Here inlays the steps on how to get started brewing your own beer combined with a look into the semi-regular days of three amateur brewers from Olds College
Water + [heat] + Grains + [time] = Wort + [heat] + x(Hops + [time]) + Yeast + [time] = Beer
From whence doth beer come? Many people in this wonderful world don’t know how beer is actually made, and, quite frankly, up until about three weeks ago I only had a vague idea. Brewing is a complicated process that involves a little science, a lot of preparation and even more time and patience. Even after many brewery tours, discussing mash tuns, kettles, whirlpools and fermenters, I still didn’t really understand what was going on. This is mostly because I’m a “hands on” kind of learner; its very hard for me to really understand something unless I can do it myself; learning by trial and error. The next big step for me was to get my hands gristy and do a home brew.
Curtis, a fellow classmate, very generously offered to let us use his home brew equipment if we could store it for him. After our lovely trip to Yakima, we picked a day to all brew together, chose a couple recipes and got started. Your first step as a brewer is acquiring the proper equipment you will need:
- Sanitizing solutions
- A reasonably accurate temperature sensor
- A large ladle to stir with
- 2-3 rubber tubes to transfer the wort(beer) form one vessel to another
- A large measuring cup
- Sanitary rubber gloves
- A few large pales
- A hydrometer and measuring cylinder
- Blow off tube
- A controlled source of heat
- A Brew/ Mash kettle: (very large stainless steel pot that has a spout at the bottom)
- A Whirlpool/ Lauter/ Mash tun: (a tub in which the mash can rest and eventually filter off the wort. Temperature must be monitored. Its like a very large Thermos equipped with a spout and a false [filter] bottom)
- A wort Chiller (optional, but exteremly handy)
- A safe vessel in which the wort can ferment (carboys. Glass is preferable)
I want to very passively say something before we get started: A clean brewer and clean equipment = Good beer. Home brewers world wide have a “less than great” reputation for cleanliness and unfortunately, there just isn’t very much they can do about it. Since they don’t really have access to all the right tools to keep their brewing space and equipment clean, they tend to produce hazy, dirty, ropey beers. That being said, it doesn’t mean they should not try! The more conscious your are about your cleaning habits, the better your beer will taste. Why? because there are germs that can contaminate beer on everything you touch including the air. It does not matter that you think you are boiling off all the germs in the boil kettle. There are always bugs lingering in and around your beer. So I will say now: Sanitize, sanitize and sanitize again. Do not fear the foam caused by a no rinse sanitizing agent, for when you rinse with yucky tap water, you have now contaminated your stuff all over again. Wear a hat, wear sanitized gloves, wear clean clothes, sanitize the surfaces on which you rest your stirring ladle and have at least two spray bottles of sanitizing solution handy. Be paranoid about cleanliness and your beer will be better.
Once you have your pretty, freshly sanitized equipment, it will be time to choose a recipe. You can find recipes online (be careful about which ones, some of them are a very interpretative) or you can take one from a published recipe book. Tom, Curtis and I chose a clone recipe of Lagunitas IPA from Clone brews for our first beer. If you have never brewed before in you life, I highly recommended that you choose a really simple recipe that will produce beer you are familiar with; American Pale Ales are a good place to start. If you pick a beer which requires a little more “Babying”, like a Belgian triple for example, the likelihood that you will run into problems are much higher. Become a master of the basics, and the more complex recipes will not be as hard.
Now that you have a recipe, you need to go grocery shopping! This was probably my favorite part of the whole process. Going to measure out the grains, weighing hops and choosing yeast felt like a scavenger hunt that took all day. For our recipe, the malts we used are 2-row Pale Ale, Crystal 15, Crystal 40 and Specialty B. Once you measure out your grains, you have to mill them (put them through a grinder to break the hard grains up to expose the starches) you can do this manually (mortar and pestle), but it will take a very long time. Also on the topic of milling, you don’t want to grind it too fine or too course. just enough to break open the grains is sufficient.
