The Beginner Brewer: 2013

Monday, 2 December 2013

Fixing Things: Low Mash Efficiency

If you've recently started all-grain brewing, you may well be using the Brew-in-a-Bag method as I’ve described elsewhere. Even if you’re not going the BIAB route, one persistent challenge for the all-grain homebrewer is mash efficiency.
That wonderful mash

Simply put, mash efficiency is the amount of actual sugars extracted compared to the total possible sugars that can be extracted from the recipe's grain bill. For many homebrewers, efficiency of between 60-70% is quite common.

On one level, achieving lower levels of efficiency (e.g 50%) is not a disaster. Homebrewing is not a mashing competition, after all. What is far more important is to know the average efficiency of your homebrewery.

Why? Because it affects recipe formulation. If you know that you tend to consistently hit 60%, or 70% or whatever percentage efficiency (as calculated by hand or software), you can modify your recipes accordingly.

To illustrate:

Let’s say you’re brewing an ale recipe with a simple grain bill of 4.5 kgs of Pale Malt, a target OG of 1.050, and a pre-boil gravity target of 1.044.

If you’re brewery efficiency is 60%, you’ll need 5.2 kgs of malt to reach the above targets. But if you’re working at 80% efficiency, you’ll need only 3.9 kgs of malt to reach the same targets. 

So you can see that knowing your efficiency is key to recipes that work out the way they're supposed to.

But what if you want to improve the mash efficiency in your homebrewery?

Here are three tips for getting the most out of your mash!

1. Get the Basics Right.

The alchemy of enzymatic action is waaaay beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that if you want the various amylases to work properly and convert grain starch into sugar, you need to create the correct environment.

So, check that you’re hitting that golden temperature zone of 67 degrees C. Then, make sure that you’re holding it there for at least 60 minutes (preferably 75 minutes for BIAB).

Finally, check that your mash PH is at or around 5.3 – 5.7.

2. Stir the Mash.

Enzymes like beta and alpha amylase need contact with the starch in grains to do their job. Stirring the mash helps with this, and will almost always benefit your efficiency.

Don't whisk the Mash!
Just be cautious: don’t whisk your mash! That can cause so-called hot-side aeration, that affects taste down the line.

A gentle stir, say every 10 minutes or so, should help a lot with efficiency—remember to use a heated spoon to avoid chilling your mash every time you stir.

3. Mashing Out.

So, you’ve done the basics right and you’ve stirred (gently) the mash. 

But your work is not yet done. Especially when using the BIAB method, you can help the washing of sugars from the grain bed by mashing out. To mash out, raise the temperature of the mash to around 75 C and hold for 10 minutes.

This will accomplish two things: first, it stops further enzymatic conversion. Second (and this is the important bit related to our current quest of better efficiency) it makes the wort less viscous and aids in draining sugars from the grain bed.  

That's it: good luck with your mash--but don't forget, this is not a competition folks!

For more tips on fixing things, check out my previous posts on:
Next time, I'll be writing my final (or next-to-final) post for this year, before disappearing into a cloud of Christmas-flavored beer. See you later.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Fixing Things: Avoiding Hazy Beer

While taste and aroma are arguably the more important components of the beer experience (along with the buzz), appearance makes for the third element of a really good beer. It is a joy to behold the rich red colour of amber ales, the warm gold of pale ale and the cola-like darkness of a brown porter.

So it’s understandable that homebrewers aspire to showing off these colours by making clear, bright brews rather than hazy, opaque ones that resemble dirty dish water.

In today’s post, I’ll be discussing several steps that you can take to ensure that your homebrew comes out clear and haze-free.

Step 1. Full volume boils.

Boil. Or else.
In previous posts I've discussed the importance of a full volume boil for enhancing hop flavour and blowing off the dreaded DMS. A full volume, vigorous (rolling) boil also helps with the clarity of the final product.

The physical and chemical agitation that a rolling boil creates also helps in breaking up compounds and larger proteins that contribute to hazy beer. So boil vigorously for 60-90 minutes.

If done properly, you should observe occasional “sheathes” of protein material bob to the surface of the wort: this is known as the hot break.

Step 2. Use Irish Moss at 15 minutes.

Irish Moss
Irish Moss is my placeholder name for a variety of finings that can be added during the boil to help clarify beer.

Mostly derived from types of algae, these compounds bind with larger protein molecules and help to drop these haze-forming troublemakers out of suspension where they collect at the bottom of the kettle.

Step 3. Create a whirlpool.

At the end of the boil, you should stir the wort for a few minutes, creating a whirlpool—yep just like the one that forms in a bathtub when you pull the plug. Maintain the whirpool for a few minutes, being careful not to disturb the center of the kettle as you stir.
Whirlpools: Groovy

What is happening when you do this is that all the solids, leftover hops and stray grain husks collect in a little pile at the center of the kettle. This makes it easier for you to pour off the clear wort and leave this stuff (referred to as trub), behind.

Step 4. Chill rapidly.

Apart from the haze created by actual trub in the beer, another form of haze is a result of proteins and tannins appearing at low temperatures—so-called chill haze.

Chill haze only becomes evident once you’ve cooled down your beer after bottling, so it can be quite frustrating when you think you made clear beer, only to pour a hazy brew when serving it to your friends!

You can help in reducing this problem by chilling your beer rapidly after the end of the boil. If you can take the beer down to pitching temperature (25-27C) in under 30 minutes, you should be good.

A sign of a quickly chilled beer is another “sheath” of protein bobbing to the surface—this is called the cold break.

Step 5. Pour carefully and use a sieve

When it’s time to pour the chilled wort into the fermenter, don’t forget the trouble you've gone to in creating the whirlpool! Be gentle with the kettle and try not to disturb the mound of trub in its center.

Pour the wort into the fermenter through a sterile sieve (this is optional and I’m not always sure it really helps all that much). When you get to the really dark grey-green trub, stop pouring!

Don’t be greedy—it really doesn't make sense to put too much trub in the fermenter only to harvest a few more milliliters of actual wort—that way leads to hazy beer!

Step 6. Cold Condition before bottling.

The last step in creating super-clear homebrew is to put the death knell to chill haze by cold conditioning your beer. At the end of secondary fermentation (about 2 weeks from start), chill down the beer to 1-5 C and keep it at that temperature for up to 1-2 weeks.

