Brewing, for me, has become therapy, almost meditation. If you are allergic to overly romantic or nostalgic posts, look away, but I am stopping short of writing poetry. I suck at that anyway. Here’s how I brew, with an overly sentimental focus on rhythms and senses. Forgive the grammar slaughter. Here’s a usual brew-day walkthrough.
Thinking and drinking, looking for inspiration a week or two before the brew day. Brewing for competition? For personal consumption? Exploring something new? Practicing skills and techniques for improvement? Break out books and BeerSmith and sketch out ideas. Cruise through the brewhouse looking at the stocks of malts, hops and yeast. Refine the idea. Reach out to trusted friends, seeking assenting and dissenting advice. Chew on it. Make a decision and finish the idea. Commit. Mark the calendar (starter, brew day, fermentation schedule, and packaging) and set expectations. Plan. Set the order, prescription.
Calibrate the digital equipment, the pH meter, TDS meter and refractometer. Prepare water, checking the reverse osmosis output for quality. Set everything out, orderly, convenient.
Confirm ingredients are in hand. Make sure the fermenter is clean and sanitized. Set the fermentation freezer to pitching temps. Clean the freezer if needed. Double check.
Check the brew stand. Are the kettles clean? Are the hoses clean? The pumps and valves? Prepare two gallons water in the boil kettle to sanitize the cold side plumbing and chiller.
Always early morning. Five a.m. with a hot cuppa, hair slicked with cold water. Waking up. Punch the garage door opener. The familiar rhythm plays, a short chugging as the belts pull up the door. The clicking of the wheels of the panels through the rail. No music or podcasts. Simply sounds of Central Texas country coming awake, warming to the morning.
Mower and motorcycle moved out of the way. Power on the brew stand, watching the boot screen and waiting for the loud click that enables the gas valve to open. The click resonates off the stainless kettles, a starter pistol. Open the propane valve, grab a stick lighter and put fire to the hot liquor tun. A rush as the flame catches and a flush of heat warms. Set the flame level looking for a clean blue.
Open the hot liquor valve to flood the plumbing, listening for air locking, bubbling. Peek into the mash lauter tun, wait for the liquor to back flood over the false bottom. Gurgling. Reach over and flick the pump, hearing for the first time the chug and whir of the pump, fully primed, sucking liquor from one tun; spitting it into the other. Make careful note of levels, planning ahead strike needs. Approach my desired volume, open the siphon valve from the mash tun, check for circulation. Slow the flow from hot liquor tun, use a high degree of accuracy. Fill complete, strike fire under the mash lauter tun. Punch in the desired strike temperature into the computer and circulate, the heat from the direct fire and RIMS tube warming the stand.
Gather the remaining required liquor for lauter, usually just a few gallons more.
A fresh bag of malt is opened, a zipper sound if the right strings are cut and pulled. Malt corns chime on the aluminum scoop and thump into homer bucket sitting on the scale. Base malts ring and then rain into the bucket, a reverse pile. The scoop clanks rhythmically topping off the last few ounces, adding specialty malts. A flick of the wrist, that cliche sound of a knife being freed from its scabbard, shing! The clatter of corns hitting the pile. A light aroma of hay, cut grass and flour tickle my nose. This is ordered, according to plan. Dust rises. Light grows.
The mill stand is pulled into position and powered on. The motor hums and rumbles while the mill chatters. An empty bucket is set to receive the crushed malt. Handfuls of malt clink against the metal hopper before being sucked into rollers. Clattering shifts to crunching and crushed malt patters into the bucket below. Check the crush. Again motor spins rollers, masticates the malt, splitting the husks and spitting out broken grits. Flour dust floats in the air, caught by the morning sun streaming into the garage. Suddenly the pitch changes, and the kernels are no longer pinwheeling and stacking up in rows in the hopper, ants marching toward doom. Switch off the motor, roll the mill backwards and forwards listening for the rollers to catch. Motor is on again, munching continually until the clacking clatter of an empty mill. Switch off.
