Sunday, January 30, 2011

There will be beer!

Yesterday, I brewed my very first batch of beer. It remains to be seen if this batch is indeed successful - we'll know after a few weeks when we bottle it and chill it. 

I woke up kind of early on Saturday because my brain started working and I was getting excited about trying my first home brew.  I started the day by cleaning everything as per instructions.  Matt and I are by no means dirty people, but the kitchen was the cleanest I think it has ever been once I finished with it.  A little at 1pm our friend Emily came over to hang out while making the beer.  We all decided that it was imperative to enjoy beer while making beer so Matt was drinking Sierra Nevada Pale ale, I had a Left Hand Milk Stout and Emily was drinking Framboise Lambic. 

The brewing process was pretty much a one girl show.  I felt pretty good following the directions.  I decided to start with a kit because it was my first time brewing.  I wanted to be able to follow the directions step by step so I understood the process and could take that to experimentation with recipes in the future.  Before Emily arrived I spent some time actually writing out my own step by step directions using notes from my first beer making tutorial with Beer Yoda Bill several weeks ago, the book The Joy of Homebrewing and the directions included with my kit.  I started by making a brown ale, because it is my favorite style of beer. 

Step 1, Clean and Sanitize
I did all of this, as I said, before Emily arrived.  The kitchen was sparkling, the equipment was ready to go. 

Step 2, Prepare Malt Can
This was something beer Yoda Bill showed me how to do and I didn't realize it was standard practice. I removed the label from the can and soaked it in a hot water bath so it would soften and become more liquid-y. 

Step 3,  Boil Water
The directions for the kit said 1 to 1.5 gallons of water.  This seemed low, but I wanted to follow the directions.  However, I decided specifically to start with the lower end because I knew this would not be a high alcohol beer and I thought (maybe erroneously) that the more concentrated the ingredients were perhaps it would be a little stronger.  I don't suppose that really does matter because you add a lot of water in the end anyway.  But, there I was with 1 gallon of boiling water.

Step 4, Add Extract, Malt and Hops
The package directions suggested I take the water off the heat at this point to mix in the ingredients.  I did turn the burner off but after getting the extract out of the can, I decided to turn the heat back up because that was how we made the beer at Beer Yoda Bill's.  I slowly added the malt powder mixing it with the paddle to make sure there were no lumps.  Then I added the hops, which the beer store people assured me wouldn't make the beer too hoppy, it was just there for a little bitterness and aroma.  I trusted them. 

Step 5, Bring back to Boil

Step 6, Boil for 30 minutes
Once it came back to a boil, I set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes.  I noticed in the package directions they were pretty noncommittal in regards to how long to boil it.  I decided to boil it at the long end of the suggested times.  This was done for purely unscientific reason.

Step 7, Pour Cool Water in Carboy
I don't remember doing this at Beer Yoda Bills, but it made sense to me.  By having cool water in the carboy it would help bring the beer temp down significantly once it was in the carboy.  The package directions suggested "3 to 4 Gallons" so we went with 3. 


Step 8, Pour Mixture Over Ice Into Carboy
The ice trick was something we had learned from Bill.  It was an easy way to bring down the temp of the mixture quickly.  We used a giant no-splatter funnel that we bought when we got our equipment.  I really liked it.  We put in the funnel filter but also used, at the recommendation of the beer store people, an additional nylon bag screen that we fit over the funnel.  This was to keep a lot of the sludge out of the carboy.  Worked like a charm.  We filled it up with ice and then slowly poured the beer mixture through and let it filter and melt down and then repeated this step until all the mixture was in the carboy.  My assistants were very helpful in this endeavor.  This photo is a dramatic recreation. 


Step 9, Add More Cold Water
The final number of total gallons in the carboy was to be about 5.  We calculated how may gallons we already had and added a couple more to get it up to what should be 5.  It looked to be at about the same level I remember Beer Yoda Bill's wort being in the carboy so I felt good about it. 

Step 10, Temperature
The wort at this time needs to be between 70 and 80 degrees to be able to pitch the yeast.  We dropped in the thermometer and it was perfect - about 75. 

Step 11, Take Gravity Reading
Our specific gravity at this time was 1.38.  This was great since it said the starting gravity would be about 1.45.  The lower the gravity the higher the probably alcohol content so I am guessing it'll be slightly higher in the end than the 4.5% that the package indicates.  This is good, actually.  Not that I am trying to make an 11.5% alcohol beer, but I didn't want to make O'Doul's

Step 11a, Taste the Wort
I failed to put this on the list, to Emily wrote it in.  When we tasted the wort at Beer Yoda Bill's house it tasted like bread.  This is normal.  His beer was a wheat, while ours is barley based but it still should taste like bread.  We put a little into some cordial glasses my sister got us for Christmas.  (She liked them because they looked like little beer pilsners and because they were tiny she bought them for our tiny house) They were perfect.  The wort tasted like water and bread and I think that was about right.  Bill's tasted less like water but he had used a LOT more malt to get a higher gravity beer so the difference even made sense to us. 


Step 12, Pitch the Yeast
There was some conflicting information about how exactly to pitch the yeast.  Some suggest mixing or shaking the carboy to make sure it is all incorporated into the wort.  Some suggest just pouring it in and letting it drop on its own.  I hadn't yet made the decision but the decision was made for me soon in the process.

Step 13 Add Airlock
Throughout this whole process I thought to myself "Wow, this has been really easy".  There was no issue, no complications.  I followed the steps and I felt really good about it.  Then I had the "Oh Shit" moment. Matt, while attempting to be helpful, stuffed the airlock stopper too far into the carboy neck.  In an attempt to get it out, we simply managed to push it into the wort.  That the was moment where I thought to myself, "I can't do this?  What am I doing? I suck."  It is a feeling I've had several times in my life, but I think it is those challenges that make the ultimate experience worth while.  After I few choice words, Matt made an emergency run to the beer supply store. 

Step 13a: Buy New Airlock Stopper
When he went in the owner was there and he said to her, "We have an emergency!  We have just put our beer into the carboy with the yeast and we don't have a stopper!"  She told him to just take it and he came back within just a few minutes.  A quick google search later I discovered that this is not an uncommon problem.  We will deal with getting the sanitized stopper out after the beer is done fermenting. 

Step 14 Take over the World
After our beer brewing adventure we decided instead of taking over the world we would simply walk up to a local restaurant for dinner, which was yummy.  We'll take over the world some other time. 

Over night, the yeast started working it's yeasty magic and the airlock is happily blurp-blurping away.  The next part of the process is to simply wait.  The fermenting beer smells like hops, which I also googled to find is completely normal.  In fact, it seems that fermenting beer can smell like all sorts of things so hops is one of the more normal smells.  It should mellow after a short time. 

Now, we wait.  Watch for updates on my first brown beer once we get to the bottling stage. 

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