This tip may seem obvious but I have only just started doing it. If you have a brew you like to make over and over this tip is essential in order to produce consistent quality and taste every time.
I recently re-brewed my Flowers Original Clone (updated the recipe to a Partial Mash). In the original recipe we used 0.5oz (.25oz for a half batch) of Target hops. The alpha acid for Target is typically in the 9-12% range. In the original recipe the hops I used had an alpha acid value of ~10%.
So when I came to re-brew 6 weeks ago I noticed my new batch of Target hops were 11%. So I decided to go back to BeerCalculus at Hopville (and my spreadsheet) and recalculate the IBU’s. At 11% alpha acid for the bittering hops I calculated I needed to reduce the amount of the Target hops from 0.5 to 0.4oz. Good job I did because the ale is in the keg and it tastes absolutely fantastic
Once wort is cooled and you are ready to transfer into the primary it is a REALLY good idea to strain to the wort to separate the hops out. Historically I have done this by carefully pouring the contents of the kettle through the funnel trying to leave as many hops in the bottom of the kettle as I can.
If you strain the wort the resulting ale will have greater clarity and reduction in bitterness caused from the wort sitting on the now spent hops. I use a regular kitchen strainer locked into a funnel. There are also purpose built strainers and screens for those who enjoy convenience. Alternatively you can place hops inside a purpose built container during the boil.
As those of you who read this blog will know I have been talking about a technique called hop bursting recently. I first tried it back in Nov 2009 whilst brewing my Dog Fish Head 90min without really knowing how the technique worked. I came across it again last week when I brewed Northern Brewers 115th Dream Imperial IPA, which shipped with over 1 lb of hops. How can you add 1 lb of hops to a 5 gallon brew and it not taste disgusting? I was curious and wanted to find out more, especially given how clean the bottom of boil kettle was where the hops had settled while cooling.
First up lets quickly review the big hop post I did a few back. First thing to remember are the Alpha Acids, these cause bittering and are not very water soluble so require an hour of boiling to fully extract. Then there are the Beta Acids, these are water soluble and actually evaporate if left too long in the water. Beta acids provide the hop aroma and flavour. The more the beta acids evaporate the less the aroma which is why we have flavour additions with 10-15mins of a boil to go and aroma at 0 mins.
Hop bursting is a technique used to impart massive amounts of hop flavour and aroma by adding large amounts of hops at the end of the boil, typically beginning at the last 20 mins. Some bitterness will be extracted (use the formula in the hop post and replace the 60 with 15 and play around with the hop quantity and see how much more you would need) so in order to get the same level as a 60 min boil we need a lot more hops. Here is a simple example. In the hop post we calculated the IBU’s for a recipe with a 60 min and a 15 min addition, it was approx 29 for a 2.5 gl batch using 1.2 oz of hops. What if we want to create a 29 IBU recipe with a big hop aroma and flavour using hop bursting with no bittering hops at the beginning of the boil.
Here is the same formula used in the hop post but this time using 4 additions a 15 min, 10, min, 5 min and 1 (assuming we are a using a generic 4.5% alpha hop in pellet form, same batch size and OG).
So we have an ale with the same IBU made with the same hops as the traditional bittering method except the hop load is 5 1/2 oz as compared with 1.2 oz giving us an really BIG hop flavour and aroma. Another advantage for homebrewers like myself that do not own filtration equipment is strong hoppy IPA’s can be made without the need for a dry hop addition and all the additional complexities that come along with the process.
So go ahead and try the NB recipe, its a 1 lb of hops for a 5 gallon brew, have no idea how it will turn out but I love the quote on the web site which I will end this post with:
If you serve this beer to a Michelob Ultra drinker, he or she will cry. If life were a 1950s horror flick, this I2PA would climb out of the fermenter and turn on its master. Your dentist does not want you to brew or drink this beer. Sorry in advance about your tooth enamel
Thought it was time for the next installment in our ingredients deep dive. So far we have covered water and the mighty yeast so I thought it was time to take a deeper dive into one of the more complex and underrated of all the ingredients in ale, hops. I say underrated because hops do more than just provide the bitter flavour to balance out the sweet malt. Hops also contribute to the aroma and arguably more important have anti-bacterial properties that favor brewers yeast over bacterias keeping beers fresh and allowing a hopped ale to age without spoiling.
I have often wondered how hops came to be used in beer. I have to admit they are not an obvious choice. Fermentation of fruit and grains has been an activity well documented in history going back into ancient times and I am sure much experimentation was done to improve flavour and longevity, especially given the quality of water and food was not a guarantee. We take for granted today our near universal access to clean drinking water in the modern western world, something that was not a given for brewers of old.
