The Beginner Brewer: August 2012

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Your First Brew: A Step-by-Step Guide

So, brew day has arrived! If you've been following this blog, you may now be itching to brew your first beer (at least I hope you are).

Today's post covers each step in brewing the recipe I gave you in the previous post (click here if you don't have it yet). We'll be brewing a Best Bitter, a pleasant, tasty beer that is very drinkable when done right.

It's going to be fun, so let's get cracking!

First things first: Prep

Just like when you cook a complicated dish, in brewing, it pays to prepare well. So before you light that flame and get brewing, it's best to set out everything you'll need on the day. That includes:

Crystal malt: Before milling

  • Measuring out the grain you'll be using
  • Measuring out the extract you'll be needing
  • Measuring out the hop additions, and placing them in order of adding
  • Getting the right quantity of water ready (about 23 litres)
  • Cleaning everything, from the brew kettle (stock pot) to your spoons, whisk, fermenter,and measuring instruments.
  • Measuring out and preparing other ingredients, like Irish Moss and the Lyle's golden syrup (yum).
  • Prepare the ice bath or wort chiller you're going to use.
  • Get a timer ready. You can download a really nice one from this site.

The brew kettle and burner
Important Sanitation Note: As part of the prep, fill your spray bottle with sanitiser (like Perisan) and fill another container large enough to hold the fermenter lid, spoons etc. This becomes your sanitation station--a critical and convenient solution.

Step 1. Crush speciality grains and steep.

If you haven't bought pre-milled crystal malt, you can crush the grains by putting them in a plastic bag and crushing them with a rolling pin or wine bottle. Try to crack each grain properly. However, don't overdo it! You don't need to mill them into a flour. For this recipe, you'll need 280 grams of crystal malt.

Put your grains in a plastic bag
 before crushing
Tie your bag to the kettle for
easy extraction later
Put the cracked grains into your grain bag, tie it, and then stick it into the 23 litres of de-chlorinated or mineral water you've got in the kettle. It may be useful to attach the bag to the pot's handle to allow for easy access later. Now, light the burner, and let the water temp rise slowly. Every now and again, agitate the bag with your spoon or whisk to let free some of the grain's good stuff.

Steeping grains: Adding flavour and colour
Using your thermometer, check the water temperature periodically. Once it reaches 60 degrees, start your timer and don't let the bag steep for more than 30 minutes, and don't let the water temperature rise above 75 degrees Celsius! When it reaches 75 degrees, pull out the grain bag, and let it drain naturally. 

Don't squeeze the bag. All this rigmarole is necessary: it prevents the extraction of unwanted tannins in the grain that makes for astringent flavours.

You'll need 2 kgs of DME

Step 2. Add the extract.

Once you've drained the bag, chuck it in the garden (the grains, not the bag), and turn off the burner. This is important, because you're going to add the extract now, and you don't want it to stick to the bottom of the kettle.

You should be using Dried Malt Extract (DME), so snip open the bags, and get your incredibly large whisk ready (ahem). Dump the DME into the water and whisk away, ensuring that you get rid of all lumps.

Once your satisfied that the DME is well mixed in, light the burner and turn it to maximum. It's time for the rolling boil!

A good, vigorous, rolling boil

Step 3. The Boil.

Bring your liquid (known now as wort) to a boil. You want to try and get it to boil vigorously and roll around in the kettle (see pic). Once that happens, it's time to start with the first hop addition. 

That's why it's important to prep properly, and measure out your hops in the order in which you'll be adding them.

Step 3.1. Bittering hop addition.

Once the rolling boil is up and running, add your first hops: 57 grams of Fuggles. Be careful at this point, adding the hops may cause a boil-over. You can prevent it by reducing heat for a bit or (better) spray some cold water on the rising wort.

At this time, also add the 340 grams of Lyle's golden syrup. Swirl the container with some of the wort to make sure you get all of the good stuff into the kettle.
Lyle's Golden Syrup

At this stage, you can begin your 60 minute timer.

Not much is going to happen until later, so this is a good time to sanitise all the equipment that will touch the cooled wort. Also, rehydrate your yeast.

Step 3.2. Rehydrate your yeast.

Yeast slowly hydrating--as it should
Take about 125 ml of sanitary, boiled water and put it in a mason jar (also sanitised). Let the water cool to 30 degrees C. Snip open your packet of Nottingham dry yeast (with sanitised scissors--picking up a trend yet?) and chuck it into the jar. 

Close the (sanitised) lid, and let it gently sublimate into the water for about 10 minutes. After that, you can swirl the yeast cream around every now and again until it's time to pitch (see the later step).

