Surviving Brew Day

So Sunday has come and gone and as you can see above, everything ended just fine.  It looks like our Bourbon Barrel Porter is alive and well.  I won’t bore you with all the details, instead I’ll just share a few observations.

First off, the MegaPot I bought is a high quality pot with a super thick bottom, but it’s waaaay too big for extract brewing.  I sprang for the built in thermometer, but the wort doesn’t reach it during a three gallon boil because the pot is so wide and the thermometer must be at least 6 inches from the heat source at the bottom of the pan.   Happily, the starter kit I purchased included a thermometer, and it worked just fine.  I’m hoping that one day I’ll be glad I went big/full featured on the pot, but yesterday it was definately a case of overkill.

A Bayou Burner, some propane and an overqualified pot - everything you need to brew.

Also, I was glad I used Saturday to prep.  It took a while to install the spigot and thermometer on the kettle, and calibrating the thermometer also took a chunk of time.  I then hooked up the Bayou Burner and did a boil just to make sure there’d be no surprises come brew day. This really paid off, as the Bayou Burner quickly cooked off most of it’s own paint, sending an acrid cloud of poisonous smoke skyward.  It was very stinky and would have certainly affected the taste of the brew – I’m not sure I would have even kept the wort for fear of contaminants.  Anyway, it worked like a dream on Sunday, so it’s all good.  But there’s a lesson for the noob brewer – cook yer burner if she’s new.

On brew day, I sprung out of bed like a six year old on Christmas, and I was ready to climb a mountain.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to wait, and that’s what I had to do.  I’m brewing with my wife and she wanted to sleep in a bit, and then she had to take our son to a birthday party in the early afternoon.  The way the timing worked out, I had to wait until 4pm to get going.  Once I realized this was going to be the case, I began to totally stress out – I was ready to go right away!  After a little teeth gnashing and hand wringing, I remembered what Charile Papazian says, and while I don’t have a homebrew to relax with and enjoy, a Dale’s Pale Ale (two actually) made a wonderful substitute.

Fresh from the hydrometer where she hefted in at a respectable 1.055, the wort is ready for a taste. Good stuff!

So fast forward a bitand the brew went well, my wife and I had fun together and the air lock is bubbling this morning.  Life is good.  I took a sample of the finished wort and I think it’s the makings of a pretty good brew.  The mouthfeel was a little light, but I’m not sure this will be the case when it’s finished.  Plus it’s a porter, not a stout, so that needs to be taken into consideration as well.  The adjusted starting gravity is a healthy 1.055, so there’ll be plenty of goodies for the yeast to munch on as the brew progresses.

For now the carboy is resting comfortably under a blanket in the master bathroom tub, bubbling away.  I’ll keep you posted our little five gallon bundle of joy as it makes it’s way to it’s final destination – my belly!

The beer should be going into secondary in two weeks, meaning the primary will be freed up for another brew.  I’m thinking something light and quick, perhaps a pilsner or a wheat.  I wonder if I can use lemonade as a sugar source to bottle it, so I can make a nice summertime shandy…I love home brewing!!

I’d like to say thanks to everyone who helped make this weekend a success for us.  We had all the right gear, some great advice, and I felt like you were all there with me as the weekend unfolded.  It was truly awesome and I am totally hooked.  Thanks to each one of you.

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Categories: Beer, Home Brewing


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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26 Comments on “Surviving Brew Day”

  1. mikemoriendi
    March 8, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    Awesome Jim. Glad you had a good time. I just bottled my first brew yesterday. I tasted a sample and it’s not bad without the carbonation yet. Though I don’t think I had a very active fermentation. I already have my second recipe and am trying one of the Wyeast activator packs this time around instead of dry yeast. What type of yeast did you use?

    • March 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

      I used a Wyeast smack pack and it worked well (so far). It was Scottish Ale variety. The package puffed up nicely after smacking it (a sign it’s healthy) and I could hear gurgling from the tub a few hours after the yeast was pitched. 12 hours after pitching it was bubbling steadily and a little cake is starting to form on the top of the beer.

      It was a couple of bucks more than the dried stuff, but I thought it was worth it, especially after all the tribulations my wife went through trying to make bread from dried yeast. I didn’t want trail and error, just success, so I played it safe. So far, so good.

