Sunday, June 28, 2009

My first brewing failure

If you've had a chance to read my previous entry on malting barley at home, then you already know how much time and energy I recently put into making my own fresh malt. After finally completing the malting process for the first time, I was dying to brew my first "homemalted" batch of beer - a hoppy pale ale. I decided to use a double decoction to really bring out the fresh barley flavor and balance the hops, and I decided to order organic Cascade hops (why not keep this beer 100% organic?) from Seven Bridges Cooperative, along with some Safale US-05 yeast. I always use this yeast for my American Ales since it has a nice clean finish and the perfect moderate attenuation that I desire for this style. I usually end up with a final gravity around 1.010-1.015 so I get nice flavor and body without going too dry or too sweet.

So the first thing I needed to do was crush my freshly malted grains. The only problem is that I don't have a grain mill, nor do I have an extra $150 to blow on one right now. I also have to admit that I felt a little uncomfortable asking my local homebrew store to mill it for me, since I hadn't purchased it there, and wasn't even planning on getting my hops and yeast there. So I got some Zip-Lock freezer bags, put a small amount of grain into one (maybe about 1 pound), and began crushing it repeatedly with a wooden rolling pin.

Okay, so it turns out that this method really sucks. Within the first couple minutes I broke a sweat, and after getting through about 3 or 4 bags I was cursing like a sailor and had developed a really bad pain in my left wrist. Also, I wasn't really getting the quality crush that I've always been accustomed to when I purchase grains at the store or online. I held a few kernels in my hand and analyzed them - they looked cracked, so I assumed all would be well.

So to make a long story short, I spent the next five hours performing the most meticulous, well executed and well documented brew session ever. After chilling the wort I took a small sample to get my first gravity reading - the moment of truth! In hind sight, I should have taken a test before the boil, but I was so excited and it smelled so good I simply didn't even think of it. So I dropped in my hydrometer, hoping for the best, and watched in horror as it sank to 1.010!!! Horrible! Unbelievable! Now I had managed to waste the whole day, all those delicious hops, and, good Lord - all the time spent malting that barley! On top of that I had already pre-boiled water and dumped my yeast in to re-hydrate! I really wanted to do something, anything, to make beer out of all this mess. So I started rummaging through all my brewing supplies. I found a couple pounds of dry malt extract that I keep in the back of the fridge for making yeast starters, about a half a pound of corn sugar for when I do small or gift batches and I need primer, and a three pound container of clover honey. I was desperate, okay? I've never had to throw away a batch before, and I wasn't about to make this my first time!

So I poured all that random crap into a pot, boiled for about 15 minutes, chilled in an ice bath and then dumped it all into my stupid weak wort. I tested the gravity again and came up with 1.045. Whatever, it would have to do. I aerated again just to be sure and pitched my very well hydrated yeast.

When I look back on this experience, I really feel that I wasn't able to get a good crush on my grains, and that was probably the cause of my extremely poor mash efficiency. So I have begun malting my next batch of barley, and I am going to try again, except this time I'm going to crush the grains properly. However, for some reason I now feel even more adamant about doing this myself - as if I have something to prove! So I have to find a cheap grain mill or another reliable method for milling barley.

This is my quest - I will report back when I come up with the solution! Also, I'll post again when I have my first taste of the "swampwater" concoction I brewed. Do you think I can even call it "beer"???

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