Thursday, September 22, 2011

Brew Day

Brewing a batch of beer is as easy as making a batch of cookies (just follow the recipe, right?)... but somewhere in the process the kettle and other equipment must be cleaned and set up, there must be enough propane, the ingredients must be available, the yeast should be viable, et cetera, et cetera.  All of this requires some level of organization... and the more involved each step is, the organizing will include written procedures.  

A few weeks back I did my first double brew weekend.  Yes, I rock.  Brewing two batches in one weekend was a big deal for me as I am new to the obsession, and have only done single batches over a given weekend.  By stepping up to brewing two batches in a weekend I put my brewery procedures - painstakingly worked out through trial and error over 4 batches - to the test.  How well they stood up surprised me

My brew day can be broken into the following phases... clean and sanitize, set up, brewing, rack the wort and clean up.  The first and last phase are the most critical, and must be well attended to.  If you don't clean and sanitize well, the current beer (or the next one) cold suffer... if you don't clean up at the end, the next brew day starts with cleaning moldy equipment... a mistake I will never repeat.

Before I can get the brew day cooking, there is planning to do.  As a noob, I take this step seriously… organization is my friend and helps make the brew day go smooth(er).  Here is my plan for the day:

Get yeast started.  I get my smack pack out and set about getting my little yeast friends ready to go.  I’ll also take some time to re-re-re-read the recipe and instructions to see if there is anything “special” I need to include in my planning.
Gather brew equipment.  Kettle, steel stir spoon, strainer, hydrometer, wine thief, test cylinder, fermentation bucket and cover, water bucket, fermentation lock
Check yeast viability/ clean and sanitize.  If the smack pack fails to fully inflate or even inflate at all, I’ll cancel my brew day and make a 1 liter starter, and start tomorrow.  If everything is cool, I’ll clean and sanitize the equipment.  I will wrap the ferm bucket cover in aluminum foil dipped in sanitizer, and cover the ferm bucket and water bucket with aluminum foil dipped in sanitizer.
Set up brew area.  I set up my two folding tables (one for equipment and the other for my beer, books, timer and radio) and clean/sanitize them.  I get my kettle with lid in place out and filled with the prescribed measure of water, and set up the water bucket.  Spoon, knife, strainer are laid out on the table.
Flame-on.  From this point I am following the recipe instructions… adding grains, adding LME, and adding hops.  I am never far from the kettle and watching for boil overs.  I am also cleaning the wort chiller and will immerse the unit in the kettle to sanitize it with about 15 minutes to go to
Have a beer.  It’s important, I’ve earned it!
Clean and sanitize.  Everything that was cleaned and sanitized earlier gets the same treatment again.  I may be overkill on my sanitation, but at least I know my equipment won’t be the cause of a bad batch.  During this step I’ll also wash down the burner, the tables, the driveway.
Have another beer.  I’ll crack another beer, and as things dry, I’ll stow the gear in the proper place for the next brew day.

I learned with my first two batches that the entire process does take time, and that I had to plan for it to make it work for me.  I don’t mind how long it takes; I enjoy every part about brewing beer… I am running a brewery, I love to brew.  I have procedures, equipment lists, a brew schedule; and I name all my beers, I make my labels and I stick them on all my bottles.  I come up with ideas, I document them, research them… and I’m making plans to enter judging contests.  I love it, and I want my passion to show in my beer.
About the yeast… Wyeast makes what is called a smack pack their varieties of yeast are packaged in.  The smack pack has yeast slurry and a small amount of nutrient in a fragile plastic bag inside the pack.  Basically you smack it, and release yeast nutrient into the slurry, and it inflates if the yeast are ok.  I had one smack pack not inflate for me, and I researched the heck out of it and found it was a common thing to occur.  The forum advice was split… some said just pitch it, its fine; other said, it best to make a starter.  I opted to make the starter, and I also opted to cancel the brew day just to make sure my little yeast friends were fine.  Turned out I had no issue with the yeast… I had other problems with that batch, but that will be for another time perhaps.

If you’re a noob like me, and you’re wondering what a brew day looks like, what’s above is pretty much it.  I hope this has helped you with shaping your brew day, or at least inspired you to organize your Brew Day, and that you find as much enjoyment as I have in brewing beer.  

Brew On!  

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