ABA Grand Experiment

On Sunday Garret and I whipped up another 20 gallon batch, this time of an American Brown Ale. Hopefully something less hoppy than a brown Pale Ale and less chocolate-roasty than a Porter. Much like the color gray (at least all of the good grays) an ABA is easy to make yet difficult to nail.


Things got started on Saturday bright and early after a mentally foggy and late night before. My plan was to get to Garret’s around 7:30AM, but it was probably closer to 8:00AM by the time I got there and definitely by the time I unloaded the car. This time I brought down some extra stuff with me. Besides the normal carboys I also brought down my burner and propane to contribute to the experiment and the keg of Hazelnut Brown I had since the Scavenger Hunt.

While we were heating the foundation water for the mash I got a crash course in counter pressure filling bottles from a keg. Garret had recently put about a half keg of the Gnarleywine on tap and had decided to CPF the remaining gallon or so into bottles. I have never CPF yet have thought about the possibilities of how useful this technique would be for high alcohol beers that have problems bottle-conditioning (think Double Dubbel and Gnarleywine). It actually wasn’t difficult and made a lot of sense after I say it in motion. Essentially you pressurize an empty bottle so that you add beer at the same pressure that the beer is in the keg, after you pressurize you lay a cushion of CO2 in the bottle as not to oxidize the beer, then add the beer from the keg, and finally quickly cap the bottle. I was quite surprised with the force that the CP filler pushed back with. I think we got 15 or 16 bottles out of what was left.

For the ABA batch we were going to do our first 20 gallon batch in one mash tun, this was the grand experiment. Garret is fortunate to have a lot of stainless steel vessels to try and come up with different configurations on how to make this work. Here is basically what we had and how we did it. We had (2) 28 gallon kettles A & B, (1) 25 gallon kettle, and (1) 14 gallon kettle, two 75,000btu burners #1 & #2 and two March pumps to move liquid around. In the picture at the top the top most kettle is the 28 gallon kettle B, the one below that is the 28 gallon A, and the one below that is the 25 gallon kettle. The one by itself on the right of the picture is the 14 gallon kettle. OK, here we go:

  • Essentially after we heated the foundation water (while we were CPFing) we pumped that water from the 25 gallon kettle to the 28 gallon kettle A. We mashed in our grains and at that point had about an hour to heat approximately 26 gallons of water to between approximately 180-212 degrees.

  • We used burner #1 to heat 20 gallons of water in the 25 gallon kettle to 180 degrees and burner #2 to heat 6 gallons of water in the 14 gallon kettle to 212 degrees. Both burners brought the water to the desired temperature in the time frame we were looking for.
  • We then manually scooped the 6 gallons of boiling water (3 quarts per scoop) into the 28 gallon kettle A with the grains. This was our mash-out water which denatures the enzymes in the grains by raising the temperature thus locking in your fermentation profile, plus making the mash less viscous so it will run off better. The mash then sits for another 10 minutes.
  • We then pumped the 20 gallons of 180 degree water from the 25 gallon kettle to the 28 gallon kettle B. The 25 gallon kettle was then removed from the burner and placed below the 28 gallon kettle A with the grains in it. So now we essentially have a heavy duty 20 gallon gravity fed brew set-up, well set up.
  • At this point we recirculated the mash until it ran clear and then let it run off into the 25 gallon kettle which we were using more as a collection vessel/grant than anything else because both the kettles that were large enough to actually boil the wort were now occupied.
  • This is the first time we had used one of the boil false bottoms in the stainless kettles as a mash tun false bottom. Typically for this size batch we would use (2) 10 gallon coolers. The main benifit to the coolers in the insulation factor, so we wrapped the stainless mash tun up in two sleeping bags to help retain heat which worked perfectly. Definitely better to use one vessel (ease and clean-up) but we were concerned with the differences in the false bottoms. The mash began to slow about 20 minutes into the run-off and threatened to get stuck, so we chose to cut it off, remix the grain, let it re-set-up, re-recirculate and start again.
  • abaweb3.jpgI forgot to mention, Garret has been looking for a better/easier way to mix this huge amount of grains and water together and has adopted and bettered an idea from one of the guys in his brew club. He now uses a paint stirrer called a Squirrel Mixer that just does one hell of a job mixing the grains and water, I was amazed by its efficiency.
  • This time, the rest of the run-off ran just fine. We could only collect about 24 gallons in the 25 gallon kettle and we needed more like 26. So once the wort got up to the 24 gallon level we switched the run-off into two plastic 1 gallon pitchers we have. Now we had all the wort collected, but we needed it in one kettle.
  • We quickly emptied and cleaned the mash tun (which is the 28 gallon kettle A), set it back up as the boil kettle and pumped the wort from the 25 gallon kettle up to the 28 gallon boil kettle now up on burner #1 and dumped in the extra 2 gallons from the pitchers.
  • At this point everything was essentially ready to go it was just all a matter of doing the right thing in the time sequence. We did happen to run out of propane about half way through the boil, but like any good homebrewer Garret had at least one back-up.

After everything was boiled and chilled and transferred we tried a couple of beers. We had already had a few of Garret’s Titless Wits which were quite tasty. We also tried a Unibroue Ephemere apple beer which was pretty good, like a cross between an effervescent hard cider and a lager. Then we tapped the Hazelnut Brown which was nice also. I wish I had remembered to bring a bottle of Rogue’s Hazelnut Nectar with me (which this beer was modeled after) so we could do a comparison tasting, but I did enjoy it none the less. And we wrapped up the beer tasting with a Stone Ruination ale which a wonder-fuckin-ful beer that I was overly impressed with. Those Stone bastards have mastered the hops my friends, oh yes they have. After that we pretty much wrapped things up, I think both of us exhausted and happy with the results. Looking forward to doing another 20 gallon batch as soon as the weather cools down!

7 Responses to “ABA Grand Experiment”

  1. Garrett Says:

    Good times, man! You forgot the torrential downpour when we were trying cool down to pitching temperature – that was exciting.

    Can’t wait for the next crack at 20 gallons – this last one was great.

  2. First State Brewers Blog » Blog Archive » The Bs Says:

    […] 2 ways, and we did some experimenting with my equipment which went really well. He did a better job summarizing everything that happened than I could, so I won’t even try to repeat it here. For a change, our experimentation all […]

  3. Fool Circle - Artisanal Ales » Blog Archive » Peaches Says:

    […] I transferred the American Brown Ales over to secondaries and decided I was going to twist one of the five gallon […]

  4. First State Brewers Blog » Blog Archive » Baby Got Batches Says:

    […] So this past Sunday I brewed another 15 gallons of Choking Sun Stout. Ever since my American Brown Experiment with Brian I’ve been dying to see if I could do a bigger batch as a single mash using just […]

  5. First State Brewers Blog » Blog Archive » Brewing in the New Year Says:

    […] the amarillo ale, but I wanted to use this batch as a starter for an upcoming 10 gallon batch of American Brown (same recipe I brewed with my friend Brian late last year), and that beer used […]

  6. Fool Circle - Artisanal Ales » Blog Archive » Wheat - 20 Gallons! Says:

    […] beers, so I couldn’t say no. The last time we brewed together hadn’t been since the ABA in the beginning of August, since then a few things have changed with Garrett’s set-up. Now […]

  7. Fool Circle - Artisanal Ales » Blog Archive » Belgium Comes To West Chester ‘09 Says:

    […] I got IH’s seasonal beer an American Brown, it was really good, but I think the one that Garrett and I brewed packed in more […]

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