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.
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.