Le Roi Rouge Brewday! (aka: Live blogging is hard, aaka: longest post ever)

So let's get things started, shall we? This is my first ever attempt at a live blog of a brewday, so we'll see how this goes. Live streaming would be wayyyy too difficult and time consuming. I've got a beer to brew, ya know? Plus, who has the time to sit around and watch a beer being brewed for several hours? Anyways, here we go. I'll get to brewing around early to mid-afternoon today. And I'll have my laptop with me at all times to monitor our conversations (should they actually happen - do folks really visit this site?) I'll update the general post area with content, pics and vids as the day goes on - so if you want to give a shoutout or ask a question, simply leave a comment at the bottom and I'll reply as soon as I possibly can. Even if you've got questions long after the brewday is complete, feel free to ask and I'll reply!

First things first - Le Roi Rouge Imperial Red is going to be a big beer. Big beers require a bunch of yeast to completely ferment out. If you don't have enough yeast (i.e. millions and millions of cells), you won't have a healthy beer. You can stress the yeast out if you don't "pitch" enough - resulting in unwanted "off-flavors" and you also run the risk of having your beer finish with too high a gravity - which means that the amount of sugars still left in your beer isn't optimal. Today, we'll be shooting for a starting gravity of 1.075-1.080 and about 6 gallons of wort (unfermented beer). To give a little context, the gravity of water is 1.000. The higher the gravity reading, the more sugar is in your wort. We want it to finish around 1.012 to 1.017, so it'll have a slight residual sweetness.

So what does all that scientific mumbo-jumbo mean? It means that you need a bunch of yeast - more than the provided amount in a vial - to pitch when you're finished brewing. In order to accomplish that, you need to make a starter:

Starter_1

A starter is pretty simple - it's a mini, unhopped beer with a gravity in the 1.040 range. You mix a small amount of dry malt extract with several cups of water, boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes, chill it down and add your yeast! Today, I'll be using White Labs' California Ale Yeast I, which is a very versatile and clean yeast that accentuates hop flavor. It's easily used in a number of different beer styles. I chose it for its clean profile and high attenuation percentage (the ability to fully ferment your beer to a desired final gravity). With this starter, I've got many more millions of yeast cells ready and willing to consume all the sugars that'll be in a 1.075-80 gravity wort. In fact, it'll be glorious!

It's sitting on a high tech stirplate as you can see, which is nothing more than a cigar box with a magnetic fan spinning underneath. This process (stirring) provides constant aeration, which makes for a healthy environment for my lil' yeasties. Yeast love oxygen. Here's the starter in action:

Starter_2

The bubbles in the middle? That's actually a vortex created by the magnetic stir-bar spinning. With this going for 24-48 hours, I'll have the total yeast count I'll need to pave the way for a healthy (and probably violent) fermentation.

Now, on to crushing my grains (16 lbs by hand, mind you):

Crusher_1

...and continuing on with the general setup! While I'm brewing, I'll also be multitasking with this, kegging the latest editions of the Citrus Meyeri Wit and the Red Panda Rye (below - wit on the left, rye on the right...and the picture makes the rye look much darker than it'll actually turn out), and trying to eat somewhere in between all that mess! Let's get this started! Blasty blast fo' sho!

Carboys1

*Update #1 (1:00 PM Friday)

Whew! I think I'll ask for a decent powerdrill for my birthday! Handcraking is a fun GrassLands tradition, but it gets old quick :) At least I'm getting a workout.

Grains_3

*Update #2 (2 PM Friday)

Not getting the actual brewing started until 3...don't you hate it when you think you've got everything covered and you forget one critical detail...like propane for instance? Ugggh.

*Update #3 (4:30 PM Friday)

So yeah, couple the above delays with a spouse that's under the weather, I believe we'll postpone this until tomorrow morning. Sound good? (crickets...). Okay, Sweet! Add to that, my house's A/C froze up on what could be the hottest weekend of 2012. When it rains it pours, eh? I'm not worrying - RDWAHAHB.

*Update #4 (10:00 AM Saturday)

Back in the mix! Literally! Just mashed in, so I'll provide a picture in a few minutes. Mashing is mixing your crushed grains with water at a specific temperature, so you can ensure proper conversion of the grains' starches to sugar. My specific mash temperature for this bad boy is 155 degrees. Awesome!

Grains_4

Warming up the strike water for the mash...

Strike_water

Mashing in! Looks like oatmeal, eh?

Mash_1

Now all we gotta do is just wait an hour before collecting my first runnings - which should be in the range of about 3 gallons or so. We mixed the 16 lbs of grains with 5.5 gallons of 166 degree water, ensuring a mash temperature of 155 degrees. Science mumbo jumbo again, I know. But it's fun!

