British Brewer

Recreating the perfect British Pint

20 January

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.
20 December

What the “flocculation” are you talking about?

Hopefully the title of this blog post grabbed your “attenuation”.  For those who don’t get the joke, this is a post about yeast.  We provided a 101 background in the “Getting Started Series” post but now its time to dig in a little deeper into this magical little fungus.

Top fermenting yeast in an open fermenter, smells yummy

Top fermenting yeast in an open fermenter, smells yummy

Yeast is truly a magical mould, there were times in our past, before purification systems, when water was unsafe to drink. Ale and wine were seen as staples and a safe form of nutrition (I would argue that with the quality of our food today homebrewed ale remains a safe form of nutrition). Yeast is still considered a powerful nutrient, rich in both B-complex vitamins and an anti-bacterial being the basis of penicillium notatum, the foundation of modern antibiotics. But to beer drinkers around the world yeast is know as the magical fungus responsible for converting sugar into alcohol and putting bubbles in our beer.

God made yeast, as well as dough, and loves fermentation just as dearly as he loves vegetation. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Types of Yeast

First it is important to differentiate between the two styles of yeast used to brew.  The first is saccharomyces uvarum, often called lager yeast, in which the yeast settles and ferments on the bottom of fermenter.  This type of yeast works at much lower temperatures and ferments more of the sugar leaving a drier, crisper beer.  This yeast is typically used to brew Pilsners and Lagers. It is believed there are very few strains of lager yeast with all lager yeast descending from only 2 primary strains.

The second type of yeast is saccharomyces cerevisiae, often called ale yeast, in which the yeast rises to the surface of the fermenter causing a thick layer of foam called krausen.  This is the type of yeast used to brew all British and most European beers.  There are numerous strains of this type of yeast, each providing very distinctive characteristics you should consider when planning a recipe of which I have highlighted 5 important ones below:

1) Flavour – Ale yeast strains work by synthesizing the sugars and other enzymes derived from the malt. The flavours most commonly associated with ale are esters, resulting in an “ale taste,” as well as more-easily-described flavours such as apple, banana, and pineapple. Combinations of yeast strain, malt, and temperature can be responsible for chemicals causing other flavours, such as a cidery taste or butterscotch.

2) Attenuation – Is a percentage that measures the amount of sugar converted into alcohol during the fermentation process. Lower attenuating yeasts will leave more sugars behind leading to a sweeter taste.  Higher levels lead to a drier taste with alcohol notes.  Most yeast manufactures provide an observed attenuation level for each yeast strain which a brewer can then use when considering the target ABV and taste of a recipe.  I find it helpful to keep your own chart of observed attenuation for the yeast strains you use.  The ranges provided by the suppliers are fairly accurate but will vary depending on your own brewing conditions.  No one wants a yeast to under-perform.

3) Flocculation – Refers to the clumping together of yeast cells once the sugar has been fermented into alcohol.  As the yeast cells clump they begin to fall pulling down other matter suspended in the beer. Larger clumps tend to pull down other particulates suspended in the beer and lead to brighter, clear ales without the need for filtration or additives, know as “high” flocculation. Lower levels or “low” flocculation yeast might need additions such as Isinglass during the secondary fermentation phase to help pull down some of the suspended yeast or proteins left behind.

4) Alcohol Tolerance – Most yeast suppliers supply an ABV tolerance level yeast can reproduce under.  Ales with a high ABV such as Imperial, Barleywine or Old Ales need to be fermented with yeast strains with a high ABV tolerance say 10%. Some varieties of Barleywine that are bottle conditioned will require the use of Champagne yeast to ensure carbonation is successful in the bottle.  Remember to check the tolerance of your chosen yeast is higher than the target ABV.

5) Fermentation Temperature – Refers to the recommended temperature the yeast will perform optimally.  Too warm can lead to off flavours in the ale, too cold and the yeast head on top of the fermenter can fall prematurely and cause a stalled fermentation.

The most important stage for yeast in the brewing process is being pitched into the primary fermenter to begin its work.  Make sure the temperature of the wort is optimal at around 75-80°F, the wort is well aerated to provide the yeast cells the oxygen they need.  Most important make sure the yeast is working.  This can be done by creating a yeast starter.  Bring a pint of water to boil, add some DME, and boil for 15 mins.  Place in a jug, cool, and pitch the yeast. Insert and airlock and watch the yeast go to work.  A healthy yeast will be fully active within 24 hours.

Remember you can replace a yeast but you cannot replace a brew gone bad.  Hope this information helps, I find it most useful when selecting the right yeast to use for a specific recipe. Next up in our deeper dive into ingredients will be the water.

01 December

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.

27 November

Recipe: Kentish Best Bitter

(feedback on original recipe here)

Time to get started on the first recipe.  Almost all of my recipes will follow the process outlined in my last post here.  I will also be adding all my recipes to my account on Hopville is a great free online tool to create and manage your recipes and share with a community of other homebrewers.  They have an excellent brewing calculator that dynamically calculates a recipes gravity, strength, colour, and bitterness as you add various ingredients and alter quantities.

