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Viking Pale Ale SMASH 1.0

With the demise of the Brewie, I wanted an easy enough alternative for producing small pilot batches of beer (2.5 gallons or less) with as little hands on effort necessary as possible with maintaining what will hopefully be some reliability (and easy repair/replacement upon failure).  Toward that end, today I decided to try brewing a SMASH beer using the following setup:
  • Anova Sous Vide Recirculating Heater
  • 3 gallon sous vide plastic container with lid
  • Grain bag from the Brewie+ system
  • 4 gallon induction-ready kettle
  • 1800W Induction cooktop
  • Stainless steel immersion chiller
Since I couldn't be sure this combination would work (though, from what I've seen published online, I wouldn't be the first to attempt something similar), I decided to do a SMASH beer (single malt and single hop) to keep things simple and inexpensive.

Ingredients

5 pounds Viking Pale Ale malt
0.45 ounces Mandarina Bavaria Hops pellets @ 9.6% AA (15 min.)
0.55 ounces Mandarina Bavaria Hops pellets @ 9.6% AA (5 min.)
1.62 gallons of mash water
1.32 gallons of sparge water
1 packet Safale S-04 yeast

Having not brewed with this setup before, I took a guess that it would be very inefficient, estimating a mash efficiency of 65%.  With that in mind the recipe characteristics in Brewfather were:
  • Batch Size: 2.0 gallons (1.9 gallons actual)
  • ABV: 4.1% revised estimate
  • Original Gravity: 1.060 SG estimated (1.040 actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.009 SG estimated
  • SRM: 4.6 estimated
  • IBUs: 37 estimated
  • Mash Efficiency:  65% estimated (43% actual, this batch)
Mash Schedule

The grain was measured, crushed, and placed inside the Brewie+ mesh bag.  I chose to use that simply for convenience's sake.  I knew it would work for mashing and would fit in my sous vide plastic container.  From there, the plan was:
  • 5 minute mash in at 104F
  • 15 minutes mash at 120F
  • 15 minutes mash at 148F
  • 30 minutes mash at 157F
  • 10 minutes mash out at 167F
  • Sparge with 162F water
I chose this mash schedule to somewhat mimic the last SMASH beer I did in the Brewie+.

Mashing the grain
Draining, sparging, and heating to boil
Unfortunately, the mash water plus the grain bill was too much volume for the sous vide container. I had to quickly transfer the water and immersion heater over to the 4-gallon kettle and perform the mash in that.

While the grain mashed, I brought the sparge water to a boil and turned off the heat. I had hoped it would retain enough heat to be useful for sparging, but it did not.  I had to scramble to use the sous vide cooker to heat it up to 162F to sparge while the grain bag was draining.  Not an ideal mash and sparge but it seemed to work.

My experience was that the Anova recirculator heated the mash water approximately 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit per minute.

Mash efficiency on this batch was a pretty dismal 43%, rather than the 65% I was hoping for. I think if I can find a better mash container into which I can fit one of my two mesh baskets, I would be able to stir the malt a bit during mashing to even out the temperature and increase efficiency.  We'll see.

Boil Schedule

I planned for a 60 minute boil, with the time beginning when the wort reached at least 207F.  From that point:
  • 60 minutes: No hop addition
  • 15 minutes: 0.45 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops
  • 5 minutes: 0.55 ounces Mandarina Bavaria hops
  • 0 minutes:  Chill to 75F or less using immersion chiller
At the start of the boil, the gravity registered 1.036 SG.  Volume was 13.5 cm deep in the kettle before the boil (I don't yet know what that equates to in gallons/ounces but plan to figure it out).

Boiling the wort
Stainless immersion chiller, late in the boil
Just before the last hop addition, I inserted the stainless immersion chiller into the boiling wort to sterilize it.  As soon as the boil was finished, I turned off the induction cooktop and turned on the cold water supply. Given the cold outdoor temps and the small size of the batch relative to the immersion chiller, I got the wort down from boiling to 75F in under ten minutes.

