Sunday, April 03, 2011

Brew day: Hail Shaft Pilsener

Way back in 2002, when I first decided I wanted to start brewing, I started designing logos and labels. And while I never seriously considered opening a commercial brewery, I did come up with a flagship beer and slogan. The beer was Hail Shaft Pilsener, and the slogan was "Get Shafted." I think I even designed desktop wallpaper for my laptop with the logo and slogan over the Chicago skyline.

When I started to actually research the practicalities of brewing, I realized I couldn't brew a Pilsener at first because I didn't have lagering abilities. I soon got a chest freezer with an external thermostat so we could do lagers, but we were still brewing with extract and I wasn't sure extract could produce a quality Pilsener. And even though we've been brewing all-grain for over four years now we've yet to brew our flagship beer.

Until now.

Of course, given how long it took us to get around to brewing our Hail Shaft Pilsener, I suppose it's only fitting that it ended up being the longest. Brew day. Ever.

It all started around 8:30am. I had done my recipe the night before and realized I didn't have any CaraPils. I ran to my local homebrew store but I forgot they don't open until 9, so I came back home and did a little cleaning in the garage. I went back about an hour later to find three people in front of me. After about twenty minutes, the last guy in front of me stepped up and said, "Hi, I'm new to brewing and would like to know what I need to get started." I should had jumped in and said, "Hey, do you mind if I just grab two pounds of CaraPils really quickly?" but for some stupid reason I didn't. And I waited another half hour.

Eventually I got home and got the strike water heating. I had invited my buddy Mark over, and while Mark and I have done collaboration brews before, he doesn't have lagering capabilities so I had invited him over to hang out, drink and watch baseball rather than to help with the actual brewing (I feel bad asking for help when I can't send the co-brewer home with a carboy of wort). Well, given the late start I realized I was going to need Mark's assistance. He crushed the grain while I got the mash tun pre-heated, and at 11am we mashed in at 131°F (with 1/2 tsp. acid blend added, as I do for all light beers). My plan was a three-step infusion so I had to start thick (.75 qt./lb.), and I guess it's hard to get a good reading with a mash that thick because a half hour later when we did the next infusion it was at 136°F. Hope that's not a problem.

After the thirty-minute protein rest we added 2.5 gallons of water to raise it to 150°F and get a mash thickness of 1.33 qt./lb. Of course, I never seem to learn that BeerSmith's water calculations don't work for my equipment for whatever reason and it only raised my temp to 141°F. I quickly brought a gallon and a half of water to a boil and added it to get to 150°F.

During the sacc rest I went to pump our sparge water up to our hot liquor tank when I suddenly heard some clicking and then noticed the adapter that powers my pump was glowing. Then the pump stopped. Turned out my cord was touching the brew kettle's stand so the insulation melted and shorted the adapter. Shit. Gotta work a trip to Radio Shack into the brew day.

We did a full hour sacc rest from noon to 1pm and then added more boiling water to get to our mash-out. Unfortunately, because of the extra water we added to reach our sacc rest we could only add enough boiling water to get up to 155°F. Some mash-out. Anyway, Mark let it rest fifteen minutes and then started recirculating while I ran to Radio Shack and picked up lunch (both stops involved more waiting around, evoking painful memories of my trip to the homebrew store).

The rest of the day was much smoother. We collected from 1:30-3pm and I boiled for 90 minutes with hop additions at 90, 60 and 45 minutes. No late hop additions; I'll dry-hop when I lager. I re-wired the new adapter to my pump and it worked just fine so I was able to efficiently chill to around 50°F. By a little past 5pm I collected 10.5 gallons at 1048 (one point above my target). I threw the carboys in my chest freezer to chill to around 45°F, and when I got home from a buddy's beer tasting (around 1am) I aerated and pitched a nice thick slurry courtesy of Doug and Tracy at Metropolitan.

Can't tell if fermentation started this morning or if it's still foam from the aeration, but the beer has warmed up to around 49°F. I'm sure fermentation will start soon if it hasn't already. And once again I'll stress that Mark was a total lifesaver (and he brought me a bourbon that literally has my name on it!) and I owe him several growlers of the Pilsener once it's done.

In the meantime, it's time to turn our attention to this year's Beerfly Alleyfight. Leah and I will actually be in Germany during the event itself (something I keep meaning to post about, and will eventually) so we're pairing up with our friends Klavs and Mary for this year's event. The theme is Belgian IPA's, a style I'm neither experienced with nor even particularly fond of, but fortunately Klavs is a great brewer of both Belgian styles and hoppy North American brews. The event is May 21st, but we'll be getting together to brew next Saturday, so I'll be posting more about our Alleyfight adventures over the next month and a half.


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