Project Solera: Diary (Brew Day)

Welcome back to another installment of my running solera diary.  I’ve been anxiously awaiting this particular brew day for quite sometime, and finally a large enough group of the brewers involved with this project were prepared and had the time to get the pilot batch running.

As I talked about in the previous journal entry, the actual base beer that is being used for this project is pretty straightforward.  The game plan focuses on a standard single-infusion 90 minute mash and a 60 minute boil.  Furthermore with only one ounce of low AA hops being used per five gallons there are practically no additions necessary throughout the boil.

Even with what I would consider to be a very low risk “by-the-books” brew day there was still plenty of prep and details to take care of.  One of the biggest factors that I had been dealing with in recent weeks was New England in January.  As much as I enjoy the distinct seasons that New England has to offer, extreme temperatures can wreck havoc when brewing, especially when you have to brew outside in the elements.  Among the issues that the temperature and humidity can cause are excessive heating times, extra propane usage in order to reach temperatures, difficulty holding temperature in a non-recirculating mash tun, and the evaporation rate in the boil kettle.   Fortunately, this particular Sunday turned out to be one of the warmest days of the month with the temperature getting up into the mid 40’s.  Pat and I were pleasantly surprised by this luck and it appeared that we were going to have a very comfortable brew day.  Sadly as the day and the brew wore on the temperature slowly dropped and the rain decided to make an appearance.  Even with a few issues from mother nature, the brew day went extremely smoothly resulting in (knock on wood) a successful first batch of base beer for the solera project.

Prepping one of the brewing systems for the days’ brew.

Over the past year or so I have gotten used to using my RIMS system which makes holding specific mash temps very easy and almost automated.  However since moving into my new place I have yet to figure out a way to transport the system to the new place.  Thus, I had to return to a more hands-on approach which proved to be a slight issue do to the ambient temperature.  While we caught the issue fairly quickly and adjusted using a small amount of direct heat, and a lot of stirring; the mash temperature did dip from 152 down to 146 temporarily about 20 minutes into the mash.  While this was not ideal, it did turn out to be the biggest issue that we faced all day.  Besides the small temperature issue, the remainder of the mashing process went extremely smoothly and resulted in about 6.5 gallons of wort and a pre-boil gravity of 13.5 Plato, or a gravity of 1.054.

Soaking in the Mash Tun

Soaking in the Mash Tun


A little bit of rain decided to show up during the boil, however it was light enough and sparse enough to avoid causing any issues that couldn’t be dealt with.  This particular boil was about as mindless as a boil can be.  After getting the wort to a boil I simply added the one ounce of French Strisselspalt, which if you recall from the previous journal entry were the low alpha hops I chose to use for this particular lambic.  (Again the alpha acids are low enough not to really effect the beer’s flavor)  I did choose to throw in a small amount of irish moss with 15 minutes left in the boil, but this really was just based on personal preference and is far from necessary in this particular style of beer.

After the 60 minute boil reached completion I quickly cooled down the wort and transferred it into a glass carboy.  I made sure to oxygenate the wort as much as possible during transfer in order to give the yeast a healthy environment to multiply in, and then pitched my 1 litre starter of WLP550 Belgian Ale Yeast into the vessel at 65 degrees.  I opted to ferment at 68 degrees, which is on the lower side for this yeast strain, in order to minimize the fruity esters that are often prominent when a belgian yeast is fermented at or above 70 degrees.  While I do want a small amount of fruity esters to come through I wanted them to be slightly muted rather than upfront.

Overall the brew day went very well considering the difficult ambient temperatures, rain and the fact that I was using my older brew system.  Even still my efficiency finished at 73% and I finished with an O.G. of 1.062.

It started off as a nice day!

It started off as a nice day!

Over the last few days the other members of this project have started getting their batches completed and all the batches seem to have came out very well.  Each batch seemed to finish with a similar O.G. ranging from 1.059-1.066, and overall I am very excited in the direction this project is going.

I’m looking forward to the next journal entry in this adventure, which will focus on the preparation of the barrel, transfer of the beer to the barrel and of course the inoculation and introduction of bugs into the beer.  Stay Tuned!!!

Tags: barrel-aged beer, homebrewing, lambic, solera

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