Best Octoberfest?

With the wife out of town for the weekend on a bachelorette party, what better way to spend my Friday evening than brewing? After the fact, I can think of plenty of better, less tiring options that don’t require staying up until 2:30 am waiting for the wort to cool, but it certainly kept me busy. I decided to make an Octoberfest as it was mid-August, and a two-week fermentation time coupled with a four-week lagering time and a one-week carbonating time would put me right on track for early October.

The process started on Monday evening when I pitched a packet of White Labs WLP820 Oktoberfest/Marzen Lager Yeast into a 1.5 liter starter with an OG of 1.036. After 36 hours on the stir plate, I stuck it in the keezer to cold crash for a second round. Wednesday night I decanted what I could, and added another 1.5 liters of starter at around 1.032 and let that go for another 36 hours before cold crashing.

In a perfect world, I would have given myself more time for a complete 48-hour cycle and 24-hour cold crash for each step, especially given that White Labs indicates this particular yeast strain can take a while to get going. Would my hastiness screw me up?

Mashing in the oven - not nearly as inconvenient as it sounds.

Mashing in the oven – not nearly as inconvenient as it sounds.

Friday evening I got out of work, picked the dog up from daycare, and hurried home to start the brewing process. As it was 95 degrees outside, I decided to do everything I could indoors.

On the gas stove, I heated 4.5 gallons of strike water to 167 degrees, for a 1.25 pound/quart ratio and around a 154 mashing temperature. I decided to mash in my kettle inside my oven by sticking a digital thermometer inside and continually turning the oven on and off to try to maintain a 150-160 degree interior.

I do have a plastic 10-gallon cooler for mashing, but I thought I’d had better efficiencies using my oven in the past, and I needed the cooler to hold my sparge water. Typically I use an unconverted cooler to sparge by just sticking a tube into the drain port and holding the tube’s end up and down to control the water flow. But without a helper, I needed an actual valve to not make a mess.

After an hour of mashing, I stuck the kettle/mash tun back on the oven to raise to 168 degrees (another bonus of using the kettle) while constantly stirring. With about 6 gallons of sparge water already heated and poured into the cooler, it was time to sparge.

I let the runnings fall into a bucket for about two gallons to set the grain bed, pouring the wort back on top a few times in the process. After about 15 minutes, I started collecting the wort for real, and spraying the top to keep the water just above the grain line. I collected 8.5 gallons of wort and cleaned out the kettle for the boil.

Since I only have an 8 gallon kettle, my boil process is kind of weird. I put 6 gallons into the kettle to boil and the other 2.5 in a separate pot to boil on the oven. As the wort boils down, I add this addition wort back into the kettle. This helps me avoid boil-overs while also improving efficiency by evaporating twice as much water.File_001

Sometimes neither of these things happen though. I still managed to come back outside after cleaning up a bit to find a hearty hot break foaming up and out of the kettle. Hopefully I didn’t lose too much sugar and it was mostly the foam. I’ve also discovered that sometimes I evaporate too much water, condensing the sugar into too little wort to fill 5 gallons in the fermenter. I believe this leads to a decrease in efficiency as I usually end up leaving 1 gallon of super-condensed wort in the kettle, versus 1 gallon of normally condensed wort.

In any case, I was cleaning up, I checked the OG of the wort I had collected and was horrified to find an estimated OG of 1.043. And that didn’t even include the boil over! But wait a minute, am I sure that it had cooled to room temperature, or was it still up over 100 degrees and throwing off my measurement? Time will tell.

Doing as little outside as possible.

Doing as little outside as possible.

After an hour I topped off the kettle with the remaining stove-top wort and moved it to my back porch for chilling. Seeing as it was still over 80 degrees outside, I could only get the wort down to 90 or so, and that still took an hour of dumping water in my back yard. I whirlpooled and racked off into my 6.5 gallon glass carboy. I stuck the airlock in the stopper and a temperature probe down into the temperature well, and put the whole thing in my used wine refrigerator/fermenter to cool to an acceptable pitching point.

While waiting for it to cool, I checked the OG of the wort. To my delight, my earlier readings had to be warm, because the final wort measured 1.064. And at roughly 5.75 gallons, I hit a brewhouse efficiency of 69 percent – far above my usual low 60s. I do think there’s something to my boiling off too much water and condensing the wort too much…

Three hours later – around 2:30 am – and it had only dropped to about 77 degrees. Screw it. Good enough. The reviews of the yeast strain suggest pitching in the 70s anyway to promote a faster start to fermentation. I pulled my starter, decanded about 90 percent of the liquid, and pitched.File_003

By morning, the wort still hadn’t gotten quite down to the target temperature of 55 degrees. But the yeast was definitely spreading and forming a nice solid layer in the top third of the wort. By evening – well less than 24 hours – bubbles were coming from the airlock and a thin krausen had appeared.

So far so good!

Recipe

Malt
5.5 lbs German Pilsner Malt
5.5 lbs Munich Light
2.5 lbs Vienna
0.75 lbs CaraMunich III

Hops
1 oz Tettnanger (60 minutes)
0.5 oz Domestic Hallertau (10 minutes)
0.5 oz Domestic Hallertau (whirlpool, because why not?)

Yeast
WLP820 Oktoberfest/Marzen Lager (two-1.5-liter starter steps)

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