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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.