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Brewing with My Pal, Murphy

Posted by homebrewdad on 8/11/2014 at 04:48:07 PM

Yesterday was a much anticipated brewday for me - I would be tackling my roggenbier. I had done my homework, had listened to multiple horror stories about how sticky rye is, and had (I hoped) prepared for that.

And so, yesterday morning arrived. I had planned for this to be a solo brewday, but my good friend Murphy dropped by unannounced and decided to hang with me for the duration. If you are the sort of person who enjoys gawking at a train wreck as you drive past one, then by all means, please read on.

10:15 AM: It has become a weekly tradition that I fry bacon and my wife bakes blueberry muffins on Sunday morning. I usually heat my strike water on the stovetop to save on propane, but I figured it would be no issue to do so while cooking breakfast. However, my wife also decided to do hash browns this week, so I sat my pot to the side (there wouldn't be enough room for three large items on the stove). Minor delay here, no big deal.

11:10 AM: Breakfast is done. I take the lid off my six gallon stainless steel pot that serves as my HLT - and also does dual duty as storage for various brewing chemicals, smaller pieces of gear, etc. Why, hello there, disaster!

The bottom of the pot is covered in a sticky liquid. Plastic on my scale is discolored, a couple of baggies of brewing salts are essentially ruined. One of my star san lids had cracked and slowly dribbled acid into the bottom of my pot.

Fortunately, I had spares for the salts. Unfortunately, the bottom of my pot is a disaster. My O2 regulator (brass) is soaking in undiluted starsan, as are a few bottle caps. Dissimilar metals in an acid equals some really unique corroded spots on the bottom of the pot. PBW soak, scrub, scrub, rinse, scrub, scrub helps... but there's more there, and it's not coming off. The surface of the pot it noticeably pitted in a couple of places.

I break out some sandpaper, and that helps... but it's not perfect. I clean again, then use normally diluted starsan to help re -passivate the stainless (though as I understand it, this step is probably not necessary).

My wife ends up loading up the girls and leaving for some shopping. I have water warming in my now mostly okay pot. I bring up my mash tun (converted cooler) to rinse it out. Along with a couple of odd grain pieces (it seems that no matter how well I clean up, there are always a few), a small, reddish roach comes running out of the cooler like some dirty omen of what lies ahead. Yuck. I give the cooler an extra thorough cleaning and reassure myself that anything that happens in the cooler is preboil, anyway.

1:45 PM: I am finally mashed in. I've elected to start with only my rice hulls, rye malt, and rye flakes for the glucan rest. Supposedly, 98 F - 113 F is the temp range to rest at to ensure that the proteins responsible for gumminess get dropped out, with no damage to those that cause head formation and retention, but I don't want to take any chances. My target temp for this rest is 105 F, but I've overheated my water in my overzealous cleaning of Roachgate, so I have to stir and wait, stir and wait. I end up doing the rest at 110 F, which I figure it still in range... and I'm tired of wasting time. I'm already at least two and a half hours later in the day than I had wanted to be.

2:15 PM: 30 minute rest is complete, temps are holding at exactly 110 degrees F. I add the rest of the grains and stir; my three younger boys (ages six, four, three) come to help. Despite my best warnings, they are not very good at being careful as they stir.

This will become important later on.

All is well, so I pull around eleven quarts of thick mash and take it outside to start on the propane burner for my first decoction. I leave the lid on to speed the process; after all any DMS will be driven off during the main boil. The plan is to do a saccrification rest at 148 F, so I'll heat this portion to 150 or so, kill the heat and let it sit for 20 minutes or so before heating it up to boiling. I'll boil it for 40 minutes to get some nice melanoiden production, then add this portion back to my main mash in order to raise the temp of it to that same 148 or so.

Crap. It occurs to me that I added my campden and my brewing salts, but I forgot the lactic acid. I'm not too worried about it as I'm not into mash territory yet, but I will now have to eyeball the two portions of the mash. I grab a dropper and do just that, splitting my planned acid addition by feel.

