Hello and welcome back to Serum Visions, everyone!
This week I am going over a much requested topic: the brew day. In this article I will be dealing with all of the gear and steps you’ll need to do you first steep brew. Think of it as a lesson in home-brew. At the end, there will be a final shopping list that you can take to you local home brew shop (LHBS) to get you started in one of the best hobbies one can enjoy!
These last couple weeks have been exciting in my beer world. During my career of making beer, I have had countless people ask me how to beer is actually made. It takes me about ten minutes to explain the whole process and about a third of the time the person I explained it to is intrigued enough to want to learn. It seems that now that my days in Winnipeg are numbered, it is crunch time for getting in all of these brewing lessons. Last week I did one on Monday and another on Tuesday and I have at least another two lined up in the next month; what fun!
Lesson Number One
Before we get into the step-by-step bit of the article, there is one thing that the new home-brewer must know and two lessons to be learned right from the beginning.
First thing: There is never such a thing as a perfect brew. Mistakes happen, and as long as you stay clean everything will be fine.
There are two sayings you need to remind yourself of as you absolve yourself from making a mistake in the brewing process.
1. RDWHAHB: “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Home Brew.” This is the famous line from Charlie Papazian, the author of the definitive home brewing book, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing. It is advised that when you are making beer you should be drinking a home-brew at the same time. If it is your first batch or you have poorly timeed your batches so you don’t have any HB left for your brew day, any good craft beer will do.
2. “It’ll be beer“: I think this one came to me from the Home Brew Talk forums. This is one that I personally love. As you go though the process, you’ll miss temperatures and timings and forget things. As long as you are keeping everything clean with your non-rinse sanitizer, everything will be fine and you will end up with beer! So just say, “It’ll be beer…!”
Pick a recipe at Brew Toad, and purchase your ingredients at your LHBS. The ingredients for a steep beer will include:
Once the ingredients arrive in your kitchen, get out your brewing pot and fill it close to the top with cold water. The smallest pot you’ll want to use for this process is about 12 to 14 liters. Anything smaller and you are going to have trouble having enough room for all of your ingredients and a reasonable amount of water.
Place your specialty grains in a grain bag and that bag into the cold water. You’ll get this bag at you LHBS when you are getting your ingredients for the first time. I recommend a nylon one as it is easier to clean and won’t fall apart after a few uses.
Turn your stovetop to high and bring the water up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit; use a thermometer. As the temperature of the water rises, it will extract the unique flavoring characteristics from the specialty grain. Note: these grains will not add to the alcohol content of the beer using this procedure. They will only add flavor, color, aroma, and mouthfeel. If you let the water go too much above 170, it will start to extract undesired things from the grain such as tannins.
Remove grains from the water at 170 degrees and let the remainder of the wort drip from the bag. I do not squeeze the bag because this also extracts tannins from the grains. I believe some people do squeeze the bag and are happy with their beer. I’m not sure if this topic has been empirically explored yet, so I can only recommend not to on folk practices.
Bring pot up to a strong rolling boil.
Start a timer for 60 minutes and start adding your hops according to your hop schedule. This will be included in the recipe for your beer. Note: when you see a hop addition with a number of minutes beside it, this indicates the remaining time left in the boil. For example, the hops added at the 60-minute mark will be boiled for 60 minutes. The hops added at the 10-minute mark will be boiled for 10 minutes before the element is turned off and cooling begins. Flame out hops are added to the “boil” when the element is turned off and cooling starts.
With 15 minutes left, add the malt extract and stir until it is completely dissolved into the wort; this is to sterilize the extract. Take the pot off of the element and add your malt extract. It is very important to take the pot off of the heat so the extract does not scorch when it settles on the bottom of the pot. At this point, your 60-minute timer for your hop schedule is paused and you must wait for the wort to come to a boil again before resuming your hop schedule.
*Note: sanitary practices are extremely important for the remaining steps.
For this you’ll need a no-rinse sanitizer such as Iodophor or Starsan. I recommend Starsan, but I won’t use the space to go into all the reasons why.
Make a proper dilution of this sanitizer and put some in a spray bottle. Spray everything that comes in contact with your wort. This includes you hands after you have touched anything that is not sanitized.
Turn off the heat source and start cooling the wort. If you are just starting out, chances are good that you won’t have a wort chiller. If you know you are going to be getting into the game of making beer for real, then I would recommend one strongly. It cuts cooling time drastically. If you do not have one, an ice bath in a kitchen sink with cold circulating water is the next best way of cooling down you wort. You can fill some 571ml pop bottles and add them to the sink of water to bring the temperature down lower than the tap. You will be adding water to your fermenter to bring it up to the 19-liter mark so that will cool it down as well. Here is a calculator to help you hit your final temperature target (around 72 degrees Fahrenheit ) by balancing out water temperatures and volumes.
Add your cooled wort, using a large funnel, to you carboy and top it off with water until you have reached a volume of 19 liters.
You may want to strain your hops out at this point through a metal strainer that has been sanitized. This may not be necessary if you haven’t used a lot of hops in your beer.
Airarate your wort by shaking the hell out of it inside the carboy for three to five minutes. Sanitize your rubber stopper and put in in the top of the carboy, then sanitize your hand and cover the small hole on the stopper and shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake yo booty, shake yo booty. The oxygen that you mix in is necessary for the health of the yeast and fermentation.
Take a sample of your wort using your thief and take a gravity reading using your hydrometer. These are two indispensable tools for a home brewer. The thief allows you to take samples of your beer with out having to tilt the carboy over and disturb the fermentation. The hydrometer is the tool that tells you how much sugar is in your wort—which eventually converts to alcohol. Make sure to write down the gravity reading from the hydrometer in your brew log. I keep my brewlog in Evernote.
Add your yeast to your wort when it is between 68 and 78 degrees. A lower temperature is fine, but it will take longer for the yeast to start fermenting. A higher temperature should be avoided as it will create off characters in your beer. When you are starting out, I recommend using a dry yeast rather than a liquid one. The reason for this is tat there will most certainly be enough of a yeast cell count to ensure a properly fermented beer. Liquid yeast take a bit of finessing that is not necessary in the beginning stages. Do not shake the fermenter. Let the yeast spread across the top and fall on its own.
Put airlock in stopper and fill airlock with sanitzer solution and plug the top of your carboy. Be sure to move the carboy to a dark place in your home that has a fairly consistent temperature between 65 and 75 degrees. This is assuming you are brewing an ale. Let’s not worry about lager for now.
Wait. The fermentation of your beer will take around 7 to 10 days and will need an extra week in the carboy after that to clear. Most of the time there is no rush to bottle. I have left beers in a glass carboy for months with only positive effects. If you are using a plastic fermentation vessel of some kind, you are on more of clock, as the plastic will actually allow the beer to oxygenate, which is bad.
This is not an exhaustive primer on how to make a steep beer, but it’s pretty good. There are some minor details that I have not had room for, so I do recommend that if you want to make beer, try to find someone to walk you through it your first time. If you don’t have that luxury, by following these steps and the steps to follow in the bottling portion, you should be able to get the hang of it. If you can get together with a friend, even if he or she knows nothing either, it will make for a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience.
If I have left something out or you want to include me on your first brew day, you can catch me on Twitter at @awcolman. Can’t wait to hear from you!
Thanks for hangin’, everyone.