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S.O.S.

January 30, 2011

Homebrewing.  It’s a hobby that I’ve enjoyed for over seven years now.  In that time, I’ve never made a bad batch of beer.  Each was tasty.  Some were good.  Some were great.  And some were not bad.  For about two years now, I’ve been going the all grain way.  And to this day, I’m still working at honing in and controlling my mash temperature.  Usually, I hit it low and get a thinner beer than what I desired.  It’s not a bad thing really, because I still have fermentable sugars in my wort.

Well, that didn’t happen with this latest batch.  Friday night, it was my intention to brew an oatmeal stout.  The recipe (10 gallons) is as follows:

  • 15.75 lbs. Pale Malt
  • 2.00 lbs. Flaked Oats
  • 2.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
  • 1.50 lbs. Crystal Malt – 20L
  • 1.00 lbs. Chocolate Malt
  • 1.00 lbs. Roasted Barley
  • 0.75 lbs. Crystal Malt – 60L
  • 1.50 oz Magnum [14.00 %] (60 min)
  • Nottingham (Danstar) Yeast (2 packages)

I was shooting for a mash temperature of 156° F.  Well, after mixing the grains and mash water together, I took a reading.  160° F!  Ok, I need to cool her down.  I added cold water.  Took another reading, and 156° F.  Sweet.  Checked back later and back to 160° F!  More cold water and back down again.

So here’s what’s bugging me.  It’s more than 36 hours later, and there’s nary a bubble coming out of my airlocks.  It seems as though I extracted a bunch of the unfermentable sugars.  I did taste the wort prior to the boil, and it was indeed rather sweet.  I’ll give it until tomorrow, and the I’ll be fairly sure.

Assuming my fermentation doesn’t take off, I’ll have 10 gallons of sweet, hopped wort just sitting there.  What I’d like to know is how I might be able to save it and get it into a  beer.  Also, I’d love to hear some tips and advice on better hitting the target mash temperature short of an automated PID controller type setup.  (I’ll get one of those someday, but my need is a little more immediate here!)

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2011 3:43 pm

    Hmmm…are you mashing in a cooler, or over heat? If in a cooler, that temp spike is odd. As far as hitting mash temp in a cooler, I used to use a formula…can’t find it at the moment, but it was in papazian’s book. Now I just use the calculation out of beersmith and I’m always dead on. Regardless, even at 160 you have fermentable sugar, so the lack of fermentation shouldn’t be isolated to that. When I use dry yeast there is always way more lag time. If by tomorrow there is still no activity I personally would mix a heavy starter and dump it into hour complacent worth when the starter is krauzening. Also, pit a drop of olive oil on the starter…yeast love it and makes for a healthy cell wall.

    The recipe looks great!

    • Big Tex permalink
      January 30, 2011 3:48 pm

      I’m a bit of a worry wort. The electrical engineer in me really wants to get a three vessel system with PID controls.

      For right now, I mash in a cooler. It’s cheap and does the job.

  2. January 30, 2011 4:00 pm

    Me too…cooler is easy. Oh yeah…make.sure you thermometer is calibrated correctly. Three batches ago mine was 16 degrees off. I was mashing in the low forties. Blah. The beer isn’t horrible, just thin and hot.

    • Big Tex permalink
      January 30, 2011 4:03 pm

      May need to upgrade my thermometer too. Here good things about the digital ones these days. I still have a dream setup that involves electrical controls. Basically, like a real brewery but for the home… or on a trailer. Oooh! Mobile home brew.

  3. January 30, 2011 7:24 pm

    Don’t discount the fact that the yeast could have been old. By the looks of the grain-bill the gravity wasn’t that high, so oxygen uptake doesn’t seem to be a problem. I can personally say that I’ve had a 48 wait (trappist yeasts are often particularly bad). If all else fails you might try a smack pack to make sure you are pitching good yeast.

