From broken glass to stainless steel
I’ve been mulling over the topic for my first post to write on the blog and repeatedly find myself trending back to the initial feeling of really committing to this project, that being the first brew Doug and I made on our shiny new pilot plant aka Doug’s personal R&D vessel, a far cry from the first brew we worked on together in university which resulted in a shattered carboy full of warm wort spilling throughout the kitchen. Its amazing how tolerant of a sticky floor you can become after a few weeks.
But back to the stainless steel setup, after a few weeks of negotiations with the manufacturer and waiting the gruelling 8 week lead time for production and shipment, the delivery day arrived. Doug playing a bit of hooky and skipping out of work early (with proper notice, of course) made it back home to meet the delivery truck and help the poor chap with the unloading.
Doug and I chose the Sabco for the potential long term use we can get out of it down the road for test batches, along with the obvious use for initial product development. Shortly after the arrival of the pilot plant, we started to kick up our grain inventory and hop variety to prep for the upcoming barrage of brews. We also decided to move toward a 500ml swing-top style bottle to cut down on effort and time associated with capping. The cost was right when you order in bulk ~100.
Deciding on something simple to start, we chose a California style Pale Ale to christian the unit, a la Stone’s Pale Ale. Grains, yeast (White Labs) and hops all purchased from Ontario’s Beergrains.com. Great bunch to chat on the phone with and awesome prices to boot.
After some research on the pilot plant’s tendencies, Doug and I, being the Chemical Engineers we thought we were, decided that the tolerances on our malt mill should be tighter to increase the efficiency of the first brew. Cracking the grains into smithereens and having to take turns running the mill, we had a bucket full of flour and cracked husks, but its not our style to waste any materials….efficiency right?
Note the Canadian Tire bucket 5 gal…time for a new Part of Our Heritage moment?
Moving on to preparing the pilot plant for the first brew was another story. Did I mention this first brew took place in the middle of February? On one of the coldest nights of the winter, or felt it at least. Getting 15gallons of water to 170F in the middle of winter is no easy task. I’d like to chalk the effort involved as a salute to Canadian tenacity for beer drinking as a whole. After 2 hours of our propane on full bore, heating our sparge water to temp and running water source aka garden hoses out Doug’s second story window, we brought down our flour aka milled grains.
Battling ambient temps in the middle of winter is a tricky endeavour and even more difficult when you don’t know what you’re doing. Well, truth be told, we didn’t. But I like to think we’re quick learners, or at the very least resilient. After dumping in our grains and back filling the mash tun, we started our cycling pump to drive our wort through the grain bed convert our grains starches to sugars with the high temp of the water. At least that is what’s supposed to happen. Except that we experienced what’s known as a ‘stuck mash’ (a term we learned after the experience was over). Our mash was so finely milled that the flour and husks turned into one large glob of dough at the bottom of our mash tun. Being new to this pilot plant, we decided to use our mash paddle AKA really long plastic spoon to beat the hell out of The Blob. Finally getting The Blob to submit, we ended up losing some temperature to the cool February night, putting our wort’s efficiency at risk. After getting the temp back and unclogging the poor circulation pump numerous times, we managed to finish the mash and started our sparging process.
Transferring the super sugary wort to the boil kettle was simple and our hand refractometer was reading within a few thousands of where needed to be for our OG so our volumes and mash efficiency we working out. Prepping for our boil turned out to be another bitch, trying to bring the now ‘warm’ wort to 212F for the 1hour boil was problematic due to the temperatures again. Christ, Doug and I needed to take turns warming our hands on the sides of the kettle. At least we were dedicated, or morons? Don’t answer that.
The other option to keep the blood flowing was to start cleaning up.
Note: when you mill grains smaller, they are an absolute bitch to clean out of false bottoms
The cleaning was going alright and we had managed to stay warm by keeping busy, until Doug checked on the boil. We had added our healthy dose of Northern Brewer hops in our hop bags and strung it off our oversized spoon. Unfortunately, due to the rush Doug and I were in when we started the boil, we used the leafed hop bags instead of the pelletized hops bag which does a better job of keeping the ground hop extract together in the boil. Needless to say, we had a noticeable ting of hop green to our previously nice amber coloured pale ale. No problem, we tossed in some Irish Moss and hopped it we could rack it off after it flocc’d out with the yeast during fermentation.
After battling our new plate and frame heat exchanger, not realizing how hard it would be to prime the little bastard, we managed to fill our fermentation vessels AKA retrofitted sankey kegs. Little bit of aeration, lot of StarSan spray, pitching our White Labs yeast and rearranging Doug’s kitchen to make room for these two beauties brought us to around 3am, on a work day.
We half assed cleaning up and called it a night. The next day after holding our breath during work, we got home and those two shiny babies were gargling away in the two growlers. So what would two other proud parents do? Obvious, start over. So that night, after some liquid courage, we took another shot at it; 4 weeks later our favourite Hefe was born.