Posts Tagged fermentation

Week 3 Brew 2: The Brown

The time has come to place this beautiful liquid into bottles. The smell is awesome– a kind of sweet and malty sourness that gives me every hope that this concoction will turn into delicious beer. I started by washing all my bottles in the dishwasher to clean off any dust or other particles that may have been on there. Then I filled a bucket with sanitizer solution, which consisted of a pack of powdered Star San that came with the kit. While the bottles were washing and the other parts were sanitizing, I went to the store to get some sugar.

IMG_1896At this point the beer is just about ready, but still needs some final settling in the bottles and carbonation. To do this, the remaining yeast particles still suspended in the beer need something to feed on. To do this, sugar is added to the mixture. Some kits come with stuff pre-made, but mine did not. So I got some corn sugar and mixed it in about 2 cups of water on the stove. While this came to a boil, I transferred the beer to another bucket to further reduce the yeast crud leftover. I took care to make sure it didn’t slosh around, as adding too much oxygen can make the beer taste stale. I also took this opportunity to take what is called the final gravity. This is the same thing as the original gravity, but much more of the suspended yeast is now fully fermented, so the number is lower. Using the hydrometer again, I came up with an alcohol content of about 5%.

Now, of course, I forgot to take the temperature of the mixture, as I was supposed to. This is because temperature affects how the yeast reacts in the beer during fermentation. Keep it too hot and you risk killing the yeast; keep it too cool and the yeast may not be active enough to initiate fermentation. No matter; the difference in temperature according to the scale on the hydrometer is a matter of .5%. Plus, we tasted it straight from the hydrometer container from which we took a sample and it tasted great– pretty much like the smell.

IMG_1894After the corn sugar was dissolved and cooled to make a syrupy mixture, I stirred this into the beer bucket. I allowed it to cool a bit more as I put the washed bottles into my sanitizing bucket, taking care to not let them knock into one another too much.

Then I set the bottling bucket up on the counter above the dishwasher. The idea was to use the dishwasher door to catch any overfilled bottles or other spills. You see, beer in this form tends to be quite sticky when spilled.

Once again using the auto IMG_1899siphon, I attached it to filling wand, which is basically a tube with a ball valve at the bottom and I filled each bottle rather quickly. A friend helped me by capping the bottles. I hope the result is something more drinkable than my last attempt, but nonetheless, this has been a fun experience and anything but my last…

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So now they sit for another week to “bottle condition,” during which time they will also (hopefully) carbonate.

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Week 2 Brew 2: The Brown

It’s the second week of The Brown brewing experiment and I am ready to move the beer to secondary fermentation. This is the stage during which the beer settles down and ages. To do this, I used an auto siphon to move the beer from the primary fermentation bucket to another bucket. The auto siphon, sometimes known as a “racking cane”, is a neat gadget that relies on suction to provide a continuous flow up the tube of the device and into a hose attached at the other end. This is much quicker than traditional siphoning using the mouth– not to mention much more sanitary.

IMG_1871This step in the process could not be easier: I merely placed the end of the auto siphon into the fermented brew, attached a 3/8″ hose to the outlet at the top of the siphon and placed the end of the hose into the secondary fermenting bucket. Then I just let it rip, taking care to let as little of the yeast muck into the transfer as possible. This is because beer in the secondary fermentation step is not to be exposed to the dead yeast and other debris (also known as “trub”) that have settled to the bottom of the primary fermenter. This helps avoid off flavors and such in the finished product.

The entire 3-gallon mixture took about 5 minutes to drain into the secondary bucket. After it was done, I just put the lid on the secondary bucket and wrapped it up with a towel like the previous week to keep the temperature more consistent throughout.

Now to wait another week while this does its thing. Then it will be time to bottle this stuff up!

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Week 1 Brew 2: The Brown

IMG_1889The time has come for my second attempt at brewing beer at home. This time I went with a Nut Brown Ale kit from All About Brewing. They have a pretty wide variety of kits to choose from and I seriously debated getting their Irish Red Ale kit as a sort of do-over from last time, but perhaps next time. This time I planned to dedicate myself to correcting as many of the wrongs, or things my inexperience told me were wrong, with the last batch. Not only was I going to sanitize all my equipment properly, but I told myself to read the instructions with a much keener eye. With these things in mind, I set to work.

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First, I compared all of the equipment to the list included on the box to make sure it was all there. After confirming it was, I set to cleaning everything in the box. This cannot be stressed enough for anyone thinking about brewing their own stuff at home: do not assume things are clean out of the box or merely “good enough” with a simple rinse; clean anything that could come into contact with your brew. Use sanitizer, either the stuff that comes in the kit, or if the kit does not include any, just go purchase a food grade sanitizer. Star San is a popular choice, but there are others. It can come in two forms: pre-mixed and the powder you have to mix into water yourself, like making some kind of weird Kool-Aid (although not harmful if it touches stuff you eat or drink from, it is still not recommended you drink it straight.)

