Brewing Batch 0005, a Boondoggle of Bag Breakery

Like things seem to happen every year, I have a ton of vacation time left to use up before December 31, so I've begun taking days off here and there. Friday was one of those days and what better way to spend it than brewing. So Friday, after lunch, while Kim was running errands I started brewing up my Alpha King clone.

Instead of buying six bottles of spring water this time I used tap water and boiled to free the chlorine. This batch called for doing a four gallon boil so it took some time to get that up to heat. From there I let it cool to 160 in order to do the grain steeping.

While that was cooling I bagged up my grains into the hop sock. For some reason the kit included two hop socks, but since there's a dryhop in secondary, I just assumed the bag was for those pellets. So jam jam jam the grains in the sock and tie it off as best I can.

About thirty minutes of waiting and ploppity-plop, in goes the grain bag and I'm stirring and stirring and stirring. The kids are really interested in what 'we' are doing so I'm giving a mini-tutorial. Stir stir stir and then it seems like the grain bag is a little easier to push around the brewpot. And oh look, now there's little grains floating around the wort. And oh, here's the grain bag all sopping wet and untied.

Panic! No, that won't help. I continued the steeping and stirring, put the extra hop sock over a colander and poured the wort through into another spare pot. Since the wort was still warm and I didn't want to make a (huge) mess, I used a 2 qt Pyrex measuring bowl to slowly pour the wort over the grains (is that almost a mini-mash?) and in little time at all I was back on the stove. (One note: would hot side aeration be an issue that early in the game or is that more of a problem once sugars are converted, post-boil? I splashed it as little as possible.)

Surprisingly, I got the four gallons up to a nice noisy boil rather easily and before too long I'd been through all of the hop additions and was cooling the wort. It looked and smelled great and the hydrometer said I hit the OG spot on, 1.066.

My yeast pack, Wyeast 1056 XL, was severely bloated and in it went and by next morning things were bubbling nicely.

I'm planning to use the yeast cake from this batch for my next brew, a dryhopped amber ale, but from what I read, its a good idea to step up the gravity with each batch, fully utilizing all that happy active yeast.

I'm thinking to do a barleywine or DIPA after the amber ale, but I'm wondering this: Is the gradually higher gravity essential to sustain the yeast activity? Meaning, should I ramp up the gravity on the amber to ensure that the yeast is 'ready' for the big beer?