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Cascadian Brewday: St. Vitus of Cascadia RyePA

Since I’ll be going on a trip soon, I wanted to fill up all my fermenters, so I’d have something bubbling way while I’m gone. Therefore, though I rarely have two brewdays in a row, I decided to go for it today. Yesterday’s Saison was a long, slow mash, but I figured today I’d get a nice mix of grains, including a lot of highly enzymatic base grains, and just let ‘er sit for an hour or 90 minutes, and then get the damned boil done.

Today’s quick brew is a RyePA, which is an American IPA with a substantial Rye component. The recipe, which is still undergoing mild revision as I write this, looks more complex than it is, partly because I fiddled with base grains. (I decided to keep some of the pale malt I have on hand for a smaller batch of Belgian beer—probably a singel–that I’ll brew later this week or on the weekend.) The rye and flaked rye are for a rye flavor, the pale and pilsner are for base malt, the munich will give a little color and maltiness, and the wheat and oats are for a good head, as I’ve read both have this effect.

I’m mashing the grains pretty high, trying to maintain a temperature of about 69-70 degrees Celcius. This should make for a sweeter beer, with a more pronounced maltiness, which I want to offset the higher bitterness and hoppiness I expect from the Cascade and Citra.

Or something like that.

It’s going to be a fairly pale RyePA, I think, not the yellow-orangey color I’d have liked (and might have gotten with more Munich), but I didn’t want to put any more grains into the mix, so I went with this. It’s a big old experiment for me, I must admit, because I don’t make a lot of APA/IPAs or hoppy beers in general, I’ve never brewed with rye before, and it’s my first time brewing with rye. So this is a big dice roll, and I like that I can do that. I’m not making a hundred gallons, after all, just five, and I’m sure it will turn out okay, even if it’s not the best damned thing ever.

The beer should, I hope, end up very fruity–Cascade and Citra are the only hops I’m using, and I’ve no idea how it will turn out but I imagine I’m going to like it, especially with that big burst of Citra in the last few minutes. I’m also first-wort-hopping it, like I often do; I don’t know if it makes a difference most of the time, since I hop so moderately, but I want the bitterness in this beer to be smooth, not harsh, and if some more flavor is present because of the technique, then so much the better!

The “Cascadian” in the name of the beer refers to the Pacific Northwestiness of the Cascade hops, and the St. Vitus refers to ergotism, which is the first thing I think of when I think of rye grain. (Ergot’s that fungus that may have been one of the cause of the dance manias observed in Europe back in the middle ages–most notably in Strasbourg, in 1518–in which peasants would dance, twitch, scream, go into seizures, and dance or leap madly about, a state that was sometimes called “St. Vitus’ Dance”–though, not to be confused with Sydenham’s chorea, a different St. Vitus’ Dance to which I am not referring.)

Of course, I expect there will not be any ergot fungus on my brewing rye, especially after the boil, and that’s a good thing: ergot fungus was a hallucinogen (and the basis of LSD, of all things), but being poisoned by could be fatal, from what I’ve read. (Wikipedia can give the basics, of course, but I warn you, it’s not pretty. That said, I think Delerium Tremens is a brilliant name for a beer, but that’s not pretty either!)

In any case, I should go check the mash, so… off I go.

And… wow. I really should have checked it earlier, since I screwed up… massively. I left the heat on (at a low temperature, thank goodness) underneath the mash tun, thinking I’d shut it all the way off. It was at about 80 degrees Celcius when I found it, which is enough to kill all the enzymes, but I’m going to try salvage it. I’ve added cool water, and will add a kilo of male with the conversion enzymes. I was hoping for a quick mash! Damn… but I’ll try think of this as some kind of high-pressure decoction trick, and see what happens. This also means, however, that I’ll be ending up with 23L, instead of 19, and I had to adjust the hop schedule so that I would get the same IBUs for a larger batch of wort. But I’m hoping all is not lost… well, except that time I was hoping to spare myself.

On the bright side, I have got myself a new story idea, and that’s always a welcome thing.

UPDATE (9:45pm): I was starving, so I decided to go out, and it looks like the starches are all (or as much as possible) converted. I’m afraid to find out what my efficiency is for this batch, but at least the small wort sample I got was sweet. Off I go to sparge this thing.

UPDATE (10:50pm): Oh man. I thought I knew what “stuck sparge” meant. I didn’t. But now I do. I’m doing some tricky fixing, and I think it will work, but this is not, not, not gonna be a fun night. Just heating up some sparge water.

