Beer Blog

National Learn to Brew Day

Posted by Neil Bamford, November 5th, 2012 | 0 Comments

We started a bit late as the equipment arrived on Friday and it took the entire day to construct the brew Stand in the store. Hindsight is always 20/20 but I did learn two things from the build. Number one is that I should have watched the youTube Videos from Blichmann on how to put together the Brew Stand and then the one on how to operate the burners properly. This would have saved me a few hours of trying this and that before I got it just right. The next lesson I learned was that the Brew Stand, when fully constructed, will not fit through either of the doorways in the store. We had to remove two of the Tiers before we were able to angle it out the front door into the parking lot but we wasted about 45 minutes trying to do it without removing the tiers. When all was said and done it really only would have been 15 minutes instead of an hour had we just loosened the bolts, removed the tiers, taken the stand out and put the tiers back on. Once built the tiers are easy to remove or move around. We lost another 45 minutes finding a fairly level spot in the driveway that was reasonably level and would still allow traffic to flow.

Once levelled we fired up the top burner to heat the 15gal of water (this vessel is called the HLT or hot liquor tun. This was when the day started to improve. It was slightly below freezing with a breeze that I think made it about -10. The top tier burner heated the water to strike temperature in 15 or so minutes minutes at 1/2 power. The wind had no effect what so ever on the burner. We dialed in the flame with the easy to adjust plate on the front of the venturi and were all amazed at how quiet the burner is. On my Eastman Burner at home it takes about an hour to get to strike temp at full out and it generally sounds like I am working on a jet airliner engine. If it is windy I have to watch the flame constantly in case it blows out from a wind gust. Once at Strike temperature of 172F or 78C we turned the burner down to almost off to maintain the temperature while we loaded up the mash tun. Again it was good to note that the burner had a perfect blue flame and the wind had very little effect. A good gust of wind would turn the flame orange for a second but again it did not blow out nor did it start to give off black soot. I can not say enough about how much these burners impress me. I am going to have to buy one to use at home on my natural gas hookup in the garage. Natural gas burns about 15% less as hot but that should not be a problem as the burner outputs about 75,000btu's on Propane. I am guessing I will not even notice the difference. The Vineyard sells a Natural Gas Conversion Kit which consists of a larger orifice due to the lower pressure of natural gas and a needle valve to adjust your flame as natural gas does require the use of a regulator.

As I did not have enough time to prepare 3 burners and do a test run I decided to use my cooler mash tun on the middle tier as you can see in the picture. I got this mash tun second hand from my buddy Hans about 3 years ago and it has served me well and won me many medals in competitions across Western Canada. The recipe was quite simple; 12lb (5.44kg) Marris Otter Pale Ale, .75lb (340g) Crystal 40, .25lb (113g) Crystal 120. We tossed that in the tun and mixed in the strike water stirring real well to ensure that there were no lumps using about 1.5q (1.4l) per lb (454g) of grain. The temperature settled out at 152 degrees (67c). After about 30 minute rest I gave the mash a good stirring and checked the temperature. It had only dropped 1 degree so I did not need to add any additional water to bring it back up to temperature. After another 30 minutes the enzymes have finished converting the starches to sugars and we start to drain off the wort into a jug and then carefully add it back to the top of the mash until the wort ran clear. This is done to set the grain bed that the acts like a filter hence the sweet wort comes out nice and clear and will result in clearer beer after fermentation.

