British Brewer

Recreating the perfect British Pint

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20 January
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Brewing on a budget – Borrowing Yeast

Yeast StarterAs part of the continued deep dive into specific ingredients and techniques (so far we have dug deeper into yeast and reviewed water treatment) I thought a further post on yeast was in order especially given the cost of quality yeast. Its expensive.

As I mentioned in an earlier post on why I brew, its not just the pleasure of drinking high quality fresh ale, or the enjoyment of simply brewing, but also the lower cost of home made ale that stokes my passion for homebrew.  Brewing your own real ale is very economical. I was reminded as I toured the liquor store today and noticed a 6 pack of Fullers ESB on the shelf for $12 (or $2 a bottle), and remembered I have 2 cases (48 bottles) of my own version (though still not up to Fullers quality) in my cellar that cost me approx $4.75 per 6 pack ($0.79 per bottle).  Given I like to use the more expensive liquid yeast from Wyeast or White Labs I find yeast is the most expensive ingredient in my brews. These yeasts have reliable attenuation percentages and produce very consistent results every brew. I have never had a bad batch.  But they are expensive, most being over $6 a packet.  What also doesn’t help is I am often left guessing what type of yeast to purchase for a recipe, e.g. is it a London Ale, London Ale III, or a Thames Valley strain?

But what if I could get the right yeast and pay nothing (except for the one time cost of a single bottle of beer). I could bring the price of a 6 pack of Fullers ESB down to $4 (or $0.66 per bottle) helping my budget somewhat and deliver an even closer match to the original I am trying to clone.

This brings me to the main reason for the visit to my local quality liquor store (as I rarely buy beer except for research purposes), to acquire a sample of 2007 bottle conditioned Fullers Vintage Ale.  As noted in my prior post, I am unhappy with the results of version 1.0 of my Fullers ESB clone.  As part of my research into figuring out how to improve the recipe I have been investigating how to improve the malt, hops and yeast mix.  I have managed to finally find a reliable source for the appropriate hops but got stuck on the yeast. Fullers, like most breweries, is very secretive around its yeast as so much of the flavour and character of the finished ale comes from it.  During my research I was browsing some recipe web sites and found a post on a bulletin board where a homebrewer from England was trying to replicate Fullers London Pride using some yeast grown from a yeast sample he had lifted from some bottle conditioned Fuller 1845 Ale.  Much like homebrew, bottle conditioned commercial beers are naturally carbonated in the bottle using residual yeast and priming sugar leaving a sediment on the bottom of the bottle. The sediment is rich with yeast cells and, with a little care and attention, these cells can be reactivated and grown to be used again in whatever beer you choose. In my case any Fullers clone I might make in the future.

But isn’t all beer sold in the USA pasteurized? I always thought so. So what commercial beers are out there that we could use to create our own free supply of yeast?  The answer appears to be not many.  As a rule almost all imported bottled and keg beers are pasteurized, the reason given to preserve freshness and enhance shelf life (though this point in hotly debated, I can attest to having regular gravity beers in my cellar for months and they continue to improve with age).  Furthermore almost all domestic US bottled beer is also pasteurized though domestic US keg beer is typically unpasteurized and “fresh” (with the exception of the mega-breweries such as Bud who pasteurize everything).  But recently the rules appear to be slowly changing. It is now possible to get imported and domestic bottled conditioned ales for higher gravity brews. I have noted Ringwood, Fullers 1845, Fullers Vintage Ale, and Sam Smiths Organic Ale from the UK and Shipyard Barleywine and Sierra Nevada from the US all available unpasteurized and bottled conditioned in the US market.

So how do we take a sample of bottled conditioned ale and re-culture it for use in your typical 5 gallon batch of homebrew?

  1. First acquire some bottled conditioned ale that matches either the style you are shooting for or from the same brewery that brews the ale you are attempting to clone (chances are its the same strain)
  2. Pour yourself a drink, make sure to save ~20% of the ale bottle, including all the sediment from the bottom
  3. Assemble the following to make a “yeast starter” :
  4. In a saucepan bring to a boil 8 oz of water, add Wheat DME and the hop pellets and boil for a total of 10mins
  5. After 8 mins add yeast nutrient (optional)
  6. Cool rapidly, I partially submerge the saucepan in a sink full of ice cold water and stir vigorously, this also aerates the liquid
  7. Once the liquid is cooled to 80ºF pour into a clean, sanitized flask or carboy
  8. Add the remaining 20% of the bottle conditioned ale, including sediment, from the bottle you purchased
  9. Insert stopper and airlock and keep at a constant 68-75ºF. The yeast should come back to life within 3-4 days.
Yeast Harvesting Materials

