Saturday, January 8, 2011

First attempt at home brewing

So it has finally come to this. No more taking the easy way out by sipping on brews where all the hard work was already done. It was time to step up to the big leagues and brew my own beer. I had received the Ale Pail brew kit for Christmas and was biding my time while the last components I need to start a batch showed up. On Friday, my 20 Qt stock pot showed up from Amazon and I knew it would be a good night to start.

For my first batch I went with a pale ale recipe from the How To Brew book with a few modifications to make it my own. For my malts, I'm using are a couple of cans of Munton's Light Malt Extract, Briess Caramel Malt, and Fawcett Pale Chocolate malt. My hops will be Northern Brewer hops for bittering, Cascade hops for bittering and finishing, and Glacier hops for finishing. Yeast is a liquid strain of American Ale yeast.

The first step of this process was to heat up some water to steep my specialty malts in. So I added one gallon of water to my 5 gallon pot, placed it on my old electric range and waited. And waited. And waited a bit more. It took the better part of an hour and the thermometer was only registering 140, I'd need to get this up to at least 150 (preferably up to 160) in order get the mash to start releasing the sugars which will be turned into sweet, nourishing alcohol by the yeast later on.

My problem here was that my range is flat and my pot was so large that it didn't sit flush with the element so there is a layer of air that made this grossly inefficient. Luckily, I remembered that my propane grill outside has a side element that would be perfect for this. So-what that it was the middle of a winter night and it was well below freezing with snow on the way? I had beer to brew damn-it! So I fired up the grill and transferred my pot. In no time flat I hit my temperature and I was ready to steep. Thank you clean, efficient, beautiful propane. Hank Hill would be proud.

I steeped for thirty minutes and had a nice looking wort going. I'm hoping that the caramel and chocolate malt will impart some nice sweetness and roasted notes to the final product. Next step was to add the main malts and start the hop boil.

This was the first time I had seen a liquid malt extract before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The best way to put it is that it makes molasses look watery by comparison. Took awhile to scoop this mess out and into the pot. Once I got it out, I brought my water level up to three gallons and cranked up the heat. Even using propane, I figured it'd take a while to bring this to a boil. About twenty minutes in I started to worry. The grill had been running on one tank all summer long and had gotten plenty of use. Lifting the tank, it didn't quite feel empty, but it was no where near full. If I ran out of gas halfway through, I'd be toast. The electric range would never heat this enough and everything I'd done to this point would be a waste. My paranoia got the best of me so I did what any sane and rational person would do in this situation. Jumped in the car in shorts and moccasins and sped off the Home Depot which was closing in 10 minutes. I left instructions with my brother-in-law AJ to start the hops if the pot started boiling before I returned.

Luckily we live close to the Depot and had green lights all the way (read: I sped like a maniac through a string of yellow lights while screaming "I NEED PROPANE!!!"). I made it with five minutes to spare, got my tank and headed home. I made it home with no problem and found the kettle boiling nicely with the first hops already added and a timer counting down to the next addition.

Hops were added at the 60, 30, and 15 minute marks. Bittering hops are added early, flavoring hops are added half way through, and finishing hops are added at the end. The reason for this is that hops contain alpha acid humulone resins and volatile oils that impart the characteristic flavor and aroma. As the hops boil, the alpha acids isomerize and impart their bitter flavor. On the other hand, the boiling breaks down the oils which takes away their aroma and flavor. For that reason you add your aroma and flavoring hops later in the boil to keep these aromas present and hopefully create a yummy beer.

Once the boil finished, I added another can of the Muntons and turned off the gas. I waited about ten minutes while the remaining heat pasteurized the malt. I now had what is called a wort, essentially young, not yet fermented beer. Next I needed to cool the wort quickly and induce the "cold break." The cold break is when the rapid change in temperature causes residual proteins to coagulate and settle to the bottom of the kettle. While not critical, this makes the beer clearer later on prevents chill haze from occurring.

AJ and I had a tub filled with ice and water and we plunged the pot right in. It took maybe twenty minutes for the temperature to drop from 220 to 80 degrees. We saw the cold break, which looks sort of gross, and pulled the pot out. I poured the contents into my fermenting tub and added water to bring the total volume to five gallons. I pitched the yeast and sealed the lid. Last thing left was to add the airlock. This allows for any CO2 to bubble out while the wort ferments while keeping air and bacteria out. CO2 is later created by adding more sugar and allowing fermentation to occur in the bottle.

While pushing the air lock into the lid gasket, I got a little too excited and managed to push the gasket straight through and into the wort! AJ and I exchanged glances like a pair of deer stuck in head lights. There was a ton of foam in the tub so hopefully the gasket would be resting peacefully on top. No such luck, we could see a spot in the foam where it had fallen straight through. We sanitized a spoon and went hunting for the missing gasket. Still no luck. We sealed the tub back up and place the air lock in the now gasket-less hole. Luckily it seemed air tight enough. Pushing the lid down caused the water to rise in the air lock meaning air wasn't escaping around the sides. The gasket itself was sterilized so it shouldn't hurt the beer.

Currently I'm playing the waiting game. The yeast should start fermentation in the next couple of hours and in about two weeks this should be ready to bottle. Hopefully this will become a delicious batch of beer. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


  1. Did you take an Original Gravity reading? I did my cider test batches last night (write-up for the blog coming today), and I had OG's of 1.064, 1.066, and 1.060. Should be some strong shit!

  2. I had an OG of 1.052, I think this is expected to fall around the 6% range