Fermentation Plan

The plan is to pitch the dry yeast directly into the wort and use the temperature control system to keep the fermenting wort at 62F until fermentation is finished. This is toward the low end of the yeast's optimum range (59-68F) so it should allow a reasonable fermentation with minimal flavor contribution from the yeast.  Once final gravity is reached, per the Tilt Hydrometer, the temperature control system would be turned off.  Gelatin finings will then be added and the beer allowed to chill in my mini-fridge for a week before bottling.

Just under 2 gallons of wort in the fermenter
Post-Brew Notes and Observations

11/09/2019:  My goals with this brew were not to necessarily hit my targets or make something that had a chance at winning any awards.  My goals were:
  • Prove that this setup could produce a drinkable, decent beer.
  • Dial in the mash, boil off, and efficiency figures in the Brewfather app
  • Consider ways to make this setup work better in subsequent brewing sessions
  • Produce a SMASH beer that's similar to the Pilsner SMASH I did a while back in the Brewie+
  • Determine how long cleanup would take with this setup
While the jury is still out on whether this will be decent or drinkable, signs point in that direction.

I ended up with 1.9 gallons (approximately) in the fermenter, so the Brewfather data is pretty close in terms of calculating mash and sparge water amounts.  Close enough that I'm satisfied there.

The 43% actual efficiency on this batch was horrible, though.  I think there are several reasons for this. One of these is that the Brewie+ bags don't make it easy or feasible to stir the grain during the mash to ensure that it all gets wet. The 4-gallon kettle was also not really large enough to allow the sous vide heater to circulate hot water through the bag well.  Next time around, I plan to use a different container for the grain (a fine stainless mesh box I used with another brewing system) which will allow me to make sure the grain is all wet and occasionally stirred.  That should help with the efficiency.

I'd also like to add a second sous vide circulator to my setup, to allow the sparge water to be at the desired temperature when the mash finishes.  Making that happen in this configuration was a challenge I would like to eliminate going forward.

Apart from those things, the setup seemed to work fine.  The challenge from here on is to try to increase the efficiency and dial things in using the Brewfather app.

Before I came upstairs, the wort temperature was 73F. I pitched the S-04 yeast and set the temperature contol to 62F.

11/10/2019:  The gravity has dropped to 1.027 SG, which represents roughly 32% attenuation and an ABV of 1.6%.  The temperature had been unintentionally set to 61F. I raised it to 62F earlier in the day and plan to keep it there until primary fermentation is over.

11/11/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.007 SG, which represents approximately 82.5% attenuation and a 4.5% ABV.

11/12/2019:  Gravity is holding 1.006-1.008 SG.

11/13/2019:  Gravity is down to 1.006 SG and holding.

11/14/2019:  Gravity is continuing to read 1.006 SG, which represents 85% attenuation and 4.5% ABV.  The beer should be ready to bottle Saturday at this rate, though I may add gelatin finings and try to brighten it up.

11/17/2019:  Gravity is reading 1.004/1.005 SG today.

11/18/2019:  Gravity is holding at 1.004 SG today.  That represents 90% attenuation and 4.7% ABV.

12/5/2019:  Gravity is holding at 1.004 SG.  Time to bottle this one.

12/17/2019:  I've decided to dump this one.  When I removed the airlock from the fermenter, I detected the smell of vinegar.  This suggested the possibility of bacterial infection.  However, the sous vide setup didn't hold the grain in the intended temperature range, which means that kettle souring is a definite possibility.  To take things a step further, the S-04 yeast will also give off a clear tartness when it's fermented at too high a temperature.  Regardless, the beer has a tartness in the flavor and a somewhat vinegary aroma that I don't care for, so I am going to toss the batch and the fermenter to ensure that if this is an infection it doesn't transfer to a future batch.

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