The Equipment

Mixing in the Wheat DME

Mixing in the Wheat DME

Source Ale

Pour drink, saving 20%

Yeast Nutrient

Add yeast nutrient after 8mins

Cooling starter to 80%

Cooling rapidly in cold water

Final product

Transfer to flask, add ale with sediment

Once the yeast is active you can either use it or place in the refrigerator to sleep.  Make sure to keep some back to re-culture again for another brew.  Yeast can stay healthy for up to 3 months in the fridge, so make sure to re-culture a batch before 3 months to keep the strain alive or you will just have to go out and actually BUY beer, how does that work with the budget!

Other resources:

  • For a complete list of breweries where White Labs and Wyeast strains originate you can look here.
  • For a list of bottled conditioned ales capable of harvesting yeast go here.
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11 December
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Getting Started Pt 5 – Priming and Bottling

…and drinking of course. As my friend Liz Knox asked for more quotes in my posts I will give them. Given we are about to bottle and store away the fruits of our labors to prepare them for consumption I thought this was appropriate.

Filled with mingled cream and amber I will drain that glass again. Such hilarious visions clamber Through the chambers of my brain — Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies Come to life and fade away; Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. – Edgar Allan Poe (American short-story Writer, Editor, Poet and Critic, 1809-1849)

This is the final post in our getting started series.  I have to say they have been fun to do and have helped me analyze and question my own techniques and process, improving them along the way.  As I noted in the first post of this series, brewing is a journeyman profession.

As with all the other steps in our process I have included photos, again from the Best Bitter I used in both the brewing and fermentation post.  Lets get on to business

Bottling Equipment

Bottling Equipment

Equipment and Additional Ingredients

There are some basic equipment requirements when it comes to bottling beer.

1) Bottles –  You can either reuse beer bottles from brews acquired at the store or go to a homebrew supplier and buy them there.  If you reuse commercial beer bottles make sure they are not screw tops as these require additional equipment not commonly available at homebrew suppliers.

Ensure the bottles are made from dark coloured glass.  Over exposure to bright light can cause the beer to get a skunky smell caused by a chemical reaction in the hop oil from an over exposure to ultraviolet light. Whatever your choice, the bottles need to be cleaned thoroughly and dried before bottling can commence using a bottling brush and some HOT water.

Bottles typically come in 3 sizes, either 12 oz, 16 oz, or 22 oz.  There are others including growlers and wine bottles. The choice is yours. My only advice is to use a bottle that provides enough ale for a single serving.  Remember homebrew ales contain live yeast and a small amount will settle to the bottom of the bottle as part of the priming process. We do not want any of the sediment to get into a poured ale which happens if the bottle is swished around while pouring from glass to glass or placed back on the counter half full, churning the yeast in the process.  So either decant into a jug or pour a bottle into a single glass.

2) Bottle Caps and a Capper – Regardless of the bottle size you choose the bottle tops are one standard size (except the wine bottle) and one standard bottle cap though there are a couple of different varieties on offer. There is the standard pry-off cap, it can come in plain metal or decorated with a logo.  Some commercial breweries sell surplus caps through homebrew suppliers.  The second type of cap is a pry-off cap with a special oxygen-scavenging liner that can help reduce oxidation and staling, especially useful in higher alcohol beers such as Imperial IPA or Barelywine which bottle condition for many months.

Bottle Cappers come in a variety of shapes and sizes from automated to incredibly manual. I use a simple manual twin-lever device with a magnet to hold the cap in place.

3) Priming Sugar – In order to create the CO2 in bottled conditioned beer it is necessary to create a mini fermentation by adding some additional sugar for the remaining yeast to convert to CO2. The amount of sugar is too small to make any real change to the final ABV.

Each ale recipe can have its own priming ingredient and methodology. Typically cane sugar is used, it is easily consumed by the yeast and has no flavour, colour or aroma characteristics once fermented. It needs to be highly soluble and dissolve quickly into the beer. Some recipes call for Dried Malt Extract, or syrup, both which require boiling for 15-20mins and left to cool before adding to the bottling bucket.  Unless mentioned, all recipes on this site will use confectioners sugar, typically 3/4 cup to 1 cup depending on the level of carbonation.  Do not go over a cup or risk some mini explosions as bottle caps are forced off from too much pressure being created in the bottle.  Confectioners sugar is very fine and dissolves easily into the beer.

