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Brew Day, Part 1

A Saturday morning in July. Too early.

Alarm. Hungover. Gotta get up. Smell coffee. Should have pounded more water but glad I remembered to set the coffee pot. Big mug of black and a bowl of cereal. And ice water. Awake. Time to brew.

Earbuds blast Stan Getz as the gear emerges: pots, buckets, milk crate filled with gadgets, mash-lauter tun, propane burner. Garden hose feeds the carbon filter some of the District’s finest tap water, trickling it slowly into the kettle. Lots more to set up.

I like to use a baking sheet to hold my smaller tools. Spoons, salts, powders, gadgets. Small bowl for the hops. Everything else hangs out by the kettle. Hoping to kick back in a lawn chair and RDWHAHB. Rolls right off the tongue: Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew. I’ll try to follow that advice, but it’s been a while since the last batch. Too long. Gotta shake the cobwebs.

More coffee before the grain comes out. Grist is already weighed but unmilled. The mill waits on top of a bucket while the power drill that drives it gets hooked up to the juice. Time to wake the neighbors.

VRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. First six pounds. Crush looks okay, if a bit fine, but the rollers won’t stay put. Readjust.

VRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. Next six pounds. Looks better. Efficiency shouldn’t be a problem. If I did this more often, I’d wear ear protection. Should probably be wearing some now. Ears hurt. A dry cough after some grain dust gets in the wrong pipe.

Water’s at the right temp. Mix the salts into the tun. Slowly stir in the grain with the old cracked wood paddle. Now we’re brewing! The pros even get to do this! Smells right too, like a brewery! Single-step infusion mash. Means I get an hour to chill. Mostly. Weighing out and sniffing hops, more coffee, more water. Check on the yeast starter.

Mash liquid is more or less see-through and smells and tastes great. Runoff and sparge, looks even clearer after the vorlauf. Flow slows then trickles to a stop. This is way too soon. Cursing under my breath as I burn my hands on the hot ball valve, I muck around with it to clear the chunk of over-milled mash clogging it up. There’ve been worse stuck sparges, but that panic never goes away. Rice hulls next time, and watch the gap on that mill. Or just let the store mill your grains for you. The neighbors will approve.

At least I’m hitting the right gravity numbers somehow. Kettle’s full– let’s fire her up again! Flame looks a little funny, but nothing a few adjustments can’t fix.

No. No no. No no no no no. Flame’s out. Tank’s light. Hate running errands mid-brew, but there’s nothing else to be done.

Feeling foolish, pushing an empty propane tank in a granny cart to the hardware store. Hand over some cash, and I’m pushing a fresh tank back home. No real harm done to the batch. But I’m wasting time, the sun’s getting higher in the sky, and this t-shirt is already sticking to my back.

Check back tomorrow to see how the Brew Day concludes. 

Bill Jusino wishes his brew days went this smoothly. He can be reached on Twitter at @billjusino. Please don’t wake @JUSINO_CAPS.

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