I brewed a Scotch Wee Heavy over the weekend.
For those who may not be familiar with the style, a Wee Heavy is a ridiculously large beer, with a starting gravity of 1.070 to 1.130, a malty profile, and low bitterness. It is a challenging beer to make balanced. With this much alcohol and sugar, you run a real risk of having cloying, burning, and just plain weird.
One of the biggest issues with this kind of beer is taking care of your yeast. Where as with a 1.040 beer you can get away with under-pitching, under-aerating, or slightly distressed yeast, and still have a decent beer. With a beer that is 1.095, as mine was, you have to hit all your targets.
So I used every trick in my arsenal to get the yeast happy. I used A LOT of yeast, to begin with (well it looked like a lot to me, Mr. Malty said that's what I needed). And I did everything I could to make it happy. I added yeast nutrient. I aerated until my arms hurt, I made a starter with warmth and aeration, I pitched a little warm to let the yeast propagate before it hits target temp. And I played it some good music to boot. :) In short I did everything I could to try to make my yeast happy.
Given all that, I was disheartened to look in on the beer last evening and discover that the temperature, which was suppose to be around 18C, had dropped to 16.5. True, it was still well within the Ale temperature rate, but I knew that especially with this kind of wort, you don't want the kind of under-performance that you'd get with lower temperature. Typically, at this stage, the internal heat produced by the fermentation would be enough to keep the temperature up, but for some reason, it wasn't happening this time. Never daunted, I pulled out my handy-dandy heat wrap and set it on the fermentor. Within the hour the temperature was back were it was suppose to be. Yet my heart was heavy: I had just gotten the heat wrap, and had not yet had a chance to attach the temperature controller to it, so I knew I couldn't leave it in the fermentation fridge over night. I was worried that the temperature would drop again, and the yeast would be unhappy.
Turns out I needn't have worried. When I woke up this morning, the temperature reading was 18.2. Apparently fermentation had started in earnest and the wort was warming itself. I could also tell it was going well because I could smell it from across the room. Delighted, I opened the fridge to look at the beer, and was astounded: The fermentor had turned into a volcanic irruption. There was thick krausen covering the outside of the demijohn on all sides, and the lid had blown completely off and was resting in the corner of the fridge. It was amazing. It gave the words "High Krausen" a whole new meaning. It was a great sight to get up to in the morning (I think only a beer-geek can get excited at the sight of a sticky mess like this. But some messes ARE highly exciting.)
Well, as exciting as it was, it did need to be cleaned up. And given the high gravity of the wort, it was clear that I would not be top cropping this yeast, so preserving it was not much of an issue. I grabber a sterilized ladle (Blow torches are so handy in these cases, aren't they?) and a plastic container and ladled all the stuff of the fermentor. I grabbed the lid, scrubbed it of dried yeast, sanitized it and placed it back on top. And then I cleaned the sides. All in all, I think I collected enough yeast during cleanup to ferment a good size batch of small beer. Sadly, it was all going in the drain, but still pretty amazing to see.
Before I left for work, I took another look in the fridge. There was already a new spur of yeast driving down the side of the fermentor. I'm guessing I'm in for another round of cleaning tonight. I don't mind though. If nothing else, it gave me an idea for a name for this beer. I'm going to call it McGeyzer ;)