Monday, March 7, 2011

International Homebrew Project - The Brewing

It's half past six on a Saturday morning and I have beer on my mind. No, I am not standing outside Masarykovo nádraží having a breakfast pint to wash away the aftertaste of Fernet. I am in fact standing in my Charlottesville kitchen preparing for the 2011 International Homebrew Project brewday. In a small pan raw cane sugar is boiling away, with a dose of citric acid, to become invert syrup number 3.

The grains have been measured out as I ready myself for my first ever mash. Generally speaking I get most of my fermentables from light dry malt extract, adding colour and flavour with specialty grains, but today I want to start taking steps toward all grain brewing. Just a quick aside, I agree with the chap in Brew Your Own magazine who said that the reason people brew better beer when they go to all grain is less because of being all grain and more because of the added investment in better equipment.

In the mash is half a pound of Maris Otter, plus the necessary amber, brown and caramel malts, and of course the roasted barley. My mash tun is a steel can which was once chock full of coffee. A total of 2lbs of grain sit in a nylon bag as the necessary liquor is added. To keep the mash heat in, I put a sheet of foil over the top and popped the plastic lid over that. The can was then wrapped in Mrs Velkyal's Harrods oven gloves, and then put inside an insulated picnic hamper. Sure it's not elegant, but it got 76% efficiency, so I was happy.

After ninety minutes the mash was done, a bit of sparging later and I had a boil volume of 2 gallons (remember my batches are 2.5 gallons), the extract was added, along with the invert syrup and away we went on the mammoth 150 minute boil. Fuggles were added at the very beginning of the boil, with Goldings after an hour, and that was it for the hopping schedule, though with 15 minutes to go, I dumped in the lactose. Having started the boil with 2 gallons, I ended up with about half a gallon of boiled wort to chuck into the waiting ice cold water in the carboy. I do have a wort chiller, but I need to get a connector for the tap in my kitchen so I can use it. If we had a house with an outside tap things would be different, but we don't, so they are not.

One major benefit of brewing this way is that cooling the wort to pitching temperature takes about 15 minutes total. The yeast for this project was Danstar's dry Nottingham, and this time I was prepared. When I last used Nottingham the fermentation was insanely vigorous and within 24 hours I was scraping krausen from the ceiling. This time I would use a blow off tube from the beginning, my thinking confirmed by a tweet from James of A Homebrew Log saying that he was switching to a blow off because the fermentation was cracking along. Yeast duly pitched, it was just past midday. Mrs V had gone rowing and so I had the pleasure of brewing to Texas Greatest Hits and not feeling the need to skip the occasional track.

Less than an hour later I had the clear signs of krausen. I was delighted, I was nervous, I was glad I didn't have to prepare for an afternoon of ceiling cleaning duties. Fermentation has been vigorous and the krausen didn't approach the top of the carboy, so no need to worry on that front, yes I am sad enough to make a video of CO2 bubbling from the blow off tube.....

That was my brewing experience, a few firsts and although the OG fell a bit short, I am looking forward to a tasty, low alcohol beer, which of course will be reviewed here in about 5 weeks.


  1. Ingenious use of the coffee can. Coincidentally I too was sad enough to video my blowoff tube bubbling. I'll get some brewday pictures posted soon.

  2. I had expected to undershoot the gravity a touch (around 1.049), but ended up hitting 1.053 exactly - an 88% efficiency! Woo!

    I ended up having to used White Labs version of the English Ale yeast (hubby stole my smack pack last weekend, unbeknowst to me!), but it should be the same. It was bubbling away like crazy this morning :)

  3. Great stuff. The coffee can mash tun is great. My camera died very early into the brewday, so I won't have any very good pictures on my end.

  4. Brewed up well here - 13pts high due to extra efficiency. Tasting the gravity sample was nice... super sweet roasty coffee and chocolates. Looking forward to getting this one on tap.

  5. I have to admit I missed the date. Although everything was prepared, due to unexpected and urgent work related matters I had to postpone the brewing till mid next week. :(

  6. The coffee can mash tun idea was brought up at a meeting of the homebrew club I go to. Someone suggested it, and it needs some modifications, like a tap and proper insulation, but it worked a treat and for mini-brewers like me it is about the right size as well.

  7. Good work guys! Now you can all send me bottles when they are finished! ;)

  8. I tossed up a quick post about my IHP brewday with several pictures I missed my starting gravity by a little as well.


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