the homebrew Titanic

After two straight home runs with my Pumpkin Ale and Slain Trolls Blood Coffee Stout (which I’ll review at a later date), I was riding high on my homebrew horse. Well, today I was put back in my place. I’ve managed to recover from a lot of near disasters in my brief homebrewing career, including boil-overs, shattered carboys, forgetting key steps and so-forth. It seems that each brew has its own adventure, but the beer turns out ok. Well, today I felt like a left a soldier down in the field.

This was going to be my first all-grain batch of beer, a hoppy pale ale. I figured that after two years I could easily make the jump. Not so, apparently…

I don’t want to bore you with too much detail about my brewing set-up, so you’ll just have to fill in the blanks if you’re a homebrew expert. One of my big issues is that I really don’t have the proper equipment to make an all-grain batch. Primarily, I don’t have a big enough brew kettle. Mine is only about 5 1/2 gallons, and I need at least a ten gallon. But, I’m resourceful, so I figure I could improvise and make it work.

Anyway, the first nightmare occurred after I mashed the grains and poured them into my lauter tun, which is a jimmy-rigged system consisting of two buckets inside each other, with the interior bucket having a bunch of holes drilled into the bottom. I also attached a spigot to the outer bucket to drain the wort. This system worked like a charm on my coffee stout, which was the first time I’d used it.

Well, after pouring out the grains into the bucket, I noticed that I had burned the ever-living tar out of the bottom of the grains, creating a caramelized crust on the bottom of my brew kettle, which also serves as my mash tun because I am poor. I frantically began trying to clean the brew kettle, having to resort to my Cutco spatula spreader to scrape the bottom, and finally to some copper wool. The bottom of the kettle now looks like it was cleaned by Freddie Kruger.

Meanwhile, the grains were sitting in the lauter tun for about 30 minutes while I tried to scrape the kettle. In that time, the grains must have cooked into oatmeal, because when I tried to drain the lauter tun, it of course got clogged. I twice tried to pour out the grain, unclog the bucket, and run the water through again, but it was no use. It would not drain.

By this time I figured that I had probably oxidized my wort too much with all the back and forth, and there was a lot of visible sediment in the wort that was draining off. I think that a contributing factor to the clogging problem was that my grain was milled too finely. I used a different source to mill my grain, and I had a strange feeling when saw it come out of the mill, like there was too much dust and fine powder in the result. I just chalked it up to my ignorance, so I naively went along.

p1010789
My first brewing casualty. May it rest in peace.

It came time to make an executive decision, and I chose to cut my losses and stop before it got worse. I didn’t want to waste $20 in hops and some very special yeast that was given to me, not to mention several more hours of effort, and risk that I might waste it on terrible beer. It was a tough decision, but I need to regroup and try again.

I just ordered a new batch of grains which will hopefully arrive by the weekend so I can try again. It’s been a very discouraging day, but I am ready to try again. I’m not really sure what the lesson is, but if this happens again next time, I’m going to have to reevaluate my life.

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About Brian

I like beer.
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7 Responses to the homebrew Titanic

  1. Andy says:

    Well, hopefully my visit to the Upstate this afternoon did not sour up your game. I suppose this can be chalked up to learning and the your next attempt will be better. Hang in there old friend, you are good at what you do.

  2. Alex says:

    I was truly hoping that you would post about this. I love hearing about people’s culinary disasters…Lord knows I’ve had my share. Get back on the horse! I’m sure your next batch will be better.

  3. Alex says:

    Nice mention of the Cutco spatula spreader, by the way.

  4. Nathaniel says:

    Dude . . . that was about the most tragic story I have read all week (and I visit CNN.com every day). Hopefully next time around you will have better luck. I was curious to see how the all grain was going to come out.

    I’ve got a kit for Copper Ale right now and Evan said he might have enough for brewing a new beer. We’ll try and let you know if we’re gonna brew anytime soon.

  5. nikki3bags says:

    Morale was low yesterday. It was sad to toss aside the grains. We should have given it to some local cows.

  6. nikki3bags says:

    The cows would have been ecstatic!

  7. Brian says:

    UPS has the new grains! Redemption is at hand!

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