It’s been a few months since I participated in Fermentation Friday. Ted is hosting. I saw the topic come over the wire last week: Brew Day Joy and Stress. What part of your brew day brings you the most JOY? What part particularly brings out a good deal of STRESS? Though it’s a little late, here’s my hat in the ring.
Brewing is a fine hobby. It can be done simply or with great attention to complex detail. And best of all, when you’re done, you get beer! As with any endeavor, there are moments of deep joy while brewing, and there’s opportunity for worry and stress as you work to master your crafty hobby.
There are several joyous parts of any given brew day. It’s a toss up for the number one brew day joy. But both share a common thread. One is the smell of the mash tun as you open it just before the sparge and runoff. This barley grain porridge full of fermentable sugars reeks of bread and beer in the best possible way. It is always a welcome sign that the brew day is well on its way to producing sweet wort. Number two is the smell of the first charge of hops as they’re tossed into the kettle. The wort has been run off and boiled and the foam has settled. It’s time to find the sweet spot on the burner regulator dial and get down to the timed boil. Fortunately, this starts with a dose of bittering hops. As the pellets dive into the boiling kettle, they quickly dissociate and spread their flowery aroma throughout the airspace above the kettle. Of all the sensory experience of the brew day, it’s the glorious aromas of the intermingling of science and beer where my key joys are found.
Other brew day joys include the fast pace of a flurry of late hop additions made every five minutes in the last 20 minutes of the boil, the serenity of waiting for the mash enzymes to do their work, multi-tasking by kegging while boiling, jamming out to the Dead all day, and dreaming of the day when the kids can lend a hand.
Stress abounds in our world of today. Hobbies ought to be stress-free. After all, you’re doing this for fun. So why stress? But the simple fact is that it’s easy to stress out, with all the sanitation and other scientific aspects of brewing that must be kept at least roughly in line with the general brewing process parameters.
For me, a stuck sparge is the most stressful brew day occurrence. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen every time I brew, but you can never really be sure that you’re not going to get stuck until you’ve got a nice clear runoff. A close second place stressor on brew day is the interface between my garden hose and my immersion chiller. It’s a little clear plastic tube attached to the outlet of my garden hose, and clamped onto the copper tube of the chiller with a pair of hose clamps. It’s easy for the tube and/or clamps to come a little loose as the chiller is boiled to sanitize and then gets cold tap water running though it, given the quick temperature swings it is subject to. If I tighten the hose clamps just right while it’s hot, the seal usually stays good, but it took me a little while to figure this out. And hose water is not something you want getting into your cooling wort, when it is most susceptible to microbial attack.
Other stressors are running out of O2 after cooling, and getting everything cleaned up in a reasonable time frame.
All in all, it was a lot easier to come up with the joys than the stresses. And the stresses are relatively easily overcome with process improvements or equipment upgrades. Sure it’s not as healthy as riding a bike or jogging or yoga for a hobby, but it is a rewarding lot of fun!
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