Doctor Duvel

I'm like a sommelier, but for beer.

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Location: Upstate New York, United States

Favorite Beers: Orval, Samuel Smith, Duvel, Hennepin, Oude Gueze, Chimay, Dogfish Head, Anchor Steam, and anything made by Trappist monks.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Harrowing Brew Day

There are some days you just shouldn't brew. Trouble is you never know until it's too late.

Today I brewed my Belgian Pale. I thought that while brewing I would also suavely rack my Hefe-Weizen and my Autumn Saison into secondary. I wasn't going to bottle at the same time, thank god, so I thought it'd be easy. Not so much.

First, everything got set back about 90 minutes because I had to help Lisa deal with her car snafu. Around 1 pm I scrambled my recipe together. This is the beer that got fucked up by the dude at the homebrew store who assumed all the grain I was buying was destined for the same beer and mixed them. I thus had 5 lbs pale, 3 lbs Vienna, and 3 lbs Munich I had to use. I tried to look at that as a creative opportunity. I wrote a recipe that let those mid-range toasty malts do the talking, supplementing them only with 1/4 lb doses of Aromatic and Caramunich. Hopping was split between Saaz and Hallertau. Sounds good right?

So I started my mash. First of all, the mash was arbitrarily uneven in temperature, despite the fact that I did everything the way I normally do. That irritated me. Just about the time I was getting ready to sparge, I started sanitizing shit to rack the other beers. This is where I ran into serious trouble. Lazy, I had left several key tubes and siphon bits and so on in a bucket of iodophor since last time I brewed (about 12 days). If you think about it, that's pretty dumb. I noticed, in retrieving the various items, that they were covered with a thin mucillaginous layer, and that the bucket smelled a little sour. Great. I've just spent two weeks cultivating and breeding bacteria (or something) that are resistant to my sanitizer. . .

This freaked me out (I think understandably) and I swore at myself for being a useless dipshit for a while. Somehow, I needed to sanitize three carboys and countless bits and bobs, most of which I could only assume were crawling with uber-microbes. I called Brad, who uses Star-San instead of iodophor (different sanitizers). He wasn't in, so I had to go old school and just mix up a big gnarly bucket of strong bleach solution, which meant everything needed to be double rinsed. While I was absorbed with this unpleasantness, I zoned out and let my sparge go totally fucko on me. Whenever you leave sweet wort dripping unattended through a tube into an under-sized vessel, the spigot realizes this, adjusts itself, and goes from trickling to rushing. So I came in the door, sopping wet from hosing off bleachy shit, only to find the kitchen floor running with wort, and quite a bit of it at that. The wort made a bee-line for the dining room, but didn't go in. Instead it found some sort of hole behind a bit of baseboard and started running into the basement. So I flung towels around and ran into the basement to assess the damage. I'll say this: Floorboards make a great sparge bed. That wort was crystal clear. Unfortunately, it was also all over a dirty cement floor.

I cleaned up the basement and went upstairs vowing to leave nothing unattended and to focus carefully. I might add that I was quite sober throughout. I just couldn't focus though; the floodgates were opened and pretty much everything else I did I screwed up. I added one of my hop charges at completely the wrong time, because I am apparently unable to read a kitchen timer. I lost my grip on the wort chilling hose twice, spraying water all over. I had to use the wrong size hose to run off the finished wort into the fermentor. The hose promptly slipped off the kettle spigot and shot into the carboy where it was irretrievable without ten minutes of shaking and fiddling and fingering. I spilled spent hops all over the floor. The beer was psychotically foamy and kept freaking out whenever I stuck in the aeration gizmo and gumming up the floor I had just cleaned. Oh, and just when I was congratulating myself for at least not boiling the beer over, I promptly let it boil over, totally decking the erstwhile clean stove. Oh, and I also dented my brew pot.

So everything took three times as long as it should and I'm totally exhausted. I'm so exhausted I've even forgotten how to swear normally. After one particularly pitiful spill I heard myself say "Cockasaurus!"

I've never said anything like that before. Perhaps I was possessed.

The beer is finally done and the only really positive thing I can report is that the Autumn Saison tasted beautiful when I racked it. But it was not really my day. My feet hurt and I'm going to bed. . .


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