Two weeks of vacation time goes by pretty quick.
However, in those two weeks I did manage to brew up a couple of batches of beer.
I finally got around to making the two Brewer's Best kits that I picked up a while ago; the Belgian IPA and the Witbier.
As I was planning for the Belgian IPA, I discovered that the pot my wife bought for me months ago wouldn't be big enough. I first thought about buying a 20qt pot that was priced at around $50. Or, I could get a 30qt pot with a propane burner for around $80. Even though I knew there'd be added expense picking up a propane tank, I went for the propane burner package and decided I'd make the first batch on our kitchen stove.
That probably wasn't the best idea. The size of the pot meant a lot of heat was deflected back against the stop top and kinda ruined the paint a little around the element. Not a huge deal considering it's a pretty old stove. It also took forever to get anything to boil.
Anyway, my friend helped with that batch and it seemed to go fairly well. The only other problem we had was cooling the wort down in the sink. We ran out of ice fast. We noted that the next time we should pick up a few bags of ice.
The Belgian IPA has since been racked and is sitting for another week or so before bottling.
On Friday, I decided we should make the Witbier, this time using the propane burner out back on the new deck I built. I picked up a full tank of propane the day before, and on the morning of brew day we walked up to the gas station and picked up 6 bags of ice.
The biggest problem we ran into this time was keeping the propane burner lit at a low heat. We had to steep grains for 45 minutes at around 150F. The burner didn't want to stay lit at such a low temp. My friend monitored the temperature and when it climbed to 155, she'd life the pot off and let it sit on the deck (with lid on) until it dropped to around 150 and then put it back on the burner. That seemed to work well. We hope anyway. I guess we won't know for sure until we can taste the beer. :)
The other problem we ran into, but didn't discover until much later, was burning the LME (liquid malt extract) when we added it to the boiling wort. The lesson we learned there was to remove the pot from the burner first, add the LME, stir well, and then put it back on the burner. We were stirring when it was being added, but I guess it pooled at the bottom of the pot too quick. I'm pretty sure that's going to affect the beer, but again we won't know how or how much until we can taste it.
The Witbier is now in the primary, fermenting away happily.
These Brewer's Best kits are definitely more fun to make than the Festa Brew kits, but they are a lot more work for less beer. (Fest Brew = ~23L, Brewer's Best = ~19L) It took us around 4-5 hrs to get to the point that 30 mins would take for a Festa Brew kit. The margin for error is obviously greater with the Brewer's Best kits due to all the variables you can encounter with boiling and mixing ingredients.
However, there's definitely more to look forward to with the Brewer's Best kit. More satisfaction... assuming that we end up with something good at the end of it all. :) I'll still buy the Fest Brew kits for ease of use, especially for winter brewing when I'm less likely to try and boil outside. Although I'm sure cooling down the wort will be a lot easier. ;)
I'm hoping the Belgian IPA will be ready to try by the beginning of August. The Witbier will be around mid-August.
Until then, fingers crossed.
One important note to end this with: the Brewer's Best kits were unclear on whether the units of measurement were U.S. or Imperial. I was fairly certain they used U.S. measurements, but the Brewer's Best Canada web site says on their FAQ "Brewer’s Best® is produced in the U.S. and therefore uses imperial measurements" and then provides a conversion chart showing that 5 Imperial gallons is 19L.
That doesn't make any sense; 5 Imperial gallons is just under 23L, not 19L. I poked around their Facebook page and found an answer to another question stating that their kits are designed to make 19L of beer. If that's the case then they do in fact use U.S. measurements and not Imperial, as I originally thought.
I also asked the same question on their Facebook page, but I never got an answer. Hopefully someone took note and will fix the error on their Canadian web site. You wouldn't want to spend all that time cooking up a batch of beer only to have it end up watered down crap.