17 AM, August 23, 2009  
Blogger Russ said...

D'oh! That's not what I want to hear. Where are all the people who told me the Barley Crusher rules? What do you guys use?

1:47 PM, August 23, 2009  
Blogger Señor Brew™ said...

Russ, I use the JSP Malt Mill. I use my corded drill to power it--the cordless is too weak.

Too bad about all the problems in you're brew day--I'm sure the beer will turn out good. Maybe the slightly darker Munich malt will help offset your lack of acid for the sparge water.

7:45 AM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Russ said...

Honestly, it wasn't that bad a brew day. It was stressful at first, but I'd rather have it start bad and finish good than the other way around.

9:56 PM, August 24, 2009  

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