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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