Got the hops out too! Pretty decent Alpha Acid (bitterness) percentages - especially for the Willamette hops, which should be between 4 and 6%. Columbus will be my bittering hop (which has a nice earthy flavor to it) that'll be split (.5 oz in 30 minutes into the boil and then another .5 oz at 30 minutes). Then over the next 30 minutes, I'll be splitting up (evenly) 2 oz of Willamette hops (earthy, floral and more importantly, spicy).This will be a 90 minute boil total and we should end up with a malty, spicy/hoppy ale. Shout out to my Local Home Brew Store (www.homebrewden.com). Awesome!

Hops_1

Check back in soon!

Update #5 (11:30 AM Saturday)

Here we go!

Flame1

*Update #6 (12:30 PM Saturday)

Now we're taking our first runnings - beforehand, we're vorlaufing - which is a fancy means of making your runnings clearer. The below picture is the first runnings and it's got a bunch of grain residue. Any grains in your brew can leach tannins which, in turn, creates off flavors in your beer...not good :) I fill up a few of these, transfer them back into the mash tun (my cooler/filter) before running the rest into the boil kettle. You can't really completely filter out those grain particles, but minimizing will help. Major breweries have filtration processes...this is the homebrewers' way. :) I'll do this again in another update when I collect the 2nd runnings - which will be much lighter in color than the one below.

Vorlauf_1

*Update #7 (1:00 PM Saturday)

Now that I see my collected runnings were at about 3 gallons (via my trusty gallon-gauge/long-ass spoon), I need to sparge (rinse) the grains in the mashtun with around 5.5 gallons of water at about 180 degrees to stop the conversion process and rinse the rest of my sugary wort into the boil kettle. Then I can start boiling! I'll be boiling for 90 minutes today from 8.5 gallons down to around 6 gallons.

Kettle Measure1

*Update #8 (1:15 PM Saturday)

2nd runnings below - as you can see, they're a little lighter in color. I'll vorlauf again before starting the boil!

2nd_runnings

*Update #9 (1:30 PM Saturday)

Filled the kettle up to 8.5 gallons and the heat is on. Now that we're down to 60 minutes (been boiling for 30 minutes), we add our first Columbus hop addition. FYI, most boils are around 60 minutes in length. Some bigger beers require a longer boil time simply because you run the risk of having what's called DMS in your beer, an off flavor. No fun!

*Update #10 (2:00 PM Saturday)

Just added in our 4th hop addition .5 oz Columbus at 60 and 30 minutes each, .5 oz Willamette at 20 and 15 minutes. Two more to go! Also, I added in some Irish Moss (basically dried seaweed) at 15 minutes left to help aid in clarifying my beer when it's all settled out & fermented. Clarity can be achieved a few different ways, but I choose to use Irish Moss. Time to throw the switch on my pump! Basically, I'll be pumping the wort through a return valve that's attached to my chiller, which tap water runs through (and it's most likely going to be close to 80 degree water so I've got a while to chill!).

Hops_2

*Update #11 (3:00 PM Saturday)

Alrighty, with ground water temps in the low 80s, it's going to take a while to get this 210ish degree wort down to yeast pitching temps (65-75). We'll do the best with what we got! My pump allows for the wort to cool faster since it's creating a pseudo whirlpool within the boil kettle while at the same time, my immersion copper coil chiller is running ground water. So the theory is that moving liquid cools faster than still liquid. It'll probably take around 20-30 minutes given the temp of the ground water. Fun stuff, right? Especially considering it's 900 degrees outside today.

Chilling1

Now it's just waiting time...I'll be cleaning up but I'll have one more update to post and that'll be the starting gravity! Woooot!

*Update #12 (3:30 PM Saturday)

Alrighty, we're all cooled down to what I think is a manageable pitching temperature (78), and we're ready to go! Took a gravity sample and while it's still not entirely accurate (needs to adjust to room temperature), my starting gravity came up just a hair lower than expected at 1.070. But I'm not worried. I'm using this as a good excuse to update my mash tun so I can be more efficient in my brewing processes. Looking nice & red below! Sample is extremely sweet. Only a brewer can understand.

Grav_Sample

On a side note, I guess I didn't have as vigorous a boil as I thought I did, and ended up with just under 7 gallons total of Le Roi Rouge. But what do you do if you've already pitched your yeast into your carboy, like I typically do? I had to make a quick decision for the last gallon. If you're a brewer, the last thing you want to do is waste what you've worked so hard to produce - in my case, over the past two days :). No worries! I simply put the last 3/4 gallon or so into a 1-gallon glass jug (an old organic apple juice glass), and then transferred that on top of the previous yeast cake (leftover yeast, ugly - but healthy) from the Red Panda Rye. Let's just say I've got a clogged up fermentation chamber :)

*Final Le Roi Rouge Brewday(s) Update (4:00 PM Saturday)

Alrighty, the underbelly of the brewing industry is cleaning. You gotta clean up to have a nice beer. Here's a slice of my life at the moment:

And now I get to sit back in this heat and at least enjoy a cold one. Thanks for stopping by if you did, folks! Prost!