January 25, 2009

Process Progress

The average day can usually be broken down into a series of processes: wake up (pre-set alarm based on a planned point of departure), shower (get the water to a certain temperature, use certain soaps in certain ways on certain body parts), shave, dress, eat, work, etc. Each step of the day is either a process in itself or a part of a larger process.

I'd go a step further and say that most of those processes are one of two kinds: either a static process that is repeated pretty much the same way every day (e.g., showering), or a progressive process that can be altered, improved upon or cut back on from instance to instance (a lot of what I do in my job would fall under this classification). The 2JB process originally seemed like it was going to be the former (this is how you follow the recipe to make the beer - repeat as necessary), but it's clearly become the latter as we make progress with our process each time.

As we began Batch Hay (an English Brown Ale), foremost in our minds was the fact that we have been wasting a tragic amount of beer each time. When it goes from brew-pot to fermenter, we'd leave some behind so as to try to minimize the sediment and other solids that are at the bottom of the pot; the same thing would happen when we moved it to the secondary fermenter and then to the bottles. All in all, we were probably sacrificing as much at 10 bottles worth each time.

That would clearly be an unacceptable lost in any accounting. So with a little advice from Monty and a little help from Charlie Papazian's book, we decided to alter our process a little and make some progress by sparging. Yes, that's a real word - it's the term for straining out the solids more thoroughly straight from the brew-pot so that you're not wrestling with them in later steps.

So we began with a typical (static) process: 1/2 lb. crystal malt and 1/4 lb. black patent malt went into a grain bag, making sure to shake out some of the loose grain-dust before dropping it into 2 gallons of water and beginning the boil.

Next was approximately 6 lbs. of Mountmelick unhopped dark malt extract, 1 tsp. of gypsum, 1 oz. of Fuggles hops and 1/2 oz. of Northern Brewer hops; after the boil, another 1/2 oz. of Fuggles went in along with some Irish Moss, and finally we finished with 1/2 oz. of Cascade hops.

And then we made progress. Instead of spending a ton of time cooling down the wort and siphoning it into an empty pail, we started the fermenting pail with 2 gallons of cold water that had been chilling on the porch, cooled the wort just enough to make it stop steaming, and got on with the sparging.

The wort went through a mesh strainer and into the cold water, getting a cereal-bowl's worth of solids out of the wort before it even hit the pail.

As a bonus, this progressive process ended up aerating the wort more than usual (which is a good thing) and by the time we pitched 11 g. of Nottingham yeast (dissolved into 4 oz. of warm water) onto the top, we had a full 5 gallons of beer in that there bucket, sporting an on-target original gravity of 1.046.

Progress indeed.

P.S. - Another change came by way of the recipe we used. Apparently, this ale ferments fast, and will be ready for brewing before the week's up. Looks like we'll need to get on top of the next batch faster than we'd originally thought!

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