This conditioning phase will further help with flavour integration and stability, and importantly, prevent chill haze from forming in the finished beer.

And that’s it! Some brewers do add finings like Isinglass and Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) to beer at bottling, but in my experience, if you follow the preceding six steps, this won’t be necessary. Here’s to some clear beer!

If you'd like to see some more ideas on how to fix things, check out the previous post.


{Picture credit: whirlpool by Gordon Wrigley}

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Fixing Things: A Stuck Fermentation

Sometime, despite our best efforts to be kind to beer, it's not kind to us. If you brew beer, you will (I promise) come up against some of the more vexing issues that plague brewers the world over. In the next few weeks, I'll be covering some tactics you can employ to help your homebrew along when things go awry.

A Stuck Fermentation

It makes cold shivers of terror flow through the spines of most brewers: a fermentation that. Just. Stops. 

You’ve measured your fermenting beer as instructed , and for some reason, the SG refuses to dip below 1.020 (Of course we’re assuming that you’re not brewing a monster beer with a OG of more than 1.080, in which case it may not ever go below 1.020). 

Also, remember to give things time—beer can take up to a week to complete primary fermentation, and for big beers, this can be even longer.

But assuming that it’s a week down the line and you’re not brewing the world’s strongest beer, then yep, you’re in 1.020 limbo hell. Sorry. But is all lost? Not necessarily. It’s time to apply some emergency procedures. Here are some moves to make:

Step 1. Check your measurements.

It may seem obvious, but perhaps there is nothing wrong with your fermentation. You may have just measured wrong.  Of course, if you haven’t measured at all, and you think that you've got a stuck fermentation because there is no more bubbling coming from the airlock—shame on you. You HAVE TO measure your gravity! Eyeballing the airlock is not a recognised scientific measure of fermentation activity. Ever.
You may have gotten the math wrong..

If you used a hydrometer, measure the temperature of the wort and compare it with the temperature the hydrometer is calibrated to (that will usually appear along the side of the hydrometer itself). If there’s a difference between wort temperature and hydrometer temperature, you may need to adjust the reading (I don’t need to remind you to take sanitary precautions, right?). Click here for a handy calculator that can help with that.

If you’re using a refractometer, measure again—sometimes you don’t have enough liquid on the face plate. Then adjust the reading for fermenting wort. You can do this in Beersmith, or click here for a handy calculator. If you’re measurement is still correct after this, it’s time to move on to..

Step 2. Check the fermentation temperature.

Since you’ve checked the wort temperature in Step 1, you should now know what the fermentation temperature is. For ales, it should be around 16-23 C. For lagers, it should be around 14-17 C. 

Chilly temperatures: Yeast doesn't like that.
One common cause for a stuck fermentation is too chilly an ambient temperature. The yeast will then go back into a state of suspended animation and drop out to the bottom of the fermenter.

If this is your problem, there’s a relatively easy solution—heat up the fermenter by putting it in a warmer room in your house, or wrap an electric blanky around the fermenter—but be careful—you don’t want to overheat the brew: that can cause additional problems down the line.

Step 3. Shake your money-maker.

Yeast. It likes to go to sleep (sometimes).
 No—not your booty (although, then again…). If your temperature is fine, it might just be that you’ve started with old or tired yeast. 

What is needed is to “rouse” the yeast from its slumber at the bottom of that fermenter. Gently (and I mean gently) shake the fermenter a bit to put some yeast back into suspension. You can repeat a few times per hour for 2-3 hours if you like. Just don’t shake so violently that you introduce oxygen into your beer—that will be a BAD THING, and will make the finished beer taste like cardboard.

Once you've shaken the fermenter, let it rest and measure again after a couple of days to see if there’s a difference

Step 4. More yeast. 

If you’ve gone through all the preceding maneuvers and things are still not looking up, then it’s time to break out the final, last ditch, we’re-not-kidding-anymore solution: re-pitching yeast. 

Make sure that you’re pitching fresh, viable yeast. For dry yeast, just pitch another packet. For liquid yeast, pour the vial directly into the fermenter. Wait a few days. Pray to the big beer pixie in the sky. And then measure again.

If you've faithfully followed all the steps in this toolkit and there’s still no change, it may be time to throw in the bar towel. I know it sucks. But you’ll just have to dump the batch, go over your brew notes, and try to figure out what went wrong. 

Here are some likely suspects:

  • Old yeast: expired yeast ain’t going to get you far
  • Under-pitching yeast: for dry yeasts, this is seldom a problem, but for liquid yeasts, it could be. Check out this link to calculate your correct pitching rate.
  • Yeast shock: pitching yeast into wort that is more than 10C colder than the yeast itself is a bad idea and can cause yeast shock, and in turn, yeast slumber.
  • Pitching at too high a temp. Yeast is resilient, but it won’t survive you pitching it into wort that is hotter than 40-50C.
  • Sanitation. Often, when brewers follow poor sanitary practices, yeast can be outperformed by bacteria. This can cause a stuck fermentation, and incredibly bad tasting beer.

Next time, I'll be tackling the thorny issue of hazy homebrew. Click here for the next installment of fixing things.


{Picture Credits: Equations by Robert Scarth; Ponds on the Ocean by NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre; Sleep by Agus Munoraharjo; }

Friday, 27 September 2013

2 Calculations to Improve your Homebrew

Most home brewers I know find brewing beer at home to be one of the most relaxing hobbies out there. The world disappears and work-related stress blow off along with the DMS wafting away from a good, rolling boil.

So if math feels like work to you, introducing calculations into homebrewing can seem like a pain. But have no fear--the following two calculations are simple and best of all--will help you to improve your brews and gain greater control over the final product!
Time to Calculate!

Calculation #1: Attenuation

Attenuation is the percentage of fermentables that were converted due to fermentation. Confused yet?

No need to be: It's actually quite simple. After you've pitched yeast into your wort, these marvelous little organisms start to convert simple sugars like maltose and dextrose into alcohol and CO2, neither of which are sweet to the taste.