    I agree with Nate on the fermentables. You would definitely have an imbalance in alpha and betas in the brew but I can’t see you having nothing but dextrines from the higher temps. As far as mash temps go, Papazian has a formula that he has but it basically works out to about 15 degrees in temp changes with grain at 70 degrees and mashing with 1 quart water per pound of grain. If I want 158 I put my strike at about 172-173. So, I think 170-171 strike temp would be a about right.

    • Big Tex permalink
      January 30, 2011 9:14 pm

      I think my strike was closer to 180F. Yipe. It was rather cool out, and my cooler was around 40F. Grains, I’d say were around 60 to 65.

  4. Big Tex permalink
    January 31, 2011 8:09 am

    Ok, so I found a formula that is associated with Palmer. His formula (after doing a little algebra) gives me a mash temp of 162 assuming 3 degrees loss due to my vessel. I did however add additional cold water as well. Maybe my mash temp readings weren’t taken after the temp settled out. Hopefully it isn’t a total loss! It sounds like I have some fermentables in there. I know the wort tasted nice and sweet.

    As regarding my yeast, maybe I killed them. I did take a hot dish over to my friend’s house to share. I may have placed my yeast in the same bag not thinking. I’ll try adding fresh yeast tonight to see if that does the trick. If not, I guess it leaves me back to unfermentables.

    If it is indeed a rather unfermentable wort, I would still like to salvage it. Could I retry the recipe but mash at a lower temp (say at the low end of the saccrification zone) and then blend the two? Thoughts?

    • January 31, 2011 8:47 am

      That’s an interesting idea. I am in the process of doing something similar. I have a brew fermenting at about a 1/4 of a percentage (abv) a week. I made a 1 gallon batch that is fermenting. When the abv of the one gallon batch gets to 9% alcohol, I’m blending the two. I’m hoping that the yeast in the 9% batch is so alcohol tolerant, it will take the beer in the fermentor to the 15-16% mark.

      Are you talking about blending post fermentation? Regardless, blending is a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve done it on several occasions.

      I doubt you killed your yeast…at least all of them. My friend, Josh, recently told me that he helped a friend brew for the first time. The friend, instead of brewing, drank too much beer and was acting silly. Josh got so irritated (dude wasn’t blessed with patience) that he got sick of chilling the wort and pitched the yeast at 190 degrees. His drunken freind reported that it took about a week to see activity in the airlock. Odds are the beer sucked in the end, BUT it shows that as sensitive as yeast are, they are survivors.

      • Big Tex permalink
        January 31, 2011 1:57 pm

        Man, this has been bugging me. So much so, I had a hard time falling asleep last night. It’s crazy!

        Moreover, it’s crazy that some of your friend’s friend’s yeast survived 190 F! I think I’ll intervene before mine gets to the point of suckiness (God willing).

        Another reason for the urgency, is that my folks are coming out for a visit at the end of Feb. I want to have some beer on tap for my parents to try. So, thus the thought of a blend too. I don’t want a beer that’s too far on the unfermentable side. Methinks that I’ll set down that path on Wednesday… tomorrow is Pinewood Derby.

    • January 31, 2011 6:19 pm

      If all else fails and you want to salvage the wort…you could mash at a low temp with the wort. Use it as or blend with with your mash and sparge water and see how it goes. Chances are you will have a fuller flavored, higher gravity beer but you might be able to make it worth something.

      • Big Tex permalink
        January 31, 2011 10:15 pm

        Any recommendations on a temperature to shoot for?

      • February 1, 2011 7:02 pm

        I’d go with 148-150 if you can keep it steady.

  5. Big Tex permalink
    February 1, 2011 12:17 pm

    Re-brew set for Wednesday.

    • February 1, 2011 1:21 pm

      Oh no…still no activity, huh?

      • Big Tex permalink
        February 1, 2011 1:48 pm

        I hear reports of yeasty activity, but I’m gonna do it again… just to do it right, and I’ll probably blend the batches. I decided earlier that I’d re-brew whether or not I have activity.

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