Grainfather Brew #2

Lesson: start brewing early to avoid chilling wort in the dark

Lesson: start brewing early to avoid chilling wort in the dark

Six weeks ago, I wrote about the very unsuccessful inaugural homebrew with our new, all electric Grainfather, the session that ended with Hugo dumping half the results down the kitchen sink after we spilled the rest on the kitchen stove, floor, counters, etc.

To sum up the November 15 post, we discovered that the removable cap had come off the filter which explained why the wort chiller had continued to plug after some half dozen cleanings of various parts of the machine.

A Thanksgiving trip to Portland put off a second brew, then Hugo headed straight into three weeks of business travel. I came home wanting to brew. My only qualms were 1) could I handle this fancy system by myself and 2) how would I deal with the very heavy five-gallon carboy at the end of the brew. Solution? Lean on the homebrewing neighbors. Heck, John (dad) and Danny (son) had been wanting to check out the Grainfather anyway.

John first homebrewed in college back in the seventies. When he recommenced a few years ago with BIAB (brew in a bag) brewing, Danny jumped in. They quickly moved from the stove, purchasing a propane burner. We’d all been feeling the itch to scale up and had some good discussions. While Hugo and I went for the $900 Grainfather, Danny and John took the more common homebrewer route, adding to their existing system, first an Anova sous vide circulator for mash heat control then a pump to circulate the wort.

The Cooks' brewing system, or as Danny says, "Our ghetto Grainfather."

The Cooks’ brewing system, or as Danny calls it, “Our ghetto Grainfather”

In anticipation of our collaboration, John read up on the Grainfather and even watched an online 28-minute video. On brew day, while I was still muddling along, both these guys had all sorts of helpful suggestions that sped things up. (One example, John has a nifty way of rolling the hops bag and clipping it to the side of the brew pot so additions can be easily added.) We shared several hours of ideas, beers and good times. When dinnertime rolled around, their mom/wife and my walking buddy Loretta, came over with minestrone soup and fresh bread.

Empty soup pot, a little bread and one beautiful carboy

End results: an empty soup pot, a chunk of bread and one beautiful carboy

While I still have to work on smoothing out the process, this brew went well. (Note: head strike water on the stove instead of waiting for the Grainfather to do it.) The machine is impressively quiet and does a great job of holding the mash temperature steady within a degree or two. The design for recirculating wort during the mash is maybe the most outstanding feature.

On both brews we got strong efficiency rates. The Mirror Pond Pale Ale clone recipe called for an OG (original gravity) of 1.053. On that first brew that never made it to fermentation, we got 1.048 and the second, 1.050. In short, our malt extraction rate was very close to target, meaning we were able to get the amount of sugars that we wanted from the malt.

The downsides to the Grainfather, readily found in online reviews before our purchase: 1) it’s slower heating than a propane burner and 2) cleaning it gets involved and takes time. The big question, the one that would ultimately determine if Hugo and I felt that we’d made a good investment or blown nearly a thousand dollars, would be the quality of the beer.

The fermentation went well. Following the recipe I found in the December, 2016 Brew Your Own, I dry-hopped a week in. Eight days later, with Hugo finally home, we bottled what looked to be our best homebrew ever. The recipe’s suggested FG (final gravity) was 1.015. Ours was 1.012, very close to the target and to the recipe’s projected 5% ABV (alcohol by volume). In short, exciting!

Hugo labeled our first successful brew "Grainfather 1."

Hugo labeled our first successful brew “Grainfather 1”

After nine days of bottle conditioning came the moment of truth… Here’s where I should write, “The beer was outstanding and everybody lived happily ever after.”

Not what happened. We opened the first bottle, listening for that exciting little psst of escaping carbonation. Nothing. I poured straight into the glass, risking excessive foaming, but got no foam. I grabbed a second bottle and popped the clamp top. No psst. No foam. No excitement.

Side-by comparison. Uncarbonated clone on left.

Side-by comparison with uncarbonated clone on left

Hugo, the professional brewer, started working backwards. Maybe it just needs more time (a comment both Danny and John made.) Maybe it was because we’d racked (transferred) a brilliant (clear) beer from the carboy, which we admired at the time. (=Too little yeast floating around that could eat up the bottling sugar and carbonate the beer.) Allowing one full week of fermentation and another for dry-hopping before bottling, let the yeast settle to the bottom along with the trub we didn’t rack into what we bottled. (=Too little yeast transferred to work on the bottling sugar.) Plus, our clone was darker than the side-by-side comparison with a Deschutes Mirror Pond beer. Next time, we’ll shorten the mash from 90 minutes to 60 and avoid darkening the beer.

Clearest (non-carbonated) beer ever

Clearest (non-carbonated) beer ever

Was I discouraged? Yes. But not with the Grainfather. The issues this time rested solely with the head brewer (me). The Grainfather and the assistant brewers performed admirably. For now, Hugo and I have four more gallons of uncarbonated homebrew to drink. (The rest went to the assistant brewers.)

On a positive note, a couple of days ago, Hugo finally got that stove burner we gummed up with the first brew cleaned out and working again. Deterred but not defeated. Cellaring those remaining bottles. On to the next beer adventure!

 

Comments

  1. Just reading your script is an adventure for me! Not surprised you called in the calvary while Hugo was out of town. Keep it up, Leslie. One day all the stars will align 🍻.

    • Leslie Patino says:

      Thanks for reading, Bonita. We opened a third bottle tonight and there was some degree of carbonation. We’ll wait a week and try again.

  2. Yikes!

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