Posts Tagged home brewing

Week 4 Brew 2: The Brown

IMG_1916Finally the time has come to taste the fruits of my efforts on this brown ale. All in all, I would say it was a good effort and fun, to be sure. As I got ready to crack the first one (I chose the last bottle from the batch that was not quite full), anticipation built within me and those around me. I put the bottle opener to the cap and strained my ears to try to hear that magical hiss while the gas from the yeast doing its thing escaped the bottle.

Alas, there was none. It failed to carbonate. While a little disappointing, I was not going to let it get me down and I brought out a glass to see how the thing poured. With no carbonation, of course, there was no head. Instead, it poured a little like juice. It was a lovely deep red color, which I was heartened to see.

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It still smelled wonderful, though- a kind of sweet and sour maltiness. That gave me further hope for the taste. The first sip brought a heavy malt flavor, likely due to the lack of time the hops spent in the boil. Otherwise, it tasted very much like the smell. The sweetness did linger a bit throughout, until the sourness came in. That, in turn, gave way to a not unpleasant bitterness on the finish.

So, as I said, not bad for a brew I made on my own and a fun learning experience to boot. Now I want to try to re-pitch some yeast into the rest of the batch to see if I can get some suds into this beer. I will let you know how that turns out.

 

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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 5 Brew 1- The Tasting

IMG_1551Hi All,

It’s been a while, but we finally got to tasting our brew. Um…let’s just say it went about as expected. Hopeful as we were through this whole process, we fully expected to need a couple of brews under our collective belts before we got it down. Our beer was in the bottles for probably about 3 weeks, so our problem definitely couldn’t have been premature tasting. When we cracked the first bottle, after letting it chill in the fridge for about 48 hours, there was a promising hiss from the pressure that built up from the carbon dioxide released by the yeast (which is what creates the carbonation at this point in the process). This was a hopeful sign of the results of our efforts. The liquid was a dark brownish-red color, a little cloudy (we used no fining agents) and smelled slightly sour with some hoppiness and heavy malt. It had a head was respectable, though it didn’t stick to the sides of the glass with any kind of lacing, and large, quickly-rising bubbles from the carbonation.

Now…the taste. It tasted quite sour, accompanied by a faint chemical taste. It was almost skunky, which I’ve learned can be due to light and/or air contamination. It can’t be the former, since we kept it securely locked away in a closet, undisturbed, in the corrugated cardboard box the empty bottles came in. So, in my estimation from my infinite experience as a home brewer, I have deduced the following likely causes of our Pepe Le Pew-esque brew:

-We didn’t get the caps on tightly enough
-We used too much/too strong a concentration of sanitizer
-There was some kind of contamination from all the dog hair or dust flying around in the house

To be fair, we did only crack a couple of bottles (gave one to a friend to diagnose), so some of the other 43 remaining bottles we have may be OK.

Ah well, c’est la vie. On to the next brew: the nutty brown!

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Day 4 Brew 1- Bottling

Hey beer fans,

BottlesToday is the last step in actually “making” beer. We moved it from the secondary fermenter to bottles. Of course, as with the rest of this whole process, it was not as simple as that. First, we had to arrange everything on the counter around the kitchen, as that is the best place we have for such an operation, such that we had a place for the bottles, bucket, carboy and capper.

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After rinsing, washing and sanitizing everything, we went to work. First, we had to get the brew from the secondary fermenter to a bucket for easier racking, or filling, of the bottles. To do this, we placed the carboy and a clean bucket with a spigot with a packet of priming sugar in the bottom next to each other on the floor and used the auto siphon to transfer the beer from the carboy to the bucket, making sure to avoid touching the bottom of the siphon to the bottom of the fermenter. You see, when those wonderful little yeast do their work, they create waste and even die in the process of fermentation. All this junk (yeast poop and carcases) sinks to the bottom of the vessel and you don’t want that in your beer. ‘Twould make it a bit…chewy, methinks. This took a good 10 minutes to fill the bucket. IMG_1500

That done, we moved the now filled bucket onto the counter above so that gravity could help us with the next step: actually filling the bottles. We removed the hose from the auto siphon (we’ll get more hose for future brewing). Making sure to sanitize both hose and spigot, we attached the hose. At this point, I remembered we never took a gravity reading before we started this process and I was curious. After fumbling around with the hydrometer, which measures the specific gravity of the beer (reading the instructions for something I don’t yet understand that well was yet another lesson in humility), we placed it into a separate sample cup of brew. It didn’t float as it should. So, we decided that we would just take the reading from the brew in the bucket we had just transferred to. After sanitizing it, we carefully lowered it into the beer. We had to wait for it to stop moving around to see the reading. It read a 1.04. HydrometerNot having the slightest idea what this meant, we consulted the chart the tool came with. I don’t want to say I was disappointed (I’ll actually be surprised if this stuff is even fit for human consumption), but the chart seemed to indicate that our beer was a paltry 1.4% alcohol. Of course, it was about 90 degrees outside today, so in the house it was probably…90 degrees and the chart’s warmest temperature range was 74 degrees. So much for that. We didn’t take a reading after the initial boil as we were supposed to anyway (read instructions carefully, kids!), so we would have had nothing to compare even an accurate reading to.

