Monday, February 22, 2010

Brewing: Son of Lights Out Stout

When I brewed my first batch of homebrew nearly a decade ago, I invited a bunch of friends over and started the batch on our electric stove. We were midway through the event, with a house full of folks, when the kettle boiled over and shorted out the stove, kicking the breaker and darkening the entire apartment. We got the lights back on, but the burner never really worked correctly again. That first brew, an Irish Stout served on St. Paddy's Day, was forever known as Lights Out Stout.

It was with that brewing misadventure in mind that we set out on a more recent journey. I've turned a lot of folks onto the joys of homebrewing, most notably my brother and my cousin. Both brew exclusively using extract, and when I mentioned that I had done some all-grain brewing, they were interested in a demo. For the non-beer-geeks (although I can't imagine any have gotten this far into this blog), the difference between extract and all-grain brewing is like making orange juice from concentrate vs. fresh squeezed. All-grain isn't all that much more complicated, but it is a serious time commitment, which is why I don't do it all that often.

This batch (recipe below) went off a lot better than its name sake, at least in the original brewing. The process took forever because my lauter tun runs slowly, but after 8 hours and more than a few high-test samples along the way, we pitched the yeast slurry.

That's when the problems started.

See, the more yeast you use, the better your beer is likely to turn out. In addition to fermenting the beer, yeast overwhelms the bad stuff that can grow in beer, making it less likely to spoil. The more yeast, the better. So, I had been creating a yeast starter, slowly growing up the number of yeast cells for almost a week, and rather than a small vial of yeast to start with, I had more than 1/2 of a gallon.

But, I forgot about one thing. Volume control.

The fermentation vessel I used holds nearly 7 gallons. The beer filled about 6. The yeast filled another 1/2 gallon. Usually, there's enough head space in the carboy that the yeast, which gives off a thick, sludgy head called krautsen, has enough room to expand. So, imagine my surprise when I opened my closet door and the krautsen had shot its way through the airlock and all over the closet floor. And imagine my frustration when I realized that the previous owners of the house had drilled a hole to pass the cable through the floor, meaning that in addition to everything that had covered the closet floor, there was another mess waiting for me in the basement.

A bucket of oxyclean, a few disapproving stares from my wife, and a new overflow airlock installed and all was back to normal. The beer has been fermenting for about a week and will go into the keg next weekend, with enough time to be ready for this year's St. Paddy's Day celebration. Hopefully this batch will be worth the trouble, but don't look for Grandson of Lights Out Stout any time soon.

Son of Lights Out Stout (All-Grain)
8.59 lbs 2 row pale malt
1 lb flaked barley
1 lb roasted barley
2 oz Perle hops (6.5% AA) at 60 min
1 oz Perle hops (6.5% AA) at 60 min
White Labs WLP004 Irish Ale Yeast

Mash for 90 min at 153
90 min boil

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Dan said...

Funny story! Your lights out stout sounds great. I just finished brewing up a 3gal batch of Vanilla Bourbon Porter last week. Can't wait for the tasting...

Jonathan Reed Winkler said...

Nice.....hope it didn't stain! Can't wait to sample some of it.

Brewfus said...

Great post, Kevin. And, I believe Eric should be blamed for any mess created during or after a brew session he was party to or wished to be party to... Think your wife will pass the buck on to him? That said, I hear you might be making a New England trip sometime soon. Here's hoping I might sample a Lights Out Stout should this be true...