Lambic Brew Days 2 and 3

Every blog post probably shouldn’t start with how bad at blogging I am, but here goes… I have endless things I could say about this all, but the act of typing it all out, uploading photos, dealing with annoying software etc, is barrier enough to make my time between posts oscillate between, “maybe i’m do for another post” and “i’m never doing that bullshit again”. But I’m back because I do want to document Lambic brew days 2 and 3 before I forget them entirely, so here goes…

Testing your limits on bigger than usual brews is always a good learning experience. The larger volumes to heat, move, and cool, bring a whole new set of challenges, and often expose some of your weaknesses as a brewer. All in all our second day of brewing a full barrel of Lambic really went as well as could be expected all in all, none of the snags were major. I did learn however, that a snag on a larger system often takes a lot more time to resolve, and thus, can drag out brew day to tiresome lengths.

Hatchy on grain duty

Hatchy on grain duty

We’re still working on a process for the big system, learning the intricacies of pumping liquids around, with their various pressures, weights, etc. Also, the intricacies of the mash, and boil. The biggest snag I think was with the mash. Commish had stepped out for something, and I was left alone for dough in. This is where intricacies of process are important. I start running water from the HLT into the mash, from the drain valve, while monitoring temp on a built in dial thermometer, and a digital probe thermometer. Initially what I saw looked normal, hotter than target on the bottom, much lower on the top. However, once all the water was in, this was still the case. So I stirred… marginal change. I stir again… almost no change. Then I guess I kind of panicked. The temp was in the low 160ºs at the bottom, and low 140ºs at the top, and just wasn’t changing. So, I doused it with 3g of cold water. Worried that the bottom was the correct temp, and we overshot (I trust digital thermos less), I then overcompensated.

Doughing in

Doughing in

I guess my thinking was, that the mash was screwed if it was all sitting at such a high temp. But If I’d thought for 2 seconds longer I would have realized that it’s just not possible for the mash to be at the same temp as the strike water, after dough in. Fact was it just had not been mixed well enough. I had forgotten a key part of the process… recirculation. It’s silly things like this that get you I guess.

Once I’d realized my error, I started recirc. Almost immediately the temps from the two thermos started to even out, and in a couple minutes were reading in the upper 140ºs. I guess the good thing about undershooting is you can always correct up with another water addition. In this case it ended up being 5g at boiling amazingly, and after the 15 or so minutes it took us to get that prepped, in, and recirc’d again, we were back on track.

Britt tells it like it is

Britt tells it like it is

This aged farmer's cheese from Holland is as fierce as the look on Commish's face

This aged farmer’s cheese from Holland is as fierce as the look on Commish’s face

One of the best things about this process has been all the eating, drinking, and hanging out surrounding it. Each day has had it’s slightly different cast of characters, brews, and eatables. Lambic day two featured prominently a visit from Brewvestor Brit, with a big box of Yum Yum donuts in hand, really, the name says it all. They are delicious, and have some slightly wacky flavors, and go surprisingly well with a beer at 10 am. Another prominent feature which I’d recommend to anyone who likes beer, is some really old gouda. I think we had a 5 year on brew day 2. It was still a bit silky despite some formation of salt crystals. Damned fine. And somehow goes with every beer imaginable, which is somewhat baffling.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, though, like the previous still drug out some. Chilling is definitely a problem in warmer weather. The Chillzilla does a good job all in all, but when the groundwater is in the seventies still, it’s hard to get that last ten or so degrees down. In future we are going to have to make some ice water in a tank to do that last bit of knock down.

Commish and Al, doing some sensory analysis while racking in to Barrel 2

Commish and Al, doing some sensory analysis while racking in to Barrel 2

After brew day 2, Commish and I began talking seriously about acquiring our own burner for the system. To make a long story short, this was supposed to be all electric, but issues with setting up the service to put out the juice we need has delayed hookup indefinitely. We still wanted something we could use indoors at some point, and hopefully something scalable to 3BBL if possible. So we began looking around, and eventually re-discovered an early idea in the form of Bubba’s Barrels. Bubba’s makes a stand for 2 55g barrels, that runs on propane or gas. We figured if we split the boil, we could do a 65g barrels worth of beer in one shot. Also, we could do up to a 3BBL batch of a smaller beer with our current mash size. So we pulled the trigger on one. With the space we have in Hatchy’s basement, and the growing interest in our collective endeavors, I could see a lot more big brews coming out of this thing.

Bubba's Barrels, 2x 55g burner stand

Bubba’s Barrels, 2x 55g burner stand

Somehow the rig arrived and I was able to get it tested out for the third brew day. Unfortunately, we were into some pretty cold weather by that point, and the simple act of setting up involved unforseen hurdles, like frozen pipes and hoses. We lit a fire, and began defrosting everything.It was cold. Cold coffee, cold donuts, everything in some process of freezing in about ten minutes. Luckily as the sun rose, it became a bit more bearable, and we were up and running.