More complex sugars like lactose are not converted in this way, and contribute their sweetness directly to the final beer. Also, not all the fermentable sugars are converted, thus contributing their sweetness to the final beer as well. Attenuation is determined by a number of factors, chief amongst these being the strain of yeast you used and the composition of your wort. 

Some yeast strains, like certain Saisson yeasts, have very high attenuating properties, which means that they will aggressively convert fermentable sugars until almost none are left. This results in a less sweet, drier mouthfeel in the final product. Other strains, like those used in traditional British Ales, are less attenuating, and will leave far more sugars unconverted, resulting in a full bodied, sweeter mouthfeel.

Of course, the actual percentage of fermentable sugars in your wort also plays an important role in attenuation, and that's why all grain brewers are often concerned about their mash temperatures, since these influence the percentage of fermentable sugars created during the mash.

Calculating attenuation is an after-the-fact deal. Once you've measured your Original Gravity and Final Gravity, you can calculate the Attenuation, thus:

So, as an example, if your beer had an OG of 1.050 and a FG of 1.011, your calculation will be:
(50-11) / 50 = 0.78, or 78% attenuation

Becoming familiar with the different attenuation rates of different strains of yeast, as moderated by your beer recipe and things like mash temperatures, is a good way of becoming a more consistent homebrewer!

Calculation #2: Bitterness Ratio

I can't over-emphasize the utility of calculating bitterness ratios. Once you start targeting specific bitterness
ratios with your brewing, you'll really get to grips with producing a wide variety of taste profiles in your homebrew, as well as mastering the multitude of beer styles available to the home brewer.

Bitterness Ratio: It's about Balance
Bitterness Ratio is a two-step calculation, as follows:

Step 1

First, divide the total IBU of the beer by the Original Gravity:

Step 2

Then, plug that result, which we'll call BR1, into this calculation:

So, let's imagine that our previous example beer (the one we calculated the attenuation for), has a total of 30 IBUs. It's OG is 1.050 and FG is 1.011. We've already calculated the attenuation, and that's come to 0.78.

Now let's calculate BR1: 30/50 = 0.600. (Note that for this calculation, we use only the numbers after the decimal for OG and FG).

We are now ready to calculate the Bitterness Ratio of this beer:
0.600 x (1 + (0.78 - 0.7655) = 0.608, which is the Bitterness Ratio of this beer.

If you use a software package like Beersmith, you'll soon realize that different beer styles have different bitterness ratio ranges, and so if you really want to nail a particular style of beer, knowing how to calculate bitterness ratios is a must!

For more details on Bitterness Ratio, I recommend the excellent Mad Alchemist beer blog. 


{Picture credit: abacus by Anssi Koskinen}

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Small-batch Recipe: Amber Ale

In the last post, we discussed the equipment you'd need for small batch experiments. Today's post covers a versatile, yet reliable recipe for an Amber Ale that you can use for the basis for multiple brewing experiments. Let the mad scientist in you loose!

Amber Alert Ale

For a 3 liter extract batch (that's a 6-pack of 440ml bottles) you will need:


4.5 liters of H2O.

Extract and Specialty Grains

405g Dried Malt Extract
55 g Carared or similar Caramel malt (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)
11g Roasted Barley (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)


5g of Cascade @ 45 minutes
3g of Cascade @ 16 minutes
3g of Cascade @ flameout


A third of a packet of US-05 dried yeast (or similar American yeast)


A third of a teaspoon of Irish Moss @ 10 minutes.

For a 3 liter full-grain version:

You will need:
590g of Pale 2-row Malt
80g of Carared or similar Caramel Malt
16g of Roasted Barley

Use the same hops, Irish Moss, and yeast.

Mash Schedule (using the BIAB method):

Get your water to 74 C, then add the grains to achieve 66.7 C.

Mash the grains at this temperature for 75 minutes, then mash out at 75 C for 10 minutes and lift the bag. 
Do not squeeze the bag.

Your pre-boil gravity should be close to 1.038. Boil for 60 minutes.

Fermentation & Bottling

Ferment at 16-18C for 2 weeks. 
Bottle with 18g of dextrose or keg for 2.3 vols.

Technical Notes

Pre-boil Gravity: 1.038
OG (Original Gravity): 1.050
FG (Final Gravity): 1.011
ABV (Alcohol): 5.1%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 32

Some Experiments to Try:

As I've mentioned before, small-batch brewing can be an excellent opportunity for the homebrewer to experiment. Here are some suggestions for this recipe:
  • Hops: Substitute the Cascade with a different hop, I recommend Centennial, Simcoe, or Fuggles
  • Sugars: Try adding small (about 50-60g) amounts of speciality sugars, such as Lyle's Golden Syrup, Brown Sugar, or Maple Syrup to the recipe at either 10 minutes, or into the primary fermenter after about three days.
  • Other Flavors: Go wild! Try unconventional flavors like herbs, spices, or fruit. For instance, you can try to add a small pinch of cinnamon at around 5 minutes.


Monday, 22 July 2013

Experimenting with Small-Batch Brewing: Equipment

If there is one aspect of homebrewing that is less than ideal, it's the time factor. As in the time it takes to brew a full batch of beer. Since it can often take four to five hours, brewing is for most of us, a weekend hobby. But what if you don't have the time? Or, you want to brew more frequently, and so would like to get your brew on during the week?
Pictured: What most homebrewers don't have enough of

Small-batch brewing is the answer. I like to think of small batch brewing as experimental: it's quick and small enough to allow you to experiment (even wildly) without too much risk if things go wrong. While you might think twice about sticking those lavender stalks into your 19 liter batch in case it goes south, doing so with a 3 liter batch seems a far safer bet!

Another advantage of small-batch experimentation is that it allows you to brew several quick batches with slight variations to really get to grips with your ingredients and brewing skills. And you might recall from previous posts, that brewing the same recipe, but with small tweaks, is one of the ways to rapidly improve your homebrewing kung-fu.

Small-batch brewing is also relatively light on equipment needs, but there are a few odds and ends that will make brewing small batches of beer far easier, so here they are:

The Brew Kettle

Small-batch brewing is stove-top brewing, and since your average batch size is around 3-5 liters (that's a six-pack of 500ml bottles), your brew pot needn't be that big. 

If you've got a stock pot in the kitchen that is between 5-10 liters capacity, you're golden.

