Homebrewing with Muscle Memory

BYOB by | May 2017 | Issue #124
Illustration by Ellen Crenshaw

For years I’ve argued that after all the reading, thinking, planning, futzing, etc., brewing comes down to muscle memory. You stop being aware of the things you’re doing. They just happen.

Changing things up introduces risk. Will you fumble? Will you miss something? Naturally, we’re brewers, so we’re going to be changing things up—some change is inevitable.

To prove that risk is inherent no matter how “pro” you are at this hobby, we only need to look at the 512th batch by my partner in brewing crime, Denny Conn. He’s an old pro—emphasis on one of those words—with his system. He knows his kettles, his beloved mash tun with toilet hose braid. He can brew 5 gallons blindfolded.

But for batch 512, he needed more beer for an event, so he went bigger, scaling up to a full 10 gallons of his classic and oft-brewed Wry Smile Rye PA. What could possibly go wrong? Several things, actually. Each of the following threw him off his game:

• The malt was poorly crushed because the mill wasn’t adjusted.
• His thermometer read 30°F low.
• A new boil kettle had different boil characteristics.
• The new chiller didn’t fit the new boil kettle.

Despite this comedy of errors, the beer became beer. Maybe it wasn’t the best representation of Denny’s skills as a brewer, but it was a cold, wet, tasty Pale Ale.

The morals to the story (inflation demands more morals): Persevere through a hard day—you’ll still have beer. And when making changes, pay closer attention than normal, lest gremlins attack.

(In the interest of equal opportunity idiocy, I covered my own follies in issue #31.)

Wry Smile Rye PA
(Recipe by Denny Conn)
For 5 gallons at 1.085 OG | 75 IBU | 12 SRM | 7.9% ABV

11.0 lbs two-row pale malt
3.0 lbs rye malt
1.25 lbs crystal 60L
0.5 lbs dextrin malt
0.5 lbs wheat malt

Single infusion at 153°F for 60 minutes.

Hops (Whole)
1.0 oz Mt. Hood | 5.1% AA | first wort hop
1.25 oz Columbus | 16% AA | 60 minutes
0.5 oz Mt. Hood | 5.1% AA | 30 minutes
1.5 oz Mt. Hood | 5.1% AA | 0 minutes
1.0 oz Columbus | 16% AA | dry hop

Wyeast 1450 Denny’s Favorite 50 Ale, Wyeast 1272 American Ale II, or Wyeast 1056 American Ale