So I went online and through my history of brewing books and found all kinds of explanations as to how hops came to be used. In the end I came back to an old faithful (though I don’t think the author, Martyn Cornell, would not appreciate the old bit), my favorite beer history blog, Zythophile. In a post dated Nov 20th 2009 titled “A short history on hops” Mr Cornell provides a well researched and thorough piece on the hop and its rich history. I will not try to re-write the piece, I could never do it justice and I would probably make a mistake, something Mr Cornell would get very upset with. He is not only a famous beer historian but a beer myth buster also and not afraid to speak out against inaccurate and lazy research. The one paragraph that leapt out of the page (or browser) was the following”
Book I, Chapter 61, “De Hoppho”, or “Concerning the hop”, says of the plant: “It is warm and dry, and has a moderate moisture, and is not very useful in benefiting man, because it makes melancholy grow in man and makes the soul of man sad, and weighs down his inner organs. But yet as a result of its own bitterness it keeps some putrefactions from drinks, to which it may be added, so that they may last so much longer.” (Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), mystical philosopher and healer, published a book called Physica Sacra, which translates best as “The Natural World” (circa 1150).
The author then goes on to note:
What probably kept the usefulness of hops from being discovered for so long is that the bittering, preserving resins in hop cones are not very soluble, and the hops need boiling for a long time, around 90 minutes, for what is called isomerisation
Please read the rest but the above brings us to the most important discussion around hops and brewing, how they work. Male and female flowers form on separate hop plants. The hops used for brewing are the female flower cluster, which contains many small flowers. Female hop flowers, also called cones, are harvested in August-September and dried. The female cones are important because they contain lupulin glands that contain alpha and beta resins and other essential oils used to impart specific aroma and flavour characteristics. Alpha and beta resins are measured as the % weight of the hop cone and displayed on the packaging as alpha acids and beta acids.
ALPHA ACIDS – contain the chemical agents Humulone, Cohumulone and Adhumulone and are used to impart bitterness, the higher the alpha % the more bitter the hop. Alpha resins are not very soluble and require at least 60 mins boiling to extract the bitterness.
BETA ACIDS – Beta resins and hop oils are used to impart flavour and aroma. Unlike the alpha acids these oils are water soluble and will quickly boil off in the kettle so cannot be in the pot for too long. A hop will impart flavour if boiled between 5-15 mins and aroma if boiled for 1-3 mins.
An important note to brew calculator users. The hop alpha and beta % used by these applications are averages for a particular variety. The actual resin % does vary year to year and even crop to crop from the same region. It is important to note the published %’s on a package prior to use and recalculate your recipe hop levels to ensure you maintain the appropriate bitterness and flavour characteristics.
A well designed and useful bitterness and flavour hop reference chart can be found here with another great reference on creating flavours found here. This chart and others like it can assist us when it comes to decide the type of hops we should use and the quantities and timing during the boil to attain the flavour and aroma characteristics for our final brew. Experimenting with flavour is an art and something every homebrewer should have fun with. For example if I were to use the above chart to brew a great spicy, citrus American IPA consider the Williamette as your flavour and aroma hop.
While flavour and aroma are part of the art of homebrew, bitterness is more the science. Bitterness is measured in most calculators and modern recipes in International Bittering Units (IBU’s). There is debate as to the most accurate IBU formula for small batch homebrews but it appears that most books and online resources use the Tinseth formula created by hop head Glen Tinseth. Measured in parts per million (ppm), if you do not have access to a brewing calculator or just enjoy doing the brew math by hand here is the Tinseth formula for estimating a brews IBU:
IBU = Utilization * ( oz of hops * ( Alpha Acid% / 100 ) * 7490 ) / Gallons of Wort
Utilization refers to how much of the alpha acid is actually used and is dependent primarily on the boil time, but is also affected by specific gravity of the wort and whether the hops used are pellets or whole hops. I will not use this post to get into a discussion on the use of pellets over whole leaf except to say I use pellets. In my experience they are easier to store and stay fresh longer. Typical utilization %’s are in the range of 15 to 25% depending on the length of the boil. Pelletized hops have about 10% more bittering potential than whole hops because the soft resins have been upset and made more available during the pelletizing process. To calculate utilization using the Tinseth formula use the following (for pellet hops add 10% to the final value).
Utilization = ( 1.65 * 0.000125^( OG of the wort – 1 ) ) * ( ( 1 – 2.72^( -0.04 * Hop Boil Time ) ) / 4.14 )
Taking the Theakston Old Peculier brew I researched last week as an example with an IBU target of 29 and the research indicating the use of Fuggle hops. The Fuggle pellets I have in stock have a stated alpha of 4.5% so using the formula above, the alpha %, the batch size and target OG for the brew of 1.060 I would calculate the following:
Step 1 – calculate utilization for both the 60 mins and 15 min additi0ns (adding an additional 10% for pellets)
Hope this has helped. I have included a basic excel spreadsheet with the above example. Have fun, remember to always check the alpha % and adjust your recipe accordingly, research recipes from your favorite brews to see the types of hops used and investigate the websites of your favorite commercial brews as they often post the hops they use and associated tasting notes. Next up the Malt and yes there will be more math.