The first recipe is a staple of British Ales, the Best Bitter.  A pint of Best drawn fresh from a pub at the end of the day is one of the reasons I miss home. It is a time spent with friends and family relaxing after a hard days work.  One of the Best Bitter’s primary qualities is its drink-ability, not too bitter, but enough hops to be refreshing. Smooth going down thanks to the healthy quantity of English 2-Row barley or Marris Otter malt.

The recipe I use is based heavily from a kit from Northern Brewer.  I found the original recipe to be overly hopped for a pint of Best but I liked the use of traditional English Fuggle Hops. I also replaced the Simpson’s Dark Crystal with a lighter English Crystal purely for colour and taste.

Malt: If this was an all grain brew the recipe would require over 7lbs of English Marris Otter barley malt.  As we are making extract recipes we will be substituting with 3 lbs of Light DME and 1 lb of Amber DME for the colour.

Specialty Grains: To give the ale its copper colour we will add a little Pale Chocolate Malt, not too much or the ale will become too dark and will over power with malt what is traditionally a more bitter ale.  Pale chocolate malt has a unique toasted flavour and is one of the easiest ways to add rich, toasty malt flavour to an ale.  It is used in preference to chocolate malt when less colour from the grains is desired and a grain with milder flavours is needed.

The second specialty grain is an English 80L Crystal Malt.  The “L” stands for degrees Lovibond, the scale by which the colour of beer is measured. The higher the number the darker the beer.  Crystal Malt is a form caramelized malt resulting from a modified malting process where the malt is kilned at relatively high temperatures while they are still moist. This results in more of a stewing than roasting or toasting, causing the starches to prematurely convert to sugars and then caramelized.  English 80L Crystal Malt will add a deep amber color and a strong, toffee/sweet flavour.  We are using a relatively small amount so these flavours will not overpower the final ale. (NOTE: Even though malts are still measured in Lovibond most beers are now compared to the Standard Reference Model (SRM) scale which is essentially the same.  We will be using SRM on this blog)

Hops: We are using a single hop variety for this recipe and he one with perhaps the silliest name, the Fuggle Hop. It is rumored to be named after Richard Fuggle of Kent on the SE coast of England in 1861 (hence the name Kentish Best), though this has been questioned by some serious hop scholars.  Fuggles are not typically used as a bittering hop given the low alpha acid range of between 3.5-6% (a bitter hop can have an alpha of over 15%). We will be using a healthy dose of the hop at the top of the boil giving us a not too bitter bitter.  As this is a single hop recipe we will also be using Fuggles as the aroma and flavour hops imparting a pleasant earthy woody character it is famous for and found in so many British Ales.

Yeast: There are so many different strains of yeast we could use for this project.  Northern Brewer selected Wyeast London ESB Ale.  This yeast strain tends to give a beer more of a fruity flavor which balances nicely with the earthy aroma of the Fuggles Hops.  Flocculation levels are also high (this means it forms larger flakes of yeast, attracting proteins also which would otherwise be suspended). These flakes will fall to the bottom leaving very little suspended matter in the ale, leading to very clear ales suitable for casks and kegs (don’t want to clog the lines with crud). I saw no reason to change and its worked for me every time.

Other Additions: We will be using Irish Moss to help clarify the beer and some corn sugar to give the beer a little more strength to get the OG calculation into the recommended BJCP guidelines for Best Bitter without altering the aroma or flavour.

Kentish Best Bitter (BJCP Beer Style: Special/Best/Premium Bitter, category: English Pale Ale)

  • 5 Gallon, 60 min boil
  • OG 1047, FG 1012
  • 4.3% ABV
  • 33.4 IBU
  • 11° SRM
  • Ready to drink in 5-6 weeks

Base Malt and Fermentables:

  • 3 lbs Light Dry Malt Extract (60 mins)
  • 1lbs Amber Dry Malt Extract (60 mins)

Specialty Grains:

  • 8oz English Crystal 80L
  • 2oz Pale Chocolate Malt


  • Bittering Hop – 2oz English Fuggle (60 mins)
  • Flavour Hop – 1/2 oz English Fuggle (15 mins)
  • Aroma Hop – 1/2 oz English Fuggle (5 mins)

Other Additions

  • 1 tsp Irish Moss (30 mins)
  • 1lb Corn Sugar (after boil is complete)


  • Please follow the process guidelines outlined in my post here.  You will require all the equipment specified here.
  • Primary Fermentation: 5-7 days at 65-75°
  • Secondary Fermentation: 2 weeks at 55° (if you can otherwise just 5-7 days in the same location as the primary)
  • Prime and store in the bottle for at least 2 weeks before consuming
  • Peak flavour will be reached after 4 weeks in the bottle

26 November

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.

24 November

Getting Started Pt II – Ingredients

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

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.

Fuggle Hops

Fuggle Hops

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.

Dried Yeast

Dried Yeast

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.