Fall 2016: the notes.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to keep the notes in a separate post. It’s a brief document that includes the recipe, mixing and fermentation notes as well as information regarding the distillation run.

record-keeping-log

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Back in black.

So, to catch you all up, the spring run ended alright. There was nothing to write home about (or blog about for that matter). The yield was low, but that’s not a surprise given the fact that we had to shift the wash around so many times due to the leak in the fermentation tank. The jackassery mixing the turbo 48 yeast with the about to expire whiskey yeast was also a complication. In short, we took the last run as an opportunity to bring a friend up to speed with the fermentation and distillation process. We took the lessons learned from the spring run and did some good stuff in the fall.

That’s where we pick up our tale. Let’s take a trip back, waaaaaay back to September, 2016.

Resounding silence.

The bubbling at the airlocks has stopped. Two fermenters lie dormant and waiting – filled with the promise of ethanol. My fears surrounding the multiple moves and keeping the environments sterile seem to be behind me. There is no mold growing in either tank. They just need to hang tight for a few more days.

dun dun dunnnn….

 

In case you’re wondering…

Despite the fermentation setbacks, the May batch is moving forward. Here’s a shot I took to illustrate the color before and after it’s 5 days fermenting.

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We went from a deep, brown molasses color to the light brown that you see on the left (and also below in the transfer photos). Also, the brix measurement has decreased to about 4.8. That means that, as long as we don’t mold, the batch will be a success. There’s only about 2.4% more ABV to be gained under ideal circumstances. If, at the end of this, I only lose 2.4% I’ll consider it a success. I’ll also be looking to increase my OG in the next run. I’d like to get it back into the mid/high 20s. I just underestimated the need for the 13 gallon batch. Right now it’s at about 7% ABV which will yield almost a gallon at 100% (which is unattainable, so the yield will likely still be over a gallon before we cut.

A tale of woe.

So, how’s my week been? I know what you’re thinking, “any week ‘shinin’ is a good week,”. Ordinarily, I’d agree. However, remember that time I said something like, “I have a bunch of new equipment to try out. I don’t trust it, but I have high hopes,”? Well, the Chapman steel fermenter has left much to be desired…at least in my mind.

First, if you’re a home brewer or distiller, you’re probably aware that ants, to put it bluntly, fucking love the fermentation process. Why? Well, because where there’s fermentation there’s sugar. As Forrest Gump and/or Confucious said, “Fermentation and sugar go together like peas and carrots,”.  You simply can’t have one without the other. Mashes, washes and worts all have a high sugar content in the early stages.

But we know this, why is it relevant?

Because my superfly, deluxe Chapman 14 gallon stainless steel fermenter leaks. Yep. It leaks. Don’t get me wrong, the welding is all great. The problem is around the valve. Before you ask, yes, I did tighten it. I made sure it was closed. I placed the rubber washers appropriately, and I was judicious in the application of teflon tape. I have (what I hope) is a  $2.00 long term solution. I will let you know. Tonight is all about me ranting, so let’s get it on.

Here it is, the scene of the crime. You can see the soaking wet towel in the center of a scene of insectile slaughter. Truly, the 17th of May is a day that will live in ant infamy for generations to come.

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By the way, rum is both sticky and rank when it ferments.

Lest you be concerned, I assure you that the booze is currently safe. I’ll publish some stats on it in a later post, but the rum that survived the leak fermented rather delightfully. The ABV in the wash continues to climb though I expect it to plateau and cease in the next few hours.

So, what did I do? Simple. I moved it.

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You should note a few things in this picture. First, and foremost, the fermentation has bleached the color from the rich brown to the tan that most distillers know and love. Second, you should be able to see the line where the wash was when the yeast was added, and it’s current level. At the time of this photo, I had lost around a gallon.

Here’s the wash in transit. Should any of you ever have to move fermenting liquid always remember:

  1. Keep it sanitary. The last thing you want is to lose a batch because of haste or general carelessness. This means sanitizing hoses, pumps, kettles, whatever it takes. I used my sweet new brew kettle.
  2. Limit exposure to air. Do you know what the anaerobic respiration of yeast doesn’t need? More Oxygen.
  3. Try to get as much of the sludge on the bottom as you can. Dormant yeast sinks. You don’t really need dormant yeast. Unfortunately, many of the yeast nutrients also sink. Scrape as much of the sludge as you can (in a sterile way)

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Once the booze was safely and sterile-ly in the kettle, I took a look at the fermenter:

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Sorry for the terrible photo quality here. I’m pretty sure the brain inside of my Canon lost its mind trying to figure out what I was photographing. The point is that the leak occurred not between the washer and the tank (sealed with a rubber washer), but between the washer and the valve (sealed only with teflon tape). I’m going to solve this problem and I’ll tell you what works. I will also provide some less terrible photos of the fix.

I’m getting ahead of myself. At this time yesterday, I didn’t know that the leak was persistent (after I tightened the fittings). I thought that I might have solved my issue, but I wasn’t convinced. What did I do…I trashed it. Classy, right?

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Unfortunately, it was not to be. The leak persisted and it needed to be moved once more to it’s final resting place (pre-still).

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Now all that’s left to do is wait and hope that my anal retentive sterilization was sufficient. The countdown ticks on. Hopefully the wash won’t mold.

Looking for a good read?

Just wanted to drop a quick note to let you all know that there’s a new book from King’s County Distillery – Dead Distillers: A History of the Upstarts and Outlaws Who Made American Spirits. I’m sure you all know of my affinity for their work. I have yet to actually drink their bourbon, but they built the recipe that I used. They also provided the distillation graph below, and drafted the bourbon family tree that I love so much.

I’ll admit to being enough of a nerd that I preordered the book. I received word from Amazon today that it’s on its way, and I’m excited to dive in. Their work is always a delight to read and chock full of information. Who knows, maybe my great grandfather will make an appearance somewhere in those pages.

Grab a bourbon and dive in!

So, you bake a lot?

Yep, that’s the question that I was asked when the young cashier at Bulk Barn rang up my jug o’ molasses and small mountain of brown sugar. I shrugged nonchalantly and said that these ingredients were the only way I know to make rum. He looked at me like I had gone mental and we parted ways.

You can take that introduction to mean that yes, the rum cookoff is officially complete. I modified the recipe to park the OG at 1.07 (17 brix). The conversion claims that it might spit out about 9.5 percent alcohol. We’ll see where it lands. The wash in the fermenter is high between 12 and 13 gallons. If we do, in fact, get 9.5% yield, we’ll have about a gallon of booze to play with. Sounds exciting, right?

A couple of other quick notes about this run:

  • I never brought the wash to boil. I figured hey, why invest the time in watching it cool. All I needed to do was dissolve sugar and molasses into it. It peaked at about 140 Fahrenheit. We worked to cool it quickly by tossing in ziplocs full of ice.
  • The new equipment (thus far) has performed admirably. I will be doing a more thorough review coming up. I even took pictures, I know…you’re shocked
  • I had to mix yeast since I didn’t have sufficient quantity of any one kind. I used high spirits 48 turbo (6.6 gallons) and high spirits whiskey yeast. We’ll see how it goes.

So now we wait, watch and ferment. The distillation will be a lot of fun this time both because there should be SO MUCH of it, and because I’ve got additional help thanks to family and the Man of Steele.