Monday, August 8, 2011

Homebrewing beer outdoors on a hot day

Homebrewing outdoors in summer heatWho enjoys homebrewing outdoors on a 98 degree day? While it may not be the optimal conditions for brewing your own beer, outdoor brewing on a hot day can still be fun if you involve your friends and family.

I got the itch to brew up another batch of homebrew this weekend and decided to go with a recipe that was recommended by my local homebrew shop - an Extra Special Bitter or ESB. This particular recipe was called "Ending Summer Better" and sounded just right for a brew that would be ready by mid-September.

I wanted to give my daughter and her husband some hands-on with homebrewing and thought a simple extract recipe would be perfect to show them the basics. They had watched others homebrew before but this time I let them take the reins with my guidance.

Each homebrewing session I've done has turned out to be rather unique. The circumstances and conditions for each brew day have all been extremely different, so I never knew what would happen, especially when deciding to homebrew at the spur of the moment without a lot of planning.

We stopped on a Saturday afternoon at Hops & Berries, a homebrew shop in downtown Fort Collins and picked up the ingredients we needed for the ESB recipe. That evening was spent cleaning and sanitizing the equipment we'd use the next day.

Sunday arrived and we started brewing shortly after lunch in the heat of the day - around 95 degrees. We were on a back patio shaded by an upper deck so we weren't in direct sunlight at least.

Here's the recipe we used:

Steeping the grainsEnding Summer Better ESB
Original Gravity (est): 1.060
ABV (est): 5.8%
Final Gravity (est): 1.015
IBU (est): 51

9.5 lb Maris Otter
1 lb British Crystal 45°L
.5 lb British Crystal 120°L
.5 lb British Crystal 15°L
.13 lb Black Malt

Mash grains for 60 minutes at 150 degrees and sparge.

1.75 oz Phoenix 9% AA (35 min)
1.0 oz Kent Golding 6.1% (15 min)
1.0 oz Kent Goldings and .25 oz Phoenix (flameout, 15 min steep)

Chill to 70° and pitch Wyeast Flanders Golden or your favorite Abbey-style strain, let free-rise up to 80°

Simply replace the Maris Otter with 8.15# Pale LME and drop the 45°L to .75, the Black to .10, steep the grains for 30m at 155°.

We went with an extract recipe as we didn't want to start out the newcomers on all-grain for their first batch. Besides, I wasn't ready to dive into all-grain just yet either.

Adding liquid malt extractWe opted to use bottled water instead of water out of the tap as this time I wanted to try non-tap water for homebrew. We started out steeping the specialty grains at 155 degrees for 30 minutes. We improvised a bar that laid over the top of the brew kettle and held the grain bag just perfectly into the middle of the steep water.

Once the "tea" was done, we added in the liquid malt extract with the burner turned off to help avoid scorching the malt on the bottom of the kettle. Then we turned up the heat and brought it up to a boil. We ended up keeping the gas on high for the entire boil.

The very moment the wort hit a rolling boil it started to really foam up. We were doing a 6 gallon boil in a 15 gallon kettle and despite the excess capacity, the foam nearly boiled over the top. We turned down the heat a bit and continued boiling.

Issues during the batch:

This batch didn't go off exactly how we had planned. First, we under estimated the amount of water that boiled off. We started with 6 gallons of water and ended up with only 4+ gallons of wort at the end. I think 7 gallons would have been better. We ended up topping off the fermenter with a bit more water to bring the batch up near 5 gallons.

Chilling the wortThe immersion chiller got the wort cooled off from boiling down to 85 degrees in about 30 minutes but it would only cool off to 80 degrees after another 30 minutes. Having the outdoor air temperature at 98 degrees didn't help.

We opted to transfer the wort at 80 degrees into the fermenter and place the fermenter inside where the air temperature was 75 and put the fermenter in a cool water bath. That got the wort temperature down to about 78 and then we pitched the yeast. By later that evening the wort was cooled down to 72 degrees. I was concerned about this higher pitching temperature and what it might do to the yeast.

The Blichmann brew kettle's filter got completely clogged and would not drain out. We tried out best to knock off the excess hops and trub that blocked the filter but to no avail. We ended up having to tip the kettle sideways and drain it into a funnel with a filter to put it into the fermenter.

Even the funnel filter got clogged and eventually had to be removed. Unfortunately, this meant that a LOT of the trub, hops and sediment got put into the fermenter as well. The sediment filled about an inch or so at the bottom. I fear this may lead to some off flavors in our beer.

In my opinion, it took way too long to cool off this batch of wort (not surprising on a hot day) and I fear that wild yeast could have gotten into the batch outside during the cooling process. Plus the extra trub and break materials that got transferred into the fermenter isn't going to help things either.

We didn't have time to create a yeast starter the night before either so we simply had one container of a Wyeast smack pack that we let start up for about 4 to 5 hours before pitching.

By the next morning, the airlock was just barely showing any activity. I don't know if we really had enough yeast to get things going quickly enough. But, at least there is some activity after 12 hours so it is slowly getting started.

By the end of the second day the fermentation was going at full blast. So at least the yeast were still alive and happy and flocculating.

Plans for after fermentation:

Batch ready in the fermenterI plan to let this batch ferment for 2 weeks. The last batch I did didn't seem to ferment enough and the beer ended up a bit sweet. I plan to gently swirl the fermenter every day or so to keep the yeast floating around and encourage them to stay active.

After fermentation seems to stop, I will transfer the beer into a secondary and let it settle for a while. Not sure how long I should keep it in the secondary but I want to get the beer off all that trub and sediment as soon as it's feasible.

This time, instead of putting everything into 22oz bomber bottles (a process I never liked), I'm considering putting the beer into some party pigs and carbonating it with a portable CO2 injector. If I can avoid bottling most of it I will. I want to experiment with some alternative methods.

While eventually I will end up kegging my homebrew, I'm not at the point where I want to invest in additional equipment like that. Perhaps for my next batch I will but not this time around.


Overall, I felt we rushed into this batch without a lot of planning, but I wanted to grab the opportunity to teach some of my family members while they were here about the joys of homebrewing.

Regardless on how the beer turns out, it was a lot of fun doing another batch of homebrew again. I plan to do about 3-4 batches a year from here on out. I swear that in the very near future I will switch to all-grain homebrewing, but for now, extract is plenty enough for what I want to do.

Any of you readers have any suggestions on how I could improve on this next time? I welcome all comments on homebrewing that you may have.

Related articles you may enjoy:
- The trials and tribulations of bottling homebrew.
- Transferring homebrew to a secondary fermenter.
- Testing the Blichmann Boilermaker brew kettle.

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