We also need a bottling bucket, preferably with a spigot, a siphon, racking cane, and a sanitized long wooden or plastic spoon to gently mix the sugar into the beer.

Process

1) After the ale has been in the secondary fermenter, typically for 5-7 days or as instructed by the recipe, it is ready to be bottled.  First assemble the equipment outlined above, if the priming sugar has been boiled, ensure it has been cooled to room temperature before we begin.

2) Next, attach the siphon tube to racking cane.  If any hops or other adjuncts were added to the secondary fermentation it may be necessary to attach a small filter to the end of the racking cane to avoid any particles getting into the bottled beer.

3) Remove airlock from the carboy, insert racking cane and siphon off into a clean bottling bucket being very careful to avoid the sediment sitting on the bottom of the carboy.  I tilt the carboy forward as the beer drains to ensure we get as much beer out of the bottle leaving all the sediment behind.

Ensure the siphon tubing is coiled around the bottom of the bottling bucket and the beer does not splash as it enters the bucket. Splashing causes the beer to aerate. At this stage of the brewing process oxygen is our enemy.  We need a little oxygen to re-invigorate the remaining yeast cells to replicate and consume the small amount of priming sugar, but too much will lead to stale beer. Too much oxygen can also cause the yeast to over produce leaving a lot of sediment and create cloudy beer with a heavy yeast taste, again bad.

Adding 3/4 cup of priming sugar

Adding 3/4 cup of priming sugar

Stir gently to avoid overly aerating the beer

Stir gently to avoid overly aerating the beer

4) Transfer the now filled bottling bucket to the bottling area, mix the priming sugar or solution to the beer and stir very gently so as not to aerate the beer.

Case of 12 oz beer bottles

Case of 12 oz beer bottles

Filling the bottle

Filling the bottle

5) Position empty bottle under the bottling bucket spigot and fill bottle leaving about 1/2 inch open at the top.  Don’t worry about the oxygen in the top of the bottle, the CO2 generated by the priming sugar will force it to the top of the bottle and away from the precious ale.

Place cap on now filled bottle

Place cap on now filled bottle

Place capper over bottle like so

Place capper over bottle like so

Push down on levers, crimping the cap around the edge of the bottle

Push down on levers, crimping the cap around the edge of the bottle

and you are done

and you are done

Don't forget to clean and santize your equipment!

Don't forget to clean and santize your equipment!

6) Put caps on bottle and store in a dark cool place for as long as the recipe states.  Two weeks is usually enough to test a bottle to check for successful carbonation, but I would let the ale sit for a couple of weeks before cracking open the case proper.  Most ales will hit a peak at around 1 month in the bottle, higher ABV ales can rest for months and sometimes years. Yeah sure, not in my house.

Finally, sit back, crack open a brew, and pour (remember one single pour leaving the small amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle) and quaff down the fruits of your hard earned labor.  Brewing is a fun process, and its fun to discover the flavours, aromas, and colours created by the various combination of hops and grain and the various strains of yeast.

Have fun and please leave comments on the this page about any additional tips and tricks you have found helped you while on your own brewing adventures.

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02 December
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Some interesting Christmas present ideas….

…for those that make beer and those that love to drink it.

In my daily reading of the blogosphere I came across a cool post and some great books I wanted to highlight.

First up a post from ex-pat beer scholar, zythophile, a pint pot that solves the problem of a beer getting overly warm in the palm (or for those who like it chilled, condensation getting on your hands).

classic quote here:

The pint glass is normally a triumph of function over form, being, too often, an extremely ugly container for a very fine product.

I have asked santa for a couple myself but for those that cannot wait Amazon has some in stock, check it out here.

I am always researching techniques and recipes and there is a wealth of knowledge online and in books.  One big source of ideas comes from homebrew recipe books.  I already have one called “Clone Brews: Homebrew Recipes for 150 Commercial Beers“. This is not only a great source for brewing techniques but also provides guidance on crafting your own unique recipes.  As the title suggests it the pages are filled with 150 recipes drawn from all over the world including the infamous Famosa Lager from Guatemala, the Maccabee Premium from Israel, and the Ngoma Awooyo Special from Togo. It has a great list of British Ales(Fullers, Courage), Irish (Guinness) and some US favorites (Magic Hat, Red Hook, Sam Adams) with some of the more famous Belgium brews thrown in (Duval, Chimay Red).