The Fermenter

Again, since your batch sizes are so much tinier, you can get really creative with fermenters. 5 Litre plastic buckets are good for 3-4 liter batches; Really big glass jars, or 9 liter corny kegs are also viable alternatives. 

As long as it's food grade and can be sealed with a stopper and an airlock, you can use it!

A Good Scale

This is not the scale you're looking for
You're going to be working with tiny quantities of ingredients when brewing small batches of beer. That means you'll need an accurate, reliable way of measuring those ingredients. 

So, if you haven't yet invested in a good electronic scale, now is the time to get one.

Second prize is a scale that is sensitive to 1 gram. 

First prize is one that can measure in increments/fractions of a gram, similar to those used by certain entrepreneurs in the informal pharmaceutical industry..

Nice-To-Have: Refractometer

only homebrew Jedis
 can construct their own..
There is one distinct disadvantage to small-batch brewing: Measuring the specific gravity of your brew with a hydrometer becomes difficult and potentially counterproductive if you're sampling 50-100 mls of beer from a 3 liter batch. 

That's a significant portion of your total batch size, especially after 2-3 samples! 

And not measuring is not an option. The alternative? Invest in a refractometer. This nifty device (that looks sort of like a light saber, don't you think?) can measure the gravity of your beer with minute samples (a few drops actually). 

Now if that doesn't make your beer geek heart skip a beat, you're a little dead inside.

Next Time: We'll be looking at some small-batch recipes that are guaranteed to make your experiments with beer all the more exciting and satisfying. Until then!


{Picture credit: Time by Toni Verdu}
{Picture credit: Scale by Alex Proimos}
{Picture credit: Refractometer by Pawtucket Patriot}

Sunday, 7 July 2013

BIAB Recipe: Blonde Ale

Recently, we did another kick-ass demo of the BIAB method at Beer Keg homebrew shop and location of two new microbreweries (more on that in later posts). If you're new to BIAB, or just need a refresher on the how-tos, click here.

Today, I'd like to share a killer BIAB recipe for a refreshing, highly quaffable blonde ale. Try it out and tell me how you find it!

Lawnmower Man Blonde Ale

For a 19 liter batch, you will need:

Malt & Specialty Grains

(Milled Grains)

3.4 kg Pale Ale Malt
280g Carared or similar Crystal Malt 


12g Centennial @ 40 minutes
20g Cascade @ 10 minutes
30g Cascade in the whirlpool


1 tsp Irish Moss @ 10 minutes


11.5 g packet of US-05 Dry Yeast (re-hydrated) or similar American yeast.

Mash Schedule

Get 26 liters of water to a temperature of 71C. Add the grains to the bag and mash at 66-67C for 75 minutes.
At the end of 75 minutes, mash out at 75-76C for 10 minutes and lift the bag. Do not squeeze the bag.

Your pre-boil gravity should be close to: 1.037.  Boil for 60 minutes.

Fermentation & Bottling

Ferment at 16-18C for 2 weeks, then cold condition at 5C for another week. 
Bottle with 127g of dextrose or keg for 2.5 vols.

Technical Notes

Pre-boil Gravity: 1.037
OG (Original Gravity): 1.042
FG (Final Gravity): 1.009
ABV (Alcohol): 4.4%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 22


Monday, 3 June 2013

Basic Brewing Techniques Part IV: 3 Tiny Details that will Improve your Homebrew

If you've been following my basic brewing techniques posts, and have found them useful, I've got some more lined up in the coming weeks. Here are three more tips for better tasting beer. Enjoy!

1. Sanitize even the Tiny Stuff.

Missing tiny things can be costly in homebrewing. The smallest of these are those nasty micro-organisms that can contaminate your beer. I’ve found more than a few homebrewers who take alarming chances when it comes to sanitization. Perhaps because these bugs are not visible to the naked eye, a kind of ‘good-enough-for-government-work’ attitude seems to prevail when it comes to keeping things clean.

But that’s a bad idea.

If you’re struggling with occasional (or regular) off-tasting beer, look carefully at every single thing that touches your wort once it is cooled (or being cooled). Remember, it really only takes one bug to ruin your brew.

Infected beer: Not what you want to show your friends
I always find it amazing that some homebrewers think that you can be overly-careful with sanitation. What exactly are the risks of being overly-cautious versus not? Part of the problem is that beer does actually have a number of anti-microbial properties that help fight infection.

Chief among these are the hops you used and the yeast you pitched. Both fight against bacteria that are like to find their way into your beer, so if you do make some sanitation errors, you may well get away with it (this time).

But do you really want to play roulette with a hard day’s work and rely solely on the homebrew gods to protect your beer?

I’ve never seen a beer ruined due to meticulous sanitation, but I’ve seen bad beer due to sloppy sanitation.
Here are some commonly overlooked things that deserve careful sanitation attention:

    Remember that clean and sanitary are not the same! You cannot sanitize dirty equipment, and sanitizers like Perisan are not good at cleaning things. First remove gunk and dirt with a good cleaner (Sodium Metasilicate or Caustic Soda), then sanitize.

On brew day:
  •  Scissors used to open the yeast packet
  • The yeast packet (spray it with sanitize before opening)
  •  The water used to rehydrate the yeast (use boiled water or brand new mineral water)
  •  The parts of the immersion chiller that weren't boiled in the wort (the steam from the cooling wort condenses on these and can drip back into the cooling wort)
  •  If you’re going to aerate the wort with a whisk, then that has to be sanitized
  • Thermometer used to measure the wort temperature
  •  The fermenter’s rubber grommet, bubbler, and bubbler cap.
  • Your hands. Generally you shouldn’t be touching the cooled wort directly, but it’s not a bad idea to use hand sanitiser to make sure your hands are santitary when handling equipment that will be touching the cooled wort.
Bottling day:
  • Hydrometer for measuring your Final Gravity
  • Bottle caps
  • Bottle capper (just spray the parts that touch the caps)

2. Avoid Yeast Shock

Rehydrating Yeast
Yeast is pretty amazing. Those microbes can be freeze-dried (as is the case with dry yeast), kept in suspension for years, and then come alive to do their part in making great tasting homebrew. So you can tell
that they are pretty resilient little critters.

