Yesterday (Saturday, June 7th) I made my first all-grain batch of homebrew. I have not actually upgraded any of my equipment. My processes, technically, are rudimentary and imperfect. But I made a beer without adding extract. The precious liquid is fermenting now. I won’t know until fermentation is complete how fermentable the wort was.

My wife, Malin, documented parts of the day. In this pic you can see the “mash tun” (i.e. the 12 quart pot). Since the pot is metal (which is a poor insulator) and has no other form of insulation (like a thermal wrap or blanket, for instance), I keep it in the oven so that it doesn’t lose heat during the mash.

Mash tun in the oven, wooden spoon and probe wire for thermometer all sticking out.

Since I don’t have adequate equipment, I can only mash about 5 or 6 pounds of grain. I usually mini-mash right at 5.5 pounds. For this all-grain batch, I max’ed my equipment: 6 pounds 2 ounces. Any all-grain brewers reading this might think to themselves, “That isn’t very much grain.” It isn’t. I formulated this batch to be an English Bitter, weak in alcohol, and thus low in starting gravity. Furthermore, I formulated it as a small batch – less than 4 gallons.

In this pic, you can see me pulling the mash tun out of the oven. The large pot in the foreground, upon which my arm appears to be resting, is the brew kettle (a 28 quart aluminum pot):

Mash is done. Let the sparge begin!

You can also see that I use a nylon mesh grain bag to hold the grains in the mash tun. This is because my sparge equipment includes a perforated pot whose holes are too large otherwise (the grain bits and hulls would slip right through). So I have to use the mesh bag to keep the grain from entering the final wort.

After Malin took these pictures, Will ran over and exclaimed that he wanted to see the pictures (i.e. he wanted to see the previews on the camera’s LCD screen). In case you are curious, the crud on his cheeks is peanut butter from a sandwich he was eating.

Speaking of eating sandwiches, while the grains were mashing (sitting in the oven for an hour, steeping at 156 deg. Fahrenheit), Malin made delicious steak sandwiches for lunch. She cooked up skirt steak to medium rare, caramelized some red onions, and pulled some fresh greens from the garden. This was all added to a Publix bakery hoagie (they make pretty damn good bread there) with some spicy brown mustard and some pepper-crusted goat cheese (Ile de Franc Petit Bûche). I opted for provolone instead of goat cheese and also tossed in a little creamy horseradish spread.

Here is a shot of Malin’s sandwich. Mmmm… isn’t it tempting you?

And here is another pic of Will, begging to look at the camera. In fact, it looks like he’s about to snatch the camera out of mommy’s hands:

In the recent past, my mash efficiency has varied from 60% to nearly 80%. I’m still working on getting that value more consistent. I knew I couldn’t really predict the efficiency this time because I was using a little bit more grain than usual and a little bit less sparge water (due to the smaller batch size) – two factors that would suggest a lower than average efficiency. I had figured on an efficiency of about 60% or just under, but instead I hit 74% efficiency. I had to change my recipe on the fly to include a little more hops in order to keep the balance of the recipe in tact, despite the greater level of sugars extracted from the grain. It was a good thing I had bought a little extra at the homebrew store on Wednesday.

The beer is percolating right along now, and hopefully the wort fermentability will be inline with my expectations. As long as the apparent attenuation is between 65% and 75%, I’ll be doing okay. The yeast I used, Wyeast 1187, is supposed to attenuate between 68% and 72%, so hitting an acceptable final gravity should be pretty easy.

While at the homebrew store, getting ingredients for this all-grain batch (which I’ve entitled Hump’s Itsy Bitsy Bitter), I also picked up ingredients for Hump’s Bosbessenbier. The name is dutch for Blueberry Beer. The beer is designed as a medium strength Belgian Golden Ale / Pale Ale, but with 4.5 pounds of blueberries added.

This week I also sampled Hump’s Brain Bludgeoner Double IPA. I wasn’t able to hit the level of attenuation I wanted, unfortunately. I think my starter wasn’t properly settled, and I discarded too much yeast that were in suspension. I probably would have been better off with no starter than with making a starter and screwing it up (doh!). On last check, the beer had attenuated down to 1.023. I was hoping for a finish of 1.018 or maybe even lower though. As it is, it is still 9% alcohol by volume, which is pretty intense. Luckily, the bitterness is decent enough to stand up to the residual sweetness. Only time will tell just how drinkable the finished product is. The beer is currently resting on 1.5 ounces of Glacier dry hops. They’ll remain there for another two weeks, and then I’ll keg.

After sampling the beer, I’ve already formulated a new Double IPA recipe that will be even more intimidating than this one. I call it Hump’s HMS Belleraphon. The main changes in the recipe are that it has a different malt bill that I think will make the final result have a more bready maltiness and less residual sweetness and that it has an even heftier hop bill: 3/4 of a pound of high alpha varieties (including three ounces of dry-hops) that takes the recipe a little bit closer to the Pliny the Elder clone. That beer, from Russian River, is one of the most famous and exalted examples of the style. That clone recipe has helped numerous homebrewers win awards, including Mike McDole’s success at the Sam Adams Longshot competition.

You might ask, “Why don’t you just brew the clone recipe?” And I’ve heard many sage brewers (Jamil Zainasheff among them) explain that you really have to brew a recipe exactly as it is before you can get an idea of how you want to tweak it. I do understand that viewpoint, but I also have a lot of pent up energy when it comes to formulating recipes. I have to flex my creative muscle. And, you know what else? I’m not trying to make a clone of Pliny the Elder (hell, I’ve never even had it and couldn’t easily get my hands on it anyway). I’m just trying to make damn good beer, and I use my palate and my knowledge of ingredients to formulate recipes that I think will make that beer. My expertise isn’t perfect, and I do make mistakes in my formulation, but that is how I learn. I know my methods are far from scientific, and that they can hinder the learn-by-experiment process. But I still progress, and my recipes are slowly converging into my own view of perfection. And I think my latest Double IPA recipe will be delicious. Is it more like the clone recipe than my current Double IPA on deck? Definitely. Should I just brew the clone recipe instead and be done with it? I think definitely not.

That paragraph may have sounded like I was standing on a soap box. If so, I apologize. It must be the delicious liquor known as Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA, coursing through my veins…