The Beer From Hell

"Yesterday was our toughest brewing day yet.  It was a day where nothing seemed to go right, and with brewing, you can’t stop what you’re doing and come back on another day.  

"I arrived at 4:30 in the morning and started mashing in.  The batch was our Imperial Stout, which consists of 2500 lbs. of grain (our typical batches are in the 1000 lb. range), several different types of sugar, a long boil, and usually another batch from the second runnings.  While I was mashing in, I was milling because our grist case only holds 1000 lbs.  Ben (our part time brewing assistant) showed up at 7 and mashed in the other half of the batch.  Mashing in took a little over 3 hours, but it went smoothly.

"I then went to recirculate the mash and Ben discovered the pump was leaking.  I tightened the connection between the pump head and the motor, which resulted in bending the pump bracket and increasing the leak.  Meanwhile, a few people showed up to visit.  I forgot that the sparge was running, and the mash tun started to overflow from the top.  I started to hook up our grant to another pump, and then after ten minutes of trying to rig something together, I decided to back track and use the leaking pump anyway.  It’s about 10 AM now.  To this point, the day had been hectic but tolerable.

"The runoff of the Imperial Stout went fine, but a bit slow.  It was a 3 hour transfer that Ben masterfully supervised.  We then went to run off the second runnings, which went about as slow as the Imperial Stout.  It’s now 3 PM, and on a typical brewday we’re just about finished at this point.  About 6 BBL of the second runnings were in our whirlpool (we didn’t have any place to put the wort) when the mash stuck.  After about two hours of Ben and Tyler trying to unstick it, I told them to forget the second runnings batch and lets just empty the mash tun.

We stuck a 55 gallon drum under the mash tun (which is filled to the brim with water and grain) and opened the dump valve.  Nothing comes out, so I poke a hole in the grain bed with a stainless steel paddle and it starts flowing.  I go to check on how full the drum is, and decide to put a bit more in there.  I open the valve, and the mash forcefully falls into the drum.  It is flowing everywhere.  I try to close the valve, but it’s jammed.  Mash and 170 degree water is flying everywhere.  It’s a tidal wave of hot shit, all over my arms, legs, in my boots, and the brewery is a disaster.  I’m cussing, running around in frustration, and in pain.  Tyler gives it a shot to close the valve, and eventually the drum fills and the flow slows.  After a few minutes of trying to comprehend the situation (the brewery has a few inches of water and mash everywhere) Ben notices the stainless steel paddle is coming out of the valve.  Tyler and him fish it out of the mash tun, and we close the valve.

After several hours of cleanup, I leave the remainder of the batch for Tyler and Ben to complete.  Thanks guys for finishing up!  I have a few burn blisters on my hand and my leg, but nothing too bad.  I’d like to say I’m lucky, but the day was too horrid to say anything about luck.

"I already hate this beer.  I’m condemning it to bourbon barrels for over a year, and hopefully I’ll forgive it at that point.  The starting gravity is 31 P, and with the sugar additions during fermentation, should be around 37 P.  We’re aiming for a 20% ABV beer, but I’m sure fermentation will stick, just because the beer despises me.

When you wonder why the beer costs so much, or why I hate it so passionately, you’ll now know.  It doesn’t have a name yet, but expect it to reflect my opinion about it and the day we had making it."

Some photos of the disaster: