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Brew days and bad words

January 11, 2012

Had a very challenging brewday on Sunday.  The plan was to do a parti-gyle brew which would result in a “big” 10% Belgian Dark Strong Ale (1.095 OG, est 1.018 FG) and a “little” 4% Belgian Ale (1.045 OG, est 1.015 FG), which should be pretty sessionable.  

The grain bill was the same for the two beers, mostly relying on Pilsen (Superior from Canada Malting), as well as some specialty color and flavoring grains.  Also included some amber belgian soft candi sugar for a gravity boost and some sweetness. The first problem was that I ordered Special B malt (a dark crystal belgian malt) was incorrectly shipped to me and I received “Special malt”.  I’m still not sure what it is exactly, but it certainly isn’t dark crystal.  I tasted it to make sure it wasn’t an acidulated or something – seemed fine, so in it went.  I’m not concerned about it, just disappointed because my Dark Strong Ale is more of a Medium-Copper Strong Ale.  Just doesn’t have the same ring to it. 

The initial plan, which is still in place, is to bottle and age the big beer for around 12 months – maybe even add some brettanomyces to half of the batch to get the FG down and add some funk.  The more sessionable little beer will find its way into my next emptied keg and into the bellies of some freeloading friends.

So with the exception of the Special/Special B confusion, the big beer went just fine.  I hit my OG pretty closely and aside from a rare brief boil-over, got that brew chilled, aerated and pitched with 75% of the 1/2 gallon starter that I had made with Wyeast 1762.  

The little beer boil is when the shit really started to hit the fan.  First, I didn’t collect as much wort as I expected – only about 4.5 gallons.  With this being the second runnings of the grain bed, and not having any more heated sparge water on the ready, I decided not to waste time or risk further watering down a beer that is already going to be pretty low on the ABV scale.  Despite being such a low volume of wort, it was taking for.eh.ver for my 105,000 BTU jet burner to get it up to a boil.  I couldn’t understand it.  Come to realize, I had both frozen up and nearly emptied my propane tank.  At 7 pm on a Sunday, I didn’t want to try to track down a blue rhino swap, so I lugged the brewpot upstairs to the kitchen and waited an unreasonable amount of time for the stovetop to get the wort back to a boil.  This precipitated the rest of my failures.

So.. boiling, no boil-over on the stovetop (thank god).  I grabbed my chiller, ready to attach to the kitchen sink, but again – come to find out that the fitting won’t work with my faucet (2 innies, no outies).  Feeling lazy and frustrated by my Steelers getting Tebowed hard on the TV downstairs, I decided to go the risky route and air chill my wort outside until it reached pitching temp (as opposed to carrying the kettle back downstairs, attach to the hose and chill with my wort chiller).

Reading instructions and labels is something that smart people do.  At this point in time, I was not a smart person.  With funnel in hand, I began pouring my ~200 degree wort into my new (used once) better bottle.  Only when the plastic began to warp and cave in, did I notice the label on the front that says very clearly “do not exceed 140F”.  F word.  I quickly poured the wort back into the kettle, but the damage was done.  My 6 gallon better bottle was now warped and shrunken, and would probably only hold 4 gallons.  To make matters worse, my other two unfilled fermenters are sitting at my parents house 80 miles away, where I occasionally will do a brew.

I wound up doing some quick research, which luckily told me that a Better Bottle is BPA free and is perfectly safe to use if its been overheated.  It also *shouldn’t* contribute any off/plasticy flavors to my beer.  As the little beer is fermenting away in it, only time will tell.

Just to round things out on the suck-o-meter, I also discovered that due to a bad gas connection in my keg system, my CO2 tank was empty and both kegs frozen solid.  And my dog barfed on the carpet.

An epic fail of a brewday behind me, there was nothing left to do, but grab a slice of pizza, open a beer (not pour – kegs were frozen) and laugh about my comedy of errors.  At a certain point, it just got so ridiculous that I had to laugh.  I figure, if I let this type of shit really get to me, then I have bigger problems.

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