A Leap Second Celebration

--Pancho Luna

It was a dark and stormy night (I’ve always wanted to write that) as I stood next to my 15 passenger van, looking down from the glare of the police spotlight that shown on me as another police officer checked my drivers license and insurance against their records. I thought back to how this had all started for me July 5th, 2005 at 6:06 PM.

You see, as a member of the Kansas City Bier Meisters, we have a web forum site that is linked to our web page. Philip Leonard has some very cool computer stuff and is able to host both. He had posted, “Commemorative beer anyone?? There will be a leap second added this year on December 31st (the 23rd leap second). I think a commemorative beer is in order. It should be one that can be laid down and not opened until the next (and subsequent) leap second(s). What do you think??” Diesel Bob (aka Rob Beck, who will remain anonymous) was in from the start. I on the other hand had a few questions. I know I’m not the quickest wort chiller in the group but what is a “Leap Second”?? Well apparently everyone but I knew the answer. An internet search found a Wikipedia article on this and it states "A leap second is an intercalary, one-second adjustment that keeps broadcast standards for time of day close to mean solar time. Leap seconds are necessary to keep time standards synchronized with civil calendars, the basis of which is astronomical." [www.wikipedia.org] WHAT?! Philip then spoke English to me and said, "The 'powers that be' need to adjust the atomic clock from time-to-time because the Earth's rotation is slowing. Yes, this is a doomsday thing so you'd better get to brewing while you still have time." Wouldn’t it just be easier to get another clock? Oh well, so much for common sense. I was in!


We had originally thought of making a Barleywine. I suggested making a Bigfoot clone to kick the atomic clock in the pooter and get it moving better. Diesel Bob suggested a Russian Imperial Stout. I was ecstatic! I love a good RIS. Over the next few months we bounced back and forth with different ideas, barrel/no barrel, used whiskey barrel/new barrel, who gets to store it until the next Leap Second, etc. By the middle of September, and millions of web posts later, we had decided that we would do an Old Rasputin clone, no barrel and Philip will be storing the product for the long haul. Sunday, October 23rd was the only day we could all get together so it became our target date and the beginning of a series of problems (my boss calls them “opportunities”) that we would battle to accomplish our goal.

Thursday rolled around and I was to take my brewing system over to Philip’s house. I was the one with the most portable system so it made sense for me to be the one to go to someone’s home. Rob Beck…oh sorry…Diesel Bob has a built in system. His system consists of a bunch of burners all down in his basement that put out an equatorial heat and humidity that only an iguana would enjoy. All this heat is pulled out by a stove vent over the brewing area. The ventilation fan is about the size of a CD but Diesel Bob says it works just fine. Philip’s system is a two level wooden platform on casters with ½ barrel kegs for all the vessels. His RIMS system works very well for him. This then brings us to the mighty Low Rider. It’s a beautiful piece of German engineering and construction. A HERMS system, five feet in length, three ½ barrel kegs used for the mash tun, hot liquor tanks and brew kettle. Hard copper plumbing connects all three vessels via a water pump that could easily be found on the fire truck of a small village somewhere. Marty Ammon (another anonymous forum member known as SURFSUPKS) designed and hand crafted the works. My suggestion on the design…I want big fluffy wheels and I got them! This brings us back to the cold and rainy night.

On Thursday night after work, I loaded the rig into my van and drove down towards Philip’s house. I had a low tire on the back of my rig so I stopped at the closest gas station to Philip’s house. As I stood there filling my tires, a police officer pulled up behind my van and shined what I thought was an airplane landing light on me. Fine, I’ll work on my tan! Another officer pulled in front of my vehicle and proceeded to ask me questions as he left his vehicle. My rig apparently resembled some kind of equipment used to make more colorful products. Forty five minutes and a short course on brewing later, I was given a police escort to Philip’s neighborhood. What a rush! Now I know what the President feels like!

Diesel Bob brought the ingredients to my house on Friday that he had purchased at our local brew shop, Bacchus and Barleycorn. They separated all of our specialty grains into three packages for our ease of use, packed our fresh hops and kicked Diesel out the door with a smile on their face (talk about customer service!). We used up an entire 55 pound sack of Maris Otter for our base malt. Philip (aka Some Wacko with a Stir Plate) had spent the week building up a yeast starter and was having a tough time convincing the yeast to stay inside the big 4 liter flask he was using. They grow up so fast.

When the day finally arrived I popped over to Philip’s (sans police escort) and the brewing began or so I thought. I had forgotten to get my propane tanks filled and left my thermometers in the kitchen…off to the hardware store. A dozen breakfast burrito’s, shared by the two of us and Marc Gaspard, who dropped by, got the day started. Once started it was smooth sailing. Then it happened…stuck mash! On both systems…at the same time! Philip attached his portable air unit to a hose that circulates wort through the mash tun (ok he blew into the hose) and I flipped a few valves and reversed the flow of wort and back flushed my pickup pipe in the mashtun. Neither attempt worked on the first try but after a few attempts we were able to get both mashes moving again. Twenty pounds of grain can really compact a grain bed! We missed our pre-boil gravities but made up for it in the boil. Our hop additions went well and we were in the primary in about eight hours from the start…but wait, where’s Diesel Bob? We continued with our shut down and clean up and thought about calling Diesel. Then it happened, Diesel Bob was there! He’d had the same issues we did and he came through like a champ! We quickly poured his wort into the 20 gallon fermenter and pushed the whole thing into a refrigerator with temperature controls. Diesel Bob provided an air pump, filter and air stone for aerating the wort and a schedule that Philip was to follow to the minute!

Well we did it! Fifteen gallons of 23rd Leap Second Russian Imperial Stout are in the primary fermenter and going strong! Three brewers, using three separate systems, the same recipe on the same day (and same bat channel) pulled it off. It was Philip’s idea, Diesel Bob’s technical expertise and my breakfast burrito’s that made this day a success. If nothing else it provided us with a way to get together and goof around. This is what brewing is all about for me. Philip says Ben Franklin’s 300th birthday is on the horizon….I wonder what we should brew…

Pancho Luna

Special thanks to Philip Leonard and Rob Beck for all the hard work and planning they did to make the event a great one.