Be sure to use a blowoff tube in a 6.5-gallon fermenter-this is going to be messy… – Jack Palmer
These are Palmer’s comments concerning the fermentation schedule for his “Fightin’ Urak’hai Barley Wine”. Quite accurate. I’ve been eyeing this recipe ever since I first purchased “How To Brew”. Monday, with ingredients on hand, I began the process of making it for the first time.
First, I brought 3 gallons of water to 158°F. Removing from the burner, I added 0.5 lbs. of Special “B” malt and 0.5 lbs. of chocolate malt in a grain bag to the pan, and kept it somewhere between 155 and 148°F (slowly descending) for a half hour. No big deal, but I realized there was no way I was going to be able to do the boil in that pan. Not only would the dry extract not fit, but once I had to add hops and the final liquid extracts, things would be very bad.
So, I grabbed another pan, and once the half hour was done, split the liquid between the two pans. I then added 4 lbs of pale malt extract (DME) to each of the pans. I brought this to a boil and started my hour count down, then added 1 oz. of Magnum hops (14.2%), divided about evenly between the pans. Half an hour in, I added the remaining hops – more on that later – to the pan. Finally, 15 minutes before end of the boil, I added the wheat malt extract. Come to think of it, the recipe calls for a total of 5 lbs of wheat malt extract (LME). But I just tossed in the contents of two canisters. Forgot that they weren’t exact measure, though it was reasonably close. No problem, but something to keep in mind for next time.
So a couple things about the hops for this recipe. First, the recipe called for twice as much hops. I decided, when preparing my shopping list, to cut the amount. Not a huge hops fan. Kim tends to appreciate sweetness and malt, more than hops, as well. Specifically, I removed the ounce of Horizon (12%) to be added at the 30 minute point, and the ounce of Sterling to be added at 45 minutes in.
Second, my second addition of hops wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The recipe called for 1 ounce of Sterling (8%), and the vacuum-sealed package was instead labeled “Strian Goldings”. I remember my supplier questioning me about the alpha rating, and together we had decided to go with 1.78 ounces at 4.2%, to account for the difference. Apparently, there had been a mix-up. A search online leads me to believe that this was Styrian Goldings, really a Fuggle, rather than Sterling. I doubt I’ll even be able to tell the difference. Maybe another day I will try again with the originally planned hop mixture and try and detect the difference.
In any case, I transferred all to an ice bath, and in about 10 minutes I was down to 110°F. To each of the two pans I added another gallon of water, and this brought the temperature down considerably. I let both pans sit for a little while longer, until they were down to 78°F. Then, I transferred the wort to the 6.5 gallon carboy I would be fermenting in. I added another 1 2/3 gallons of water to get to approximately 5.5 gallons, including the trub of hops and such that had yet to settle out. Giving it longer to settle, and using a racking cane, I probably could have limited the amount of hops in the primary fermentation. But funneling the wort seemed like a good way of incorporating oxygen at this stage.
I stirred a bit, and then tested SG, finding a reading of 1.110. With such a tall layer of trub, I got a little worried and added a small amount of additional water. The recipe had suggested an OG of 1.106, and mine was a bit higher, so I didn’t mind. Now that I think about it, the extra wheat malt extract probably explains the increase. In any case, I did not actually re-measure SG. It is probably close to the 1.106 value, though I can’t be certain. Oddly enough, later that evening, it seems the trub layer compacted quite a bit. Interesting.
About the time I was beginning the boil, I had smacked the yeast packet (Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale) to release the nutrients and get the yeast going. The package says to give the yeast at least 3 hours before pitching, and that has typically been fine in my experience. But this time, the package had hardly seemed to expand at all by three hours. I waited more like 5 for the yeast to reasonably be bulging the package, though still less pressure than I have seen in the past. But once I thought it was ready, I tossed in the yeast, air-locked the carboy, and covered it to keep out light.
And then waited. The next morning, I saw no activity. I was starting to get worried. By end of the day, yesterday, I was seeing just a little bit of surface activity at the top edges. This morning, there was still very little activity, but there were a couple “intense” regions along the edge that were seeing an accumulation (minor) of white foam. By midday, that foam had turned a tan, and began spreading across the surface, never quite covering it all.
Late afternoon activities ensued, and when I finally got back, things had gone from “minor” activity to “huge head of foam threatening to hit the air-lock”. I decided to move, rather than wait, and set up a blow hose rather than the normal carboy air-lock. Within minutes, the carboy was shooting CO2 and some foam into the milk jug I had filled with an inch-and-a-half of water. And it was doing it at a steady pace.
It is nowhere near letting up at this point. Palmer was quite right. Every once in a while, there seems to be a pause in the gunfire gas release. This seems to be caused by a buildup of foam progressing through the syphon hose. Once that buildup pushes through, there is a loud release of gas, and then the system goes right back to regular bubbling. Cool to watch, and listen to.
The recipe is a little more complex than some. It calls for a 1 to 3 week primary fermentation, then a follow-up 1 to 3 months in secondary. With such a high SG, the issue is likely buildup of sediments that could affect flavor. Hopefully the longer time (including a month bottle-conditioning), equates to a very tasty beverage. It likely means I won’t start another beer anytime soon, unless I move it to a 5 gallon carboy at secondary. Not sure I’ll have one available, though.