The Bubba’s stand was great. Perfectly sized for our barrels, with a nice manifold, that made it easy to control the flame. And quite a flame it was… thing sounds like a jet engine, and we didn’t even run it at full steam. I want to say it heated about 35g of ice water to 166 in about a 1/2 hour. Very nice.

Lot's of grain

Lot’s of grain

The only unforseen drawback with the stand was pulling enough propane to keep a rolling boil going on two kettles with one tank in freezing weather. The tank kept freezing, and we kept having to shake it, rotate it, lie it on it’s side, etc. The full 2 hour boil was a circus of Commish and I constantly having to keep the tank from freezing over. Not fun, and a definite concern for cold brew days. That said, we never lost boil, so we really didn’t lose any time, which is a good thing on days like this.

This time the big snag was with the mash. Notice a theme here? Of course, one would expect issues here, it’s arguably the most sensitive part of the process. This time, the connection between port and filter came undone, and we had to remove most of the mash into buckets to fix the issue. Easily an hour delay. Were this a 5g batch, it would have taken 10 minutes tops. Just goes to show, how much bigger impact snags have on a larger system. Once that was under control, though, things went pretty smoothly.

Now with 3BBL capacity!

Now with 3BBL capacity!

Mid-day, Hatchy delighted us with some excellent freshly smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. This was by far the best eating, we’d done during a brew day in a long time. With the mash mashing happily away, it was a nice relative moment of peace in a typically hectic day. And damn, why don’t people smoke turkey’s more often? It was amazing!

For the double boil, we made a small innovation. By putting an extra port on kettle two, we were able to have a connection between the kettles during mash runnings, so that both kettles were able to start the boil with the same amount of the same gravity wort. Essential for future brews where hops utilization is much more important. In practice this works quite well, but with only 1/2″ ports, the liquid level equalizes quite slowly. This made chill recirculation a bit trickier. Initially we were pulling from kettle 1 through the chiller to kettle two, and ho;ing the would equal out as we went, but it didn’t work like that. We had to alternate which made the process a bit fussier and more lengthly. A great learning experience though, and a good proof of concept. Our next move is to incorporate 2″ tri-clamp ports on the lower sides of the kettles, that can be connected during the boil. Having 2 inches of free flow between kettles should make the evening out happen a lot quicker, if it lags at all.

If you are going to make a sloppy brew day sandwich to end all, this is it.

If you are going to make a sloppy brew day sandwich to end all, this is it.

So chilling went a bit faster due to the freezing ground water, but still slower than i’d like. However, it gave us some time to sit and enjoy some beers by the fire. On that stands out in my mind was the Horal Gueuze. We make a point of drinking Lambics while we make them. Hope, inspiration, the circle of life, call it what you will, it just feels right. The Horal was every bit worthy of it’s parts, even possibly exceeding them. It was interesting to have something with no Hanssen’s or Cantillon involved, considering those are the gold standard. Horal’s definitely tasted fantastic, if a bit different in character overall. Less funky, more of a zesty sour than the more vinegary sour of Cantillon. Typically I don’t like these “softer” Lambics, but this one truly held it’s own. Looking forward to having more of that at some point. We felt so good about it, we added the dregs to barrel 3. Why not?

At around dinner time, I got the inspiration to make some of Hatchy’s excellent smoked turkey into a pulled BBQ sandwich thing, using this huge roll commish brought. I simmered it up with some BBQ and spices, toasted the bread, and used the leftover gravy as a spread, and the beans as a garnish. Just look at it… it was epic. And it was messy as hell, but it was damned worth it if you ask me.

Commish takes a rare moment of liesure

Commish takes a rare moment of liesure

Clean-up sucked as usual, Commish did most of the dirty work, but trying to remember the whole punch-list of things to clean, check, put away etc. is never fun on the other side of a 12 hour day. Especially when it’s ridiculously cold. I just kept looking into the barrel room at our three full barrels. It was finally done. Three full barrels, over 6BBL of homebrew Lambic. It has begun…

Racking the final batch of Lambic wort into the last barrel.

Racking the final batch of Lambic wort into the last barrel.

So the most physically demanding part is over. We actually managed to get all three filled before the end of the year. Given schedules and other issues, that’s pretty amazing. And it means that the stock is all around the same age, so next november or so, we’ll be close enough to plan a blending day. It’s going to be hard to wait a full year for such an exciting project. (Of course, no one says we can’t do some sampling along the way. You know, for “testing” purposes) Fingers crossed that the bugs behave, and we end up with three barrels of great tasting stock. Really looking forward to tasting the differences the unique microbial blends and different barrels bring out.

Lots more fun to be had too. We do need to bottle this stuff! Plus we need to source cherries for the Kriek portion, and find some secondary vessel to house it for six months. The project rolls on. So far, so good…


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