April 19, 2009

Back to the Brewhouse

After an uncharacteristically long layoff from brewing (caused by a combo of Passover, busy schedules and a slight overabundance of beer), the 2JB crew met this Sunday morning to get back to the brewhouse and back in the saddle.

The return to brewing was marked by another new corner turned: we were, for the 1st time since we started this enterprise in the fall, planning to repeat ourselves. Now that we'd successfully produced more than a half-dozen varieties of tasty beer (including one original recipe), Nahum and I had figured that it would be important to see if we had any consistency. After all, it's one thing to be able to make a good batch of beer, but quite another to make multiple batches that are both good and similar. So we planned to go back to two of our greatest hits: a 2nd batch of Gimmel (aka, stout) and a 2nd run at the Originale.

...and right off the bat, we pretty much failed. Part of consistency is repeating your process, but an even bigger part involves using the same ingredients. Since our 1st run at the stout was a half-batch (part of the inaugural-themed black & tan), we needed to double certain parts of the recipe. The calculations were off just a bit, and we found ourselves there on a Sunday morning half a pound shy of the correct weight of dry malt.

Oh well. It'll still be good, though probably lighter than Stout 1.0...which we decided will be perfect for warm-weather drinking! And we do have the right weight of hops - which we know because Nahum's wife found a digital food scale for us at a dollar store. Our 1st new piece of equipment in a while, and one that will come in very handy.

And so 4 oz. of crushed roasted barley and 8 oz. of Black Patent went into the grain bag and into 2 gallons of water. As we waited for the boil, Nahum and I stepped outside to check out the newest members of the 2JB family: the two strains of hops he'd planted out in the garden.

They're already starting to bud, and each plant has a thin pole nearby so they can grow upward & onward (apparently these suckers grow fast) and we'll be able to start using fresh, homegrown hops for some autumn homebrewing.

Back to the kitchen. We're pulling out the grain bag and adding in 6.6 lbs. of dark malt extract and 1 lb. of dry malt (instead of 1.5 lbs...) along with a bit of gypsum. When we hit the boil at 9:35am, we very nearly had a tragic boil-over (the Papazian book warns of avoiding the Boil-over Blues), but Nahum's fast reflexes on the stove dials brought it under control. In went 1 oz. of Northern Brewer hops; 30 minutes later another 1/2 oz. of NB with a bit of Irish moss; and we finished with a 1/2 oz. of Cascade hops.

After Nahum reconstituted 11 g. of Windsor yeast in 4 oz. of water, we sparged the wort into the Ale Pail (along with more water). It looked good, smelled good...and most amazingly, we lost very little liquid to either the boil or the transfer: it hit the 5 gallon line almost right on the nose.

Our original gravity reading was 1.052, which is not quite what Batch Gimmel had yielded (that was 1.070), but given that the ingredients for Batch Gimmel 2 were different and our process more streamlined, it was just fine.

The Ale Pail is now sealed up and fermenting in the basement. Next weekend: another run at the Originale. This one is more important for the side-by-side comparison between the two batches. Now that we're back into the rhythm of the brew again, I'm pretty confident that we'll get everything squared away for a consistent batch of brew.

P.S.: On my way out of the house after we'd wrapped up, I nearly tripped over something sitting in front of the front door. Mike, our benevolent donator of many many bottles, had left a trio of six-packs of empties along with a note:

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