Home Brew Session: A Scottish Export, Mostly

Pictures last week told the story of the penultimate day of my vacation. It was home brew time and it seemed to go well.

Approximately eight months ago I purchased ingredients for two brews. I made one of them right after I bought the ingredients. It was a smoked porter that was very weak, alcoholically, but very strong, smokily. I was only supposed to use half the smoked malt I bought but accidentally I used the entire amount for the one beer. My mash and sparge calculations were off as well, so I ended up with a dark and diluted mash. The beer finished at around 2% abv. Shortly after that, life happened and I’ve only now gotten around to motivating myself to brew again.

Thus, I had months old grain and no yeast. I decided to order yeast. Because the grains are old and not complete – see, one of the two beers mentioned above was supposed to be a smoked scottish export; well, you know, the smoked malt is gone (possibly some other grains were missing, too; memory is hazy on that point) – and I did not think it would be the beer I originally wanted it to be, I decided to use a French Saison yeast; perhaps that will give it an old, farmhouse character to complement the possibly stale malt.

I calculated the mash water and sparge water much more carefully this time. Essentially, I was going to do a three gallon batch so I determined I would need approximately 4.85 gallons of water in total. Now, during the last brew day I believe I did this calculation, but, at one point I wanted to raise the mash temperature and so I added a few quarts to the mash and did not take this amount out of my sparge water therefore ending up with a few quarts too much volume.  

This time, I deducted the three quarts I used to increase my mash temperature three or so degrees. It went from around 147-148 to 150-151. The temp held for a sixty minute mash. I added the rest of my sparge water, about two gallons now, and commenced the batch sparge. I even recirculated twice.

The next obstacle came when it was boil time. See, I was sure that I’d had a packet of hops left over from the last brew day but it was missing. I was in the middle of brew day, and no hops. As Joe at Black Bridge Brewery eloquently put it: “What kind of a train wreck brew day do you have going on?” He was right, it was a wreck. But, I took Papazian’s timeless advice and relaxed. And drank some Wicked Poison.  

After this, I decided that a spice mixture would just have to do as a hops substitute. I settled on two teaspoons of cinnamon and one and a half ounces of crushed coriander. By this time the boil was underway. My son, assistant brewer for the day, reminded me that I also needed to find my airlocks. They seemed to have disappeared as well. For nearly thirty minutes we searched. Finally, they were discovered – along with the missing hops! They were US Goldings. I was twenty seconds away from the thirty minute mark of the boil. It seemed perfect timing, so I dumped the hops in and boiled for another thirty. And, since I already had the coriander and cinnamon ready, I put them in towards the end of the boil, 15 minutes prior. Reduced amounts, since I had the hops.

All that was left was chilling, which is always my biggest challenge since I still don’t have a wort chiller! Honestly, the last time it took me a couple of hours. Or more. Today: 53 minutes. I used cold water in the sink and was able to circulate it this time. The circulation, moving the water, helped incredibly. And I also used a wort aerator attached to a length of 3/8 hose. Between these two items, I chilled in record time. The yeast smack pack had swelled perfectly and I pitched at 70 degrees.

The beer looks great. Just needs fermentation time and a name …

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