Check strike temperature. Still low. Grab jars of powder and prills, preparing minerals per recipe. Ordered, prescribed. Brewery pumps continue shushing wort through pipes. Water from the bottom, heated by fire, pulled through the RIMS tube, heated by electricity, into the pump. Propane burners make a low frequency roar, just under the chugging pump. Water flows past various valves and through stainless tubing to return, gently, to the mash tun, exchanging its heat. Minerals in hand, tossed into the appropriate vessels.
Mash and Lauter
Strike temperature hits, the pump is off, as is the fire under the mash tun. Crushed malt cascades into another plastic bucket, splitting the measured pile into manageable amounts. Malt pours carefully in batches, followed by a vigorous stir, whisked to break up clumps. The second bucket grinds on the floor as I pull it to me. Repeat. Grained in, incorporated. Acid added, stirred in, a carefully measured amount. Prescribed. Whisking shifts vigorous to gentle, settling foam. Close all circulation valves and install circulation arm carefully. Malt flour sparkles in the air, slowly setting, swirling like smoke on the heat drafts from the burners. A cool morning breeze rambles through the garage.
Program the computer, rest steps, mash out, and boil timers. Commit the program and push “Brew.” Pump kicks. Slowly open the valves noting the changes in frequency, speed of circulation. Wort flows, cloudy and turbid, then running clear.
Downtime, a calm before a stormy burst of energy. Close eyes and breath deeply. Focus. The whooshing of the wort. Sweet smells gathering, of bread, of stands of coppery wheat and barley. Hops are carefully measured out, citrus and spice mingling with the malt smells. Focus on the beer, the sounds and smells. Breath again.
Two gallons of water hit boil in the kettle. The cold side pumping boiling water through the counterflow chiller, valves, and plumbing. Drained, sanitary.
Listen for pump frequency, an imbalance or cavitation. Check swirling sweet wort over the bed of malt. Pull, cool, and measure sample for pH, taste. More samples are taken throughout the process, gravity, iodine, conversion. Wort runs crystal clear, moisture rises carrying grassy green aromas, sweet switch grass, sweet corn, lilac. Steps and rests are complete. Pump is off and valves reset.
Sweet honey colored wort flows gently into the boil kettle. Flowers and malt intensify as first wort hops intermingle, staining green. Watch lauter tun levels, stopping flow at the appropriate time. The sparge liquid begins to pump over, and the lauter output is constrained. Slow in, slow out. Take the time needed. Rhythms, rising to monitor the speed of the sparge, adjusting the pump in and flow outward. Watch the level of liquor in the hot liquor tank. The pump chugs, constrained to pushing a trickle.
Clear water piles up on the grain bed, with the slightest of swirls.
Wort continues to rise, dark first in the kettle, but clear and pale in the site glass. Strike fire under the kettle, a deeper and throatier roar. Hot liquor exhausts the mash and the pump is shut off. Propane roar seems to get louder, less the repetitive churn of the pump. Wort output is adjusted again and stirred. A sample is pulled, chilled and checked for pH and gravity.
The wort finally rises to boil volume. Heat ripples through wort and break material dances. Foam forms as the boil slowly breaks through the surface. A fog of steam rises, wispy strings rising in the brightening ambient light of a late morning. The kettle is filled near to full and a spritz of cold water is occasionally needed to manage foam. No boil over, and beery smells become more intense. Bittering hops are cast, releasing another wave of spicy citrus and floral aromas.
Mash is mucked out of the tun. An old wet dry vacuum named Grumpy struggles, the motor nearly shot. It whines as wet sloppy spent malt is pulled through the articulated hose, splattering into the container. The motor spins down. The lauter tun is dismantled: dip tubes, fittings, and false bottom rinsed clean and scrubbed down. The old grumpy vac turns on and off, pulling rinse water and spare bits free from the stainless surfaces. The interior and exterior is wiped down and reassembled.
The boil kettle provides an occasional aromatic facial. Beer and flowers.
