Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saison du Sam: First Crack at 10 Gallons

Recently, I ordered and made a few items of equipment with the goal of being able to make 10 gallon batches. First was my new mash tun that I made from a standup cooler that had a much larger capacity than my old plastic bucket rig. Then came the pot, a 60 quart behemoth fitted with a ball valve, sight glass, and thermometer, probably my first item of truly skookum, brand new brew gear. After a trial-run involving boiling water, it became clear that using this on the stove top was not a good idea for a variety of reasons, including the danger, the lack of power, and the potential loss of my damage deposit. To remedy this I ordered a new propane burner to complete my 10 gal setup.

With my new supplies ready to go I was set for my first big batch and just had to decide on the flavour. The plan for going 10 gallon wasn't to forgo 5 gal batches completely, I still wanted to do these for new, more experimental, and higher gravity recipes, but for tried and tested recipes I wanted to go a bit bigger. With this in mind I decided on the Saison du Sam, an amber coloured saison I brewed last year in a split batch, half with blackberries and half without. This time I would skip the blackberry brew and just go for the straight saison, which was a beer I really enjoyed with its raisin-like fruitiness that leant a new twist to one of my favourite styles of beer.

My first bash at a 10 gallon brew definitely left some room for improvement, particularly from a smoothness standpoint. For starters I overshot my original gravity by a fair margin, causing me to add more water to a pot that was not only enormous, but precariously full already. This led to a boil over at my first hop addition, a truly rookie error that I haven't had happen in ages. My next problem was the sight glass, which every 5 minutes or so would erupt, sending a small spout of hot wort flying out of the top. I was also worried about the two chairs I had the whole contraption balanced on breaking and sending a waterfall of hot wort pouring down over my balcony onto the downstairs neighbours (imagine that scene in Conan the Barbarian where Arnie tips the boiling cauldron onto the unsuspecting minions below).

I think next time around I can overcome these "minor hiccups". First off, no filling the pot to within an inch of the top. Bad idea. The sight glass eruptions took some testing with boiling water to fix. At first I thought it was picking up bubbles from the brew pot, so I put an elbow on the inlet inside the pot and directed it towards the surface, but found that it still blew its top. After a bit of head scratching I realised it was boiling inside the tube itself from the heat of the burner, and after constructing a highly ghetto shield out of aluminum foil, the problem seemed to be solved. As for the dodgy chair situation, I believe a carpentry project for making a stand is in order.

All the random factors considered I really had no idea how the actual beer would turn out. So far I have been pleasantly surprised by its progress. Although the colour has changed from the last batch which was a deeper amber to a bright orange, probably due to the extra water added, the flavour is excellent, crisp, dry and refreshing. The raisin character has been reduced into a more clove-like note that blends amazingly with the phenolics of the saison yeast. I have enough of this beer that I will be able to keg 5 gallons and bottle the other 5, giving me a chance to compare the effect of natural and forced carbonation. If I was really thinking I would have split the bottling half into two batches and ramped up the temperature on one to see how it effects the flavour and dryness, but you got to leave something for next time. Now if I can just figure out how to pick up a 10 gallon carboy for transferring, I'll be set.

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