But it doesn’t harm to give them a helping hand when you pitch them into your wort. A good principle is to make sure that your wort is cooled to below 30C, and to always pitch yeast into wort that is within 5C of the yeast temperature. 

It’s also not a bad idea to pitch yeast into wort that is warmer than the yeast’s temperature. So if you rehydrated dry yeast at say, 20C, then your wort needs to be at about 22-25C for good results.

Taking these precautions will ensure that your yeast has a viable leg-up on any other microbes that reside in your wort, and will ensure a vigorous, healthy fermentation.

3. Give it Time

It’s understandable that once you’ve got your beer in the fermenter and the airlock is bubbling away nicely, you’ll be anxious to try your new creation. And while it’s technically possible for beer to ferment to final gravity in the first three days (for ales) or so, fermentation is not just about converting sugars into alcohol.

This stage of making beer is also about conditioning the beer and getting yeast cells to absorb substances, like diacetyl, that produce off-flavors in the final product. 

For ales, I get good results when I ferment for 10-14 days, cold condition at around 5C for another week or two, and then bottle condition for another 2 weeks (this last bit can be skipped if you keg and force carbonate your beer).

Yes, that’s around a month from start to finish, but it makes a big difference in not only the immediate taste of the beer, but also its flavour stability over time.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Your First All-Grain Brew: Step-by-Step BIAB American Pale Ale

It's time for your first all-grain, BIAB brew! Today's post is going to walk you through each step of brewing all-grain beer in a bag. We'll be using the BIAB American Pale Ale recipe that I've discussed in a previous post, so if you haven't yet, go check it out.

It might also be a good idea to review the basic steps of all-grain brewing before going on.

First things first: Prep

Just like last time when we brewed the extract beer, good prep is key to a successful BIAB brew day. Here's what to do:
  • Measure out the grains you'll be using. Since this is an all-grain recipe, you'll be using only grains and no extract. Make sure that the grains are pre-milled, or if you have a mill, now's a good time to mill your grains. Don't mill too finely. You're really only trying to crack the grain hulls to expose the starchy goodness underneath. For this recipe, we'll be using 3.55kg of 2-Row Pale Malt, 350g of Carared Crystal Malt, and 70g of Carafa Special III.
    The grain bill: Milled, mixed, and ready to go!
  • Measure out the hop additions, and place them in order of adding
  • Get the right quantity of water ready (about 27-29 litres)
  • Clean everything, from the brew kettle (stock pot) to your spoons, whisk, fermenter,and measuring instruments.
  • Measure out and prepare other ingredients, like Irish Moss 
  • Prepare the ice bath or wort chiller you're going to use.
  • Get a timer ready with all the steps you need to take into consideration.
  • Wash out the viole bag in hot water to remove any residual soaps / detergents
  • Get some iodine tincture from your local pharmacy. We'll use this to test for full conversion at the end of the mash (more about this later).
  • Get your sanitation station ready. A container filled with the sanitation of your choice (I recommend Perisan), and a spray bottle filled with the same.

Step 1. The "B" in BIAB. 

First off, you need to fit the viole bag in your brew kettle. For this, you'll need:
  • Your brew kettle
  • The viole bag
  • Binder clips
  • Small metal colander
Colander at the bottom
 of the kettle
Place the metal colander upside down in the center of the brew kettle. Now fit the bag into the kettle, and clip the top with your binder clips.

Finally position your kettle and bag on the burner or stove top. I recommend a low pressure gas burner, since it's easier to control temperature this way. Second prize is your stove top, but temperature control during the mash can be a challenge, especially if you're using an electric stove top.

Step 2. Heat your water.

Bag installed, H2O in: Note the binder clips 
Next, add 27-29 litres of water to your brew kettle. You'll have to judge this based on the size of your kettle--remember that you'll be adding about 4kg of grains, which will displace the water, so be cautious of adding too much H2O!

Our mash temperature for this recipe is around 66-67C. But, the grains we'll be adding are at room temperature, and will therefore cool down the water. To hit the right temperature (referred to as your strike temperature), we'll heat the water to 70-72C. 

Step 3. Mashing In.

It's time to mash in your grains. It's a good idea to place all the grains we'll be using into a bowl of some kind. That way, it's easier to pour into the water. It doesn't matter that you're grains are mixed up--they'll all go into the kettle (now a mash tun). Check the recipe for the grains that we'll be using.

Important Caution: During the entire mashing process, you want to avoid introducing too much air into your grains and mash. So do everything gently and slowly. Don't splash, don't agitate, don't breathe (just kidding about that last one). 
Why? Getting air into the mash is referred to as hot-side aeration, a fancy term for oxygenating your as-yet-unmade wort and risking off-flavors and flavor stability issues down the line.

The grains fully mixed in
So now that you're sufficiently forewarned, you're going to slowly pour the milled grains into the heated water. Have your brew spoon (or mash paddle) handy! Stir the grains gently, and break up any dough balls that form. 

Your goal here is to fully mix in the grains with the water, avoiding dry clumps. This is actually far easier than it sounds, mostly because you're working with a large volume of heated water, which is one of the factors that make BIAB such a joy.

Once you're grains are fully mashed in, check the temperature of the mash. It should now be really close to 66-67C. If not, you can either goose it a little by applying heat, or if its too hot, add some cold water (I recommend keeping some refrigerated brew water handy so you don't have to add too much H2O at this stage). 

If you're happy with your temperature, close the kettle lid, turn off your burner or oven, and go have a beer. We'll be mashing the grains for 75 minutes. Because of the large volume of water, your mash should stay at the right temperature for most of the mashing time (depending on ambient temperatures). Check it after 30 minutes or so, and adjust the temperature as needed. 
Lid closed,
 digital thermometer in, mash at 66C. Nice!

You can also stir the mash gently once or twice during the 75 minutes to distribute heat more evenly, but don't overdo it: we don't want to aerate the mash!

At the end of 75 minutes, on, take a small, tablespoon-sized sample of the wort and put it in a bowl. Drip some of your iodine tincture onto it. If all has gone well, the iodine will remain brown. If not, it will color blue-purple.

