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Imperial Nut Brown Ale: my Second Homebrewed Beer Attempt

Posted by homebrewdad on 1/25/2012 at 08:31:49 PM

This past Saturday, I completed my second brewing session.  My target this time around was to be an imperial nut brown ale. This was my first recipe to follow (my earlier effort was a kit from Austin Homebrew), and the beer was supposed to be bigger and more complex than my first brew. 

My little boys (ages four and two) were excited to help.  They are both young enough that anything Daddy is excited about, they are excited about, and they love to get involved.  Sometimes, that "help" wasn't always terribly helpful - such as when they would yet again stick fingers into the opening of my sanitized carboy, requiring me to sanitize the rassafracking thing one more flipping time - but I wouldn't have traded the time with them for anything. All told, it was a fun process.

I started off by taking my previously made yeast starter out of the fridge, decanting it (which,in layman's terms, means that I poured most of the "beer" off of my yeast, leaving just enough to swirl the yeast solids back in for pitching), and setting it aside to reach pitching temperature.  I took my second smack pack of yeast (Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale) out of the fridge and smacked it, then likewise set it aside.

Next came setup and sanitizing the rest of my equipment... and then, the baby got fussy.  My wife had left the kids with me while she went to meet her sister for a girls' day, so I expected breaks in the action.  No worries; her being gone prevents her from having to endure what she refers to as the "ferret smell" of me brewing.

Once the baby settled in for his nap, it was time to steep my speciality grains.  I have discovered that my barbeque tongs work great for handling my grain bag... but I also discovered that this time, the tongs were apparently not properly cleaned after the last time that we grilled.  I was using my bottling bucket to sanitize everything as I went along, and had planned to retain at least a gallon of my sanitizer solution for later use (why not conserve where I can, right?). 

A few minutes after placing the tongs in my bucket, I noticed dark "floaties" in the water - which consisted of spices and charred bit of barbeque.  At least I noticed this before using the tongs in my beer, but I was less than happy.  So much for saving THAT sanitizer.

Pressing on, I was more careful with this batch to try to maintain my steeping temperature - which for this recipe, was 154 degrees for forty-five minutes.  During my first brew, I had heated my water properly, but didn't look at the termperature again during the steeping process. Steeping is an easy part of brewing... save for the moment when I was "teabagging" the grains and let the bag slip, which flung brown liquid all over my face, glasses, the cabinets, the backsplash, etc.  Ah, well.

Since this was not a pre-measured kit, I had to make sure that I had the proper portions of both dry and liquid malt extract... which was fun, considering that our kitchen scale is packed in storage in anticipation of our move.  Fortunately, Google is my friend, and told me that approximately four cups of dry malt extract equalled one pound, and that one point three cups of liquid malt extract did the same. 

I added my dry malt extract at the beginning of the boil.  This is a bit of a pain, as the steam causes the DME to fuse together and stick to the inside of whatever you pour it from, and one in the liquid, it forms lumps that don't want to properly dissolve in your wort.  The only answer is to simply keep stirring.

This recipe called for three varieties of bittering hops (Saaz, Mt. Hood, and Cascade - all added for the full sixty minutes of boiling).  I found it very interesting to compare the different scents - one lemony, one woodsy, one a bit more minty.

Once again, my lack of a scale required me to estimate, as my recipe only called for three quarters of an ounce of two of the varieties (hop pellets come in one ounce packages); I eyeballed the quantities, split them out, and put the remainder back in their packs.  I briefly considered using the small leftover amounts for flavor or aroma (by adding them later in the boil), but this recipe is supposed to be superb as is, and I honestly still have only a vague idea of what I am doing in regards to brewing.  Sadly, I tossed the remaining quarter ounces of the leftover hops into the trash.

At this point, I had forty-five minutes with nothing to do but stir the wort... which was good, as the baby had woken up and was hungry.  I pulled his high chair into the kitchen, grabbed some baby food out of the fridge (my wife makes her own baby food), and fed him in between stirs (or stirred in between bites).

I knew that the final fifteen minute mark of my boil would be rather eventful; I was supposed to add liquid malt extract, Irish moss, and yeast nutrient at this point, as well as submerge my wort chiller to ensure that it would be properly sanitized.  This was my first experience with both liqid malt extract and Irish moss. 

Irish moss, which is a type of seaweed that helps to promote clarity in your beer, was simple to deal with.  One teaspoon scoop, dump it in, reseal ther package, and it's done.

