I just saw off my guest and helper for my latest brew day. The beer today was my English IPA, A Sprig of Grass. This is the second time making this recipe. I had good success last year. This year I was attempting it with a new electric kettle, a plate chiller instead of either an ice bath or immersion chiller, some pumps, and some added gear to filter so that the pumps and chiller would work best.
I tweaked the recipe a little, using three different hops instead of East Kent Golding all throughout. I made some hop teas as we got started. The teas really helped both my guest and myself understand how these hops will work in the beer. I made them to help teach my friend about beer ingredients in a way that would give her a clear sensory impression to draw on. She is still learning to brew so I am trying to think about things I can do to help teach beyond just explaining what I am doing as I am doing it.
I surprised myself by how much I got out of the experience. In particular, the new to me bittering hop, Cluster, really had a different flavor and quality than other bittering hops I’ve used. I think I will make these teas for all my brew days from now on.
I made some malt teas but those were not anywhere near as useful, especially since tasting sweet wort already provides a good sense of a particular grain bill. I may try again with some adjustments but am most likely to use malt teas for speciality grains only. This recipe was mostly a base malt, Maris Otter, with a pretty subtle specialty grain, Biscuit.
For the first two-thirds of the process, everything went well. Like my last beer, I came up a little short after lautering but was high on my pre-boil gravity. I re-circulated for ten full minutes which yielded crystal clear wort running off into the kettle. I batch sparged with another one and a half gallons of water, hitting both my pre-boil gravity target and the volume I wanted for the boil.
The boil went well though I think I need to dial in my evaporation rate a little better. I had a little less wort at the end than I was expecting. When my boil timer rang, I got my pumps set up in series and fitted to my new whirlpool arm. I already shared a video of the whirlpool in action. It worked exactly as I expected. A few minutes in, there was an island of hop material already gathered at the center of the vortex. I let the wort stand for ten minutes while I prepared my hop back and plate chiller then reconfigured my pumps to drive the chiller.
The hop back, a new piece of gear, went together easily even though I didn’t have time for a test run ahead of time. I got the wort half of the cooling rig running well pretty much on the first try. It took a little longer to get the circulation to and from my cold liquor tank working. When I started monkeying with the cold half of the exchanger, I moved my wort outflow to my fermenter. As I struggled getting the cold water moving, I tuned off the hot wort flow. Both of those decisions were mistakes.
As I write this, my wort is cooling much more slowly in my basement to a temperature where I can aerate and pitch my yeast. I wrapped the fermenter in a wet cloth, placed it in a steel tub, and poured a finger of water around it. I am confident this swamp cooler will get the wort the rest of the way to pitching temperature before I turn in tonight.
What I should have done is left the wort recirculating into the kettle so I kept my good flow going through the pump and all the bits and bobs. Once I had the cold water flowing as well, I could have let the kettle cool for a bit, then carefully moved the wort outflow to the fermenter.
If I had done just that, I would have collected my full five gallons. As it is I collected more wort than my last brew day, almost four gallons, but left the better part of a gallon in the kettle. When I restarted the pump for the wort there simply wasn’t enough fluid in the kettle to get a good enough flow to draw everything out. Regardless, the outcome is still an improvement; at no point did my plate chiller get clogged.
I have the opportunity in my brewing software to set different loss amounts. I think if I adjust those based on today’s experience, I’ll start with more water, grain and hops. That way if I do have some loss, I’ll still come closer to my desired final batch size.
I would totally put today in the win column despite the short batch. More critically I am still learning and have solid ideas for how to do even better. I hope to have my new rig completely dialed in well before I am done brewing for this year. I have another test half batch planned so I am unlikely to want for fresh home brew through the Summer as I continue to understand how to get exactly what I want from my gear.