Brewing up a disaster – ten lessons learnt on a bad brewday…

Sometimes you just have one of those days. I have to admit to some of it being self-inflicted, as I am a victim of my own disorganisation, but on the other hand I’m disorganised because I haven’t got as much time as I’d like to sort everything out. However, all’s well that ends well, right?

Last Thursday was to be my first brewday using my newly built hot liquor tank. This had already been converted from an old plastic drum, water tested (cold and hot) and the sight tube calibrated, so all good there. It even contained enough water for the brew so I didn’t need to fill it up. Wrong.

#Lesson 1 – if you leave 100 litres water in the tank ready for brewing, make sure the tank is in the right place first…

Ok. Drain, move, refill. Start heating. Get the pump set up ready for filling the mash tun. Relax? Wrong again.

#Lesson 2 – have a spare pump, or at least make sure the one you have is working before you need it.

To be fair, I was setting it up to recirculate water in the HLT in the first instance, so fortunately by the time it suddenly and inexplicably burst back into life the water was only just reaching the strike temperature so no time was lost, however this was only because of…

#Lesson 3 – check how long a large volume of water will take to heat up, and get it warming up early enough (although Lesson 1 becomes even more important now).

In the meantime I was also preparing the ingredients for the mash, and got a harsh reminder of why you have to plan carefully.

#Lesson 4 – keep a decent inventory of your raw materials, weigh out the night before if possible, and only try and brew something you can actually make with what you have!

By this stage I was getting quite resourceful, so it wasn’t too difficult to reformulate the recipe slightly around a few different malts which, I’m sure, will only benefit the end product by introducing even more delicious malt complexity. No really, I’m sure it will. I’m glad I was getting resourceful though, because lesson 4 came back again later when I tried to find the hops I was convinced I had in the freezer.

The mash passed by with little incident, until it came to sparging, when I decided to try (for the first time) fly sparging, ultimately with some success, but not without extensive swearing and general frustration.

#Lesson 5 – test the new setup before the day you use it, and then you’d establish you need a better way to control flow rate through the pump when there is still time to fix the problem.

So there’s a little bit of effort still to be made in order to establish a more workable arrangement for future sparging, although I did at least satisfy myself that this is the way I want my setup to work in the future. Naturally, given the day I was having, I ended up with about the right volume in the boiler but at way too low a gravity. As this is the fourth time this has happened, and all from this one sack of malt, I have concluded that I have a very poor batch and shall have to get some more in to replace it.  In the end I had to extend the boil for a while to try and get closer to the target, but it was still quite a way short.

On several occasions throughout the mash and boil the disorganised chaos that forms my brewing space just kept on taunting me.

#Lesson 6 – have somewhere to keep everything, and then keep it there – don’t leave thermometers etc lying around because you’ll spend ages searching for them each time. This may require actually finishing off those cupboards and worktops so that they can actually be used for putting things in!

In parallel to the boil I had decided to heat up some more water to clean through the pump and chiller, and once again I set the pump up to recirculate the water round. 50l of hot water should do the trick, I can leave that and come back in a bit, can’t I?

#Lesson 7 – if you’re going to leave a hose unattended, make sure it can’t fall out of where you’ve left it. Coming back to find just 30l water in the tank and the hose trailing on the floor doesn’t improve your day.

After all that, while it wasn’t exactly plain sailing, the remaining problems were mostly minor. The yeast kicked in eventually, but lack of a temperature-controlled space for one of the two FVs is proving an ongoing problem.

#Lesson 8 – get round to building that fermentation cupboard that’s been planned for months!!

All in all though, it was still an enjoyable brewday, despite everything above, and despite all the rain which I haven’t even mentioned! It took longer than expected at least in part due to the problems experienced, and also down to the process of getting used to new equipment, larger brew lengths etc. However, I have two FVs containing a liquid that is gradually turning into something that resembles beer, so fingers crossed the outcome will be well worth it. Not long to wait now – the yeast I’ve used has been a slow performer for me (this is the third attempt with similar results each time) but with a good rousing tonight I’d hope that by the end of the weekend it’ll be ready to go into cask and the first sample will have been tasted.  All that then leads me to are the final lessons…

#Lesson 9 – find the time to finish building this bigger brewery (larger mash tun next) and get on with brewing some hopefully fantastic beers!

#Lesson 10 – whatever happens, enjoy it! Brewing beer is great! (honest)

Here’s to the next, almost certainly much more successful brewday.

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3 Responses to “Brewing up a disaster – ten lessons learnt on a bad brewday…”

  1. Ha ha! brilliant account of a brewday, when, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. We’ve all had them and I like to do as you have done, write it all down as you are drilling the learning points in as you recall it to paper (or computer screen).

    • It’s been quite curative going back over it in this way. And its always good to laugh at yourself and your cockups. Mind you, I still have to find out where that missing 20l of hot water went to…

      The real lesson is at the end – l really have to get myself into gear and spend some time putting some relatively simple things right!

      Glad you enjoyed it though!

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