The iodine test. Brown = good
If you get a blue iodine reaction, it means that the starches in your grains haven't changed into sugar. You'll have to extend your mash for another 10-20 minutes and re-test (also check whether your mash is in the correct temperature range. If it is below 55C or above 74C, you won't get much conversion happening).

Step 4. Mashing Out.

One of the down sides to BIAB methodology is that you don't always extract as much fermentable sugars from the grains as other all-grain methods. To counter this, you'll be mashing out: that is, at the end of 75 minutes, you're going to raise the temperature of the mash to 76C and hold it there for 10 minutes.

This step will help to extract more sugars, and aid in the next step, which is lautering.

Step 5. Lautering and Sparging.

When you use BIAB, lautering and sparging are as easy as lifting the bag out of the kettle. Yep, that's as complicated as it gets!

The final collected wort.
 23 liters of goodness!
Because you've mashed out, the run-off from the bag will be less viscous  and will therefore drain more sugars from the grains. Let the bag drain as much as possible, then stick it in a spare bucket. It's a good idea to fish out your colander from the kettle and place that at the bottom of that bucket, underneath the bag.

The bag will slowly drain more sweet wort, and you can then add that to your kettle.

Measure the specific gravity of the wort at this stage. If all went as planned, it should be in the region of: 1.038 to 1.040. If it's much more than this, you can dilute it with some water. If much less, you'll have to add some Dried Malt Extract during the boil. You'll need about 500g of DME for every 10 points you're off.

Now it's time to continue with the regular wort boil. This step is identical to what you've already done with extracts, with the exception that no specialty grains are steeped, since their flavors have already been added in the mash.

Step 6. Boiling the Wort; Chilling; Fermenting

To save time and space, I'll condense the next few steps and summarize what happens next. You're going to:
  • Bring the wort up to a rolling boil
  • Add your first hop addition;  9 g Galena, @ 60 minutes
  • Add your second hop additions: 10 g Centennial and 10 g Mt. Hood, @ 20 minutes
  • Add 5 g Irish Moss @ 10 minutes
  • Add 15 g Mt. Hood @ 5 minutes
  • Add 28 g Cascade at flameout
  • Create a whirlpool
  • Add the final hop addition, 28 g Mt. Hood into the whirlpool
  • Measure your Original Gravity. It should be in the region of 1.046
  • Rehydrate the yeast in 120ml sterile water
  • Chill your wort to 27 C and pitch your yeast
  • Wait for beer to be created!
Wait for 2-3 weeks for fermentation and conditioning. Your target Final Gravity is around: 1.010-11.

Then bottle you beer, wait another 2 weeks, and enjoy! Let me know how it turns out!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

American Amber Ale Recipe

Today I spent a great day at the Beer Keg homebrew shop and location of my future microbrewery. If you were there, I promised to post the recipe of the american amber ale I demo-ed. If you need a refresher on my step-by-step guide to brewing this type of beer, click here.

Here it is. Enjoy this crisp, flavorsome beer with some hearty winter food or as a refreshing libation at the end of a long day!

Redemption Red Ale

You will need:

Malt & Specialty Grains

(Grains for Steeping)

300g Caramunich III Caramel Malt 
120g Caramunich I Caramel Malt
60g Carafa Special I Chocolate Malt


2.35 kgs Dried Malt Extract


12g Warrior @ 60 minutes
10g Cascade @ 15 minutes
28g Cascade in the whirlpool


1 tsp Irish Moss @ 10 minutes


11.5 g packet of US-05 Dry Yeast or similar American yeast.

Technical Notes

OG (Original Gravity): 1.044
FG (Final Gravity): 1.011
ABV (Alcohol): 4.4%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 30


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Your First All-grain Brew: BIAB American Pale Ale Recipe

If you've read and followed my posts, you may have already tried your hand at brewing the ESB recipe, using the techniques in my "first brew" step-by-step guide. I'd recommend that you try the techniques in that post many, many times over. Why? It's important to master some of the basics of homebrewing before moving on, tempting as it may be, to other methods of brewing.

But if you feel particularly competent as an extract brewer, you may want to venture into brewing an all-grain beer, using the BIAB equipment I discussed last time.

I've made really good extract beers and really good all-grain beers. I've also tasted and made some pretty horrible all-grain brews which would have made hard-core craft enthusiasts turn back to mass-produced, yellow fizzy stuff in a second.

So, just going all-grain is not an automatic pathway to making good beer. I've spoken to many homebrewers who've claimed that switching to all-grain brewing has improved their beer. Fair enough. But what a lot of them haven't considered is that they also incorporated other techniques at the same time, such as full wort boils and proper measurement. These will make any brew, extract or otherwise, taste better.

So the message is this: don't forget the fundamentals! Good cleaning and sanitizingaccurate measurement, and a good working knowledge of your ingredients are essential for making better beer.

Today, I'll focus on a solid recipe for your first all-grain beer. Time to call up the homebrew shop!

BIAB American Pale Ale

For this refreshing, hoppy ale, you'll need the following ingredients:

Grains for Mashing:

3.55 kg of 2-row Locally-sourced Pale Malt (milled)
350 g of Wyerman Carared Crystal Malt (24 SRM) or similar
70 g of Carafa Special III (470 SRM) or similar


9 g Galena (12.5% Alpha) @ 60 minutes
10 g Centennial (10% Alpha) @ 20 minutes
10 g Mt Hood (6% Alpha) @ 20 minutes
15 g Mt. Hood (6% Alpha) @ 5 minutes
28 g Cascade (5.5% Alpha) @ flameout
28 g Mt. Hood (6% Alpha) in the whirlpool


1 tsp Irish Moss @ 10 minutes


11.5 g packet of US-05 Dry Yeast or similar American yeast.

Some Technical Notes

OG (Original Gravity): 1.046
FG (Final Gravity): 1.010
ABV (Alcohol): 4.7%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 33

And there it is! Next time, I'll walk you through the entire BIAB brewing of this recipe, one step at a time.


{Picture credit: mfajardo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0}

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Going All-grain with BIAB: Basic Equipment

Pictured: An average homebrew setup
If you've been following this blog, and have tried your hand at homebrewing, you know that you can make some truly excellent beers using extracts, specialty grains, and hops.

