Saturday, February 11, 2012

Our First Attempt at Homebrewing

I mentioned not long ago that I was giving some serious thought to brewing my own beer. It's something that Jason and I had been talking about for a while but neither of  us had gotten around to purchasing the necessary materials. Well, the day after I wrote that post, Jason took the initiative by getting everything we needed, and on Saturday we brewed our first batch of beer!


For our first batch, Jason decided it would be best to keep things simple and go with a boxed recipe kit rather than attempt to create our own from scratch. The thought process behind the decision is that if we follow the instructions, we'd be hard pressed to screw it up. Given the time it takes to brew a batch of beer, the last thing we want to do is dump five gallons down the drain (especially not my first batch). The recipe he selected is a basic pale ale.


We started off by bringing our initial two and half gallons of spring water up to about 160 degrees to steep the grains. This part of the process is much like making a giant pot of tea. The picture below shows the grains in a mesh sleeve steeping for about 20 minutes.


The next step is to bring the water to rolling boil and add the first can of liquid malt extract. We found it difficult to maintain a rolling boil and thought, initially, that the pot we were using was too large. It wasn't until later in the process that we realized simply covering the pot would give us the boil we needed. Once the first can of malt extract is added, we brought the pot back to a boil and added the first round of hops.


The bittering hops are added first and this boils for about 40 minutes. As our brew continued to boil, Jason's entire home was filed with an amazing hops aroma. After the 40 minute boil was complete, we added the second can of malt extract and boiled for another 20 minutes. Lastly we added the second round of hops; the aroma hops.



Once the boil was complete, we needed to cool the beer quickly to an appropriate temperature in order to pitch the yeast. This is a part of the process that we'll need to better plan for next time around. Ideally, I would have liked to submerge our boil pot in a bucket of ice to cool it quickly. We were not prepared to do that, so we poured our beer into the thoroughly sterilized fermenter and it cooled slowly in the fermenter whilst submerged in a storage tote filled with cold water. This process took longer than I would have liked, but it worked out fine.

Rather than spend a lot of money on a pre-assembled kit of brewing equipment, Jason made two fermenters on his own by added spigots and air locks to a couple of 5-gallon, food-grade plastic paint buckets. It was an inexpensive solution and will provide us with the flexibility needed when transferring the beer from the primary fermenter to the secondary, and when bottling.

The most worrisome part of process for me was pitching the yeast because this is the most crucial step, yet it's the step where the most can go wrong. If we had not sanitized our equipment properly, or if our beer had not cooled enough, all of work to this point would be for naught. Fortunately, less than 24 hours after we pitched the yeast we had fermentation.


As you can see from the photo above, the result of putting nearly 5 gallons of beer into a 5-gallon fermenter is beer bubbling up into the airlock, an issue we had not anticipated. To solve this problem next time, I plan to buy a larger bucket to use as our primary fermenter.

Yesterday, Jason transferred the beer from our primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter where it will continue to ferment for about another 2 weeks. Jason tasted the beer during the transfer to ensure that we had not messed anything up along the way. Aside from it being flat and warm, he said it definitely tasted like a pretty decent beer. I can't wait till we can sit down and enjoy the finished product. My next update will be when get the the next step: bottling. In the meantime, I'm think about brewing another batch already! 

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