Friday, October 21, 2011

More Brewing Disasters

Part I
As a homebrewer, you come to expect a certain number of brewing hassles, tragedies and disasters to occur as time goes on, but when you experience a long string of successes it seems to suddenly comes as a shock when things get screwed up. Case in point for me: this whole week.

Let me start with lessons learned in brewing school. I've taught a five week course here at the local community college for a few years now and although I've dreaded the day, have never had a spoiled batch of beer come out of it all. The day finally came this last Sunday and the experience took me down a few notches. I've always stressed the importance of sanitation but also suggested that it was not at the top of my homebrewing concerns, opting instead for emphasis on several other critical elements in brewing that you can read about here. I may have to re-visit this list after discovering that the German hefeweizen came out of the fermentor with an extreme case of sour. Not just a mild, 'what's that I'm tasting in here?' off flavor, but a full on excessive lactobacillus attack, an in your face kind of taste. A blend of unsweetened lemonade and balsamic vinegar like a cross between a Berliner weisse and Flanders red except with out the dark malt character. I'm owing the vinegar quality to the acetobactor bacteria. 'Oh how I loath you new friend.'

Even with my personal brewing I've never had a infection as bad as this and standing before a class of eager students, their open and curious faces looking up at me asking "why teacher, how could this happen to us?" I had no answer. I wasn't sure how to react and finally suggested that sometimes in homebrewing it's necessary to accept a spoiled beer as a learning experience. Which sounds like a fair statement but I couldn't take my own advice and have spend the better part of two weeks feeling shame and disappointment in myself as a teacher. This is how I imagine a boat building teacher would feel as the class canoe project sunk while his students paddled out towards a setting sun. Along with those feelings I've spent many hours in my head replaying the brewing and fermenting of that beer trying to discover at what crucial point in the process that I allowed this tragedy to play out. I want to blame a contaminated or miss-labeled vial of yeast to ease the burden but I won't buy that excuse either. We still kegged the beer and I may be able to use it for something in the future, I don't know.  I wrote LACTIC on the side of the keg as a warning and I ended up discarding the plastic fermenting bucket, spigot and transfer hoses that came into contact with the beer as a precaution although I suspect that wasn't needed except to exorcise my demons. I wonder if this sour beer is a sign that it's time to move away from teaching an extensive course like this. As a side note, I personally like the flavor and bought a bottle of Beliner Weisse to compare and found that it is very similar. Oh! is that a bright side?
Berliner weisse on left and school beer on right



Part II
In the mean time back at my house I decided to brew a pale ale and got up early to start the process. In the spirit of multi-tasking I started the sparging process and after getting the proper flow thought I had time for a quick shower. When I returned to the task of brewing I found, to my dismay, I had left the valve open on the boil pot and that a couple of gallons of sweet, sweet wort had drained onto the patio and halfway down the parking lot flowing towards the storm drain. This loss was after only collecting a few gallons which meant that I'd lost the really high gravity portion of wort from this simple mistake. As a result my efficiency was naturally low and the brew required a pound and a half of cane sugar to make up for the loss.

Somewhat discouraged, I shouldered on as any proper brewer would, accepting that these things happen and soon I was preparing to chill the wort. Only now, in a fit of distress, I discovered that the property management had turned off the exterior water for landscape maintenance, consequently I had no water. For a moment I panicked and spun in circles then ran from my patio in search of the problem. Around the corner from my apartment was a maintenance worker sawing through a main water line with serious intent.
"I told you yesterday that I would need water this morning!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah, I don't remember that." was the response.
"I did!"
"Never heard it."
We went back and forth like that for awhile and I pleaded my case, he finally agreed to turn the water on but pointed out that a geyser would be spewing from his partially severed pipe for the duration. I'm not sure but I think his face had the expression of contempt.
 "I only need a few minutes." I stated before dashing back to start the chilling process.

Writing this post has been a cathartic excercise for me. Thank you for your patience.

P.S. On a completely separate subject, please help me reach 70 followers by the end of the year. If you haven't already done so, Click on the Follow button in the sidebar and if you follow on twitter and/or FB please also click on the follow button. Why? Ego really, mine needs help.

1 comment:

Jan said...

Thanks for the post Mark! I really enjoyed taking your class and was 1 of those from the school of brewing sanitation. You kinda downplayed it and when I brewed my first batch of beer after the class was over, it was a disaster. I was so bummed and took it so personally. I just kept thinking; how can mark be so perfect and confident? But you were so reassuring that 'it happens'.. ..
Even to the teacher..

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