You should also have realized by now that good, solid basic techniques and practices, such as religious sanitation, and a few others, can result in good beer and more fun than watching back-to-back Star Wars reruns (well maybe).

And as I've written before, there's really no point in being an all-grain snob. Really none at all. But that doesn't mean that making an all-grain brew isn't a fantastic challenge. In my previous post, I discussed the basic theory of all-grain brewing. Today, we tackle the how-to, starting with equipment.

When it comes to equipment, one option is to go full hog. Buy larger brew kettles, get a hot liquor tank, convert a cooler into a mash tun, and buy various other bits and pieces to construct a state-of-the-art all-grain home brewery. John Palmer's site has a nice setup that you can take a look at here. There's one problem though. Full hog = full price. Building a three-tiered, 50 liter electric pump brewing wonder-machine might be awesome, but for many homebrewers, it's just too costly.

Even if you have the money (you lucky bastard), you may not have the space. So if you've got a tiny apartment (or bank account), is all-grain brewing out of reach? Not at all. There's a quick, easy, and cheap way of trying your hand at brewing all-grain beer.

This method of brewing is called brew-in-a-bag or BIAB. It's an excellent way of getting into all-grain brewing without massive investment. In fact, if you've got the equipment I've listed in my basics and nice-to-have equipment posts, you're just about ready to go.

BIAB Basic Equipment

Here's what you'll need for BIAB:

The Bag.

Closeup of a viole mesh bag
The obvious one. As the name suggests, you're going to be using a rather large mesh bag. Most homebrew supply stores sell these, and they're generally made from voile mesh (the kind old folks made inner curtains from) and can carry up to (or more than) 5-6 kgs of grains.

 Make sure you buy a bag that is large enough to line your brew kettle (see below), and that it is strong enough to hold weight (flimsy ain't going to do it). So if you want to make your own, make sure to double stitch or something (I don't know anything about sewing. Sorry.).

A good way of knowing how big your bag should be is to use your brew kettle. If the kettle can fit inside the bag and leave enough space for the bag to be tied, your bag is spot on. Speaking of kettles..

Bigger Brew Kettle

If you haven't yet bought a bigger brew kettle (shame on you), you will definitely need one for BIAB. I recommend a kettle of at least 30 liter capacity. Try for a nice, big stock pot made from either aluminum (cheaper), or stainless steel (bling-ier).

Avoid pots that are very wide and squat. It'll be difficult to maintain a good rolling boil in those (not to mention finding a bag that will fit).

Colander in the brew kettle

Small Metal Colander

Viole mesh is a great fabric for BIAB, but it isn't 100% heat resistant. So to keep the mesh off the bottom of your brew kettle where it can get scorched, I recommend placing a metal colander upside-down in the kettle. 

That will keep your bag safe and in one piece for multiple brews.

Binder Clips

Yep, everyday binder clips from the stationary shop. You'll use these to secure the bag to the sides of the kettle, and in turn, prevent the bag from falling into the kettle, thus making it difficult to retrieve at the end of the mash.

Brew Spoon

A nice, long handled brew spoon, preferably with holes or slots (also known as a mash paddle), is useful for mixing in your grains and preventing clumps and dough balls from forming.

Digital Thermometer

Keeping an (accurate) eye on your mash temperature is crucial for all grain brewing. Try and get an accurate digital thermometer that gives you an instant reading of the mash temperature. 

A probe-like thermometer like the ones used to measure the inside of cooked meats (yum) can also be used successfully.

Nice-to-haves: Grain Mill.

If you're going to be doing more all-grain brews, the ability to mill your own grain is very convenient.

Of course, you can have your malts pre-milled by the homebrew supplier, but milled grains don't keep fresh as long as whole one. 
So if you buy pre-milled, use the malts as soon as possible.

Well, that's it. Now you're ready to tackle all-grain brewing with BIAB! Next time, I'll discuss your first all-grain, BIAB recipe for a hoppy, refreshing American Pale Ale. See you then!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Basic Brewing Techniques Part III: 5 More Steps to Better Beer

My previous post on better brewing techniques seemed to have gone down well, so I thought another installment would be a good idea. Here are five more steps to better beer:

1. Repeat recipes

Homebrewers have a massive advantage over their commercial cousins. Commercial brewers have to brew consistent beer, using the same recipe, time and time again to satisfy their consumers. Homebrewers only have to satisfy themselves (and their devoted friends and family members).

As a homebrewer, you can brew a brown porter the one week and an imperial IPA the next. With all the beer styles out there, you never have to brew the same beer twice for a year or more. Adventure! Excitement! But a master brewer craves not these things.

It's really difficult to master brewing if each time you brew is like the first time. Sure, you'll gain experience in the basic mechanics of brewing, but you won't learn much about the interplay of ingredients and beer chemistry that way. So take (one) leaf from the commercial brewer's book: try for consistency by brewing the same recipe a couple of times. You won't regret it.

Good experiments = Better beer

2. Change only one thing at a time

So you've taken my advice and are about to brew that Blonde Ale for a second time. But now that you think about it, wouldn't it be interesting to substitute Cascade hops with some Centennial? And you've always wanted to add some maple syrup to a brew. And how about that Trappist yeast?

Experimentation is a fantastic way of learning how to brew, not to mention producing some fine beers. But good experiments (and experimenters) change only one variable while keeping all the others constant. So for that second Blonde Ale, why not just try and substitute one hop varietal. Or even better, use the same hops, but add them at different times in the boil.

3. Buy brewing software

Brewing, as I've mentioned in previous posts, is as much as science as an art. It is important to calculate your Original Gravity, expected Final Gravity, and alcohol content. Once you go further down the rabbit hole of brewing, you'll encounter other interesting statistics relevant to beer, such as bittering units, residual sugar content, attenuation, bitterness ratios, and others. You can calculate these by hand, or put them in a spreadsheet, but that's just a little primitive, no?

Brewing software has come a long way, and packages like Beersmith are tremendously powerful tools for homebrewers. Brewing software can help you calculate just about every possible beer statistic, assists you in formulating your own recipes, and serves as a repository for all your brewing notes and observations (you are keeping a log of those, right?)

4. Take notes

Pictured: One of the best  pieces
of brewing equipment you'll buy
One of the best investments I've ever made in brewing equipment cost me less than ten bucks. It was a simple counter-top note book. 