Next we set to prepping the bottles. Looking around the kitchen we could find no more suitable a place to keep them, as we have no bottling rack, than the dishwasher. So we lined them up and sprayed them down with sanitizer and let them air dry. This was probably the only part in this entire process where we actually let sanitizer dry out or evaporate off of something that would come into contact with our beer. Hey, our beer will at least sanitize your insides…IMG_1506 Finally, it came time to fill our prepped bottles and cap them. This took a little getting used to, as we had to make sure there were no snags in the hose coming from the bucket spigot, but after a couple of sticky spills, we got a system down. All told, we filled 47 of the 48 bottles the kit came with. Not bad, considering our rough estimate was that we would fill those 48 and still have some brew left over. Turns out we were bad guessers, and we have almost two beautiful cases of what is hopefully a tasty beer. I’ll let you know in 10-14 days when we are ready to crack one. IMG_1509I just hope none of these bad boys explode in my closet!

Until then, happy brewin’!

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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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Day 2 Brew 1- Concocting the Brew

We finally got our stuff together and actually brewed beer yesterday! We hauled all the stuff in, arranged it around the kitchen and started mixing together the ingredients. We started by boiling 2 gallons of water in the 5-gallon brew kettle, then adding the grains to steep. This is probably the best smelling part of this whole process. It had a very hearty, grainy, earthy smell. Smelled awesome.

Grain steepingThe grains came pre-smashed, else we would have had to roll them with a rolling pin or beer bottle (an actual suggestion from the directions from the folks at Midwest.) We found out only after the water came to a boil that the kit did not come with a thermometer (wtf?) and also that we were supposed to keep it at a temperature no hotter than 155.IMG_1463

So, after a quick trip to the store for specifically calibrated equipment, we took some measurements and had to let it cool down and hope we didn’t burn our grains. After removing the grain bag and bringing it to a boil (again) on the stove, we removed it from the heat and added our liquid malt. Once the malt was all stirred in and dissolved, it was back to the heat to boil again, this time for a whole hour. This changed the smell a bit from a grainy, earthy smell to a slightly sweeter grainy, earthy smell. The only thing to break up this hour of waiting was adding the hops part way through, as directed by the instructions. We then had to cool it down to about 80 degrees as quickly as possible, so we used the chiller ring and ran hose water through it in the back yard (totally sanitary).

ChillinThis done, we then transferred the whole mess to one of the buckets provided in the kit, called the primary fermenter,  and placed it in our custom-built beer resting vestibule (read: closet) to sit and ferment for the next 2 weeks. I just hope the temperature stays constant and cool enough, as it gets pretty hot in this house. This closet, though, is pretty much in the dead center of the house, so I don’t think we could have gotten it in a better insulated spot.

beer resting vestibuleThis will probably be the longest two weeks of my life. Then, we transfer it to a glass carboy (think Sparkletts container) to siphon it into the bottling bucket to mix it with the priming sugar and carbonate. More on that in the next step!

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Day 1 Brew 1- Beer Supplies Have Arrived

Well, the beer making supplies, with equipment upgrade kit two, have arrived and all seems to be in good order. We got 2 carboys, so we can actually make two different kinds of beer. We are starting with a recipe for red from Midwest Supplies, the company we got the kit from (if you couldn’t tell) and the next will probably be a pale ale.

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We will also be attempting the recipes we have in a book from Stone Brewing Co. That should be an exercise in humility. Now we just need to set aside an 8 hour block of time so we can get to brewin’! I’ll send an update once we get everything started. Until then, happy brewin’!

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Taking the journey

Hello fellow beer fans and aficionados,

Since I created this blog mainly to help share my first experience with home brewing, let me start off by saying that I could not be more excited about it. The kit should be here tomorrow and my garage will be transformed from a place to store my stuff that I don’t need into an enchanted laboratory where the most magical elixir in the land will be brewed. It should be an interesting experience going from casual, although dedicated, beer drinker to a maker of the stuff.

I am excited by all the different kinds of beer out there- from lagers to ales and stouts (oh my!). I particularly enjoy drinks from the ale family, but all are good and helped ignite my interest in brewing and beer culture and cultivated it into a growing passion. As I learn more about home brewing, I will post all of the trials and tribulations that are what make this whole process exhilarating.

So, I hope people will join me on this journey navigating the exciting world of home brewing.

-Jarrod

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