Normally at this point I use what is called a batch sparge method which is to say that I run the wort from the kettle as fast as it will flow out the 1/2 inch ball valve into the boil kettle located on the bottom tier. Generally this takes about 5 minutes and then I would refill the mash tun with 170f (75c) water to rinse the grains by stirring them up, letting them settle, recirculate until clear and then run off into the boil kettle. Generally this is completed in another 10 to 15 minutes total making the lautering process about 20 minutes. My cooler has a stainless steel braided hose in the bottom that allows the sweet wort to pass through but not the grains. As it runs the length of the cooler the wort can enter in such a way that channeling does not happen and all the grains get rinsed evenly. For some reason the wort refused to flow faster than a trickle this time. I tried reaming out the hose but it would only speed up for a few seconds and then go back to a trickle (I would find out after the fact that the braided hose has got pinched somehow right at the entrance to the ball valve causing the slow flow). As a brewer I am used to improvising and it becomes easier when you are working on the doorstep of a brew shop. I simply put a wort sprayer on the end of my hose and proceed to do what is called a continuous or fly sparge. This is done by simply applying water to the top of the grain bed in such a way as to not disturb the grains and cause channeling through it therefore rinsing all the grains of the sweet sugar. The amount of water you add on top is controlled by the speed the sweet wort exits the mash tun which in this case was very slow. Normally in a continuous sparge situation I like to take about 30 minutes but in this case it was closer to 70 minutes. Normally this would not be an issue as I could relax and have another homebrew but on this day is was cold and we were in a public driveway and could only drink coffee and tea. 4 brave souls hung out to the bitter end as we huddled around the boil kettle keeping warm during the sparging.

After I had a couple of inches of wort in the kettle, I fired up the lower tier to heat the wort to just below a boil so that when we were finished sparging it would only take a few minutes to get to a full boil. Again I was very impressed with the control that those Blichmann burners allowed both in keeping it just below the boil and then taking only about 3 minutes to get up to a full rolling boil. 8US gals were at a good rolling boil and I bet the regulator was not even at 25% power. Due to the long sparge process my pre boil gravity was 1.060. That was about 15 points over what I was anticipating so my brewhouse efficiency was a whopping 90% when I was expecting 65%. Again not one to worry I just adjusted my bittering hop addition up and added 2oz (56g) of East Kent Golding hops (5.6%AA) at the begining of the boil and 1oz (28g) at the end of the boil. I covered the kettle with the lid and let it sit for 5 minutes while I hooked up the imersion chiller that I had set in the boil the last 15 minutes to sanitze it.

I could almost see the finishing line which was good as it was getting near closing time. I had wanted to install and try out the Blichmann Therminator plate chiller but as mentioned at the top of the story I did not have time to install. I did however remember to put the Blichmann HopBlocker in the kettle before I filled it so that we could strain the wort as it flows into the fermenter. With this in there my immersion chiller did not sit on the bottom of the kettle and while I did not know it at the time one of the coils of the chiller got wedged between the hop blocker and the temperature probe on the kettle. When I went to remove the chiller it refused to leave the confines of the kettle. No manner of twisting and turning seemed to work. I thought it was caught on the hopblocker hook so got a spoon sanitized and tried in vain to release it. As I was about to give up and dump the wort in order to save damage to the kettle, hopblocker or temperature probe (akin to chewing off my leg to be released from a trap), Tom suggested that I don a bright blue nitrite glove, spray myself with sanitizer, and go fishing to see if I can find the problem.

I know have a little understanding how a proctologist feels as he daintily probes his way into the darkness of places hands were never meant to be. Using my fingers as eyes into my kettles nether regions it became apparent that coil from the wort chiller had become wedged behind the hop blocker and was being held down there by the temperature probe. With the chiller released from its watery trap I gave the wort a bit of time to resettle. While I was waiting I took a small sample and wiped it on my refractometer only to find my gravity was now about 1.070. Now an ESB is supposed to be a strong beer but in British terms that means around 5 to 6% ABV so I ran this beer off into an extra large fermentor and topped it up with water until the Specific Gravity was 1054. I pitched 2 vials of White Labs WLP005 English ale yeast at it then drove it home with me which provided enough airation that it was already fermenting after 3 hours.

So there you have it folks. My first time to participate in a Learn to Brew Day event (which by the way is in its 14th year) and even though I have been brewing beer since 1981 still had to Learn to Brew all over again but in public. I think that is why I have such a passion for brewing. I continue to learn new things everytime I brew and everytime I drink a beer I discover something I did not notice on a previous taste. Brewers, be they homebrewers or Probrewers, all share a passion for beer. I have never met a brewer that didnt love to share a beer and discuss how it was made and what was in it. I have never met a brewer that didnt want to answer a brewing question or help a person better understand the craft or the process and I have never met a brewer that didnt want to learn from others.

Check back here in about a month or so and I will post a review of the Learn to Brew day Snap glove ESB.

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