Likewise, there was nothing to the yeast nutrient; I get this from Austin Homebrew Supply in capsule form.  Twist the capsule open, dump the contents, drop it in. 

The LME, on the other hand, was a pain.  It looked extremely thick, but poured better than I had expected - and helpfully ran out all over my hand as I looked aside, whereupon it formed a nice, sticky puddle on the countertop.  My wife called, and I shifted my attention away from what I was doing, which almost caused a catastrophe - LME must be stirred in carefully, and the wort needs to be removed from heat while you add it, else it will scortch quickly.  I almost forgot to remove it, and trying to talk on the phone and pour/scoop.stir at the same time proved to be challenging.

This process took longer than I expected, and it took three or four minutes to get my wort back up to boiling.  I set my timer for fifteen minutes, then grabbed out the maple syrup I'd need to add for the last minute.  Fortunately, that went well.

Now came time to chill the wort.  I moved the pot to the counter, hooked up my hose to the faucet - and began spraying water everywhere.  Naturally, I could not properly loosen the silly thing by hand, so I had to grab my pliers.  Once I got it apart, I fixed the shifted gasket, screwed it back on, and began to chill my wort in earnest.  I noticed that the process was taking lomger than my first batch... and realized that I was doing somethign else that was dumb.  Why was I pouring the water from the chiller directly down the drain?  I moved my pot tot he sink (where it should have been to start with), directed the exhaust nozzle to run against the pot itself, and enjoyed the rapid temperature descrease (about fifteen minutes to cool from boiling to 74 degrees).

I called my fourteen year old in to hold my funnel, and I poured the wort into my 6.5 galon carboy.  I think that I need to look into a strainer of some sort - all of that hop gunk in the wort means that I had moved a lot of unnecesary junk to my fermenter, but for now, this can't be helped.  I topped off with water, aerated the mixture... and almost forgot to take a gravity reading.

Once again, my original gravity was noticeably high - I pulled a 1.100, where I had been expecting a 1.081.  Am I getting too many sugars dissolved in my wort?  Did I mismeasure something?  Can I just not take a proper original gravity reading?  This was supposed to be a big beer, but that sort of gravity is barleywine territory!  If that measurement is correct (and I'm not just categorically bad at getting original gravity readings), and I do manage to hit my target final gravity of 1.016, I'll be looking at a whopping 11% alcohol by volume!

There was nothing to do at this point but to pitch the yeast.  I shook up my starter and poured that in, then grabbed my second smack pack.

This sucker had been very disappointing. Despite having been smacked a good four and a half hours earlier, despite my vigorous shaking throughout the day, despite me slipping the pack under my shirt in an effort to warm it quicker, it had still only inflated about halfway.  Considering that the manufacture date had only been a month ago, I was unpleased that I apparently didn't have a lot of viable yeast - especially since it looked like my beer was not going to be high gravity, but massive gravity.  Ah, well... nothing to do but press on.  At least I had demonstrated the sense to make a starter.  Maybe that would be enough.

I opened the pack, and discovered that I was a ninny.  Apparently, there are twin nutrient packets inside of a Wyeast smack pack; I had punctured one, but the second was intact.  I pitched the yeast, opened the nutirent pack with a knife, then dumped the contents of it down my funnel, as well. 

Even with the starter, I worried that I wouldn't have enough yeast to handle this big of a beer.  Unfortuatey, there was nothing else I could do at this point.  Man, would it stink to have sunk the time, effort, and enthusiasm on this bacth and have nothing happen - or to end up with only a partially fermented, too-sweet beer.

Just as I finsihed pitching my yeast, my wife pulled up in the drive.  I had hoped to clean up before she got home so as to minimize her expose to "ferret", but she was a good sport about it (though she insisted on opening a few windows).

The days brewing activities (minus cleanup) were now at an end.

Tags for this post: imperial, nut, brown, ale, brewing, home, homebrewing, kids, yeast, yeast issues, malt extract

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LME is easer to work with if you warm it up a bit - place jar in hot water for 10 mins. Then rinse jar out with hot water.

Your unusual OG reading was probably due to inconsistent mixing. I'd trust the calculations more.

Don't toss your leftover hops, just freeze them in ziplock baggies for another brew.


posted by Aidan on 1/26/2012 at 07:07:09 PM

Thanks for the advice!

posted by homebrewadad on 1/10/2015 at 10:11:18 PM