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
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.
Place Specialty Grains in the Steeping Sock
Heat a pot 1 1/2 gallons of water
Heat steeping water to 165 F before adding grains
Remove from heat add grains and cover for 20 mins
Remove grains and pour liquid into the brewing kettle
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
Remove boiling wort from heat and add malt extract
Put back on heat, bring to boil then add hops
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 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
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
The OG reading is 1042, almost perfect for a Best Bitter
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 ready on towel with funnel
5 gal of wort transferred (no spillage)
Attached the airlock and bung...
...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.
I have just received delivery from Northern Brewer of all the ingredients I will need to start my next couple of brews. (Look for an “On Tap” update in the coming days) Since I bought a second carboy I like to use one for a regular session brew and the other for some more experimental ales that often require longer conditioning times, like the 90 minute IPA I have cold conditioning right now.
Well the delivery reminded me I need to post the Part 2 (out of 3) in my “Getting Started” series. Now we have the equipment we need to create most styles of ale its time to review the basic ingredients. This post is meant to be an introduction and we will be getting into the details and varieties as our journey progresses.
English Marris Otter
The major ingredient in homebrew is malt. Malt is a significant factor in colour (it is British Brewer after all), taste, and alcohol level in ale. Simply put malt is the product of soaking grains in water until they begin to germinate. The grains are then heated to halt the germination process. This 2-stage “malting” process causes the grains to produce essential enzymes required to modify the grains starch into sugars and enable the yeast to do its job. Different varieties of grain are used each with a specific flavour or colour characteristic. Certain varieties are toasted or smoked to produce darker, nuttier or smoked flavour characteristics. We will get into the various types of grain some other time, especially when we review recipes and the types of malt they are based on. Basically there are two categories – the Base Malt, and Specialty Malt. Base malts make up the bulk of the a batch and are typically based from one of 2 types of barley, either 2-Row or 6-Row. These grains are very efficient at breaking down the starches into sugar. Specialty malt provides a small amount of sugar but its main function is to provide, colour, flavour and body to the finished ale.
Ale made by the professionals is based on an “all-grain” process using hundreds of pounds of malt in the process. Modern homebrew technology has evolved over the years to enable us mere mortals to create all-grain based brews but the process is long, complex and requires a relatively large quantity of grain. As yet I have not attempted an all-grain process (time, money, space reasons) and instead use a combination of malt extract and a smaller amount of specialty grains.
Malt extract comes in two varieties, Dry Malt Extract (DME), and Liquid Malt Extract (LME). Both replace the need for a large quantity of base malt grains. Most suppliers provide malt extract manufactured with some flavor and color characteristics required to produce most of the popular ale styles today. Most of the recipes we will be working with will use a combination of specialty grains and malt extract.
Another significant ingredient are Hops which contribute significantly to the taste and aroma of an ale. Hop resin is made up of alpha and beta acids. Alpha acids are responsible for the bitter taste in the ale and tend to be put in at the beginning of the brew process. The higher the alpha the more bitter. Beta acids have little effect to the flavor of an ale instead providing the aroma characteristics and are added to the brew in the middle and end of the brew process. Hops are supplied dried or as pellets. I prefer pellets as they have a longer shelf life. Popular English hop varieties include Kent Goldings and Fuggles.
Finally the magic ingredient, the bacteria that converts the sugar from the malt into alcohol during the fermentation process, the brewers yeast. Yeast is also a significant contributor to the taste of an ale. There are two main types of brewers yeast, top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting. Top-fermenting yeast causes a foam to form on the top of the brew (wort) during the fermentation process, prefer higher temperatures (61 – 75 F), produce a fruitier flavour, and a higher alcohol content. These yeasts are typically used in ales. Bottom-fermenting yeast works at lower temperatures, ferments more sugars, creating a dry crispier taste and is commonly used in lagers. Yeast requires oxygenated wort in order to produce healthy yeast cells. Today yeast is sold to homebrewers in either a dried or liquid form with hundreds of different strains replicating many of the strains used all over the world by professional breweries.
There are other ingredients used in a brew, from sugar, irish moss, to speciality additions such as oak chips, spices and fruit. There are infinite possibilities of colour, taste, aroma, and strength. This is what makes homebrewing so much fun and if you can boil water on a stove and follow a simple recipe you can make great tasting ale. Next time we will introduce a basic brewing process following a simple recipe to create a British staple – Best Bitter.