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Chad in the Internet

One man's journey down the path of craft beers

A couple weekends ago I decided to roll up my sleeves and try brewing my first batch of beer. As I posted here, I went to Fermentation Solutions to get my starter supplies. I read the book How to Brew by John J. Palmer (good read), and I felt like I had a good, basic understanding on how to homebrew. Of course, I also knew that I’d run into all kinds of issues, but I figured I should get started somewhere. Let’s dive into it. Thankfully, I had my sister Carrie help me out. She posted about her view of the process here.

First, you have to sanitize everything that will come in contact with the chilled wort (it will be sitting at room temperature for a few weeks. You don’t want any mold or other nasties growing in there). Wort is unfermented beer, a sweet liquid that yeast will feast on to ultimately produce beer.

There are many ways to sterilize, from bleach to ovens to dishwashers. From what I read, the most multipurpose way is using a sanitizer called Five Star/Star San. You add about 1 oz to 5 gallons of warm water and it sanitizes in about a minute (it works by breaking the membrane walls of bacteria).

Sanitizing in my tub (ironic...?)

Here’s the fermenting bucket with various other items thrown inside. You can kind of make out the suds of the sanitizer (even the bubbles sanitize). This way everything is nice and clean when I need it. (Side Note: How to Brew defines cleaning as removing foreign matter, sanitizing as reducing microorganisms to negligible levels, and sterilizing as eliminating all forms of life. For brewing, sanitizing is all that’s really needed).

While this was going on, I boiled 3 gallons of water. Overall, you make about 5 gallons of beer, but you do it in stages. First I boiled 3 gallons to have clean water. I then added it to the sanitized fermenter and boiled another 2.5 gallons (an extra half gallon for evaporation, etc). This 2.5 gallon will be a “concentrated” wort and will be added to the 3 gallons to make the 5 gallons that will be fermented.

 So, after I got the 2.5 gallons boiling, I added the rice adjunct (I was following a recipe in the kit. My next batch, I plan on coming up with my own recipe). Adjunct is basically anything fermentable that is added to the barley malt. In commercial beers, this usually includes corn, rice, or sugar.

Adding the first ingredient.

Once it got boiling again, I added the hops. Now these hops came in pellets. I want to use “real” hops next time.

Adding hops to a cloth bag (easier to remove at the end)

Hops in the bag before being added to the boiling wort

 Next we added the malt extract (about 6 lbs of it). Malt is barley after it has been soaked in water then baked/dried.

The barley made into a malt extract for easier home brewing!

It's sticky!

Without getting into too many details, this boils for about an hour. Then, it has to be chilled very quickly. This helps prevent some bacteria from forming during a gradual cool down, helps with a “cold break” (when certain proteins, when chilled quickly, will form and clump to the bottom, which is a good thing. This is similar to a “hot break” that happens during boiling), and gets the wort at a cool enough temperature to pitch the yeast.

Now, my idea was to put it in the sink with a stopper and fill the sink with water. I’d then add some ice from 7-11. While, one problem. There apparently is no stopper at my apartment.

Trying to cool the wort

 Our desperate attempt to cool it down was fruitless. The water would just drain and not get cold enough. We spent an hour and 4 ice bags, but couldn’t really get this sucker down below 90 degrees.

Before giving up on cooling it down, we removed the hops (which technically isn’t required, I guess. It can stay in the fermenter if you’d like).

Removing the hops. Not sure what happened to this bag. Did we throw it out...?

 As the wort cooled, you could see the items start to separate (which is good).

But looks kinda nasty....

 So, to avoid getting some of that stuff into the fermenter, we siphoned it into the fermenting bucket. To do this, we first sanitized some tubing. Then, by adding sterilized water to the tube, I siphoned the wort into the bucket.

Getting the tube reading and clean

 After we got the wort into the bucket (no picture because this process took 2 sets of hands), we were met with an unpleasant surprise.

Oops. I guess aluminum and coil burners don't work out too well. I guess it's stainless steel next time!

Fat burn. That probably won’t be good for the beer… But maybe it will provide a smoky flavor…?

Next, I poured the wort from the bucket to the pot and back again a few times to get some oxygen in the liquid. The yeast needs some for the fermenting process. After some good aeration, I pitched the yeast.

Pitching the yeast

After that, I sealed it up and put on the release airlock (which had a sanitizing solution in it. This airlock allows the CO2 to be released. The yeast has 2 byproducts as it consumes sugars, booze and carbon dioxide).

Ready to ferment!

 I then placed it into my closet where it sat for 2 weeks (I then bottled it. A post on that is to follow shortly).

Placing it in my closet. It should stay around the required 75 degrees with little light exposure. 2 weeks until I have beer!

 Summary of quick take aways:

1. Have everything ready

2. Keep things sanitized (Carrie, don’t touch the inside of the bucket with your dirty hands!)

3. Ensure that you can actually get the thing cooled down quickly

4. Get better burners or better pot


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