Photo: pusgums, Flickr Creative Commons
I came to the realization a couple of weeks ago that I hadn't brewed a beer in more than a year. I used to brew at least four times a year and I have always enjoyed it. I'm not really sure what happened. Sure, in that time I'd started working on my masters and lost much of my free time, but it really feels more like I forgot about it instead of having just not had time for it. I mean, I get more than two months of time off work each year. It's weird. It honestly doesn't feel like it has been that long, but I finally blew the keg last week of the American wheat beer I brewed for football season. The 2008 football season. Yeah, I've never really been good at keeping track of time. When I was a fifth-grader, my peewee football coach made me run laps every day I couldn't tell him what day of the week it was. I ran a lot of laps that season.
To punish myself for my slacking, I decided I was going to brew two beers in one day. I planned this Saturday to first knock out my regular Flying Tortoise IPA, a beer I've won a couple of awards with and brew on a regular basis because I know I'll always be willing to drink it. The only other beer I've brewed more than once is my Blackened Soul Imperial Stout, a damn tasty beer, but one that takes months to hit its stride. In fact, I think those are the only two beers I've even bothered to name. The second beer I planned on brewing Saturday was a recipe I found in Zymurgy magazine. It's a hefeweizen with grapefruit zest added in the secondary. It's a little different, but I thought I'd give it a try. I'm kind of interested in how that one turns out. I've got the zest soaking in vodka right now.
Of course, just like it always seems to happen, I got a late start on Saturday. I'd meant to get things going before 10 a.m., and I'm pretty sure I didn't fire up the burner to heat water for the mash until closer to 11 a.m. By the time I finished up with the IPA, I knew that it'd be dark before I even got close to finishing the hefe. Instead, I postponed the second beer until Sunday. Of course, with no pressure to get started early, I was up and brewing by 9 a.m. and even had things cleaned up before 2 p.m. I could have easily brewed a second beer that afternoon.
The strange thing is that with nearly a year and a half between brew days, I seem to have gotten better without practice. Things went smoothly. I didn't have any boil overs. You'd think with six gallons of liquid in a ten-gallon kettle, you wouldn't have to worry about things boiling over, but I always have to hover over the propane gauge with a bowl of ice cubes during the first five minutes after the wort (unfermented beer) hits a rolling boil to keep the damn foam from spilling over the sides and onto the carport floor. Usually I happen to get distracted at the wrong time and only realize I've blown it when I hear the hiss of barley juice on superheated metal. This time I managed to keep things under control until about five minutes in when the foam just suddenly disappears, never to return. I've always assumed this was the hot break, the point in the boil when certain proteins come out of solution and help create a clearer beer in the end. I didn't forget any steps, and I got better efficiency than I ever have since I started all-grain brewing. In the past, I usually get around 60 percent efficiency, meaning I only manage to extract about 60 percent of the possible sugars from the grain in my mash. Usually, I make up for this by bulking up my grain bill. This time I managed about 70 percent efficiency. It's not as good as some homebrewers I know, but I was thrilled to realize that I managed to finally shake that monkey off of my back. Seventy percent is reasonable, especially with the 10-gallon drink cooler I use as a mash tun.
Of course, that means my IPA is a little stronger than normal, but that's not a problem that can't manage to fix itself with its own alcohol.
Now I just have to hope that I didn't screw up the sanitation side of the process (something I've never had a problem with in the past, but always worry about). Of course, I won't know if I've screwed up my beer with wild yeast or bacteria until I taste the post-fermentation hydrometer sample. Still, it was nice to see I haven't lost anything through this point.