Last weekend, I brewed up my first all grain batch. I've been looking forward to trying out some of my new Christmas brewing gear, and to stepping up to the "big show" as a homebrewer. Unfortunately, not only did my rookieness lead to the process taking much longer than I had planned (upwards of eight hours, once you figure in completing my fermentation chiller build), but I (not surprisingly) made several mistakes, as well.
Before I go any further, please allow me to share a pro tip: while 168 degree sparge water is not quite hot enough to burn your hand, it does cause nice stinging for some time after exposure. Go ahead... ask me how I know this.
For the record, I was brewing Jamil's Belgian golden strong ale, which is supposed to be very similar to my current favorite commercial beer (Duvel). The recipe itself could not be simpler; one single grain, some sugar, one hop addition, plus the yeast. From what I understand, greatness in this beer comes from attention to detail.
Some positive items from my brewday:
First off, my huge new funnel was great! It was so much easier to pour hot wort with this than it was with my standard kitchen funnel, and I never had an issue with it being able to "breathe" as I poured (which has often been a challenge with that puny old funnel). The funnel screen, on the other hand, was almost worthless; it kept popping out of place and flipping over, and ended up filtering out very little as a result. Meh, whatever... the trub will all settle out. I did get the very best hot/cold breaks from this batch that I've ever had, and I got the beer down to 66 degrees in under 20 minutes with my wort chiller, so I have high hopes for a clear brew.
I loved my new propane burner (a Bayou Classic SQ14). I found it to be super quiet, it made a nice flame, was very sturdy, and seemed to do a great job. I do plan to add a DIY wind shield to the burner, which should give me even more performance.
My new brewing kettle (a Bayou Classic 44 quart stainless steel pot) was terrific. I had been worried that it lacked the "sandwich" bottom of more expensive pots, and that it might be a little flimsy. My fears proved to be unfounded; I had no issues at all with scorching, and the pot was plenty sturdy for moving almost 8 gallons of wort. I would heartily recommend this pot to anyone wanting to do full boils for a five gallon batch - especially if you are interested in a quality pot at half the cost (or less) of the high end homebrewing pots for sale out there.
Finally, that awesome custom mash paddle not only looks great, but does a great job of stirring the mash. I am definitely proud of it.
Among my issues:
I had planned to mash at 149 degrees F for 90 minutes. This ended up being closer to 120 minutes, as I wasn't ready to sparge at the end of that hour and a half.
Why wasn't I ready? Because I forgot that my brand new burner featured a brand new propane tank... with no propane in it. And of course, there are no propane filling stations near my house. I ended up having to shell out $53 pus tax for a flipping Blue Rhino exchange tank. I suppose that I now have a spare, but this was frustrating, embarrassing, and time consuming.
I didn't keep close tabs on my mash temps. I can say that after 120 minutes, my temp was still 141 degrees, so I'm pretty sure that I did okay.
I didn't properly measure my output. I spilled some sparge water (on my hand, as noted above); to make up the difference from the spill, I eyeballed some hot water.
When all was said and done, I ended up missing both my volume and my gravity targets. I had intended to get 5.5 gallons into the fermenter; instead, I ended up with a fuzz over 6 gallons. Genius me couldn't figure out how to tell exactly how much wort I had in my kettle... a brewing buddy has since let me in on the secret of making marks on his mash paddle for measuring. D'oh!
I did have a big starter for this batch - right at 3 liters. I had Beersmith account for this volume, however, so any way you slice it, I ended up over the volume - even after I decided to boil for an extra twenty minutes, as I had eyeballed the kettle as having too much wort in it.
To top tings off, I had a nice rookie panic moment. My OG target was 1.072, but when I pulled a gravity reading from my carboy, I was at a paltry 1.047. I was of course sick, thinking that I had managed to get horrible efficiency. Apparently, this all grain stuff WAS, in fact, a mystical process that I lacked the talent to make work. Fortunately, I remembered that I had decided to not add the cane sugar for the recipe to the boil, but to instead add it to the fermenter once I got around 50% attenuation.
I pulled the sugar out of the recipe in Beersmith, and ended up with a target gravity of 1.049 for the grain only... which is actually quite close to what I got. All was once again well with the world.
Since I did overshoot my volume, it's clear that my efficiency was higher than expected. I'll have to dial this in to account for it in the future, or subsequent batches will come out too strong... but still, I could absolutely have worse problems.
When I got up the next morning (just about six hours after pitching the yeast), fermentation had clearly taken off - I had a nice, thick krausen. Yay for that.
In summary - the process was far from smooth. I have several obvious areas to improve upon (planning being not the least of these). That being said, I enjoyed the process quite a bit. All three of my little boys insisted on coming in and out of the house with me to help out through the entire process, and my five year old stuck around to help me finish construction of my fermentation chamber. The youngest wasn't happy to be left out of making hop additons for me, and resorted to scrounging sticks and leaves from the driveway; he was not at all convinced that I truly did not want them tossed into the pot.
I felt like I "really" made beer this time around - no extract, no shortcuts, no crutches. This is not to disparage partial mash or extract brewers; I am well aware that world class beer can be made with extract. For me, though, I really enjoy having full control over every aspect of crafting my beer, and I have been very much looking forward to making the jump to all grain.
Problems and all, I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and doubt that I will ever look back.
Tags for this post: all grain, brewing, duvel, Belgian, golden, strong, ale, homebrew, beer
Ahh, I remember my first AG batch. I had way more problems. All brought on by jumping in too quickly. But I've ben at it for 3 years or so now and I love it. CHEERS and congrats on making the leap.
posted by Atomic Donkey on 1/30/2013 at 10:12:43 AM
Good luck with all grain buddy. I started brewing in denver back in 1981. Right after a try with welches grapjuicr wine! I remember my first all grain like i remember my sons birth. I waited 18 years to go back to cans, i live in hungary now and good ale malt is not here. If ya want pils,munichs,lagers and weizen we got it. But not anything else. God bless america for something! Keep with it and remember SS IS your best friend. So is a nice big cooler for the brew!
posted by kimball on 3/02/2013 at 04:47:57 AM
Sounds like you have the brew fever as well...it's infectious. 8 hours is good timing for a first AG brew day. For hydrometer accuracy...check the hydrometer to see what temp it was meant to take readings at. If too hot or too cold...the reading won't be accurate.
Nice blog...I'll see you on homebrewtalk
posted by Russell on 5/04/2013 at 12:21:58 PM
I might have missed it, but were you BIAB or did you have a mash tun? Would love to hear more about your set up.
posted by Max on 1/20/2014 at 09:16:28 PM