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Once I was sure everything was clean, I moved on to the second step, which was to steep the grains. Now, this is the first place we messed up with our last brew, which brings me to my second recommendation: read all instructions CAREFULLY. In this step, you are not boiling the grains, but merely steeping them as with a tea bag in tea. Make sure you have a pot large enough to boil the amount of water appropriate to the amount of beer you want to end up with. This particular kit calls for 6 gallons of water, but I didn’t have a pot big enough for this, so I split a 5 gallon Sparkletts-style container between two pots, with about 3 gallons going into one pot and another gallon boiling in a smaller one alongside it.

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This allowed me to steep the grains in water that got hot enough on an electric stove to get to 170 degrees in a reasonable amount of time (~1 hour). When it got to 170, I removed the grain bag (which smelled delicious, by the way) and added the second pot of boiling water to get as close to the original 4 gallons I had started with. I brought the earthy-smelling water to a boil, which took about another 20 or so minutes, took it off the heat, stirred in the malt extract that was included in the kit, and brought that back up to a boil. At this point, the mixture is called “wort”.

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The malt step was kind of an adventure: I had to keep the canister of syrupy liquid in a bath of warm water to loosen it up and make sure I was able to get enough of the extract into the pot. Then I shook some hot water around the inside to get the last of it and…the canister exploded all over the kitchen. Yep, sticky, syrupy malt extract all over the place. Oh well- you live and you learn.

After it was at a boil again for 15 minutes, I added the bittering hops. The recipe called for a full 60 minute boil with the hops, but I like my beer less hoppy, so I decided to decrease the exposure of the hops. This kit came with a clarifying agent called a Whirlflock tablet. This helps to take any haziness out of the mixture. I added this tablet with about 5 minutes to go in the final boil.

While that was finishing up, I had a buddy watch the boil while I ran to the store to get some ice, as the next step was to cool the wort as quickly as possible. Last time, we used a chiller ring, but we didn’t have one for this brew, so the plan was to put the kettle in the sink and pack the sink with ice around the kettle. I figured direct contact with the metal sides of the kettle would transfer the heat pretty evenly. This process took much longer than I anticipated and about 30 minutes later I had it at 81 degrees. The instructions recommend 70-80 degrees, but I had an appointment in about 5 minutes, so I just wanted to get it done. I figured transferring the mixture to the primary fermenter would cool it down the rest of the way, anyway.

After transferring the 80-degree wort to the primary fermenting bucket, I added the yeast. The kit came with a packet of Safale US-05 yeast, which seems to be a pretty standard choice for making ales. I want to learn more about yeasts and maybe even culture my own someday. So, here is another step where I should have read more carefully, but in my rush, I did not… The packet is a dry yeast, similar to bread yeast, which means that I should have reconstituted it in 90-degree water for about 10 minutes before pitching it into the bucket with the wort. Well, I didn’t do that and just pitched the dry yeast straight into the bucket. This is what we did with our first brew and ended up with very carbonated beer (more on that in the third week).

It was at this point that I remembered something else I wanted to do this time that we had forgotten last time: to take what is called the ‘original gravity,’ which gives an idea of the potential alcoholic strength of the final brew. This measures the fermentable and unfermentable substances in the wort before fermentation. To do this, the kit came with an instrument called a hydrometer. It is a float or buoy with a scale printed on it that essentially compares the relative thickness of the liquid compared to just plain water. This brew came in at about 10% with this initial reading.

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Then I wrapped the fermenting bucket in a towel to keep the temperature somewhat consistent. We’ll see what happens, but for now, as with much of the beer-making process, all I can do is wait and prepare for week two: secondary fermentation.

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Day 3 Brew 1- Fermentation

So, as we continue our journey toward concocting that magical elixir we know as beer, I realized that I must clarify one thing. The period between Day “1” and Day “2” was actually more like 8 weeks, but for simplicity, I’m going for just days of actual activity in this whole process. So, in that spirit, I bring you Day 3 (no quotation marks this time)- Fermentation.

In this step we siphoned the partially fermented beer into the secondary fermenter, the carboy. This, we learned, is actually the preferred vessel for all fermentation, since we couldn’t see what was going on inside the bucket provided by Midwest Brewing Supplies. We learned this by going to All About Brewing, a very nondescript purveyor of everything beer (and soon whiskey) in El Cajon, CA, and talking to Jim. I highly recommend the expert guidance he provides, as he is a professional, a hobbyist, and most importantly, loves talking about beer and brewing. While there, I picked up a kit for my next brewing attempt: a nut brown ale. I may also pick up a yeast culture kit they have there to start growing my own yeast, but more on that later.

As for the current chapter in our journey toward mastering home brewing, today we siphoned the contents of the primary fermenter into the secondary fermenter to let it sit for another week to ferment further.

2nd fermentation We made sure, recalling advice from Jim at All About Brewing, to fill the air lock (the plastic tubing bit sticking out the top of the carboy) with a diluted solution of water and sanitizer, instead of just straight sanitizer, lest the liquid decide to drop into our brew and make it taste…sanitized. We can’t have that.

So, now we wait, which is probably the biggest pain of this whole process. The other big concern is sanitizing everything: equipment, dishes, hands, etc. We can’t have unwanted bacteria interrupting our wanted bacteria (the yeast) doing what it does best: making beer.

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