Step 3.3. Flavour hop addition. 

With 15 minutes remaining on your 60 minute timer, add the 14 grams of East Kent Goldings. This hop addition will impart a nice, spicy flavour to the beer. 
Irish moss: Weird stuff
Also add the teaspoon of Irish Moss to the wort: this will help to clarify the beer.

(If you're using an immersion wort chiller, you should stick its coils into the boiling wort at this point to sanitise it)

Adding some hops: Watch out for the boil over!

Step 3.4. Final aroma hop addition

With 5 minutes left on the clock, add the 7 grams of Fuggles and 7 grams of East Kent Goldings. This addition mostly adds a nice hoppy aroma to the beer.

Step 3.5. Flame out and chill

At the end of the 60 minute boil, turn off the burner, and let the wort rest for few minutes. 

Using your incredibly large whisk, create a whirlpool-like vortex in the wort for a minute or so. This will help to collect all the unwanted bits (the trub) in the centre of the kettle. 

The (covered) wort: Just chilling out
After this, carefully lift the kettle and place into your ice bath (or if using a immersion wort chiller, you can connect it up to a water supply and turn on the tap). Make sure to cover your kettle with a sanitised lid to prevent nasties from floating into the wort.

This is also a good time to take a sample of your wort. Let the sample chill to room temp and then take a reading with your test tube and hydrometer. 

If all went as planned, you should have a reading pretty close to 1.044

If it's higher, it may be because of the reduction in volume due to boil off (especially if you had a vigorous boil). Don't worry. You can dilute it later.

Step 4. Wort transfer: Fermenter time!

The Sanitation station: Keeping the nasties out
Please remember that from this point onward, your wort is very, very vulnerable to infection. Everything that touches it from this point onward MUST be sterile! Don't cut corners and don't take chances!

Once your wort is chilled to about 25 degrees C, it's time to transfer to the fermenter. Again, carefully take your kettle and dump the contents into the sanitised fermenter, preferably using a sanitised funnel and sieve.

 At this stage, it's not a bad idea to splash the wort quite a bit as it enters the fermenter--that helps with aeration.

Both the whirlpool and the sieve will help to keep your beer free of trub and thus make it far more pleasing to the eye (and mouth) once it's done. 

A good tip: mark your fermenter at the 19 litre level. If your wort comes to below the line, dilute to 19 litres with sterile water.

Step 5. Pitching

Your beer is in the fermenter. Well done! You're almost finished.

The last step is to ensure that there is enough air in your wort--this will help the yeast to survive its long stay in your beer as it produces alcohol and CO2--cool! 

You can aerate the wort in a number of ways. The easiest is to whisk the wort vigorously to introduce air, or if you're fermenting in a carboy of some kind, you can shake it for a few minutes to mix in the air. 

Beer in the fermenter. Note the thermometer to keep
track of the ambient temperature
Once that's done, you can pitch your yeast. Chuck it into the wort and give it a good stir. 

Half-fill the airlock with sterile water or vodka, stick it through the rubber grommet, and then pop that assembly into the fermenter lid. 

Seal the fermenter and put it somewhere dark, with an ambient temperature of between 16 and 23 degrees C. 

Step 6. Waiting..

Now comes the hard part. Waiting. 

Your beer should start fermenting within about 24-48 hours, which will be evident by the bubbling and gurgling sounds coming from the airlock. Leave it well alone and let the yeast do the work--no intervention necessary!

This beer should be complete (fermented out) after about 7 days or so, but will be improved if you let it condition for 2 weeks in the fermenter. During that time, feel free to take a reading or two with your hydrometer, but always sterilise your sampling equipment and never return the sample to the fermenter! 

Besides, there is a better receptacle for the sample: your mouth. Tasting the beer as it develops is all part of the fun and science of brewing.

You're aiming for a final gravity reading of approximately 1.011. It's best to give it some time and not rush things--a luxury the homebrewer enjoys over the commercial brewer!

Step 7. Bottling.

This is a whole additional project of its own. So tune in next time for my post on the basics of bottling.

Monday, 6 August 2012

First Recipe: Beginner Brewer Best Bitter

If you've been following this blog, you'll now that we've covered what equipment to get; the nice-to-haves; and some basic brewing techniques.

Now, it's time for your first brew. If you've brewed kits before, you'll have a head start, but this form of extract brewing is different, with a few more steps than you're used to.

For our first beer, we'll be brewing a style called Best Bitter. It's an English Pale Ale with a pleasant, herbaceous flavour and a slightly fruity finish.

