I brewed a Breakfast Stout last night. I felt a little pressured to get this brew completed, so that I could have some available for New Year's Eve. As such, my original plan was to do a traditional 3 gallon boil, and add ~2 gallons of water, as the instructions state, just so I could get it done quickly. I've only done that once, for the first beer I brewed. Since then, I've been using ~6 gallons of water in my boil, so that I never feel like I'm directly diluting the wort. The problem is, boiling 6 gallons of water takes a long time. I didn't want to be brewing all day.
Luckily, I was able to borrow a propane burner from my buddy Andy, who has just stepped up to brewing ten gallon batches of beer. I connected the burner to my propane tank in the back yard, and was able to get a healthy boil going in far less time than it ever would have taken on my stove. With the faster boil, I decided to use my normal 6 gallon procedure.
I made, in my opinion, two big mistakes last night, and I'm a little worried about how each may effect the flavor of my beer. In all reality, I don't think either is really going to ruin it. I was just in a (self-imposed) rush, and the process suffered as a result.
First, I didn't crush the specialty grains very well. I only summarily crushed the Simpson’s Roasted Barley, and didn't crush the flaked oats at all (in fact, I don't even know if I was supposed to). I don't think that will cause too much of a problem, but it's something about which I'm not really happy. I should have taken my time, and done it right.
The second problem was that I didn't account for just how much of my water would disappear in the form of steam. Brewing outside, in the cold, resulted in a lot more boil off than I had expected. When I poured the wort into my primary fermenter, I had to add an extra gallon of tap water. It's not the adding of water that was the problem, exactly. Rather, it was the use of tap water. I would have preferred to use distilled water, for a cleaner addition. I had even intended to buy some earlier that day, but my schedule got away from me. Again, I don't think this will actually ruin my beer, but it was clearly the result of me rushing through the process.
For my birthday in June my dad and my sister bought me a kegging setup, so that I can keg my beer. I've kegged two batches, and loaned the gear to a buddy so that he could keg a batch. I've decided that, in general, I would much rather keg than bottle my beer. Not only is it a lot faster to fill the keg than it is to fill bottles, it allows me to enjoy the fruits of my labors much quicker, through the magic of forced carbonation.
Usually, I leave my beer in the primary fermenter for a week, then transfer it to a carboy for two weeks. Then, if I bottle, it's another two weeks in the bottle before it's sufficiently carbonated and ready to drink. Kegging lets me reduce the carbonation period to two or three days. With my Breakfast Stout, I'm planning to leave the beer in the primary for two weeks, and skip the use of the carboy, instead transferring the beer directly to the keg. This is a marked diversion from my normal process, but it's one with which I'm comfortable for a couple of reasons.
First, I'm in a rush to get this beer to friends. If I use a carboy for two weeks, I'll miss my self-imposed deadline of New Year's Eve. Yes, I waited way too long to brew this batch: I should have started at the beginning of the month.
Second, I don't think this is a particularly complex beer. It had only a single hop addition, and not a lot of grains, so I don't think the flavors need to blend quite as much as some other recipes might. Also, it's a low alcohol beer, so I don't expect quite as much from this as I might from a higher-alcohol brew.
Third, I'm not opposed to experimenting a little bit. If I always follow the recipe guidelines exactly, I'll never really learn the kinds of tricks that may yield different results. As long as the beer isn't infected, I don't mind straying from the directions a bit: it should still be a perfectly quaffable beverage, and I'll have learned how cutting some corners effects the outcome.
Hopefully the Breakfast Stout will be an enjoyable beverage. If not, I'll chalk it up to a learning experience. Either way, I know that the next time I brew I'll be sure to plan ahead a little better.