Wednesday, April 30, 2014


I've had a number of friends that have made home brewed beer, everything from one small batch to try it out, to people who brew all the beer they drink and have for years. It's something that I've wanted to try personally for a really long time. For one, it involves science and cooking, two things I've all ready incorporated into my life in many ways. Another reason it interests me is that it uses agricultural products that are possible to grow in my area to make a value added product and that is always something that can help a small farm stay profitable. Even if I don't brew for sale on the farm, partnering with local breweries to make special brews would even be a good idea and with all things the best producers are those that understand the process and appreciate and strive for a quality end product.

Recently a fellow Ingress player helped push me over the edge into trying it out and this post is about my first attempt, and success, at brewing beer.

I started out, at the urging of the aforementioned Ingress player, talking to the guys at Beer@home, a local brewing supply store that is a very short walk away from my work. They were very friendly and helpful. I was very impressed by their knowledge and selection. They had a few different options for brewing gear kits and went over each pro and con without showing signs of getting weary of my endless questions. So I picked the package I wanted and, having some overtime dollars, bought it. The only thing not included in the package was the brew kettle as there are different sizes, I wanted one big enough to do an entire 5 gallon batch so I also bought that.

The kit came with a copy of the book "How to Brew" by John J Palmer. The book is concise and informative and you don't have to read the entire thing to make your first batch. It has a primer section that has just enough info to get your head around the process. If you want to get super in depth on all the techniques and science of brewing it's in there too as well as trouble shooting and other reference materials.

The kit also included a choice of beer kits that include just about everything that is needed to make your first batch. The store had a large selection and after talking with the staff about the types of beer I like to drink I ended up selecting their "Foreman" kit. It's a brown English style brown ale.

I picked a Sunday, the day I keep free for my "projects" or whatever else I want to do, to brew my beer. After getting out all the equipment out and reading the recipe I realized there are two other items that were not included in the kit that I needed. The first was a thermometer and they did mention to me that I would need one but I forgot to grab it the day I bought everything. The second was a muslin bag for the steeping grains. I think this is an over-site of their kits to not include it with them. They also never mentioned it would be needed. After all, this was a partial grain kit so I don't know how you would make it without it. So I drove back down to the store, thankfully open on Sundays, and grabbed the missing items.

The directions where clear for the kit without being overly wordy or intimidating. To start, I boiled 1 gallon of water, per the instructions, put the grains in the steeping bag and added them to the boiling water that was then turned down to a low simmer. The only issue I had was the bag wanting to stick to the bottom of the pan, an issue likely brought about by the sugars wanting to caramelize. In hind sight I should have added enough water to submerge the grains while still holding off the bottom by suspending the bag off bakers twine.

After steeping the grains, I added the full volume of water recommended and brought it up to a nice rolling boil. Because of the volume of water it took close to an hour on the stove top for this to happen. I've seen people use turkey fryers to heat the pot and I suspect that would greatly reduce the time but also increases the all ready expensive costs of equipment. I see the stove top as livable but recommend you allow for this time in your day.

Once boiling, you start with your hop additions at the given intervals. This beer had four different types of hops added at four different times. I use the Ovo timer app on my android phone to time out the intervals. Just after the last hop addition, I added the malt extract that provides most of the ferment-able sugars for the beer. At this point it is called Wort and needs to be cooled as soon as possible to yeast pitching temperature.

Some people use an immersion chiller, a coil of copper tube, to run tap water through and cool the Wort. This was an added expense to an all ready expensive hobby and I opted for the alternative of an ice bath. I filled glass food storage containers with water and froze them to make large blocks of ice. I filled the bath tub with cold water, enough to go within 5 or so inches of the top of the kettle, and added the ice and set the brew kettle in the tub. Then I left it alone till the temp was under 80 degrees. This likely took longer than is ideal, almost an hour, and makes a firm argument as to why an immersion chiller is a good idea.

From this point on anything that comes into contact with the beer needs to be sanitized. The kit includes a product called Starsan that you mix with water to make an acid basted sanitizing solution. In the picture you can see the bucket filled with the sanitizer and all the equipment for siphoning the wort into the fermenter. I drained the the sanitizer from the bucket into the glass carboy, fermenter, and sanitized it. then I drained the sanitizer and siphoned the wort out of the brew kettle into the fermenter. After that I pitched the yeast and set the carboy in the basement to start the fermentation process.
After 24 hours I wasn't seeing much action in the fermenter and was worried I'd messed something up. The worry was for not however, because 24 hours after the the yeast erupted with activity and beer bubbled up into action and was left to sit in quiet, dark silence for two weeks. At this point I'd invested not only quite a bit of money, but quite a bit of time in the process and it was hard not to roll over in my head all the things I wasn't 100% sure I did right. We had a long cold snap that kept the fermentation temperature low, around 59 degrees, most the time. A little online research came back with the same answers time after time. A line from the book that came with the kit, "Relax, don't worry and have a homebrew". So I left it alone.

So, at this point the sugars have been converted into alcohol and it's time to put it in the bottle. A process that is pretty strait forward, sterialize everything again, put it in the bottling bucket, stir in some corn sugar and use the racking cane, a plastic tube with a push valve on the end of it, to fill up sanitized bottle with beer. Then cap it. The added sugar gives the yeast a boost to let it make CO2 and carbonate the beer. It takes about two weeks for this to happen after which the beer is ready to drink.

So...........what are the results?!

AMAZING, it's really good beer. It has a very nice head, a smooth drink with a firmly bitter finish. The bitterness isn't long lasting and is very refreshing. It has a solid mouth feel and honestly I couldn't have asked for a better first beer.

 I can't wait to try my next one! If you've been thinking about trying it and can afford the equipment required, I say go for it. I had a blast doing it and couldn't be more pleased with the results.

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