My brewing notebook looks pretty primeval by now. It's pages are warped and stained from many years worth of steam, wort, and syrup assaults. But I still go back to it every time I brew. Nowadays I also keep notes on Beersmith (the cloud is safer for storage than a cupboard).

Recording what you did during a brew day, noting potential risks and mistakes, and noting future ideas are all going to improve your beer immeasurably.

5. Use fresh ingredients

Commercial brewers like boasting about the quality of their ingredients, the purity of their water, and so on. A lot of that's just marketing of course. But homebrewers shouldn't ignore all the hype.

It's tempting to use ingredients that have come close (or gone beyond) their expiry dates. You paid good money for these after all, and surely expiry is just a guideline? Some ingredients are more robust than others: high alpha hops tend to keep for longer than noble varieties; dry yeast stays viable far longer than liquid.

But don't risk your beer if there is any doubt about the freshness of your ingredients.

Taste the grains you're going to be using for freshness and quality. Check the expiry date on yeast packets, and if you're using extracts, try to source local varieties--these are generally fresher and haven't been exposed to as many environmental ups and downs as imported brands.


{Picture credit: Lab flasks; Amy Love Yah (CC BY 2.0)}

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Going All-grain: The Basics

Once you've mastered brewing good beer using extracts and specialty grains, you may want to try your hand at all-grain brewing. This essentially makes you responsible for the entire process of beer making, just like craft and macro-brewers the world over.

In all-grain brewing, you produce fermentable sugars from malted barley (mostly), thus replacing malt extract with your own 'extract' that comes from converting starches found in barley to sugars, and eventually, beer.

Understanding the basics of all-grain brewing helps you understand the eventual equipment you'll be using and the steps to making great tasting beer at home. This post is really a very bare-bones description of the whole enchilada. I don't want to tie you up in jargon-heavy knots, and this ain't going to be a chemistry lesson either. Just solid advice (I hope).

Converting grain into sugar: Mashing

All-grain brewers convert the starches found in malts to sugars through a process known as mashing. When you mash grains, you essentially suspend milled (cracked) grains in a watery soup that is held at a specific temperature (usually in the region of 67 degrees C), for a specific time (usually 75-90 minutes), and at a specific PH level (usually in the region of 5.3).

Why all these parameters? It's because of enzymes found naturally in malted barley. Enzymes are the proteins that convert starch into sugar, and they need particular conditions to become active and start doing what they're good at: helping your grains along the path to becoming beer!

One thing all-grain brewing does give the brewer is more choice in how the beer will turn out (on the down side, it gives you more opportunities to screw things up!). Mashing is where a lot of that takes place. Depending on the mash temperature and time you choose for your grains, you can select the amount of body (residual sweetness) your beer will have. It will also determine how many fermentable sugars you have in your wort. This, in turn, determines the Original Gravity, Final Gravity, and alcohol level of the beer.

The short of it is:
  • Higher mash temperatures result in a sweeter beer with greater body and less alcohol
  • Lower mash temperatures result in a dryer beer with less body and more alcohol
(For the serious beer geeks out there: yes, there are more variables that affect body, ABV, and overall taste of the beer--but these are the basics)

Mashing Equipment

A commercial mash tun
Brewers generally use a vessel called a mash tun to mash their grains. This can take the form of a simple
stock pot lined with a bag (more about that next time), or an insulated vessel fitted with a false bottom (normally made from a picnic cooler--see picture below).

Homebrewing mash tun
made from picnic cooler
At the end of the mashing period, the temperature of the mash is raised (to about 77 degrees C), which stops the conversion process and extracts additional fermentable sugar from the grain. This is called mashing out, but is not always practiced (or needed).

Getting the most out of your malt: Lautering

While mashing the malt tends to do most of the work in terms of converting starch to sugar, the all-grain brewer must still separate the grains, husks, and grist from the wort--otherwise you have malt porridge, not beer!

This process is referred to as lautering. Generally, it involves recirculating the wort a few times, in other words, pouring the cloudy wort through the grain bed of the mash/lauter tun (these are often the same vessel for homebrewers) until the wort starts to run clear.

So the grain bed acts as a natural filter for the wort, just like your water filter at home. But, the grains themselves still hold on to a lot of sugars simply because of the porridge-like consistency of the mash. To wash out all the remaining sugars, most, but not all, all-grain brewing methods call for sparging, which is the technical term for washing additional sugars from the grains to increase the amount of fermentable sugars (and flavor compounds) in the wort. 
Grains being sparged with a rotating sparge arm.

There are different methods of sparging, each with pros and cons, but I won't get into those now. Suffice it to say that sparging can be important in some, but not all methods of brewing all-grain beer. This process of sparging can take anywhere from 20-90 minutes, depending on the particular method chosen.

Important to note is that as the clear wort is being drawn from the lauter/mash tun into the kettle, sparge water (at around 76 degrees C) is trickled through the grains, thus ensuring that the grain bed doesn't dry out.

Once the grains have been mashed, and the wort recirculated and sparged, all-grain brewers end up where extract brewers begin: with sweet wort in their brew kettle, ready to be boiled and converted into beer!

Lautering Equipment

As mentioned, lautering and mashing often happens in the same vessel for homebrewers (and microbrewers).  It is certainly possible to have a separate mash and lauter tun however, but then things get slightly more involved.

Where to from here?

I hope this post has at least somewhat demystified all-grain brewing for you (if it hasn't, let me know!). As I've said before, you can still produce excellent, award-winning beers using extracts, specialty grains and the methods I've outlined in previous posts. But if you feel like a bit of a challenge, or you want to experiment with every style of beer and every type of malted grain, then all-grain brewing can help you do that.

In my next post, I'll discuss what is without doubt the easiest, cheapest way of getting into all-grain brewing. So read that post before mortgaging your house and rushing out to buy that three-tiered, deluxe brewing system!


{Picture credit: Commercial mash tun: Bernt Rostad (CC BY 2.0)} 
{Picture credit: Cooler mash tun: Joe Olivas ( CC BY NC-SA 2.0)}
{Picture credit: Sparge: GregPC (CC BY NC-SA 2.0)}