Sunday, November 21, 2010

Back to Brewing - November 2010

Whew! It has been a while since I posted, and while I have been active in the beer world, I haven't done a lot of brewing since May or so.  A lot of time has been taken up with work, sure, but it also has just been too HOT in Boston to consider brewing much over the summer.  I also was the organizer of the New England Regional Homebrew Competition (NERHBC) which took place on October 23rd, and that took up a lot of my time over the fall--and is a topic for another post!

But now, I'm back!  I just got a shiny new 38qt (9.5 gal) stainless steel brew pot, which, with the help of my friend John Kalinowski, I outfitted with a 1/2" ball valve and a Blichman Brewmometer.   Cool!  This is replacing a 30 qt (7.5 gal) aluminum turkey fryer pot which I was using as a boil kettle. It will be reuses as a hot liquor tank, however, and will retire my bottling bucket from that job!  The net result, I hope, will be a more streamlined brewing operation, less lifting (keep my back intact) and, well, more beer!

The coolest thing about the new kettle is that it will fit over 2 burners on my gas stove.  That means faster heating, and (hopefully) a better boil.  I tested it out today and it heated 8 gals of water at about 1.75 degree every minute--since I'll probably be boiling about 7gals of wort, and that is a bit heavier, I'll still be happy with 2 degrees per minute.

I had forgotten that it is a bit of a challenge to get ready to use a new pot.  From the time I got it (and yes, I could have ordered it pre-drilled) here's what I've been doing:
  • Measuring out where to put the valve and the thermometer. Both are centered midway between the handles, and the valve is about as close to the bottom of the kettle as I could go without being on the curve. The instructions that came with the Bremometer said to put it a minimum of 6" above the bottom of the pot, but when I measured that, I decided it might just be at the top of the wort--not a good thing.  So I went for 5.25" which is around 5 gallons, as I found out today.
  • Drilling it out.  John came over with his step bit, which is essential, and we drilled out in no time.  The great thing about a step bit is that it doesn't create a lot of burrs that would cut the gaskets for the valve or thermometer, which aren't welded on.  We still sanded it out though to make sure.
  • Leak testing: Once we screwed the valve and thermometer in, I had to make sure they didn't leak.  That was surprisingly easy.  I had one small drip near the valve, but that was easily fixed. I hardly tightened much more than hand tight, either!
  • Calibrating measuring stick: It may seem odd, but the pot was not marked anywhere to show how much is in it.  I have another pot that has markings by quart, so I can tell how much liquid I have, but this new pot has none.  So, I took my big mash paddle and added 1/2 gallon at a time, marking the paddle for each 1/2 gallon up to 8 gallons (much more than that and I'll have a boil over for sure!  That took about 30 minutes, but it will make it easy for me to tell how much wort I collect and what is left after boiling.  A little work on this now will save a lot of uncertainty later.  The pot I had been using was marked on the outside, but that didn't tell me as much, so this time I am starting clean.
  • Cleaning:  The last step, and one of the most important is to make sure there aren't any leftover oils from manufacturing or any other dirt that had appeared in storage, shipping or my own set up.  So I took my 8 gallons of water and added 8 tbsp of PBW, heated to 140 and let it sit for a while.  When that was done, I dumped the PBW solution into my old brewpot to make sure it was clean.  A good thing, too!  There was a layer of stuff that came off, and now my hot liquor tank (it holds hot water) will be good to go tomorrow as well.

Here's what the new pot looks like now:

Tomorrow: Brewing for the first time in the new pot! I am taking time off from work this week to get some brewing in, as I have not done as much as I would like. Here's the lineup (remember, it is Thanksgiving week, so I'll be busy Thursday and Friday with family stuff):
  1. Monday: Stone IPA clone
  2. Tuesday: Patriot Oatmeal Stout
  3. Wednesday: Czech Pilsner
More posts to follow on the next 3 days...

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