From Joy to Devastation

My beloved wife, who not only allows but supports my brewing efforts, got me the top item off my list for Christmas–a 15 gallon brew pot. No more rushing brewing two batches on a weekend to get the 10 gallons of beer down that we want, nay, need.

It’s a fantastic brew pot as well. Converted from an old commercial beer keg (which just plain makes it look cool), the top’s trimmed off and a spigot is welded down low. There’s a second hole for an optional thermometer which we may purchase later. As Amber’s already saying, “You’re ‘spensive.” To top it all off, a special grate and pipe for the bottom keep hops from clogging the drain and enables us to get every last slurp of beer out. Sweet!

So a couple weeks ago Andrew and I came around to our first brew with the new pot. The evening got off to a rocky start. I started assembling the pot with the straining pipe, and found that it wouldn’t quite fit. One of the pipes was too long by about an inch and a half, and with the grate around it there was no way to make it seat properly. Worse, I’d already fitted the bushing and couldn’t get it back off, so we needed a replacement bushing if we were to cut the pipe.

Annoyed but determined to brew, we headed to Home Depot. While looking for the right part, Andrew broke out his Leatherman and managed to work the bushing off. We bought a replacement anyway, but actually ended up using the original.

Having burned so much time on the excursion, we got home, sawed the pipe short, and started. We’d picked up a 15 gallon plastic fermenter from the local brew store, but it came without any holes drilled. We weren’t sure exactly how to drill it, whether we risked getting plastic bits inside, whether the seals on top should come out or not. In the face of this uncertainty, we decided to use our existing brew bucket plus a carboy. It was disappointing to not use the new gear, but the prospect of ruining a batch of beer seemed worse.

By this time, Amber started asking whether we really wanted to brew that night given how late it was already. I missed the subtle undertones and replied “Of course we want to brew!” On we forged into the glory of brewing 10 gallons at once.

It was a cold evening, but Andrew and I mostly hovered outside watching the boil. With the narrower pot than our old one, we got more foaming in the early stages than we’re used to, but nothing serious. Through the boil and on to the cool-down, everything was looking good.

Then I came out to check temperature on our cruise down to 80 degrees, lifted the thermometer from the wort and found broken glass. The thermometer bottom had shattered. Wax impregnated lead pellets even now settled, cozy and happy in the bottom of our new brew pot.

It was 1AM already, my wife was annoyed how late the brewing had gone, and we’d just lost our first batch in a year of brewing.

I felt like crying.

Demoralized and weary, we left the debris for clean-up the next day. What a sad day to pour ten gallons of good porter out, but the idea of drinking a waxy, leaden, glass-tinged brew stalled that idea out.

We’ve successfully used the new pot since, but it was a good reminder that you’ve always got to be prepared for the unexpected when you come to brew.