2:45 PM: my decoction is at 138 F. As I have mentioned, I am behind schedule, so I decide that I need to not waste time. I run inside to grab my cooler and bring it outside, where it will stay for the remainder of the brewday.

My friend Murphy decides to lend a hand.

I am a stickler for keeping thorough notes, so I stop to update Beersmith. The three and four year olds are fighting; I step in to break them up. The three year old wants a cup of Kool-Aid; I get it for him. The four year old wants a Capri Sun; I get it for him. The Capri Sun doesn't have the normal design with a cherry; it has a stupid soccer player on it, so the four year old refuses to drink it. I get annoyed and coerce/threaten him into drinking it (it's the same flavor, we're not throwing it away)... and then, I panic.

I run outside, cooler forgotten, and check my decoction. It is now a balmy 182 degrees F. I kill the heat, run inside, fire up Google.

As best I can tell, I have screwed the pooch. The enzymes I needed in this portion of the mash are surely denatured at these high temps. Roughly 60% of my grist is composed of grains with low to no diastatic power... I *needed* those enzymes. But now, there is nothing to be done.

I decide to change my plans and adjust my main saccrification rest to 140 degrees F; this will really thin out the body (not necessarily a bad thing in a rye beer), but will hopefully give me every single possible iota of beta amylase for sugar conversion. I fire up the burner again, realizing that not only did I overshoot my temp, I have also managed to scorch some grain at the bottom of the decoction; there is now a solid layer of goop on the bottom of the pot.

I go back inside to check my math, and sure enough, I am not going to have enough diastatic power to convert everything. I do find one glimmer of hope in the process, though - supposedly, rye malt has a diastatic power of only 15, while it's commonly accepted that you need around 35 for self conversion. However, I know that some people do brew 100% rye beers... perhaps all is not lost? And hey, decoctions normally yield a little better efficiency than normal, right?


I go outside to check the decoction, and Murphy is laughing at me. The propane has run out.

I grab my keys and wallet and run down to the gas station to do a quick exchange, with Yakety Sax playing in my mind as I live through an episode of Keystone Kops: Brewing Edition.

4:10 PM: Forty minute decoction boil is done. I add this back to the main mash and discover that it's a good thing that I've decided to lower my rest temp for the main mash - it takes every bit of the decoction to get the overall mash temp above 140 degrees F. I stir thoroughly, end up with an overall temp of about 143 F, decide to just go with that.

4:35 PM: Normally, this wouldn't be worth a mention, but in a day where everything else seemingly went wrong, I want to mention one success. Ten or so minutes into the mash, I pull a sample for pH measurement. Since this is a darker beer, I've set a target mash pH of 5.51 (according to Bru'n Water). Lo and behold, my actual mash pH is 5.52. The angels sing.

I taste the hard shell at the bottom of my HLT; while it's super sticky and very difficult to work with, it doesn't taste bad. I decide that I need all the sugars I can get, so I add my sparge water directly to this caked on remnant and begin heating. Sure enough, the residue mostly dissolves. I now have brown sparge water waiting in the wings.

5:20 PM: I pull a second decoction (about nine quarts) to get me to a mash out. I consider skipping this step, seeing as how I'm comically behind schedule, but I know that rye is so hard to work with, and a mash out step supposedly makes things easier. I boil for ten minutes, return this to my main mash... and end up at 162 degrees F (noticeably below actual mash out temps). I swear a time or two, but there's no real feeling behind it; I find it hard to care. Oh well, let's vorlauf and drain.

6:10 PM: The first gallon drains just fine. After that, though, it gets really, really slow. I tilt the cooler, prop something under the end while I investigate. Scooping with my spoon helps, but only a little. Soon enough, I discover the culprit.

It's not the rye. Sure, the mash is a little sticky, but it's really not appreciably worse than any other beer. It's the fact that I have about a half inch of unsmashed hose braid - followed by eight inches of completely collapsed braid - that is the issue. I scoop, I dig, I swear, I burn my hands, but I finally manage to get a few inches more or less fixed and get a majority of the first runnings properly drained.