Cold water patters into the mash tun, running to halfway. Dump valve is cracked open, siphoning cold water through the plumbing, rinsing out the wort. Closed. The pump chugs up again, circulating the cold water rinse. Sanitizer is run till foam peeks out of the tun. Pump off, valves closed, plumbing drained again.
Treat time. Beer flows into a plastic cup. A refreshing foamy reward for the first rush of cleaning.
Timer beeps. Hops cast into wort. Fire killed and whirlpool starts and pump hums. Clear water drains till wort runs thick and sweet, back into the kettle. The valve switches to circulate through the whirlpool arm and wort spins. The temperature drops as the chiller warms, no cool counterflow yet. Pump stopped, spin slows and the kettle is covered. Final sample, chilled for pH and final gravity. Tasted. Yum.
Fermentation freezer opens; cold air spills onto the floor. Valves cracked to spill residual sanitation solution. Valves closed, double checked. Output hose fixed to the racking arm, valve opened. Boil time checked. Enough time for another sip of beer.
Cast Out and Ferment
Counterflow water flows, hoping to be cold but lukewarm. Ice bathed pre-chiller copper installed. Pump whirls, siphoning wort through meshed filters and false bottom. Whirlpool gathers up trub and hops. Wort worms through the coils of the CFC, icy water pulling away heat energy, out past the thermometer, braking through the valve, slowing. Temperature is good, and wort floods the conical gently from the bottom. Cast is quick.
Kettle leavings gurgle as the last of the wort sucks out. Valves close. Hoses detach, dripping sticky onto the floor. Freezer is closed, temperature programming checked.
Grumpy, the shop vac winds up, whining with the effort. Compact trub and hops sucked out of the kettle. Kettle disassembled, repeat of the lauter tun. Scrubbing, vacuuming, rinsing. Scrub everything down, wipe, inside, outside. Re-assemble, drain sanitizer out of the lauter tun. Run through cold side pump, whirlpool arm, chiller, hose assembly. Run sanitizer onto floor and scrub up the sticky parts. Rinse.
Push Grumpy sloshing to compost pile, wondering how many brews are left in him. Tip out spent mash, rake in. Hose out the old man and set to dry. Move everything back to storage, close bags, buckets, bins. Double check gravity reading. Pull a pint or so of cold wort. Temper yeast starter to pitching temps. Pitch yeast and oxygenate. Seal fermenter. Update notes.
Pull fresh pint of beer and enjoy. The second burst of energy has been expended. Breath.
Forgot to close the garage door. Punch the button, door clacks closed, biting off the light.
The next weeks are slow. Energy spent on brew day now imbued to the yeast. Krausen rises, falls, rises again. Oxygen is depleted, alcohol and carbon dioxide produced. Beer conditions, rests and clears. Packaging is done and carbonated. Another beer is complete.
6 thoughts on “Brew-day Walkthrough. Therapy. Meditation.”
I love the thought stream format. I tend to think very similar.
I also tend to think that the beer you brew absorbs the environment around you, so the attitude you have while brewing is brought through to the final product. I like the “flavor” of BB King in my brews as well. Always have to have the blues playing while I brew.
Lotta words for “push ‘Brew.'” I kid! I kid! …But seriously. 😉
Awful lot of work for an “automated” system. Just saying. Still a beautiful process.
I used to always invite folks over when I was brewing – everyone is always so interested in the process and I love to tell them about it too. I’ve found myself really stepping back from this though… I really appreciate the time alone while brewing. Definitely therapeutic for me. Now, I try to separate the two. I’ll invite brew club members and friends over for tastings, and walk them through my process if interested at that time… but the brewing process itself is “me” time.
Being somewhat of an introvert, I also agree with Justin Angevaare, as I used to invite people over during brew day, but after doing it numerous times, I would rather be alone with my thoughts. With all the busy stuff, the crazy kids, and my wife going to school, I find the quiet drone of the pump and burner flame to be very centering.