Home > advice, musings > >The Dreaded Trainwreck Brewday (And How Not to Handle It)

>The Dreaded Trainwreck Brewday (And How Not to Handle It)

>I admit, I get frustrated fairly easily. As a brewer (home or otherwise), this isn’t the best personality trait to have. Many things can go wrong in a brewday, some you can predict and prepare for, others….. not so much. When these things-that-can-go-wrong seem to happen one after another after another, it becomes what I refer to as the Dreaded Trainwreck Brewday (from here on out known as DTBs.) A more level-headed gentleman would shrug off their DTBs and continue on. Me? I prefer obscenity. Lots of obscenity. Generally at high volume.

This is not the proper way to handle a DTB.
Especially one with the conditions I was operating under yesterday. It was my first ever 10 gallon batch (A Small Batch Brewer brewing 10 gallons…… irony?), and I should have known the day would be fraught with unpredictability. Calmness? Nope. Level-headedness? Not really. Cursing? You bet!
After the beers were at last in their fermenters, I thought to myself “There’s NO WAY I’m blogging about today! This was a ^#&$^@$*%^ bunch of &)#^$#%^ with a side of &#*%^!!! *$&^ this!!” However, once the steam cleared from the top of my head, I decided to take the day as a learning experience (aren’t all brewdays, though?) and share what I learned with my readers, as admittedly few as they are (readers… not lessons…)
1. PREPARATION

As with most DTBs, including mine, this is the source of most errors. Brewdays are all about keeping to a schedule (60 minute mash, 90 minute boil, 30 minute cooling, 6 hour lag time, etc), and when the schedule is compromised the beer often is as well. Letting the mash go too long can lead to a thin beer, overboiling can lead to a beer that is too strong or bitter, chilling too far down can lead to stuck fermentations, etc. In my case, my schedule was compromised due to new equipment issues, leading to me mashing for almost 100 minutes instead of the intended 60 (cue cursing). Fortunately, I was high on my mash temp (about 157F), so excessive fermentability I don’t believe will be a problem, but nevertheless I should have prepped my equipment days before, not while I was in the middle of my mash.
Another preparation issue I had was due to my epic chilling apparatus fail. I’ve spoken of my love for the whirlpool chiller and its advantages. Unfortunately my immersion chiller is 25ft of 3/8″ copper tubing – big enough for a maximum of 5 gallons of wort. For this 10 gallon batch I used my tube-in-a-hose counterflow chiller I inherited from my father’s homebrewing system (along with the 15 gallon kettles I was using). It proved to be slow, but effective…. once I got the flow rates dialed in…… halfway through the process. One of my fermenters ended up having to go into my kegerator to be chilled down to proper fermenting temperature (more cursing). Also, I had an idea for how I was going to monitor the temp of the wort coming out of the chiller, but it proved to be rather ineffective, leaving just the thermometer strips on my buckets to let me know what temperature I was fermenting at (you guessed it. more cursing.) Again I was fortunate, overshooting my fermenting temp by only about 5 degrees. I brewed up a Flanders Red, a style requiring extensive aging, so I believe any off-flavors created by a warmish fermentation will fall away or be consumed by the plethora of wild yeast and bacteria in good time.
2. Good Personal Condition

The combination a high stress day, lots of caffeine, and very little food is the perfect way to have a DTB. Not only does it lead to scatter-brain, but small issues seem much worse than they actually are (anybody who had overconsumed caffeine on too little food knows exactly what I mean. Lots of cursing.) This really leads directly back to #1, as my lack of preparedness screwed my brewday schedule, and the time I was supposed to be eating was consumed (pun intended) by equipment problems (and cursing.) Especially when a brewday is going to be unpredictable, a good personal condition is essential to keeping one’s head on straight.
3. Weather

Obviously, this is the element one cannot control, but somehow all of my DTBs have some kind of weather issue. Being in a valley in inland Southern California, my issue is usually wind. Rain I can handle. Cold? No problem. Heat? No sweat (ha!) Wind…. is the great brewday destroyer. If you aren’t working with a completely closed system, the amount of crap it can force into your unfermented wort is astounding, as is its ability to permeate wherever you go. For my Small Batches, I can just close the windows, but for 5 gallon batches or larger, when one must be outdoors or in a very well-ventilated area due to your propane burner(s), there is no escape. The secret here is to take it in stride. One can’t control the weather, and most can barely predict it, so should weather issues arise, have a beer and hope things turn out for the best.
Have you had a DTB recently? Are there common elements to your DTBs? Is it just me, or does DTB sound like an STD? I’d love to hear what your experiences are, so let me know in the comments!
Cheers
Matt
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