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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Failed Experiments

If you have been following this blog at all, you will remember that back in 2010, I built the mother of all fermentation chambers.  After using this for two years and having reasonable success with it, I have decommissioned it, broke it down and hauled it out to the trash heap.  There are a couple of issues with that assembly that I just couldn’t overcome.  First, I had experienced a couple of fermentations that had clogged the airlock and blown yeast slurry allover the inside of the cabinet.  Despite my efforts to clean up the mess, there were just so many little specs of goo everywhere that it inevitably started to mold.  Having a moldy environment makes the challenge of keeping contaminants out of your IMG_0522yeast and fermenting beer even more daunting.  Second, using an air conditioning window unit sounds simple enough, I was even able to figure out a simple temperature probe bypass to attain cooler temperatures than your normal air conditioned room, like 65 degrees.  My desire to try fermenting a lager turned into a nightmare when the A/C unit froze the coils a number of times.  Add to this disappointment that the insulation between the “sealed” panels was starting to grow mold and turn the wood paneling black from the inside and it was clear.  This was an experiment that may work fine in less-humid environments, but this was clearly not going to work for me anymore.
A couple of days casually looking at Craig’s List and a solution was discovered.  I found a reasonably-new Whirlpool refrigerator that someone was selling cheap (like $60 cheap).  It is getting harder to find a ‘fridge that is not a side-by-side and I needed one with the freezer on top.  Found it, picked it up, cleaned it out and stuck a temperature probe in it.  My wife is still confused as to why I wanted a refrigerator that is set at 65 degrees, but if you are reading this, I’m sure you know why.  The one remaining piece of the old fermentation chamber is the shelf on the bottom of this new one.  After some sanding and a new coat of sealer, it’s good as new.  I’m using it right now to ferment a couple of ales that I brewed last weekend.  This leads me to my second failed experiment.
I am very enamored with the Fullers line of ales (use your browser toe search, I can't have a link to them) .  If you live near London, this may seem very odd and silly, but here in “the colonies” the products we get from the Fuller’s brewery are a bit old and oxidized.  Apparently a cargo container and the Atlantic Ocean are not favorable to beer,  who knew?  So, in typical home-brewer style*, I proceeded to try and clone some of these ales.  Also, in my typical style, I try and go the full 9 yards with the processes.  I was going to brew these beers the same way they do at Fullers and use a parti-gyle system.  The linked article is long on description and short on practical application.  Being new to this process, I assumed that I would take the grist from beer A and combine that with beer B to make a Master Grist.  Then take the first 6 gallons of running in one kettle and the second 6 gallons in another.  Easy, right?  Of course it is, which is why it is all wrong.  So, off I go milling and mashing 2 brews worth of grain and running the resulting wort into kettle A.  Great, after about 7.5 gallons are in the kettle, I switch to kettle B and continue on draining.  Perfect!  Start the boil and add some hops, right?  Boil for 50 minutes and add the second set of hops.  Both kettles are on the same schedule, what could be easier?  What?  You’re saying I missed step?
As it turns out, a big step was missed.  I take a hydrometer reading from kettle A and whoa! 1.098 SG?  This can’t be right.  Take a hydrometer reading from kettle B and I get 1.034.  It was about this time that I realized that I didn’t take a pre-boil hydrometer reading which would have prevented the catastrophe I was now in the middle of.  I stop draining kettle A into the first carboy (1) and start adding it to carboy 2 after about 2/3rds of the wort was drained.  Then I blended the worts 2/3rd and 1/3rd to lower the gravity of kettle A and raise the gravity of kettle B.  Now my hops and bittering was going to be all screwyIMG_0523 but what could I do at this point other than throw them both out and start over.  At roughly half a sack of Maris Otter I was not dumping this down the driveway.  The correct way to do this is to drain the first runnings (what I had put into kettle A) into a separate container and blend them into the second runnings to get the appropriate gravity.  Now, what was supposed to be an ESB clone (SG of 1.058) was at a post blend gravity of 1.082, nearly Barley wine strength and what was supposed to be London pride (SG 1.048) was at 1.056.
Over the past week, I’ve found a couple of parti-gyle calculators, with Tom’s from the Antioch Sud Suckers being my personal favorite.  I used way too much grain and didn’t blend them before starting the boil.  Other than that these brews fermented just fine, both achieving their original, calculated terminal gravity.  I plan to dry hop them both since the London Pride is closer to the ESB and the ESB is way under hopped.

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