UPDATE (1:24am): Good grief. I’m boiling this tomorrow. But I do have a nice 25L particle-free pot full of wort, ready to go, and it’s only an hour boil left to do. The thing I’m wondering is how the guy who made the recipe I riffed off managed to sparge his. I’m guessing a LOT of rice hulls. Since those aren’t available in Korea (despite all the rice, I know) I can either order some from abroad, or, perhaps, do some kind of mega-BIAB thing next time. If there is a next time. I’m hoping this turns out to be a decent beer despite all the mayhem of tonight.

But I don’t have it in me to boil it now, so I will give myself a break, haul it outside (where it will be nice and cold) and then boil it up in the morning. Or, well, early afternoon… whenever.

UPDATE (4:00pm the next day): Okay, so I’m not calling this beer a disaster because, of course, there’s no sense in calling it that until I’ve tasted it. But it sure was a pain in the ass. A one-hour boil reduced it by close to a gallon, which is fine, but the real kicker is that somehow, the hops did the same thing that all the rye and wheat did yesterday, blocking the braided hose I have attached to the pipe under my (not so functional) false bottom. That means that at pretty much every step, this brew has been a major pain in the ass… but you never know, it could turn out fine, or great. I’m not holding my breath, but you never know.

My strategy for this beer is that I’m going to let it ferment out, and then when it’s done, I’ll put the bucket outside for a while to let everything in there flocculate down. (It should still be cool enough for this when I get back from my trip; if not, I’ll just pop it into one of a few fridges in the building for a few days.) Then I’ll carefully siphon from above the yeast, trub, and hop gunk into a glass carboy and let it clear some more, maybe with gelatin. Hell, if I get the chance and if it ferments out quickly enough, I might get lucky and be able to do this before I leave. (That would be nice.) I may have to transfer it to a second carboy to clear even further.

So now I just hope that the half of a Cry Havoc yeast cake I dumped in is still viable… the yeast failing on me is the last brewday screw-up possible, but given this batch’s track record, nothing would surprise me. I’ll be careful to check it over the next day or two, to say the least.

What I’ve learned is that one cannot have enough of those tea-ball things, or little hop bags, for brewing a hoppy beer. It’s best to filter the particulate our as much as you can, after all. Also, I think I would like to start using whole hops for hop-heavy brews. It’s one thing when it’s pellets in a BPA, but when you’re doing a pretty hoppy IPA, all that tiny pellet gunk adds up.

If only whole hops were available in Korea. I guess I’ll need to pick a few kinds of hops I like best, and order bags of those. And find some more freezer space somewhere. Well, the kegerator I need to build might have a little, I guess.

UPDATE (’round midnight, night of the second day): It’s bubbling. Also, a lot of the hop material ended up trapped under the false bottom, but I think much less of it got through than I originally suspected. Still didn’t manage to get an OG reading, but I suspect the OG and the IBUs are higher than intended. But… it’s bubbling! Whew. Maybe it’ll all be worth it after all… and then I’ll need to figure out how to make it all over again. (That is, how to streamline this into something less painful.) And even better —  the bubbling aroma is very, very hoppy. Whatever else went wrong, that is very much a positive sign!

Oh, also, since I found so much hop gunk under the false bottom, and found the end of my siphon had trapped a significant amount of the stuff on the outside, maybe less of the hop gunk got into the beer than I first thought. You never know… this may be a recipe I’ll have to replicate at some point! (Don’t ask me how, though I’m guessing BIAB (Brew in a Bag) might be my best bet.)

Now, to get on in to Seoul and get myself some kegs…

UPDATE (18 Oct. 2011):

Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t update this. Well, despite the brewing procedure having been pretty much screwed all the way along, this beer turned out pretty good. It was pretty nice on its own, and I drank a few gallons on its own. Then I blended in a gallon of Saison that I had extra, and couldn’t fit into the Saison keg, and this beer became absolutely fantastic.

I don’t have pictures of it pre-blending, but the post-blending pictures look pretty close to the original anyway:

It was wonderfully spicy, with a strong hop flavor and a pretty good aroma, too. The wort was not too full-bodied, but had an unmistakable presence. The head was thick and lasted a long time, and the aroma was hoppy and spicy. The beer never got very clear, but then with oats, rye, and a bit of raw wheat (in the Saison) that wasn’t in the cards anyway. I’d say, though, it was one of the best beers I ever made.

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