Hops usually come pelleted, in extract form or as whole leaf hops from craft beer stores. In most recipes, you will have a few different hop varieties which have been chosen and then added in the beer at different times to create different flavors and aromas in the final product. The first hop addition you make will be added to create the bitterness in the beer. The rest of the additions will be thrown in for flavor and aroma. If your recipe calls for a specific ingredient that you cannot find anywhere, its pretty easy to make substitutions. For example, if you need Challenger hops but cannot find them anywhere, you can replace it with German Perle hops which has similar essential oil content; if you need superior 2-row pilsner malt, American 2-row pils will work in its place as well. The General idea with substitution of hops is to pick a different hop from the same continent/ growing climate that also has a similar essential oil content. The same rule applies to grains, but instead of essential oil, look at starch content, what country it is from and what it is designed to do in beer.
Yeast is most certainly something you will need to pick up for your brew. It is a common misconception that hops are the ingredient that creates the most flavor and aroma in beers. WRONG! its yeast. Yeast is almost always the largest contributor for flavor and aroma. No, you may not use bakers yeast. No, its not the same thing. There are hundreds of different strains of yeast and each one has a specific use. Use the yeast that your recipe suggests. Try not to change the yeast that your recipe calls for unless you know it will do the exact same thing. You can usually buy little pouches of yeast which will have instructions on the back for how to turn it into liquid yeast and what temperature to pitch it at. Some people just put the powder in the wort, others prefer to add water and then pitch. I prefer to liquefy it first to get the juices flowing before pitching it.
This websight makes comparing beer ingredients easy! beerlegends.com
OK, you have your equipment and your ingredients are all milled, measured and ready to go….
Sanitize your equipment again and get brewing! Start by measuring out the appropriate amount of water for your recipe (usually 3:1, water:grain) Heat your water in your Mash Kettle to the appropriate temperature listed in your recipe. Once your water is hot enough, carefully transfer your water from the kettle to your second vessle (Whirlpool/ Lauter tun/ Mash tun), add the grains, stir it up until the grain is nice and saturated, then close the lid to keep the heat in and monitor the heat for however long your mashing time is (for us it was 90min mash). if the temperature drops, add boiling water a cup at a time to bring the temperature up again.
Now you have some time to have a beer, read your latest craft beer magazine and relax. keep an eye on that temperature though! The starches in the malt need a specific combination of heat and time to produce the right sugars at the right quantities for the beer you chose. Give it a stir every 25 minutes or so to ensure all the grain is being utilized.
With ten minutes remaining on the clock, you need to get yourself set up for the next stage of the brewing process: Separating the grain from the wort or in other words Sparging. I like to recirculate my wort a little bit before the actual sparging begins. This helps with clarifying and cleaning out the big bits of grain that are floating around in the wort. Place your mash on a raised surface and place a large, clean pale below your mash tun. Attach a sanitized tube to the spout and drain a couple liters of the wort slowly into the pale. Then carefully and gently return the wort to the mash tun by pouring the wort you took over a large spoon, letting it run down the side of the mash tun back to the grain bed. Do this about four or five times and you will notice a significant difference in the clarity of your wort. After recirculating, you may begin to sparge! BrewWiki.com gives a fairly accurate description on the process. “After the mashing process is complete, the grains, water and sugar are still in suspension in the mash container, called the mash tun. The sugars are separated from the grains in a process called sparging. The mash tun typically has a false bottom or screen at the bottom with a spigot that allows the brewer to draw run-off from the bottom of the grain bed. Hot water at approximately 178 F is slowly added to the top of the grain bed, run through the bed, and drawn off the bottom through the false bottom and out the spigot to the boiling vessel“. You should be adding water at around the same speed as you are draining you wort. the Point of adding water is to help separate the grain bed from the wort. It is the same physical work as recirculating, but instead of putting the wort back into the mash, you let the wort drain completely and put hot water into the grain bed with the spoon technique I mentioned earlier. Capiche?
