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home Home > Subscribe to Ratebeer.com Weekly RateBeer Archives > Styles & Seasonals

A Special Brew

A Hallowe'en Tale
Styles & Seasonals October 29, 2003      
Written by beerdedbastard

Willoughby, OHIO -

It was a foggy Fall evening a few years back. I had volunteered to open up the brewery that Sunday night and work through the night to get a ahead on the brew schedule for the week. When I arrived around 6pm it was already dark and long shadows fell across the front of the building. Daylight savings time hadn’t ended yet and the evenings were getting cooler. As I turned off the security system and went around turning on the lights, everything appeared normal with nothing out of the ordinary causing any concern. Just muffled sounds of a fermenting brew blowing off, a pump running and somewhere water was dripping. All normal noises in a brewery. Little did I know what lay in store for me that night…

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I went to fire-up the boiler (we use steam to heat our water and to boil the brews) and found it was already on, up to pressure and ready to go. I didn’t think too much of this as I figured someone like Lee, our Head Brewer may have come in earlier in the day to check on some active brews and had gotten things started for me. So I went on over to the brew house and started the hot liquor pump. The temperature gauge for the hot liquor tank was reading low. I assumed someone had used all the hot water earlier and dumped a bunch of cold in; leaving the boiler on to heat it back up. Again, something Lee might do…glancing over at the grist scale I noticed it too had already been plugged in and was reading the weight of the milled grains in the grist case. Now here’s where things started becoming unusual.

Normally we mill in just prior to brewing and use about 2000 pounds of grist per brew. The scale now was showing a much larger amount. Like something over 6000 pounds! Never had we used so much malt in a single brew. I thought “this has to be a mistake.” The grist case couldn’t hold such a large amount. I re-set the scale and it came back the same. My curiosity as to what I was going to be making began to grow.

Shaking my head with confusion, I went over to our “whiteboard” area, where all of our current brew information is centralized, notes and messages are left, etc. Here I find the brew house clipboard with an active brew sheet on it we use to note each step of a brew on. On the top of the page in red ink is written <font color=red>Special Brew</font> and the same grist amount that I had already seen up on the scale is noted there as well. On the back of the sheet were what appeared to be some hurriedly written instructions and “special additions” with specific timings. At the bottom it said “Relax. It’ll be an easy brew, most of it has already been done for you.”

Special Brew? What’s up with this? I hadn’t heard about anything special being brewed. Not that that is unusual…I’m normally the last to know what were making at any given time! And relax??? I don’t think so. Not with <U>ANY</u> brew and certainly not with this one. It was going to be special alright, but I had no idea at the time just how special.

I got on my rubber boots and gloves and started preparing to mash-in. The temp gauge was still showing a low temperature, too low for a normal mash. Thinking maybe it was malfunctioning, I took a sample to check it against another thermometer. It read the same. 66.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This was strange and getting more so by the minute. I had a look back at the brew sheet and saw this is right where it instructed me to be at. I figured oh well, I don’t make the recipes…I’m just the brewer! So here goes.

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The brew house
Mash tun (left), kettle (center) and whirlpool

On top of the mash tun (as well as on the brew kettle) were a number of containers with letters on them. These correlated with the notes scribbled on the back of the brew sheet with their timing for addition. I added the first 3 of these containers during a mash-in that lasted about an hour. Something smelled simply awful in there and large chunks splashed as I dumped them into the mash. I thought maybe I’m making some kind of Belgian ale? As per the instructions, I let it rest there for 33 minutes. Meanwhile, the hot liquor temp had began to rise on it’s own and was reaching numbers beyond any normal boiling point. I thought…this is “expletive! (self censored) “These numbers can’t be real. It has to be broken.” I said out loud to no one.

After that initial rest was done I added several more containers and ran the rakes with some more hot water, stirring them into the mash and making it bubble from the heat. I let it rest again for a little more than an hour before adding the last and largest of the containers. Covering my nose and mouth with my shirt sleeve against the stench. Again using the rakes to break up some of the larger pieces that floated to the top. It was making clunking noises as the rakes ran their way though the grist. Which thinking back, was unusual also, but I paid it no attention at the time. It began to change color now and turned a murky reddish hue. I swear I could almost hear it moan as I ran those rakes through it, but figured that something just needed to be greased, and turned up the speed.

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The mash tun rakes

I began re-circulating it about a half an hour later, but it just wasn’t running clear after an additional 45 minutes. So I decided to underlet, sending some extra hot water up through the mash from underneath . Running the rakes again, forwards and backwards, hoping to get it loosened up. I began re-circulating it again and this time it turned a crystal clear scarlet red after only about 10 minutes. Now I’m thinking maybe it’s a lambic! And started sending it on over to the kettle.

After I’d collected about a barrel of this crimson wort, I started to sparge it. And it was quick sparge lasting just over a minute, as I was to collect only 9 barrels for the boil. I was astounded at what the gravity would be for 9 barrels of liquid from nearly 7 thousand pounds of malt! The runoff itself was very slow and lasted about three and a half hours. Understandable for fitting that much grain into the mash tun. I made several pre-boil (hops?) additions from the mystery containers stacked on top of the kettle as the wort accumulated. It had become sort of like a brew by numbers with all these mysterious containers. Not knowing the ingredients, only a letter marked on each and a time on the brew sheet for when to add them.

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Crimson wort in the mash tun sight tube

Finally it was approaching a boil and I took a gravity sample. This was futile, because none of our hydrometers were calibrated for gravities that high. No need…as with the rest of the brew, it had been already pre-calculated for me and several more containers additions were made throughout its short boil of about 6 minutes. Evaporating a little more than 2 barrels in that time. Now <U>that’s a boil</u>! I was left with 6.66 barrels of finished wort and I pumped it (at about 180F degrees ) into a portable, unjacketed Grundy tank. It had already been cleaned and pre-pitched with yeast for me. This <U>was</u> easy! Anyway, I pressurized it to around 30psi and rolled it into the cooler and left it there to ferment.

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A portable Grundy tank (center) sitting next to a 15.5 gallon keg and below the cone of a 150BBL fermenter.

It was about the end of my shift and as I was handing off to the next brewer John, I told him about my night. He acted surprised I had even brewed at all. He said that someone from our maintenance staff was supposed to be working on the mash tun that night and didn’t think they’d have it ready by the time I came in. Hearing this, I raced over and began removing the spent grains from the mash tun . There were some tools, shreds of bloodied clothing, a work boot still laced at the ankle and bits of flesh amongst the grains. It was then I realized what a <font color=red>Special Brew</font> I had just made. I had brewed a maintenance man.

But who (or what) had left that brew sheet with all those instructions on it for me???? And what would we call it? It was about that time I woke up and getting ready for work I began wondering just what would I be brewing tonight???

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Happy Halloween folks!

<U>(Don’t try this at home!)</u>




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start quote Just muffled sounds of a fermenting brew blowing off, a pump running and somewhere water was dripping. All normal noises in a brewery. Little did I know what lay in store for me that night… end quote