I was surfing around yesterday and came across this gem, “Brew Your Own British Real Ale“.  If there was a book the BritishBrewer should own it would be this one.  It has actually been out of print since 1998 but due to the rise in popularity of homebrewing the book is being re-issued next year.  I looked it up on Amazon, and from the sample pages Amazon provided I noted an extensive knowledge-base on techniques and tips for brewing authentic Brtitsh real ale.  Most importantly it had a 100 recipes including all the beers I used to love, and yes I have drunk every single one on the list. My long suffering parents can attest to this fact mainly due to the existence of probably one of the best pubs in the world ever just 5 min walk from my house growing up in New Malden called “Woodies“. Had 7 real ales on tap and rotated them constantly.  Always something new to try and sometimes I would somehow manage to get through all 7 in a session, would be rude not to.

I digress, these recipes are priceless as a number of these breweries are no longer in business.  I cannot wait to brew a Wadsworth 6X or a Flowers and write back here with my findings.  Check out the book here, used copies are available (I have ordered one) and you can pre-order the new edition.

Happy reading

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01 December
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Getting Started Pt4 – Fermentation

Been taking some pictures during the fermentation process of the Best Bitter we used as the example in the Brewing Day post.  I have taken a picture for each day of the primary fermentation stage, typically a 7 day process.

For most homebrewers fermentation is typically done in 2 stages though it can be done in a single stage or more than 3, depending on the recipe.

1) Primary fermentation is the process by which wort finally becomes ale through the conversion of sugars into alcohol and CO2. This conversion is done by the yeast eating the sugars when given the right temperature conditions, dictated by the strain of yeast we use.  Stopped fermentation’s tend to occur if fermentation temperatures are too high or too low.

An airlock is used to ensure the CO2 escapes and no microbes get into the wort. If the fermentation becomes a little too active the foam can run out of space and blow out the top of the airlock (yuck its messy, see image below and here).  If this circumstance arises the use of a blow-off tube is recommended, preferably before the airlock overflows with foam and crud (the proper term is Krausen).  A blow-off tube is typically a hose attached in place of the air lock with the other end of the hose is submerged into a bucket of water or sanitizer. The CO2 continues out of the hose into the bucket along with any of the krausen.

So when is the primary fermentation complete? In my experience it should be left in the primary fermenter for at least 7 days, even if fermentation appears to be complete.  The only way to determine whether a fermentation has finished is by taking a gravity reading on consecutive days. If this reading stays constant, fermentation is complete. You can try to guess by seeing if the bubbles have stopped or the krausen has subsided but these methods are inaccurate and can be misleading. If you think your fermentation is done, use your hydrometer to make sure. You will need special equipment, such as a “Beer Thief” to safely extract a sample from the carboy.

2) Secondary fermentation is really a misnomer as no actual fermentation occurs during this phase.  It is best described as the “Conditioning and Clearing” phase.  For the complete beginner this phase can be skipped and the ale can move on to priming and bottling (upcoming post). If the ale is to be kegged then this secondary phase is essential to avoid clogged lines.  Secondary fermentation is simply the transferring or “racking” of the ale into a second, clean, carboy complete with airlock and then stored in a cool room away from sunlight.

The primary purpose of the conditioning phase is to clear and bulk age the ale before it is placed in bottles or kegs.  During this phase yeast and solids  remaining from the primary fermentation settle out and the ales flavours begin to mellow and meld together.  In my experience hoppy, bitter beers tend to be a little too bitter if not left to condition for a while.  Flavours also take longer to develop in higher alcohol ales.  Over time the more delicate flavours of the specialty grains will come through and its well worth the extra wait. (Remember patience is one of my 3 golden rules)

Duration of the secondary phase varies by recipe. Some recipes call for an aging to be done at lower temperatures, called “Cold Conditioning”. This process is typical for beers aged over long periods, especially beers with higher alcohol content.  Most basic recipes though call for an additional 7 days in the same conditions as the primary fermentation phase.  It is also typical during this phase to add additional flavours and adjuncts such as spices, fruit extracts and oak chips as well as the process called dry-hopping.

