Getting Dirty

The Daily Wort would like to dedicate this post to all those brewers out there who—by necessity or choice—do all their brewing alone. It’s tough work for one; there are a lot of tasks that really require either three hands or expensive gadgets. I was reminded of this as I mopped my third spill of the evening out of the space between the counter and the stove.

As I mentioned yesterday, today was kegging day for a dark beer. This was the first beer that my brewing companions made in my complete physical absence—I was in Seattle for a few days. I found a recipe for a Foreign Export stout (this is a big-bodied style of stout with moderately high alcohol). The recipe called for an addition of espresso, which I removed. I made some other minor tweaks to fit ingredients we already had on hand, ran it through a beer recipe calculator to correct for some system variables, and handed it off. They hit their target gravity* dead-on, and when I returned home the beer was happily bubbling away. It’s been hiding in the basement for the last four weeks.

The first step in tonight’s work was to clean and sanitize a pair of kegs. This is not a hard task, but it’s one of my least favorite in the brewing process. It just feels tedious, somehow. This is mitigated by the convenience of kegging beer over bottling it, and even more by the hedonistic pleasure of walking down to the basement to pull a pint. Assuming that the stainless steel is free of deposits, I’ll wash the keg with very hot water, force it out through the serving tube with CO2, and then rinse with a cool solution of Iodophor and water to sanitize it. This solution also gets forced out with CO2; bacteria have a rougher time in a keg pressurized with CO2 than one full of air, and there’s also the side benefit of being able to check that your seals are holding by venting a bit of gas.

When I opened the keg fridge to fetch the CO2 tank, I discovered that the output valve on the half-full keg had come loose, producing a slow eruption of maybe a quart of beer down the side of the keg onto the floor of the fridge. Great! I have no idea how this happened—they’re usually quite tight—but so it goes.

Siphoning the beer allowed me my first real experience of this beer. It’s delicious, but I’d hesitate to call it a stout. It’s more akin to a Black Butte Porter clone, in fact: a hint of malty sweetness, some mild hop profile, and a toasty/caramel body that fits the color well. I imagine the espresso addition would give it some of the dark grain bite that jumps to my mind when I think “stout”, but I have no complaints. In fact, I could imagine brewing this again exactly as is (… if I can find the recipe). Props to my brewing cohort!

Props for me… not so much, unless you mean propping myself up on hands and knees to wipe up spilled beer. It’s almost inevitable, in my experience, that one spills an ounce or two when kegging beer. It’s not exactly de rigueur, however, to knock over the full hydrometer, spilling beer onto the surface of the stove and down onto the floor underneath it.

But the task is done, and I’ve got two fermenters ready, er, to be cleaned tomorrow while I brew. My significant other arrived home from a meeting before I motivated myself to emptying the trub** from the carboys, and we headed down to the local for a pint of Obsidian Stout and some dinner. But plenty of time for that tomorrow, and with the weather looking to be blustery, I imagine that the opportunity to hang out in the bathroom with the carboys will seem like a plum assignment.

Tomorrow: Denny Conn’s RyePA. Love this beer. Can’t wait.


Some definitions for the non-brewers out there:

* Gravity is a measure of the density of a liquid, relative to distilled water, and in brewing indicates how much sugar and whatnot was extracted from the grains. After beer is fermented, the change in density can also be used to estimate the alcohol content.

** Trub is the slurry of yeast and various insoluble proteins, bits of grain husk and hops, etc, that settles to the bottom of a fermenter and is left behind. A good portion of this stuff is live yeast, and enterprising or cheap brewers can reuse it for later batches, if the type of yeast is suitable. I’ll probably write more later on yeast culturing.


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