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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Failure Is Always An Option

Homebrewing isn't always about the beer. For me, anyways, it's sometimes about the process, the learning from failures and mistakes. There's an old quote I remember, I think from Henry Ford; “Every failure is just one step closer to success.”

When something goes wrong, it's an opportunity to learn something new.

I've been conducting an ongoing experiment in my brewing, which serves as a perfect example. Some time ago, I was eating some breakfast cereal. As I often do, I was reading the box, when I noticed the ingredient list. Two of the first three ingredients were sugars. “Hmm,” I thought, “I wonder if you could include this in beer?” That started an interesting journey, which is still going on.

First, I tried the simplest method. I made an extract beer, and just dumped some cereal into the boilpot. It wasn't a complete failure, but it wasn't a success, either. The beer was delicious, with good flavor from the cereal (Cocoa Krispies, by the way). However, there was a LOT of sediment in each bottle, nearly an inch.

So, we try again. To eliminate the sediment, I decided to use raw grain, and add the cereal to the grain during the mash. So, I would extract the sugars and flavors, but leave behind the “yuk”.

Again, the beer was yummy. BUT, we're sitting watching TV one evening when we hear BLAM! And see a stream of beer-colored liquid coming from the cabinet. Oops. Over the next few days, almost every bottle exploded.

Time to re-examine my process again. As I looked things over, I thought that I may have overprimed the bottles. So, I cut back my priming sugar by 50%, and tried again.

The beer was delicious (At least that part worked.), and, after a week, everything seemed fine. However, several weeks later, we heard that BLAM! Again. This time, I got all the bottles out of the cabinet before they could explode, so I only lost one.

That's where I am now. I'm re-examining my process, again. As I think about it, I see two possibilities. First, I may not be converting all the starch to sugar, leaving some starch in the beer to be eaten by bacteria and wild yeast. Second, I may not be fermenting it long enough. One week is usually fine for any beer I had made in the past, and the process does seem to stop.

I think my next step will be to extend the mash time, to ensure complete conversion, and extend fermentation, to ensure all the sugar has been eaten. In any event, once I've nailed down the process, I intend to make a beer with Lucky Charms, my favorite cereal growing up.