In all honestly though this isn’t my first all grain brew day. I actually did one at home, though more like a BIAB using drilled plastic buckets at a sparge vessel. I’ve watched Denver during a couple of brews. I’ve done several 85% – 90% ‘all me’ brew days on Gratis Brewing’s rig, so those kinda count too. Those have helped me the most with understanding the process. They have both helped me decide on which route to go when I did decide (read: Sarah said it was ok) to finally go all grain. The two most obvious choices were, make sure it’s a fired mash tun and make sure you can do a full boil. Check and check! So I’m trying to remember why Sarah was in such a good mood, but I know she was sitting on the couch, probably playing Snoopy Coaster on her iPad between pauses of some dumb show on DVR. I gave her just enough information to get the remarks, “That’s not too bad, go ahead I guess.” Thankfully Mark over at 5 Points Growlers and Home Brew Supply helped me with everything I needed, plus no shipping and I bought local. I did manage to sneak a grain mill by her though. Which I honestly meant to mention but it arrived home before I did.
After one of my best friends acquired me a 10 gal brew kettle and my other best friend helped drill it and valve it, I was finally ready to brew. Seeing as how I was going to brew on Labor Day I would need to use Belgian yeast since it’s more tolerant to warmer fermentation temperatures. I also didn’t want to go big on my first brew day with this new rig in case I missed my numbers I didn’t want to feel like I wasted a load of money on a large grain bill. I’m expecting a few more weeks of warm weather before it finally breaks, so I wanted something small with low ABV to enjoy on football Saturdays. I brewed a Saison once before and actually had to re-pitch with Wyeast 1056 to finish it out. So to avoid that hassle again I went with White Labs Saison II yeast, plus the guy at the shop recommended it after using it a few weeks prior.
Brew day finally rolled around and naturally I sleep late. I didn’t clean and sanitize the new pots the day before like I had planned. I knew I needed to run out for ice the morning of so I grabbed new propane tanks at the same time. The princess would want breakfast and coffee when she woke up, so there’s that stop too. It’s a warm day already so I wanted to at least start out fresh so I showered after running those errands, which now puts us at 11 am and I’m finally ready to start assembling the new brewery. Assemble? Yeah, Legos! Not quite. I did manage to do a little pre-work by measuring all the pots and oh yeah, new burner too, so I could build a three tier gravity set-up out of cinder blocks. I always brew in the garage, so it’s nice and flat and cinder blocks are sturdy enough that I’m not worried about knocking them down, plus they’re just over $1 a piece too. With this setup my only heavy lifting, which is still moderate since I’m only doing 5 gallon batches, is to remove the mash tun off the burner and place the full boil kettle on the burner. For this time I also lifted the HLT up top with 6 gallons of sparge water too. But I plan to buy some marine water hoses plus an in-line water filter and use the outside tap to fill everything with. Baby steps for now though.
I actually fitted valves, cleaned pots and hoses rather quickly and before I know it my mash water is up to temperature. The new burner is from Academy and it’s an 88,000 BTU burner as opposed to my other one that Sarah bought me (that I picked out), which is only 58,000 BTU. Big biggest difference is the new burner is a single flame so I’m cautious and aware that I’m always stirring if I’m heating the mash. I worry that the single flame while it spreads nicely across the bottom of the mash tun and there is a false bottom could burn some wort if not stirred. The mash is at temp and holding very nicely (again, it’s a mid 80 degree day) and quickly the strike water is at temp without getting it to 220 degrees like some other brew days I’ve been too. I’m not saying a word Brian, I promise! One thing that Brian did teach me, a good thing, is to float the mash from the bottom. This gives the grain bed a chance to loosen some sugars and become more viable for their soon to be voyage to the boil kettle. I finally get to use the mash paddle I cut out of cherry wood and if I leave dough balls behind with this behemoth then I should stop brewing all together. The day didn’t go without a few small hiccups though. I normally like to catch the first runnings and pour them back over the mash to filter out some of those bigger proteins. I was so excited to snap a picture of the first runnings that as soon as I did I remember from the hazy wort I had forgotten that step. Also while trying to fine tune my equipment profile in BeerSmith (brewing software) I set it for 2 gallons of lauter tun dead space. When the wort was done transferring to the kettle I wanted some of that extra wort and this caused for me to over sparge. I now have a really light wort and a low starting gravity. I decided to boil an extra 20 minutes to boil off and get down to my target gravity. Which I’ll be damned, actually worked and without darkening the wort too much. No boil-over either even though it seemed people were begging for it to happen. The other headache was trying to chill the wort after boiling using 30 pounds of ice in swamp cooler and my water hose coiled under it all. It came down to 80 degrees and held there until all the ice melted. So my next trick was to transfer into the fermenter then place that in the swamp cooler with more ice around it. After dinner it was at pitching temperature. I actually think I chilled the wort too much as it took almost an entire day for the air lock to see activity. But I’m not worried now because it gurgled for an entire week before slowing to a bubble every few minutes.
After eight days I decided to pull it out and take a gravity. My target final gravity was 1.009 and if I was close then I’d rack off the yeast, if it wasn’t ready then I’d carry the yeast over to secondary and then do another rack after it finished. To my surprise it was already at 1.006. The Chuck Norris of Saison yeast I guess? It certainly kicked the sugars out of there fast. So that’s where we’re at. First taste samples are dodgy because there’s still some off gases that screw up my palette and even worse my sniffer. It was a simple recipe with low bittering and no additions like bitter orange peel or coriander, which are common but not required in a Saison beer. I’m hoping that yeast will lend enough spiciness and flavoring to be considered as a successful batch. Keeping the fermenter in a swamp cooler worked out pretty well. I kept a thermometer in the water the entire time and I could regulate it between 62*-72* the entire time. I need to work on keeping the big swings out of that equation though. As for the next brew I’m thinking of doing the Cascade pale ale that I wrecked just before summer only dry hopping it this time.
As far as going from partial mash brewing to all grain brewing relied on one comment. Last year when Goose Island was released in Georgia, Brian introduced me to their brewer over at Pauley’s one night. He told the guy (whose name I forget and I’m so sorry for not remembering it at 2:30 am) about me recently winning gold at the Peach State Brew Off with my Citra Pale Ale. During that discussion it came up that I was only doing partial mashes and his comment was to go all grain as soon as I can. He added that while you can make really good beer without doing all grain you can’t sustain making great beer every time relying on extract as an ingredient, basically. This first brew is truth to that with an apparent attenuation of 87% without a starter. Fingers crossed this Saison turns out ok and we keep brewing better.