Stupid Stuff All Brewers Should Know But Often Don't: Brewhouse Operations
by Jamie Martin, Brewmaster, Dells Brewing Co.
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Cleaning and SanitationBrewhouse Operations
Receiving and Storing Malt:
When purchasing malt you can and should request a malt analysis for your particular lot number. Malted Barley is given lot numbers by the Maltsters for record keeping because even though all the lots of a particular variety may be similar, there are still slight differences. This is not and should not be an inconvenience to the malt company because this is information they already have on file. You are spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on malt and have the right to know what you are buying.
When receiving a delivery of malt, first inspect the shipment and insure all the bags are intact and without punctures or tears, you have the right to refuse delivery of any bags you observe that appear to have been tampered with or damaged during delivery. Record and sample the delivery. For every variety you receive, record the date, lot number and take a 5 oz. sample. Label the sample with all relevant information and save it until all of that particular lot number has been used; the malt and the beer it was used to make. If something malt related goes wrong, you'll have a sample to test and determine the problem.
Malt should be stored in a dry and pest-free location. This seems simple but is often over looked. Avoid storing malt in a basement or lower level; if there is a flood or a pipe breaks the first place that floods is the basement. Make sure your malt is not stored directly on the floor; it needs to be off the ground so you can see and clean under it. It is best to have the malt stored about three feet from the wall on all sides so you can walk and clean all the way around it and there are no dark hidden areas for dirt or pests to hide. To ensure a clean pest free environment it is a good rule of thumb to completely clean out your malt room every 3-4 months; including using up all malt and rotating in fresh malt. This ensures bags are not forgotten and left to get old and unusable. This is especially important if you are working with pre-milled malt because it has a shorter shelf life than whole kernel malt.
Things that will stick your mash:
Here are a few things that tend to lead to stuck mashes; I am not saying completely avoid these but know they exist and take precautions along the way. Wheat and Rye contain high levels of protein and when your recipe exceeds levels of 20% of the grist your mash can get quite sticky. Adding hulls can help the mash flow smoothly. Pumpkin is another ingredient people like to add to the mash that tends to gum things up; this is another example of a good time to use hulls. If you have mashed in and end up with a stuck mash, try running the underlet flush and if all else fails physically opening up channels manually with a pole or stick will at least get things moving, you can worry about resetting the mash bed later.
Enzymes can be used to aid with a stuck mash. If you know you are brewing a beer with very high levels of wheat or rye, enzymes can be added at the beginning to avoid a stuck mash.
Very high mash temperatures (especially over 180oF) and/or over-stirring the mash can also cause the mash to stick.
Keep a close eye on temperature and keep in mind, just because your temperature probe gives you a temperature, that doesn't mean that's the temperature throughout the mash bed. There could be "hot pockets" and just a few of these can affect the quality of your mash. Double check your mash temperature reading with a manual temperature probe. (A probe secured to a pole works great for getting readings from different quadrants and depths.) If the temperature does get away from you all is not lost. Usually you'll catch high mash temperature right away and the temperature can be corrected with cool water. But if, for whatever reason, the temperature gets really high in the mash, return the mash to a workable temperature with water. Then supplement the probable damaged enzymes with commercially available enzymes (It's a good idea to always keep some on hand just in case).
Hops like to be kept cold and oxygen free. Store them in the coldest freezer you have, the colder the better. After opening a bag of hops, purge the bag with CO2 and reseal; vacuum food saver bags work really well for this.
Lessons learned from the 2008 hop shortage:
In 2008 our industry was caught off-guard by a world wide hop shortage. Those of us who bought solely on a spot-hops basis were suddenly left with nothing. It was a big wakeup call for small brewers who learned the benefits of hop contracts the hard way.
Because of the shortage, brewers started looking for ways to stretch their hop supply. Those hard times led to the development of some new hopping techniques and the rediscovery of some old ones.
Mash Hopping is one old idea that is new again. The theory (yes it is a theory) is that by adding hops in the mash, the oils will bind to the proteins in the mash and be carried through the process. Allowing the brewer, because of the very specific temperature of the mash (warmer than the fermenter, cooler than the whirlpool), to extract aroma and flavor in a very unique way that is not possible using the conventional hopping process. Also, when you're using hops in the mash (as long as they are whole leaf and in a hop sock) those same hops can then be added to the boil because the alpha acids have not been utilized yet; this also works with dry hopping. Mash Hopping allows the brewer to use every last little bit of the hop. The process does take some secluding and some flexibility with flavor profile since there are really no calculations for this process, but if you are in a small, flexible microbrewery environment, this is a fun process to experiment with and you can achieve flavors and aromas other can't necessarily match.
First Wort Hopping is another hopping technique people are experimenting with again. The theory is the same as for mash hopping. Hop oils bind to proteins and survive the boil, then contribute a unique flavor and aroma to the beer because of the unique temperature of the First Wort (warmer than the fermenter, cooler than the whirlpool). A secondary benefit is First Wort Hopping reduces boil-over problems. The general consensus seems to be, add 10% of your bittering hops to the first runnings. (ie: if my recipe calls for 10 lbs of bittering hops, I'll use 10% or 1 lb. of that as FWH. (You can decide what works for you its just a starting point, other FWH information I've read suggests 30% or higher. You can also experiment with floral and aroma hops in the FWH.)
During the shortage the brewers in Wisconsin began to communicate with local farmers, and even a hop processor located in Wisconsin, trying to bring hop production back to Wisconsin. (This doesn't work everywhere, I happen to live in a state with a history of hop production and great agriculture) Barley and wheat production were also once abandoned and restarted in Wisconsin so with the three tiers of hops, growth, processing, and end use, working together in a grassroots effort; we have high hopes for future reintroduction of hop production in our state. It's a slow process, but an important one for brewers who want a true say in what goes into their beer.
Pelletized Hops vs. Whole Hops
Like many brewers I enjoy the convenience of pelletized hops. During the hop shortage the vast majority of hops that were available to me were whole leaf. First thing that crossed my mind was "how do I use these?" You can't just throw pounds of whole hops into a brew kettle and let them float around free; they'll never whirlpool down and out of the wort and will end up plugging the heat exchanger and/or pump. I found that using a weighed down hop sock worked great. The weights are essential; otherwise the sacks just float on top.
Who needs a Hop Back? (I do, but this works really well too!)
Next I wanted to add aroma hop, but the kettle was already filled with sacks of bittering and flavor hops and I have no hop back. So I used my mash tun as a hop back and it worked great! The aroma produced is very different then from dry hopping and I really like the characteristic. Now I do this all the time. One drawback is that you have to dig out your mash tun quickly, and then you'll have to dig it out again to remove the spent hops, but it is well worth the extra effort, especially if, like me, you don't have a hop back.
Being forced to work with whole hops definitely developed my love and appreciation for them. There is much less damage to the hop because of less processing. They are less expensive than pellets. I agree they are a little more work to use, but not too much and well worth the extra effort. When you compare the aroma you can achieve from whole hop vs. pellet hop there is no question whole hop wins every time.
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