Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Homebrew: Things come to a boil

yeast doing their thing in the fermenter
Over the weekend TWSF took the plunge into becoming home brewers. The first stage of the process was pretty easy, a little too easy. Basically if you can boil water and read you should be able to brew your own beer. One thing I don't understand about this home brewing thing is that you can order all of the ingredients online, with no way to really check if someone is 21. How can you sell the ingredients for beer, but not beer itself, online without someone checking IDs at the door? If I would have known this in high school we definitely would have set up a makeshift brewery in the woods and followed this simple process........

What you will need from your kit:
  • fermenter -large container where the wort (unfermented beer) is fermented and conditioned
  • airlock - prevents air from entering fermenter which can contribute to bacteria growth
  • airlock rubber stopper - forms seal between airlock and fermenter
  • siphoning tube - plastic hose used to transfer wort
  • malt - a processed form of raw barley, provides fermentable sugars
  • hops - a flowering vine plant (cousin of cannibis), a bittering agent to balance the sweetness of the malt
  • yeast - microorganisms that eat the malt's sugars and poop out alcohol and CO2

Malt (brown stuff), hops (green pellets) and yeast (red bag)

Things you will need in addition to the kit and ingredients:
  • a large pot, enough to hold 2.5 gallons is all  you really need (I took this as an excuse to buy a 5.5 gallon stock pot)
  • a metal or plastic spoon long enough to reach the bottom of the pot without burning fingers (I learned this the hard way)
  • thermometer 
  • 2 large bags of ice
  • bleach
  • 7 or so gallons of spring water (you can use tab water, but we live in DC and I didn't want the beer to have hints of lead and fertilizer)

Step 1: Sanitize
Fill your fermenter with water and about 3/4 cup of bleach throw in the tube, airlock and stopper, let soak for 30 minutes, rinse well, put aside and cover. Apparently sanitization is a big deal in home brewing, if bacteria begins to grow in your fermenter it will make the beer taste weird. In hindsight I made 2 sanitization mistakes that keep me up at night 1.) I used an unsanitized wooden spoon and 2.) I used my mouth to get the siphon going because that's how MacGyver does it. We'll see if these were fatal mistakes.

Step 2: Boil
This step varies depending on the reciepe that you are following. My kit was beginner so it didnt include advanced steps like steeping hops. The process is pretty simple.
  1. Bring water to a boil in the pot (it is best to do as much as your pot and stove can handle, remember to leave enough room for the ingredients and to prevent spill over)
  2. Remove from heat, slowly stir in malt until fully dissolved return to boil
  3. Add bittering hops, boil for an hour or so
  4. Remove the pot from the heat and add aroma hops
While the wort is boiling it is best to be close by to stir regulary and watch out for boilover.

Malt going in the pot

Step 3: Cool
When the boil is done you need to quickly cool down the wort. Yeast will die if the temperature is more than 80-90 degrees and bacteria can begin to grow if the cooling wort is left exposed for too long, most people say no more than an hour. I made a ice bath in the sink and was able to get the temperature down to 75-80 degrees very quickly.

Step 4: Pitch and Seal
When the wort is cool, it needs to be transferred to the fermenter, siphoning is the easiest way to accomplish this task. I made the mistake of using my mouth the internet has some good siphon starting alternatives
  • stick something snugly in the tube like a straw so your mouth does not come into contact with it
  • fill the tube with water prior to before siphoning 
  • buy something called a siphon starter
  • or my favorite, gargle some whiskey to temporarily sanitize your mouth.
When you siphoning allow the wort to aerete. When all the wort is transferred, top off the fermenter with water, toss in the yeast, pop in the airlock and in a week or so it will be time to bottle. See you then.

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