OK, lets talk about gravity. This is the “sciency” part of brewing that scares a lot of people. Fear not! its not that hard and its very important to keep track of the density of your wort since we are doing a lot of boiling and, as a result, your water content is changing through the process of evaporation. The SG (specific Gravity) should be indicated in the recipe. If the numbers are way off, you may either need to continue boiling (high numbers = low concentration) or add boiling water (low numbers = high concentration) to the wort. You should be testing the gravity of your beer at least three times in the brewing process.
- After sparging (Pre Boil gravity)
- before fermentation (Original Gravity)
- After fermentation (Final Gravity)
Take about 30ml of your wort in a clear glass test tube. put the hydrometer in and spin with your fingers (like you were spinning a toy top) it so that it floats in the center of the sample. take note of where the top of the sample is on the hydrometer, write down the number make the appropriate adjustments to the wort as need be and your done!
Now potions class begins!
Take your wort and drain it back into the brew kettle. turn the heat back on until you have a nice boil happening and then add your first hop addition. Stir for the first 5-7 minutes or so and set your timer for however long your boil should be (indicated on your recipe, usually about 60 minutes) USE CAUTION HERE. Beer has a mind of its own; it has attitude. When you add your first hop addition there will usually be a reaction called the “hop break”. Without getting too deep into it, the essential oils in the hops are not naturally soluble until you heat them at a high temperature for a certain amount of time. When they are heated for a while, they change their molecular structure and then become soluble. The result in this chemical reaction is an over boiling, grumpy ass wort. To avoid any spillage and potential burns have a spray bottle of cool water on hand to spray the hop/wort foam down if you notice a quick accumulation of foam. After the hop break, you usually don’t have to worry about your wort giving you any attitude about the rest of the additions; just the first one. Keep an eye on the clock! at around the fifteen minute and five minute mark on most recipes there will be the other hop additions. Stir them in and then once the timer goes off, its time to chill your wort!
The reason we need to cool the wort before adding your yeast is because the yeast will not survive at temperatures that high.(Dead yeast = no fermentation = no alcohol) On the essential equipment list, I have listed a wort chiller as optional. You can just let your wort sit at room temperature until it cools down completely, however that will take a very, VERY long time. I absolutely adore anything offers a simple solution to problems and the simple solution to this problem is the wort chiller. It is this amazing copper hose/ coil that gets hooked up to a cold water source and allows cold water to run through the coil and out the other end.
When the coil is placed in the wort with the cold water running through the coil, it cools the wort down very very quickly. You can go from 70C to 18C in a matter of ten minutes and, in my humble opinion, that makes this springy bit of metal a work of art. Go buy one and save yourself the trouble of waiting.
Alright, your wort is cool and still sitting in your boil kettle. At this point, you should measure the gravity again. After that, you simply have to siphon the wort into your SANITIZED fermenter/ carboy and pitch your yeast.
” I don’t care if your beer is running around raging and puking green flames [after you add the yeast during fermentation]. Give it a week and see what happens.” -Michael Ostlund
A comment on yeast: It is a living organism with a mind of its own. Often times when you pitch yeast it doesn’t behave exactly the way you expect it to. as my good friend Mike said to me, Give it time and see what happens! Pitch your yeast into the carboy full of wort, put the blow off tube on the top of the carboy, run the tube into a pot of water and Bobs your uncle! Leave it alone for a week or so and watch the magic happen.
Beer should be left to ferment for about 2-3 weeks. check the gravity a couple of times during the fermentation process. The primary fermentation takes place in the first 5-6 days. At this stage, the yeast is converting the sugars in the beer into alcohol and producing CO2. A foamy layer will form at the top of the beer called the Kraeusen (Fun fact about kraeusen: you can actually use it to carbonate your beer through a process called kraeusening) Most brewers like to move the beer to a different carboy at this point (6-14 days) to help with clarification. This is the second stage of fermentation which usually allows for unwanted flavors, proteins and yeast to fall out of the beer.
I am going to stop at this point, because my beer is not ready to to cold crash or bottle yet! Since I have not done anything past the second week of fermentation, I can not blog about it. Stay tuned for the rest of the story and happy brewing!