      I also have covered the carboy with a blanket to make sure no light gets in, as that can mess with success as well.

      • mikemoriendi
        March 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

        Yeah I am regretting getting the dry yeast, oh well. So are you just doing a single fermentation in the carboy?

      • March 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

        No, single fermentation would be too smart for a beginner! I’m fermenting two weeks in primary, then siphoning off to secondary where I’ll add oak chips and 16oz of bourbon (haven’t decided what kind yet). Then it sits for another 3-4 weeks before bottling so it can get that “bourbon barrel” taste going.

        What was your first brew and what kind of beer are you thinking about going for next?

      • mikemoriendi
        March 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

        I did an Amarillo Pale Ale from for my first one. I like citrus like hops so figured this would be a good one to do.

        I bought the Black IPA kit from for my next brew and went with the Wyeast American Ale II smack pack. I’m going to brew that one at the end of the month.

    • March 8, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

      Cool Mike. So far I’ve only dealt with Northern Brewer and have been happy with the quality.

      A black IPA sound nice for this time of year. By the time my porter gets out of secondary, I’m going to be in the mood for lighter stuff! Still, I think we’ll manage to suck it down as long as it turns out alright.

  2. March 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    Jim, that’s so cool! I was wondering all weekend how it was going to turn out for you. As Borat might say – “Great Success!” Keep us posted! 🙂

    • March 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

      Thanks, Scott. It was easy, actually. Most of the work was getting everything ready to go for the first time (assembling the kettle, testing the burner, figuring out what to use when, etc.). By the time the grain sack hit the water it was all gravy. It took like three hours, so I guess there’s something to be said for extract brewing.

      And it was fun, too. My three year old daughter was waiting all weekend to help out, saying “Daddy, are we gonna cook your beee-ah?” I’m already planning what’s next…

      • Wendi in Biarritz
        March 8, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

        beeh-ah….that my little niece, the Jersey girl! I hope this stuff rocks and that you’ll be bringing samples of all your experiments with you this summer. Better drive, the airlines are no fun at all anymore with the liquid stuff. And the massive quantities that you’ll be bringing will surely be over the acceptable limits. Oh, and I gotta tell you little brother that the whole time I was in Florida on vacation I didn’t order a lite beer, not one! See you can teach an old dog new tricks, I’m starting to taste new things. I figure I’m a foodie why not be a ….what do you guys call yourselves anyway??? a Beerie…that can’t be right.

        • March 8, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

          I call myself s beer nerd, Wendi. It keeps me from taking things too seriously. It’s also painfully accurate.

          I’m glad you’re trying new stuff, as beer is cool to explore. Like wine, it has different styles, different takes on those styles and (less like wine) lots of innovation and experimentation. Once you scratch the surface you’ll find endless depth and a rich and storied history. Ditching the light beer is a good start. Next you should start getting into Belgian beers – you do live in France, after all.

  3. Don
    March 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    Looks like you did more than survive brew day, little Bro, You thrived! Looks great. I had to make a deal with kathy that I hold off a little on my brew experience. She has me on the hook for about a dozen Honeydos before I can get started. Also it looks like the only available space for me will be in the garage, so I need to figure out what kind of temperature fluctuations this stuff can withstand during fermentation, and once bottled etc.

    • March 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

      It shouldn’t be too much of a timesuck, Don. I surprised that it only took a few hours to brew using extracts, from first boil to sealing the airlock on the carboy.

      Still, now you can scheme about what type of beer you’ll brew as you’re cleaning the gutters and shearing the sheep (or whatever you people in Idaho do). I realized it’ll be May before my batch is ready to taste, which isn’t usually the time I’m thinking about Bourbon Barrel Porters. Make sure you take the timing into consideration.

      I’m thinking about brewing again in two weeks when the primary fermentor is freed up. I want to do something that doesn’t require secondary fermentation and that’s light for summer. I’d like to create a summer shandy, like a lemon wheat or something. You know, now that I’m a pro! 🙂

  4. March 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    The smack packs are great. I’ve never had a starting problem with them, which is great. I don’t know about you Jim…I can still watch those bubbles all day long. You made beer, how cool is that.

