May 17, 2012

First All-grain Batch

So, the big brew day has come and gone.  (But that is not the big news.  What big news, you ask?  The big news I posted about on Facebook.  That big news is coming up soon.  Oooh, the anticipation!)

Eric and I brewed our first all-grain batch of beer - a west coast amber ale based off the recipe in the book Brewing Classic Styles.  The recipe was simple and straightforward.  The mash was a single-infusion (meaning we get the grains and water to one temperature, 152 F, and keep it there for one hour), so that played in our favor.  Nothing too complex or difficult.  The hardest thing to control would be our (ok, my) excitement.

For a brew day, things went very smoothly.  We didn't have any major calamities or setbacks.  Impressive, right?  The only thing is, we didn't quite hit our numbers.  When mashing, we were under temp for a long while, but finally got the temperature up where it needed to be.  When we lautered and sparged (drained and rinsed the grains), we went too quickly and ended up with about 60% of the sugars we should have gotten.  So, we were a bit bummed.  In order to bump up the sugar content, we added some Belgian Candy Sugar leftover from a previous batch.  We ended up with a decent gravity beer (1.052, if that means anything to you), heavily hopped.  Fermentation took off quickly, which is always a positive.  Here's hoping for a decent beer, even if it isn't what we envisioned.

You may have noticed I condensed an entire brew day into one little paragraph.  Even more surprising about this is I have been chomping at the bit to write this post (what, you didn't notice?).  And now the day has come and gone and this is all I give you?  One measly paragraph?

Well, yeah.

I figured you don't really give a flying flip about how my brew day went.  A post like that would all just be a bunch of boring facts... mundane sentences about something people do all the time, every day.  So, instead of boring you with what happened, I figured I would tell you about what I learned from our brew day.  Hopefully this will make me a better brewer and maybe it will even help you out.

Things I learned:
  1. It is really important to preheat your mash tun.  We half-assed it and put some "warm" water in the cooler for about 5 minutes.  I think having a piping-hot mash tun is important.  Next time, we will put a couple of gallons of boiling water in the mash tun, put the lid on, swirl, and let it sit until it is time to use.  I think we lost a lot of our initial heat to warming up the cooler.
  2. Two burners could be really helpful (one could just be your stove if it is close).  I just mentioned the boiling water - you need that.  But you also need some initial strike water that is about 10 degrees higher than your mash temp.  This will be what you mix with your gains in the mash tun.  Don't use boiling water for this.  Boiling water + grains = nasty, gross extraction.  If you need to raise the temperature of the mash after it has been sitting for a while, then you can add few quarts of boiling water - but stir it in quickly.  
  3. When rinsing the grains from the mash, take your time.  We went the Speedy Gonzalez route and as such, we didn't get all of the sugars out that we should have.  We finished that whole process in about 7 minutes.  It should take closer to 30.  Go slowly.
So, there are some take away tid-bits for the all-grain process.  I hope they help you, but I really hope they help me.  Happy, brewing, everybody.  


You can see more pictures from our brew day at my Google+ album.  I don't have more because I was busy brewing.  Sorry, people.