Dry-hopping has become very popular in American Ales, specifically the American IPA. As much of the aroma qualities of the hops are either boiled off during the brew or lost in the primary fermenter it has become popular to add a slug of hops into the secondary.  This process captures the aroma of the hop without imparting any of the bitterness.  Some professional brewers have taken this art to the extreme, creating equipment for straining an ale through hops prior to serving (here).  Simply add the prescribed amount of hops to the secondary, secure airlock, and leave in cool place.

Some brews require an additional conditioning phase but this is rare.  The 90 min IPA I brew is a 3 stage process with the 3rd phase used as a long cold conditioning process.  The beer is racked a 3rd time to remove the ale from the hops used for dry-hopping in the second stage and off the yeast and proteins that settled.

With the end of secondary fermentation we are now 1/2 way through the brewing process for most typical ales.  In our next “Getting Started” post we will focus on priming and bottling before getting down to my favorite section of all, the drinking.

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26 November
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Getting Started Pt 3 – Brewing Day

Before we begin with brewing day (and I am actually writing this while I am brewing a batch of British Best Bitter), I wanted to share 3 basic rules I have come to live by with homebrew.

1) CLEANLINESS – It is important to use clean equipment throughout the brewing process from the boil to the fermentation to the bottling or kegging. I find some books and suppliers go a little over the top asking you to essentially nuke everything with strong chemicals and detergents. In my experience dish soap and REALLY hot water work just fine. Clean all the equipment and keep in a cool dry place.

2) TEMPERATURE – Always follow the recipe with regards to temperature. Too hot can cause yeast not to ferment and other bacterias to grow (bad), too cold and the yeast sleeps (very bad). Too hot and the sugars will not get extracted from the malt or other unwanted enzymes will get extracted also. You will need a room where the temperature is relatively constant around 65-70F in order to ferment and condition ale. Some ales and lagers require a cold fermentation or conditioning phase so a fridge with a thermostat may also be required for these recipes.

3) PATIENCE – Don’t rush the process, fermentation takes time, conditioning takes time. Follow the recommended durations specified in a recipe until a bottle is opened. The beer will taste amazing if you do. I have seen some brewers suck down cloudy unsettled beer, its disturbing (you know who you are).

Brewing Day Equipment

Brewing Day Equipment

Additional Requirements – a stove capable of holding a 5 gallon kettle, a large measuring jug, a large clean wooden or plastic spoon, a patient loving wife, and kids that don’t mind the wonderful aromas of boiling beer wort.

WARNING not everyone will share the passion for the wonderful aromas boiling malt and hops will bring to your household. If you do not have a stove or have been banished to the garden shed you will also require an outdoor stove and full bottle of propane.

Time – You will need at least 2 hours to complete the following steps. Pictures included in this post were taken today (11/25) while I brewed my Best Bitter on my 3G iPhone.

Step 1: Preparing the yeast – If you are using dried yeast it is a good idea to give the yeast a little head-start by getting it frisky and reproducing. Simply dissolve a small amount of sugar or DME in some warm tap water (approx 70F) and add the dried yeast. Do this before you start the brew so the yeast has at least 1 1/2 hours to work its magic. If you are using liquid yeast from White Labs or Wyeast just follow the instructions on the label.

Step 2: Steeping the specialty grains – As we discussed in the prior post specialty malt provides the colour and flavour (with some sugars) for our ale. I find it helpful to order the grains pre-crushed as I do not have a milling machine. If you have purchased uncrushed grain and do not have a milling machine, transfer grains into a ziploc and crush with a rolling pin until all the grains have opened.

Now in a separate pot (not the brew kettle and make sure you have a lid) heat up 1 1/2 gallons of water to 165 F and remove from the heat. Transfer the crushed specialty grains into a steeping bag (if you have one) tie a knot in the end, and place into the pot of water. If you do not have a bag just pour the grains directly into the 165F water. Cover the pot and steep for 20mins. Remember temperature is important. Too hot or too cold could lead to bad flavours and/or cloudy beer.

Once the 20mins are up remove the grains and dispose of them by either removing the bag or straining through a sieve or colander. Transfer the infused liquid into your boiling kettle along with an additional 1 1/2 gallons of water, cover the kettle, and turn the kettle heat to high.

NOTE If you used the straining method to steep the specialty grains try leaving the grains in the strainer and filtering the 1 1/2 gallons of additional water through the grains to extract more of the colour a flavour still present in the grains. If you do this you will need to heat the water to 165 F before you begin to strain.

