Homebrewing 101: Let’s Make Some Beer! (Part 2)
Now that you have a general idea of the ingredients and equipment required to brew beer at home… let's have some fun and make some beer!
A time honored tradition while making beer is to enjoy a glass of your previous batch while brewing. Be careful: don't enjoy too many! You don't want to get distracted and forget the watch the wort as it simmers. Boil-overs are sticky messes which will not endear you or your new hobby to your spouse.
If you don't have any homebrew to enjoy while brewing then a store-bought microbrew or import will have to do. Just make sure to have a couple of homebrews around next time.
For my example batch, I decided to brew an American Pale Ale. Not too dark and not too light- Pale Ales do have a bitter hoppiness that are often more than many non-beer drinkers would prefer. There are few beers that quench the thrist on a hot summer day after a 20 or 30 mile trail run than a citrusy-bitter Pale Ale however.
If you don't like hoppy (ie bitter) beers, don't worry, you can brew something else entirely for yourself such as a wheat or an Amber Ale.
The ingredients for this Pale Ale recipe are:
- 3 lbs Gold Dry Malt Extract
- 3.3 lbs Gold Liquid Malt Extract
- 1.5 lbs Carapils 60L grain
- 6 oz Dark Crystal grain
- 1/2 oz Magnum bittering hops
- 1/2 oz Ahtanum aroma hops
- Irish moss (a fining to help clear the beer)
- Wyeast London ESB Activator liquid yeast
- Enough water to make five gallons
I purchased these ingredients as a pre-assembled kit from Midwest Homebrewing. There are many books of beer recipes. As your experience with homebrewing increases, you'll be sure to want to try some recipes out. However, many homebrewing suppliers offer kits with all of the ingredients assembled and sold together.
Athough I enjoy trying out new recipes and tweaking old ones, sometimes when all I want to do is brew, the convenience of a kit is just the ticket.
The first step is to heat the water to boiling and then steep the specialty grains. After the water is heated to boiling, the heat is turned off and the grains in their cheese cloth muslin bag are left to soak for 30 minutes or more. These grains add flavor and body to the beer.
After the grains are done soaking, they are removed and discarded. Livestock and wild birds love them after they've cooled so we never throw them out.
Your hot unfermented beer is now known as wort. The next step is to add the liquid and dry malt extract. Once dissolved the heat is turned back on and the wort heated back to bubbling.
This next part is a critical step…
The wort must be stirred..and stirred… and stirred….
Do not walk away….
Do not turn away for even one second to do something else….
This initial heating of the wort is when boilovers occur. The same as a pot of milk, wort when first heated to boiling will foam and boil over in a second or two.
When the foaming begins, turn the heat down or off completely. This is where brewing with propane or natural gas is much better than on an electric range top. You are able to turn the heat down immediately and avoid boilovers. Brewing outside has the advantage of easier cleanup in the event of a boil over compared to on the kitchen stove.
Once the wort is done foaming, adjust the heat so it bubbles with a slow rolling boil- a little more than a simmer but a little lower than a brisk boil that foams over.
As soon as you have the heat regulated, it is often time to add the bittering hops, depending on the particular recipe.
In the pale ale recipe I am making, I added the 1/2 oz Magnum bittering hops at this point.
The wort should be slowed boiled for an hour or more. This allows the bittering hops and the eventual beer to be smoother. It also allows for a better "protein break." After the wort is boiled and beer is fermented, any unfermantables that could cloud the beer will more cleanly settle out.
Finings such as Irish Moss help clear the beer as well. Irish moss is usually added about 15 minutes before the boiling is done.
About one or two minutes before the end of the boil, the aroma hops are added. In this pale ale recipe, the aroma hops were the 1/2 oz Ahtanum aroma hops. Do not boil the aroma hops too long or you will loose the floral, spicy, citrusy or piney scents that each particular variety of aroma hops is known for. If overboiled, however, the aroma hops may become bittering hops.
Some recipes use dry hopping (not this one). The hops are added to the cooled wort in the fermentor to impart even stronger flavor and aroma.
The heat is turned off and the wort allowed to cool.
Some brewers cool their beer using a special device: a wort chiller. This allows for a better protein break and a fresher, cleaner tasting beer. I haven't invested in one yet, as my beer has always tasted and looked good the way it is.
Perhaps it is because I brew outside during the cool time of the year?
There are two basic types of fermentors: plastic bucket and glass carboy.
Plastic is less expensive and less likely to break. It has the disadvantage of being less airtight (oxygen is the enemy of beer) and less easily sanitized.
Glass is somewhat more expensive, but has the advantage of being airtight and better able to be sanitized.
I strongly encourage you to use a glass carboy. If you recieved a plastic bucket in a beer making kit given to you as a gift, do yourself and your beer a favor: put the bucket away and buy yourself a 6 1/2 gallon glass carboy for primary fermention.
Before using any beer equipment, it is essential to sanitize it to avoid wild yeasts or bacterial "infections" to your beer. Although they won't hurt you, an unwanted yeast or bacteria could result in strange off-flavors and bad-tasting beer.
There are beer sanitizers available from homebrew suppliers. However, one which is effective and readily available is plain-old household bleach. Add a small amount of bleach to your carboy, then some water and swish around to cover all surfaces.
Rinse at least twice or until there is no more bleach scent and you are ready to transfer the wort into the fermenter.
Once your equipment is sanitized and the wort is cool, you may now add it to the fermentor.
Always make sure it is completely cooled to avoid cracking the glass. As an added precaution, I always have some cold water already sitting in the bottom of the glass carboy before I pour the wort into it.
In the funnel, I have also placed a strainer to assist in filtering out large particles of grain, hops, etc. Anything that is missed will settle out during and after fermentation.
The next step is fun and easy: pitching the yeast!
Now "pitching the yeast" has nothing in common with throwing a ball…. "pitching the yeast" is simply pouring the yeast culture into the cooled wort to let it begin fermentation.
Dry yeasts and some of the older liquid yeasts required a starter culture to be prepared of 500 ml or so of wort. After several hours or a day, the actively fermenting starter culture was ready to be pitched into the main batch.
Not so with the Wyeast Activator, it is ready to be pitched directly into the wort immediately-without any preparation or starter culture.
Nevertheless, old habits die hard and I still prefer to warm my Wyeast Activators to room temperature, "smack" open the yeast culture inside and then let it work for a few hours until the bag puffs up.
That way I know I have a live culture…I've only had a dead yeast culture a handful of times in my two decades of brewing. Needless worry is eliminated when you know you've pitched a living healthy yeast culture into your batch.
The carboy may now be placed into a quiet, dark place to allow fermentation to begin. Most ale yeasts prefer room temperature; lagers require somewhat cooler temperatures. Follow your recipe!
An airlock in a rubber stopper is then inserted into the carboy.
As the yeast grows and coverts sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide is produced which must be vented off. Oxygen, however, is the enemy of beer and must be kept off of it. An airlock half filled with water allows the CO2 to be released while preventing oxygen from getting into the fermentor.
The sound of actively bubbling airlocks makes homebrewers smile:
Bloo-ip! Bloo-ip! Bloo-ip!
When the airlocks bubble, we know that our yeast is happy and the wort is being fermented into beer.