Monday, February 22, 2010

Blessed are the Beermakers pt. 2 - Brew Day

Most of the beer brewing process is a passive experience, but the first day, dubbed "Brew Day," requires constant activity for the better part of 5 hours. This is how my Brew Day went:

Got home with the supplies (Honey Nut Scooters are not part of this particular brewing session) and started a couple of gallons of water heating up. I would heat that water to 150-155 degrees in order to steep my specialty grains into what brewers call a "Grain Tea." So I dumped all of my milled grain into a grain sock, turned the heat down, and let my grain steep for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile I filled my 7 Gallon Brewer's Bucket with water and sterilization chemical, and put every thing that would eventually touch my beer in that water. Bacterial infection is a big deal in beer making; present and active bacteria make bad tastes and can completely spoil a wort. After 30 minutes I grabbed up my grain sock and let it drain as much as possible. This is what the spent grain looks like.

So now I had a couple of gallons of grain tea to add my extract to. Remember I said it was like really thick syrup, well that syrup has to be diluted down to less viscous consistency so that it can be boiled. I got the syrup diluted down and added enough water to get me up to 6.5 gallons in the biol pot, brought it up to a boil and sat back for a bit. After 30 minutes of boiling it was time to add the Hops. I'm sure you heard of these in a Sam Adam's commercial, but mine are a bit different. Some home brewers opt for the whole hops that you see in beer commercials but the more cost effective version of hops look like this:

Those little pellets break up inside a cheese cloth sock and impart the same sort of bitterness that you would get from whole hops. Now as with almost anything the more fresh and unprocessed your ingredients are the better, and any brewer will tell you to move to whole hops when you can, but for me the cheapness wins for now. So I add those hops with an hour left in the total boil time that is required by my recipe and I wait for that hour to pass. When it's done boiling, I have a true blue Wort, just waiting for a bit of yeast to turn this into a party.

But before pitching yeast I need to do two things. First the wort is much to hot for yeast to survive so I must bring the temp down to an acceptable level for them to live, and the goal is to hit a level at which they do their work the best (more on this later). Second, is to activate the yeast, as my yeast comes dry, like baker's yeast. So a get a bit of warm water and mix in the dry yeast which makes a smelly little paste and I dump about a pound of sterile ice into my wort. I tried power cooling in my fridge and also ice bathing my bucket but nothing was getting the temp down fast enough so I resorted to diluting my wort a bit for the sake of shortening the amount of time the Wort would be in the "Danger Zone." Once it was in the correct range I transferred it over to my Brewer's Bucket and shook the heck out of it to aerate it. The purpose behind aeration is that yeast will reproduce when Oxygen is available, and since I don't necessarily have enough yeast to ferment the entire wort I want some reproduction to happen right off the bat. Also this process allows the Yeast to overrun and rogue bacteria or wild yeast that may have floated in. So after aeration I pitch the yeast in and slosh it around to disperse and clap on the lid and affix my CO2 lock. Which looks like this:

This device is a vertical tube with another bigger tube around it and another around the whole thing. When filled with water, or in my case Vodka because it's sterile, It allows gasses to escape a closed system with out letting gasses back in. But, didn't I just say that we need oxygen? For the very beginning of the fermentation this is true, but after there are enough yeast cells present you want them to stop reproducing and start eating sugars. As long as Oxygen is present they will continue to reproduce and break down the sugars way farther that the alcohol we are looking for. So as their CO2 pushes the oxygen out we want to keep it out. This valve also prevents pressure build up, since yeast make a LOT of CO2 when they are fermenting. At this point the passive part of the brewing process begins. Depending on the Beer the fermentation can take from a few days up to a week. We'll be checking on this one in 5 days.


Stephanie said...

I love homebrew and i think it is infinitely better than most (if not all) beers sold in the U.S. I'm excited to see how everything goes with the process!

Also. I'm pretty jealous that you live in a place where you can homebrew. A one bedroom apartment doesn't exactly afford us the space....but someday!! :)

Robert said...

So what you're saying is...this will be ready by Saturday?

rkw said...

It will be in the bottle by Saturday, but it will have to carbonate for a couple of weeks.