Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Big Spill

In January of 2013 we attempted to brew a Belgian Triple.  It's a liquid malt extract (LME) kit from Brewer's Best.  This brewing session ended up with my buying some new brewing gear for the group.  Here's how it went down.

On brew day it was cold out.  Real cold for our area so we decided to brew in my garage instead of on the back yard patio where we normally do things.  Fortunately, as things go, the decision to brew in the garage was a good one.  However, our burner wasn't good at all.  In fact it was a piece of crap.  I had bought it at Target last January after having received my beginners kit for Christmas.  The burner came as part of a turkey frying system and it had a couple safety features on it that really made it unsuitable for beer brewing.

There were two problems with the burner.  The first was a timer that would automatically shut off the flame after 15 minutes of continuous usage.  I'm not even sure how you're supposed to fry a turkey with that insane add-on.  The second was a button that you had to press in order to light the fire.  Unfortunately, more often than not the fire would go out if you ever stopped pressing the button.  Thus, we had to use a hand clamp to keep the button depressed throughout the boil process.  At least I had removed the timer a couple days before brew day so we didn't have to deal with that scheduled shut off anymore.  However, I never felt particularly comfortable having the hand clamp holding the button down.  It just felt wrong.

After our brew session for the Belgian Triple I ordered a new Bayou Classic SQ 14 from amazon.  It is a 16" square burner that puts out a reported 150,000 BTUS!  It is super stable feeling and it certainly cranks out some flame if you open the valve all the way.  Plus it has a small adjustment that you can use to control the oxygen mix so you can get a bluer (truer) flame.  Overall it's pretty sweet and I'm looking forward to using it on our next brew day.

I also bought a new fermenting bucket.  The bucket I had, which came with my starter kit, served the dual role of being a fermenting bucket and a bottling bucket - thus it had a valve on it.  Since we have used the secondary fermentation process in a glass carboy every time we've brewed only having one bucket has worked out okay.  But, it turns out there is a different risk associated with having a valve on the fermenting bucket.

My basement is a little too cold in the winter for the fermentation process so we have been using the bathroom on my third floor.  It's a long winding climb to get up there and, once you get past the second floor you have to climb a flight of carpeted stairs.  As I was carrying the fermenting bucket up that last flight of stairs my knee hit the bottling valve.  It didn't open the valve - that would have been good - instead it broke it clean off right at the bucket.  In that instant at least a half of a gallon of beer spewed out of the hole that now existed at the bottom of the side of the bucket.  At least the lid was on so I was able to quickly tip the bucket as far to the other side as possible to stop the flow - but it was too late really because the third floor instantly reeked of freshly brewed Belgian Triple.

Fortunately, for that batch of beer, I had another bottling bucket that a friend had lent me about a year ago and it had a spigot on it that still sealed that bucket.  We quickly transferred the beer into a temporary bucket (a clean and sanitized Jimmy Johns pickle bucket) then we cleaned and sanitized the second spigot and installed it in the original bucket (I don't have a lid for either of the other buckets).  Once the new spigot was installed and the beer returned to the fermenting bucket I placed the brew into the shower for it's week of first stage fermentation.

My wife was a great sport and she came up and even volunteered to steam clean the carpet while we headed back downs stairs to finish cleanup of the brew area.

Two days later when my wife was in Ashland she also stopped off and bought me a new bottling bucket from our local supply store. As well as a few other goodies like an auto-sieve and a wine-thief.

So far this is the only time we've lost any beer in the process.  We just bottled that batch this past weekend and it smelled and tasted pretty good (though I don't think it is anywhere near the 9% alcohol we expected or was advertised).  There is a TON of sugar in the kit (including what appeared to be rock candy) so we're not sure how we failed to get good conversion to alcohol but I think we're at about 5.5%.  I was unable specific gravity after secondary fermentation because my daughter accidentally broke the hydrometer.

We've named this batch the "Sloppy Belgian Lion King" due to all the mishaps.  My daughter designs a new label for each of our batches and she includes an animal with each.  Plus, we brewed this batch on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  I'll post a photo of her label design soon (plus all of the prior labels she's come up with).

-- this is a retelling of a previously blogged event that I had posted on my personal blog.