Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brew Day

I've started an article series on homebrewing your own beer. I called it "Febrewary" because I'm clever like that. In our last episode, I covered some of the basics of starting to brew your own beer at home.

The kit arrived, now what?

Okay, this is easy. Just follow the instructions. For brew day, you'll need your kettle, scissors, fermenter, threaded stopper, airlock, siphon, hose, beaker, a big spoon, the recipe kit, and sanitizer.

Sanitize all the things

The first step in any brewing operation is to sanitize everything. EVERYTHING! We're dealing with yeast here, a living organism. We spent good money on a particular species that is specially chosen to give us good results in our recipe. Don't screw it up by letting some other bacteria species get in there.
Use the no-rinse sanitizer that came in the kit; one tablespoon of sanitizer into one gallon of water. Don't drain this because you might need to sanitize something again later.

All clear

This next stage will vary based on your beer recipe.  For this demonstration, I've gone with the Northern Brewer's Irish Red. As per this recipe, bring one and a quarter gallons of water to a boil and steep the specialty grains in the included mesh bag.
Many breweries say that the water they use in their operation affects the flavor of their brew and they're right. You can use specially filtered water but I use plain old tap water. The local municipal water supply here is a bit heavy but I like to think that particular blend of minerals and metals give my brew a flavor that can't be copied. But the truth is that if it's okay to drink then it's okay to brew with.
If you do garden composting like I do, you can put the grains in the compost after they're done steeping. After this, stir in the malt extract and the hops. This is a beginner recipe kit so it uses extract, but as your skills improve you can switch to all-grain recipes if you'd like.

Wake up, ye beasties

In this Irish Red recipe, the extract and hops boil for 45 minutes without adding more ingredients.  Lets use this time to activate the yeast. For some reason, the recipe only uses half the yeast it comes with.  Obviously, it's the way it comes from the supplier so save half for beer bread and pour the rest into a quarter cup of warm water in your sanitized beaker.

Begin transferrence

Clowns to the left, jokers to the right
After the wort (that's unfermented beer) has boiled, we need to cool it down to add the yeast.  The yeast likes its water about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. We'll do this with an ice bath. One basin in your sink is still full of sanitizing water so fill the other side with water and ice and put the kettle in.
The general idea
After the wort has cooled, it's time to add the yeast and move it to the fermenter. Pour the yeast into the wort, either in the kettle before the transfer or into the fermenter afterwards. Drain the ice bath, lift the kettle onto the counter, and put the fermenter in the sink. That difference in altitude will help the siphon. Follow the instructions to assemble and operate the siphon.

Transfer complete

pop lock
Now install the threaded stopper and airlock onto the fermenter and put it in a quiet corner. The yeast will do their thing converting sugar to alcohol and the positive pressure in the airlock will release carbon dioxide while keeping other bacteria out of the mix. In roughly two weeks, the yeast will be done and CO2 release will slow or stop completely.

Kick up the jams

All that's left is to clean everything and put it away. Now kick back with the craft brew you bought when you were gathering supplies so you have empty bottles for bottling day. Drink responsibly and enjoy!

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