The reason I've picked this style is because it's relatively easy to find some reference beers here in South Africa to compare your own creation to.

Some tasty examples to look out for are:
- Marston's Pedigree Bitter
- Thwaites Lancaster Bomber Ale
- Mitchell's Bosuns Bitter
- Darling Native Ale
- Drayman's Goblin Bitter

Beginner Brewer Best Bitter Recipe.

To brew this recipe you will need:

23 litres of sterilised, boiled water (or use bottled)
280 grams Caramel/Crystal Malt (crushed)
2 kg          Light Dry Malt Extract (DME)
340 grams Lyle's Golden Syrup (don't substitute with sugar--believe me!)
64 grams Fuggles Hops [4.50 %]
21 grams  East Kent Goldings Hops [5.00 %]
1 tsp          Irish Moss
1 pkg        Nottingham Dry Ale Yeast (Lallemand) (Alternative: Use Fermentis S-04)
Necessary cleaning and sanitising agents.

Some technical notes:

- OG (Original Gravity): 1.045
- FG (Final Gravity): 1.011
- ABV (Alcohol content): 4.4 %
- IBUs (Bitterness): 32

Next Time: We'll be brewing the recipe. I'll post a step-by-step guide on exactly how to brew your first beer. Can't wait!

{Photo credits: mfajardo}

Friday, 3 August 2012

Basic Brewing Techniques Part II: 5 Steps to Better Beer

In my previous post on basic brewing technique, I talked about the importance of keeping things clean. Today, I'm discussing 5 key techniques that if mastered, will make your homebrewing more enjoyable and your beer far tastier!

1. A Full Wort Boil

While you can get by with boiling only part of your wort when using extracts or kits, it's not ideal. A full wort boil is far better. What it means is simply to boil the full volume of beer that you will ultimately put in the fermenter.

For a 19 litre batch, that translates into about 22-23 litres, depending on how vigorous the boil is. Boiling the total volume has several benefits:

    Corn: Good on cob, bad in beer
  • It gets rid of DMS. DMS (Dimethyl Sulphide) is contained within malt and evaporates as the wort is boiled. It can give beer a cooked corn or vegetable taste; both rather unpleasant.  Boiling all of the wort for 60 minutes reduces DMS, providing you can cool down your wort quickly enough (see point 2 below)
  • It releases the full flavour profile of the hops. Hops need to be boiled and agitated for a while to release all the oils that give your beer that lovely hoppy flavour. A full wort boil does that far better than a partial boil.

2. Cool down rapidly

If you don't cool down your wort quickly enough, it can re-introduce all the DMS you've boiled off, which is just not cool (sorry). Also, cooling the wort rapidly creates a cold break, which is essential for creating a nice, clear beer. Removing the proteins that come out of a cold break also keeps the beer fresher for longer: always a good thing!

To rapidly cool down 19 litres of boiling liquid is not easy. Two relatively affordable ways to do it though are:

Salty Ice: A brewer's friend

  • A really cold ice bath. Get a medium sized galvanised metal bathtub, fill it with several packets of ice, water and salt. You now have an incredibly effective ice bath. 
This will chill your wort in about 30-40 minutes, but can be a bit of a pain. Make sure that you cover your brew-pot with a sanitised lid, and don't let any of the salty water into the beer!

3. Don't guess: Measure!

Measure things already!
Brewing is both an art and a science. The science part is often neglected by homebrewers though, with predictable results.

If you don't have one already, invest in a good kitchen scale for weighing your ingredients properly.

Use thermometers and hydrometers to measure the gravity of your wort, the right time to pitch your yeast, and when to bottle your beer.

Guesswork is just not going to cut it.

4. Rehydrate dry yeast

When using dry yeasts, it's a very good practise to rehydrate them for at least 30 minutes in sterile water at about 20-25 degrees C.

When pitching, make sure the wort is within 5 degrees C of the rehydrated yeast to avoid shocking the yeast into a slumber (not good).

5. Aerate properly.

Before pitching your yeast, aerate the wort by either rocking the fermenter back and forth for a few minutes, or use a sterile stainless steel aeration stone and aquarium pump setup with a carbon filter.

Using this system, you will need to aerate your wort for at least 20-30 minutes, longer for higher gravity beers.

Want more tips for improving your beer? Check out five more steps to better beer!

Next Time: It's time to brew! If you've been following this blog, you now have all the info and equipment needed for your first brew.

In the next entry, I'll give you a simple, yet tasty recipe for your first beer.


{picture credits: Corn: cammyclaudia; Ice: ksuyin; Scale: Stefano Costanzo}