Specialty Grains and a Steeping Sock

Place Specialty Grains in the Steeping Sock

Heat a pot 1 1/2 gallons of water

Heat a pot 1 1/2 gallons of water

Heat steeping water to 165 F before adding grains

Heat steeping water to 165 F before adding grains

Remove from heat add grains and cover for 20 mins

Remove from heat add grains and cover for 20 mins

Remove grains and pour liquid into the brewing kettle

Remove grains and pour liquid into the brewing kettle

Cover kettle and turn heat to high

Cover kettle and turn heat to high

Step 3: Adding the base malt and bittering hopes – Once the liquid (called wort) has reached boiling point remove from the heat (be careful the wort does not boil over it makes a mess and tries the patience of patient wife leading to banishment to garden) and wait for the foam (known as the hot break) to subside. Now add in your malt extract, stirring the wort well to dissolve the malt. Replace the kettle back on the heat and bring back to a boil. The base malt is responsible for the bulk of the sugar content in your brew. The more malt the more alcohol.

Once the wort reaches boil add the bittering hops. These hops need the full boil time to extract their alpha acids giving the beer its bitter taste. The higher the alpha, and/or the longer they cook, and/or the larger the quantity will all cause a more bitter beer. Beer bitterness is measured in IBU’s (International Bitterness Units), the higher the value the more bitter the beer. Now set the timer to 60 mins keeping the wort on a high simmer.

Malt Extract and Bittering Hops

Malt Extract and Bittering Hops

Remove boiling wort from heat and add malt extract

Remove boiling wort from heat and add malt extract

Put back on heat, bring to boil then add hops. Set timer for 60 mins

Put back on heat, bring to boil then add hops

Set timer for 60mins, we are off

Set timer for 60mins, we are off

Step 4: Brew additions – It is not uncommon for recipes to require additional ingredients to be added during the boil. These are typically additional malt, hops or sugars. Hops added in the latter half of a brew are called flavour hops. The beta acids impart aroma and some flavour as some of the alpha acids are also extracted. The longer the hops have to boil the more bitter flavor is extracted. Flavour hop additions tend to be added between 30-45 mins into a boil. Hops added at the end of a boil only extract the beta acids giving a beer a strong fruity aroma. These hops are called aroma hops. Aroma hops are typically added with under 5 minutes to go or once the 60 min boil has completed.

Other additions include Irish Moss. Irish moss is a natural way to help clarify the beer during fermentation. Irish moss is typically added 30 mins into the boil.

Adding 1 tsp Irish Moss at the 30min mark

Adding 1 tsp Irish Moss at the 30min mark

Adding Flavour Hops at 45mins

Adding Flavour Hops at 45mins

Step 5: Cooling and aerating the wort – Once the 60 mins are up and all the ingredients have been added it is essential to cool the wort down as quickly as possible to ensure no bad bacterias get a chance to grow. I have access to a large farm sink in which I place the brew kettle and fill with ice cold water from the tap cooling the sides of the kettle. I find 2 sinkfuls gets the temperature down to ~110F.

Next I add ice cold water to the wort to bring the kettle to a total of 5 gallons of liquid. This brings the temperate down between 75-80F, perfect for transferring to the carboy for fermentation. During this step stir the wort well, this will efficiently aerate the liquid and create an oxygen rich environment enabling the yeast to grow healthy cells.

For those without a sink or who work with larger brew volumes, homebrew equipment suppliers provide wort chillers. These are typically a coil of copper tubing that fits inside a kettle with hose attachments at each end to affix a hose. Cold water is continuously cycled through the coil cooling the wort very quickly.

Cooling wort in a sink full for ice cold water whilst stirring to mix in the oxygen

Cooling wort in a sink full for ice cold water whilst stirring to mix in the oxygen

Getting the temperature down to 75F by topping up kettle to 5 gal with cold water

Getting the temperature down to 75F by topping up kettle to 5 gal with cold water

Step 6: Pitching the yeast (almost there) – With the wort sufficient cooled its time to measure the Specific Gravity of the wort using a hydrometer. The Specific Gravity measures the density of sugar in the wort and the density of the water. The Original Gravity (OG) reading gives us the amount of sugar present in the wort prior to the fermentation stage. At the end of the fermentation process the Final Gravity (FG) reading is taken to calculate how much sugar remains. Most hydrometers also provide an Alcohol By Volume (ABV) scale. So by subtracting the FG reading from the OG gives us the final ABV of your brew. E.g if the OG reading = 1050 we have an initial ABV of 6.5%. Then at the end of fermentation we get a FG =1012 and a final ABV of 1.5%. Simply subtract 1.5% from 6.5% to get a pint of ale with an ABV of 5%, a fine session brew.

