This past Sunday's brew, the Pale Ryeder Palm Sugar Rye Tripel proved to be the most trying brew, if not experience of my career...which has involved quite a few tribulations and trials. This slightly modified quote from the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers came to mind as I finally brought the beast to its knees...
"From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak I fought with the Pale Ryeder... Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountain side... Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time... The stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as a life age of the earth... But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I've been sent back until my task is done." - Gandalf the White
Allow me to break the battle down for you, my readers.
The first brew (every brew has to be a double brew in order to yield an acceptable amount of beer) went without much event. The lauter (process by which the grain is rinsed of its sugars and the wort, or unfermented, beer is collected in the kettle to be boiled with hops) went a little slowly, but was otherwise without incident. The boil and knockout proceeded without incident, as well. As I boiled the first batch, I mashed in the second. At some point, the train derailed.
When it came time to vorlauf (recirculate the mash in order to solubilize the sugars created there and to get the straining ability of the barley husks to filter the wort to clarity) and nothing happened. It simply would not flow.
I blew air back through the collection tube and I could only get a slow trickle for a few seconds before it would sieze up. Then I under-let some water into the mash to see if that would free things up. The result was the same.
I tried heating the mash up to 190 degrees with no results. Even adding as much water as the vessel could hold to thin the mash and then again raising the temperature again brought on the same result, total stagnation. After lautering about 10 pitchers worth of the wort through a colander/strainer into the kettle, I decided it was time to rethink 'Plan B'.
I then decided it would be best to clear my head with a pint of BrightSide Belgian White and dinner, and then attack my problem from a different angle.
Coming from a homebrewing background, I am used to having equipment fail, and in general not having the resources to back up my goals. It was precisely this foundation in homebrewing that I used to slay the Pale Ryeder.
I got out my old homebrewing mash-lauter tun, the 48 qt Ice Cube I have used in every homebrewing batch since the first, fateful Weissbier, and filled it to the brim with my scorching hot, sticky mess. A tiny stream of wort appeared out of the collection tube! I had found a chink in the armor! I also have a 5 gallon bucket with a bunch of holes drilled through the bottom half that I use for soaking tank parts in another bucket full of caustic when cleaning the tanks. This device closely resembles the one Charlie Papazian has published as a cheap mash/lauter system. I used it for just that purpose.
After 5 hours of this agony, I finally had a relatively full kettle. It was far from the clearest wort I had produced, but it had an acceptable gravity and tasted fine, so I proceeded with the boil and knockout. Which, when compared to the collection went relatively smoothly.
When I removed the spent grain from the mash/lauter tun and I removed the false bottom, I found that it was packed with grain on both sides. It had completely jammed up on both sides of the very device designed to make the separation of wort and grain possible. So, even if I had some rice hulls on hand to stir into the mash and possibly salvage it, it would have been beyond saving without my drastic action.
From 7am, when I began to heat the strike water for the first mash until just after 1am when I finished the CIP (Clean In Place and sanitization) of the heat exchanger it proved to a mentally, physcially and emotionally trying day and night.
Although the volume I collected was bit short, I managed to nail my original gravity right on the head, 20 degrees Plato for the average of both batches. So it should end up a couple tenths above 9% abv and will see service in the early summer. In addition to Rye Malt, Pale Ryeder Palm Sugar Rye Tripel is also brewed with Pilsner Malt, Palm Sugar (duh), Magnum, Sterling and Styrian Golding hops and our house Belgian Yeast culture.
As it says on the back of my beloved Nort Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout sweatshirt "Never Say Die". I'm not sure if I felt more like Rasputin, Gandalf or Johnny Cash at theend of that brew, but I'm glad I got it done, and so will all of you when the beer is ready.