Accidental Imperial – A Disaster?

I submitted this story to Basic Brewing Video’s 2011 Disaster Stories episode. I am posting the text here as the first post of my blog.

My disaster story may not qualify as a true disaster, since the end result wound up being one of my favorites so far. As logic would dictate, the opportunity for disaster increases greatly every time you change something, so it should come as no surprise my disaster came on my first all-grain brew day.

My father-in-law’s favorite beer is Anchor Steam, so I decided to make a batch of Jamil’s “Uncommonly Lucky” from Brewing Classic Styles.

Being obsessed with learning new information, I had done lot of reading before embarking on this journey and felt pretty prepared. Let’s see how it went.

When I had built my cooler mash tun the weekend before, I purchased regular PVC pipe for the manifold, not the type for high pressure/temperature. I noticed a potential problem as I was pouring my strike water into the cooler: my nice, flat manifold now approximated the shape of elbow macaroni. I got all the pieces back together and stirred in my grain and mashed it for an hour. Due to the deformity and reassembly, I have no idea what the mash temp was when I finally got the grain in the cooler.

So, after about 50 minutes I started heating my mash out water. It wound up taking bout 20 minutes, so the mash went longer than it should have. Figuring it’s better to keep going, I just kept the mash out water the same temp called for and dumped it in to the cooler, let it sit for 10 minutes to settle(after stirring) and started to run of into my kettle.

Hmmm, I know you’re supposed to run off the water slowly to help rinse all
the sugar from the grain, but my friend’s sparge seemed to run faster than
THIS. After taking 20 minutes to run off approximately 1 gallon, I figured
something was wrong.

I started scooping my mash into a bucket and quickly discovered my
manifold hand fallen apart and come completely disconnected from the
coupler leading to the ball valve. I got everything back together and held
it in place while I added my mash back in to the cooler, vorloffed and
started to fill my kettle.

I got my wort boiling and added my hops according to the recipe. The rest
of the brew went smoothly, I chilled the wort and racked it into my
carboy.

The observant among you may have noticed something missing from my tale .
. . the BATCH SPARGE. Jamil’s recipes plan for you to have 5.5 gallons of
liquid racked to your fermenter. I had 3.5 gallons. I wound up bottling
about 3 gallons of 6.7% ABV “Imperial” Common Beer.

Now I have to figure out how to replicate all the problems that happened
into a larger batch. My father-in-law and I agreed it has been one of my
best batches yet.

So, it may not be a disaster since the end result was happy beer-drinkers,
but I figured you would enjoy the story.