To measure the OG simply transfer a sample of the wort into a test jar (I use a clean turkey baster) and insert the hydrometer. Mark the value in a notebook and pour back the wort into the kettle. Once you have completed this task pour the yeast into the kettle and give a little stir.

Time to measure the Specific Gravity

Time to measure the Specific Gravity

The OG reading is 1042, almost perfect for a Best Bitter

The OG reading is 1042, almost perfect for a Best Bitter

Now lets pitch the yeast (some Wyeast London ESB in this case)

Now lets pitch the yeast (some Wyeast London ESB in this case)

Step 7: Transferring the wort into the Carboy – You will need a pair of strong arms and funnel. Too keep the wife happy I place a towel on the floor under the clean carboy (not the hand towel, it will get you in lots of trouble, an old rag should do the job). Place a wide funnel in the top of the carboy and carefully poor the contents of the kettle into the funnel. I sometimes ask either my 8 or 6 year old to hold the funnel steady typically with the sounds of “this beer is stinky daddy, stinky”.

Once transferred fill an airlock to the line with water, put the airlock in a bung, and secure the bung into the top of the carboy. Now move the carboy to a room with a constant temperature between 65-75F so the yeast can make babies and eat all the sugary goodness in the malt. This will produce alcohol and creating a wonderful marriage of flavours. It also creates CO2 which you can see popping out of the airlock during the fermentation. I use the basement.

Carboy reading on towl with funnel

Carboy ready on towel with funnel

5 gal of wort transfered (no spillage)

5 gal of wort transferred (no spillage)

Attached the airlock and bung...

Attached the airlock and bung...

...and off to the 65-70F basement it goes for 5-7 days

...and off to the 65-70F basement it goes for 5-7 days

Step 8: Cleanup – It keeps the wife happy and all your equipment clean and bacteria free. Happy wife is by far the most important of the two.

Have fun, next post we will walk through an actual recipe and we can check back in with our fermenting ale to check on progress.

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20 November
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Getting Started Pt 1 – Equipment

With my interest piqued and support from my adorable wife I decided to give home brewing a crack.  This was over 15 months ago now and I have learned a lot during this time.  I would characterize myself as a beginner still, working through all the basic styles, trying out various techniques such as dry hopping, brew additions, different boil times, and playing around with the various ingredients.  Brewing is a journeyman profession you never stop learning.

Before you can get started with home brewing some basic equipment is required:

Brew Kettle

Brew Kettle

The brew kettle: Required to boil your ingredients.  They come in various sizes, I have found the 5 gallon works for me.  Useful for boiling lobster also.

Glass Carboy

Glass Carboy

A Carboy.  They come in all shapes and sizes and are made in both glass and food grade plastic. I prefer the glass, they last forever assuming you don’t drop them of course.  A carboy is used to ferment your brew.  You will also need a good supply of bungs and airlocks to allow the CO2 to escape and the outside air from getting in.

Brewers Bucket (with spigot)

Brewers Bucket (with spigot)

A Brewers Bucket.  This is one of the most useful pieces of equipment you can own.  I use the bucket primarily for bottling but they can be used as a cheaper alternative to a carboy (above). I highly recommend getting a bucket with a spigot pre-installed. No other bottling equipment is required if you do. All you have to do is position the bottle under the spigot, turn on the tap to fill, turn off when you are done.

Beer Bottle

Beer Bottle

Beer Bottles.  You need something to put the ale in to condition and serve.  We will get to kegging in a much later post as it does require some additional expertise.  Bottling beer is clean, efficient and cheap.  You can either buy them online or reuse the bottles from your local beer store. Either way you will need a good supply of caps and a bottle capper.

The above list is enough to get started.  I would also recommend purchasing a bottle and carboy cleaning brush, some good quality siphon tubing, a large funnel, and a hydrometer (to figure the alcohol  content of your brew). Most good brewing suppliers provide a good starter kits to make getting up and running as smooth as possible.  I bought mine from OakBarrel and NorthernBrewer has as good range of kits also.  Most starter kits do not include a kettle so don’t forget to order one.  You should be able to get everything you need to get started for ~$150 or less.

So get online and order away. Next time we will review a brewers basic ingredients before launching into our first recipe.

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