    • March 8, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

      It’s the awesomeness, Mike, that’s how cool it is.

      The other cool thing is that it’s ALIVE! It’s transforming in my bathtub right now, becoming something else. I didn’t think that part of the process would matter to me, but it’s actually the most exciting part – my little turtles made it to the sea and are swimming! I feel the need to nurture my yeasts and make sure they do the best they can. So yes, watching the bubbles is endlessly enjoyable.

      The smack pack worked like a charm and I’m glad I went that route. I’m not sure I’d do it any other way.

      • Don
        March 8, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

        OK, you’re definitely a nerd! Turtles..Geesh! But I am intrigued by these “Smack Packs”. What are they? do they come with different strains of yeast? can you brew sours with them? can you put any yeast you want into them? What gives?

      • March 8, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

        Sorry, honeydo, smack packs are for us brewers only!

        Kidding. They are idiot proof yeast starters. Basically you have a pouch (like you’d get tuna in these days) with a billion yeast cells inside floating in liquid. The pouch also contains an inner packet with some starter food for the yeast inside of it. A day or so before you brew, you “smack” the pack, breaking the inner pouch and feeding the yeast. The whole pack puffs up as the yeast get going, letting you know you have a healthy starter on your hands. When you’re wort has been cooled and aerated and is in the carboy, you clip the corner of the smack pack and pour your little turtles into the sea.

        It’s a great way to eliminate the uncertainty of using dried yeast, which can be a little trickier to get going than a smack pack. If you’ve ever baked bread that didn’t rise, then a smack pack is the way to go. There are several varieties. My kit came with Scottish Ale Yeast (I spent the extra $4 to upgrade from dried yeast). A quick peek shows that Northern Brewer has 6 different funky sour liquid yeasts on their site. It’s a great place to start (especially their extract kits).

  5. March 8, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

    Cool! that is a healthy OG, especially for the first brew! Don’t worry about the acrid poisonous smoke…it builds character.

    Are you already addicted?

    • March 8, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

      I’m fully addicted. I want to brew something in the primary fermentor right away when it’s freed up in two weeks. I’m going to go for something crisp for spring / summer, possibly even a shandy of some type, adding lemonade into the brew to give an added quenching quality. I just need to make sure I can do it in a single fermentation, as the secondary will be boozing up the porter for a few weeks.

      Anyway, as you can plainly see, I have a problem!

      • March 8, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

        you see how homebrewers end up with a vast collection of carboys!

      • March 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

        I was just thinking what it would cost to grab another primary. Of course, I should start saving up if I’m going to go all grain…

  6. March 8, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    I want to put a webcam on my airlock so I can watch it bubble while at work!

    • Don
      March 8, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

      You’re “down with the sickness”!

      • March 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

        I posted the idea on Twitter and the folks over there are ready to buy! I wonder if is taken – I think there’s a future in this!

    • Wendi in Biarritz
      March 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

      Ok, I’ve heard of people with videocams aimed at their bed so they can watch thier dog while they’re at work, but a videocam aimed at your bathtub to watch the bubbles?! By the way, has the master bath been converted forever into a brewery or does this all move out to the garage or someplace at some point…or do you just “want it near you”?

      • March 8, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

        First of all, the only say the cam is for the dog so you don’t think they’re a perv.

        The beer is in the tub in the master bath, which we never use. It’s a great place for fermentation because it’s a steady 70 degrees in there and it’s out of the way. It’ll be there for the next 5 weeks or so until we bottle.

        Funny thing is I found myself talking to it tonight. Not like it was my child, but rather a cherished pet. I was so excited to see a thick tan yeast cake floating on top of the beer just 24 hours after fermenting it – a good sign of happy and healthy yeast. I swear I’d give a treat if I could.


  1. Sip With Us Saturday: Bourbon Aged Beer | Thank Heaven for Beer - April 8, 2010

    […] So without further ado, this week’s Sip With Us Saturday beer being, theme based and not product specific, is any bourbon aged beer: quite appropriate due to the nature of the Beer and Whiskey Bros as well as Jim’s first homebrew. […]

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