Adventures in Homebrew

Shaun Mayby Shaun May, EIT

If you drink beer, read on. If you truly love beer, like my colleague Ben and I, read on. But be forewarned, this tale is not about why you should love beer. This tale is about deepening a love that has already taken hold. A love brewing inside, bubbling, frothing, steeping.

This is a tale about homebrew.

Ben and I have begun the journey of mastering the brew arts to craft the tastiest suds. Along the way, we’ve guzzled gallons of fizzy fermented wort at lowest cost. That’s premium value beer! We’ve poured our hearts and souls into each batch we’ve made thus far. Journey onward with us!

In the Beginning…

Batch #1: All-grain milk stout. We leapt straight at one of our favorite beers, the milk stout, a recipe we want to master over the years. We decided to go the ol’ fashioned way by brewing a wort with all grain, no extracts. Perhaps overly eager, were we, to choose it as our first brewing attempt. The all-grain process is extended, with a sparging stage as well as additional time and difficulty to maintain appropriate temperatures and ingredient ratios. We also did not have a gas burner, or a doubly massive pot to brew in, and so we ran into trouble.

We realized that for the 5-gallon batches that we’ll be brewing, there is a more efficient method. We ordered a couple TrueBrew Home Brew kits (great for beginners building a knowledge base) with concentrated extracts to keep our foundational process easy and consistent.

Back to Bubblin’

Batch #2: Continental Pilsner from extract. Great success! Friends and family drank this brew with glee.  It was a smooth, light, and crisp, with a flavorful bite. I noted a mild soapy flavor, which could be attributed to leaving the beer in the fermenter too long after primary fermentation was complete. After the yeast finishes converting carbohydrates into alcohol during primary fermentation, trub rests at the bottom of the carboy fermenter, slowly breaking down, releasing rogue flavors into the brew. Not a show stopper, but lesson learned!

Our Hunt for Good Oktoberfest

Batch #3: Oktoberfest from extract. Oktoberfest is a fairly light, aromatic, and highly drinkable seasonal beer. We found that it is not only well suited for the late fall season but also early spring. So we called our brew “Winter’s Shoulders.” For this brewing session we took thorough notes, measured temperatures during fermentation, and took final gravity readings to calculate approximate alcohol by volume (ABV). This brew was a winner and proof that we are truly masters! … Just kidding.

For Science!

After enjoying this very tasty batch, with no off-flavors noted, we are quite confident to begin experimenting… with alcohol content! For our next batch, we will increase sugar levels during fermentation to increase the beer’s final alcohol content. Check back with us in a few batches to see how our creations are carrying on.

I hope this brief introduction to homebrew provided that little extra gusto you needed to take the dive into brewing the finest of brews for the heartiest of times. Pretty soon, I am sure, you’ll be drinking our brew. Or shoot, maybe you’ll be drinking your own!

Bonus Round: Oktoberfest Brew Notes

For those of you intrepid beer lovers who want the full transcript of our Batch #3 experience, read on.

Ingredients

  • 6 g Muntons Ale Yeast: Medium attenuation, low flocculation. Good all-purpose ale yeast. Optimum fermentation temperature: 57°-77° F
    • To maintain optimum fermentation temperature, recommend placing the fermenting bucket (carboy) in a relatively cool location out of sunlight (such as a closet). If your space is a little too warm, wrap the bucket in a wet cloth. Evaporative cooling will help maintain a slightly cooler than room temperature.
  • 8 oz. Weyermann Melanoidin Malt
  • 3 lb. can Amber Liquid Malt Extract LME
  • 1 lb. Light Dry Malt Extract DME
  • 2 oz. US Liberty Hop Pellets

Procedures

Brew Day: 1/30/2017

  • 5 gallons of hot tap water in brew kettle. Heated to 155°F (in a few minutes) on a gas burner with specialty malt grain steeping bag inside.
  • 15-minute steep with temperature regulated at 155-161°F.
Shaun and Ben make homebrew

Steeping the beer

Shaun and Ben make homebrew

Proper temperature is imperative to the process

  • Removed steeping bag and brought to a boil. “I can smell the good times ahead.”
  • Once it reached a boil, removed kettle from heat (to avoid caramelization) and stirred in malt extract.
Shaun and Ben make homebrew

Mmmm malty goodness.

Shaun and Ben make homebrew

Stirring the pot!

  • Reheated to boil and added bittering hops.
Shaun and Ben make homebrew

Watching beer boil is far more satisfying that watching water.

  • Boiled 45-minutes to make wort.

  • Placed kettle in an ice bath in sink. Cooled wort down to 108°F (30 minutes). Cleaned bottom of kettle.
  • Transferred to tub ice bath to cool down to 60°F (1 hour 45 minutes).
  • Poured wort into sanitized carboy fermenter. Topped wort off to 5 gallons with cold tap water.
  • Poured in yeast and delicately stirred in with sanitized spoon.
  • Affixed lid and airlock to carboy. (Gas is released during the fermentation process–the airlock allows the bubbles to escape so the carboy doesn’t become over-pressurized.)
  • Stored in room temperature regulated to 65°F-71°F. Used data logger to track room temperature trend (see graph below). Note: fermentation temperature may be slightly warmer than room temperature.homebrew room temperature trend
  • Fermentation began in less than 36 hours (~2/2-2/3)
  • Fermented for 8 days. (Beer is finished fermenting when specific gravity readings stop changing, typically 3-7 days.)
  • Took final gravity reading after fermentation was complete:

1/30/17: Original Gravity (O.G.) = 1.042 (estimated)

2/4/17 (5 days): Specific Gravity (S.G.) = 1.015

2/7/17 (8 days): Final Gravity (F.G.) = 1.011

ABV = 4.07% (estimated)

138 calories per bottle

  • Transferred beer to bottling bucket.
  • Added priming sugar solution.
  • Filled beer bottles 1-by-1 and capped. (We forgot to let each cap rest on top of the bottle before sealing them, therefore we did not purge the bottles’ headspace of oxygen. We also did not note any resulting off-flavors.)
  • Allowed at least two weeks for full carbonation.
  • Bottled 2/7. Ready to drink after 2/21 (allowing two weeks for secondary fermentation in the bottle to generate carbonation)

$32 ingredients/48 beers = $0.67 / 12oz bottle. Great price for great craft beer!

Tips:

  • Reuse bottles to save money but expect to invest time cleaning and sanitizing them (dishwasher please!!!). Cleaning and filling bottles is the most time-intensive process.
  • Clean carboy and bottling bucket immediately after use to ease sanitization for next batch.

Next up… kegging!

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