So here I am, relaxing after a good 4+ hour marathon of a brew session, enjoying one of my own beers, and reflecting on the day's events. As promised, I'm reporting back after brewing with Adam, the NFBL president. We had some ups & downs, but at the end of the day, we had a great 10 gallon batch of Belgian Strong ready to get fermenting. For the ups: We ended up with what we think will be an extremely well-balanced 10%+ ABV Belgian Strong - one that has a slight hint of licorice, caramel and spice. In fact, aside from the grains, here's the hop/spice/sugar additions:
For those counting at home, that's 3 oz of "Fuggles" hops on the left, then 1 oz of "Saaz" hops in the next two containers, and then a cool 2 oz of Saaz I had left over from previous batches that went in during the final few minutes of the brew. Then we've got Star Anise spice (licorice-flavoring) and Bittering Orange Peel (slight citrus), followed by 3 lbs of Dark Belgian Candi Sugar - an ABV booster. This in compliment to the 30lbs of Belgian Pilsner, Maris Otter and various other specialty grains in the batch:
Which leads me to one of our brewday "downs": only 25lbs of grains would fit into my mash tun (cooler) - which holds 48 quarts (12 gallons). Drinking Thinking on the fly, Adam and I double mashed (25 lbs first, then the remaining 5 lbs afterwards) and came up only slightly below our targeted amounts. Not bad, all things considered!
For those of you who are completely confused by everything I just wrote, here's the skinny on my brewing process. In the first picture, you can see my brew rig - a gravity-fed all grain system. The hot liquor tank (hot water tank) is on top, the mash tun (cooler) in the middle, and boil kettle on the bottom. Here's how the proces works: Hot water gets immersed with a certain mix of base and specialty grains (depending on the type of beer you want to make) - called the mash - and after 60 minutes or so, the hot water/grain mixture gets converted to sugars. The brewer then drains those sugars into the boil kettle, sparges the grains (rinses the grains) with hot water to get the remaining sugars into the kettle, then the boil begins.
Certain hops/spices/adjuncts are added during the boil - which lasts from anywhere between 60 and 120 minutes. The brewer then cools down the beer (now called "wort" - pronounced "wert") and adds a specific strain of yeast and the fermentation process begins! Fermentation is awesome - it's microbiology really - the yeast consume all the sugars in the beer, farting off CO2 and creating alcohol. We wait about a month and a half for all this to take place, then consume the finished product and the process starts all over again. Beer is awesome.
Ready to get started? Easy right? Maybe so, after some practice. But it's definitely fun...and addicting. The only thing is that you have to deal with this afterwards:
An owner of a brewery in Maine once told me: "If you like cleaning, you'll love brewing beer." Yeah, no kidding. Awesome day today and we'll see how this batch tastes. I plan on entering this specific one into a competition coming up in May along with two other beers I've had aging for a little while now. I'll report back on how that goes as well.
Other updates: the website is still under construction - but we're getting there. Almost time to officially launch it. Still researching and working on the business plan. Next brew will be a Bavarian Hefeweizen! Stay tuned!