I carry my brown sparge water out and add it - realizing just after the pour that in the midst of worrying about the sugars, I have totally forgotten to add any chemicals whatsoever to the sparge water. Sigh.

Sparging is mostly like lautering was - it gets stuck again (thanks, collapsing braid). I dig with my spoon. I swear. I come up a bit short in volume, add a little more water to the cooler, collect it. I decide to add a little campden to the kettle in the hops that it might help, then just go with it. The boys come and toss in the first wort hops, and the boil process finally commences.

7:25 PM: I start cooking spaghetti as the boil is starting. I run back and forth for the next hour and a half.  Never has a pot of wort foamed like this - sure, they will typically flare up when you add hops, but that foam usually dies down. This batch will die down if I vigorously stir, but the moment I quit doing so, a good six inches of foam forms on top of the surface. I lose track of how many times I rinse the hop residue back down into the boiling wort by use of my spoon.

8:45: Spaghetti and boil are both done. I have undershot my boil volume - intended amount into the fermentor was five and a half gallons, I have almost five exactly. Screw it. I chill for a while outside via immersion chiller and hose, then bring the kettle inside to the sink, add some ice, and hook up the chiller there. Ground water is a balmy 78 degrees F, so this takes longer than I'd like, but I no longer care. I eat dinner, watch Mega Shark versus Crocosaur with the kids, then play a board game.

After mentioning my missed volume to my wife, she informs me that I should just plan to rebrew in two weeks, as too much has gone wrong for this to turn out.  I tell her to not give up hope until I take a gravity reading. 

11:15 PM: All of that worry over gravity does, in fact, turn out to be unfounded. My target gravity was 1.065; I measure 1.078 (temperature adjusted). When I dilute with a half gallon of water to hit my intended volume, gravity is still 1.071.   Murphy and his law can bite me. 

11:45 PM: Beer is in the fermentor. Aeration is done. Yeast is pitched. I got and set my ferm chamber (mini fridge) to 72 degrees (it had been on 1 degree for cold crashing my starter). Should have raised the temp before, as my pal Murphy has decided to help me one final time. I have a huge layer of frost on the freezer shelf - I literally cannot fit the fermentor and airlock inside. Grab a chisel, knock off some frost, get it in there.

12:15 AM: Cleanup is more or less done, teeth are brushed, I get the boys to bed. Brewday is finally finished.  I have every reason to believe that I'm going to have some great beer.

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Batch Size (gallons)5.5
Recipe typeAll Grain
Style15D. Roggenbier (German Rye Beer)
Original Gravity1.065
Final Gravity1.012
ABV6.96% (basic)   /   6.97% (advanced)       [what's this?]
Color18.3 SRM
Boil Time60 min

YeastWhite Labs WLP300 (Hefeweizen Ale)

Rye Malt7 lbs47.5%4.7
Munich Malt3 lbs 8 oz23.7%9
Vienna Malt2 lbs 8 oz16.9%3.5
Rye, Flaked (toasted)1 lb6.8%10
Caramunich Malt 8 oz3.4%56
Carafa III 4 oz1.7%525

Perle (First Wort).5 oz608%13.2
Perle (Steep/whirlpool).5 oz208%3.6
Spalter (Steep/whirlpool)1 oz204.5%2.7

for complete recipe (with details like mash and fermentation temps), click here

Tags for this post: roggenbier, brewday, decoction, mash, homebrew, beer, mistakes, issues, errors

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Good thing you have your sense of humor. If you use that pitted kettle only as a HLT, it doesn't seem like the pitting would matter. The best investment you can make right now (while the pain is fresh) is in a spare propane tank.

posted by sdarji on 8/11/2014 at 04:24:32 PM

Simultaneously the most entertaining and heartbreaking brew day recap I've ever read. You've got nerves of steel and ice water in your veins.

posted by Kevin Alexander on 8/13/2014 at 11:42:54 AM