A homebrewing blog by a novice brewer. I make mistakes so you don't have to.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Surviving homebrewing PTSD or Making Beer in a Snowstorm

During the couple weeks that followed the Great Belgian Tripel Disaster of 2011 (see: Learning the hard way) I thought about giving up on homebrewing, again.

For the next couple days I didn't want to think about brewing beer or beer in general. Shit, I didn't even want to drink a beer. But, I did drink a beer, and I remembered how awesome beer is. I started reading homebrew blogs and listening to homebrew podcasts again, and I realized that I'm not the only idiot in the world to have destroyed an entire batch of beer in mere seconds. This gave me the confidence I needed to try again. And who am I kidding? I had already bought ingredients for another beer and the Jew in me wouldn't allow that to go to waste.

This time I brewed a 5 gallon batch of Munich Dunkel. The brew day went smooth with no issues. I did a partial mash steeping chocolate malt at 152oF for 30 minutes. Then I added Crystal 60L, added the rest of the water and brought it to a boil, removed the malt, removed the kettle from the heat and added pale liquid malt extract. I returned the kettle to the heat and brought it back to a boil and dropped my hop additions.

At this point I still did not own an immersion chiller and chilling the wort to yeast pitching temperature took way too long. Once at pitching temperature I transfered the wort to the fermenter and pitched a smack pack of Wyeast  2308 Munich Lager. The Origianl Gravity reading was 1.053.

Then I waited for fermentation to begin. And I waited. And I waited. 4 days and nothing. A couple mistakes I made that may have contributed to this were I did not make a yeast starter, and I had ordered the Wyeast online. I've heard temperature extremes from the shipping process can affect the yeast viability. And considering the yeast was shipped from Minneapolis in the middle of the winter I'm going to say there were probably some temperature extremes involved.

To remedy this, I went to my local homebrew store, Maryland HomeBrew, and picked up a vile of White Labs WLP029 German Ale. I went with an ale yeast instead of a lager yeast because they were out of German Lager yeasts. I wasn't sure how if at all this would affect the taste of the beer, but I figured I'd give it a try.

Well I brought the yeast home as it began to snow more and more heavily. I pitched the yeast (yes, again without making a starter) and this time fermentation started with in 18 hours. Awesome, right? Well during that 18 hours the snow got worse and worse and the next thing I knew there was 4" of snow and I had lost power. This would not have be so bad if I had used a lager yeast, but ale yeasts like warmer temperatures. WLP029 needs temperatures of 65-69oF to work properly.

When I got up the next morning in a cold house I was freaking out cause I had to save my beer - nevermind Jenni or my cat, Smokey. They can wrap themselves in blankets, right? My beer was completely helpless!

Fortunately, my father lives nearby and I was able to move the beer to warmer surroundings.

The Munich Dunkel or as I have named it Pepco Blackout Dunkel turned out pretty good besides the troubles I had. The final gravity was 1.020 giving the beer about a 4.3% ABV. I brought the Pepco Blackout to a recent homebrew club meeting and it was well received. Although I was told that it was a bit sweet and fruity for a Dunkel and if I wanted to enter it in competitions I should consider entering it as a Bock. I think this had a lot to do with my yeast choice. I also found that the beer's mouth feel to be little thin. I was told that adding a little CaraPils can solve this problem.

Lessons learned:

  • Always create a yeast starter
  • Never ferment an ale during a blackout in the winter
  • Buy fresh yeast from a local homebrew shop
  • Add a little CaraPils to thicken beers
  • Pitch the appropriate yeast for the beer you are brewing
  • Use an immersion chiller to cool wort

After everything is said and done, I'm enjoying this beer.