Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bottling Day

I've started a series of articles on homebrewing.  I'm calling it "Febrewary" because I'm clever like that.  In our previous episode, I shared a beer bread recipe to use up some extra supplies that came in the homebrewing kit.  In this episode, the yeast is done fermenting and it's time to bottle the beer.

Sanitize Everything

First things first, sanitize all of your equipment.  You'll need your dozen empty bottles, bottle caps, auto-siphon, hose, and bottle filler.  You'll also need the capper and conditioning sugar fizz drops.  This is why it's important to sanitize all the gear; we're reactivating the yeast with another dose of sugar.  The beer will get a little more alcohol content and it will get its carbonation in the bottle.

Flow Master

Connect the auto-siphon to the bottle filler as you did on brew day.  Remove the airlock and threaded stopper from the fermenter and insert the siphon.  Operate it per the instructions, filling each bottle in turn.  I like to fill to about a thumb's width below the mouth of the bottle.  That gets you a consistent volume for a more professional appearance.  
Go with the flow

Drop the beat

Now just plop in a fizz drop and cap the bottle.  Don't worry, the beer is still flat at this point so it won't go all Menthos and Coke when you put in the drops.  I usually get around 9 or 10 bottles from a gallon fermenter.  
At this point, you're pretty much done.  Set the bottles out of the way for another two weeks of conditioning.  Don't put the bottles in the refrigerator yet; remember, we need the yeast to work just a little bit more to condition the beer.  Remember to clean all your brewing equipment.  The residue has the perfect conditions for life.  It is the proverbial microbial soup.  
Company! Ah-ten-HUT!

Friends with benefits

It helps to have a friend stop by to lend a hand or two.  Operating the siphon and bottle filler takes two hands, especially when you add swapping bottles.  The bottle capper will also occupy at least both hands.  Then add in operating a camera for publishing this to Blogger and you can quickly run out of hands.  Set aside a couple bottles for the friend and you'll have a ready assistant for the next brew day.  See you in two weeks!

Trademarks are properties of their respective owners.  Products featured or linked here are used as examples only, without endorsement or commercial consideration.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Beer Bread

I've started a series of articles on homebrewing.  I'm calling it "Febrewary" because I'm clever like that.  In our previous episode, we had our brew day.  In this episode, I share a simple beer bread recipe to use up the other half of the yeast packet.

The dough

Three cups flour, three tablespoons sugar, three teaspoons salt, the rest of the brew day yeast, and enough water to turn it into dough.  While the wort is boiling for 45 minutes is a good time to start on this.  Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and then start adding water until the dough is sticky.  Set it aside to rise.  Come back to the dough after you transfer the wort into the fermenter.  Lay this out on a pizza pan and put in the over at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.  Go clean up from brew day and the bread should be done.

The bread

What? You never seen bread before?

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!

Trademarks are properties of their respective owners.  Products featured or linked here are used as examples only, without endorsement or commercial consideration.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gathering Supplies

I've started an article series on homebrewing your own beer.  I've called it "Febrewary" because I'm clever like that.

Is it legal?

Yes, homebrewing is legal!  This wasn't always the case of course.  In 1920, one of the worst laws to ever be put on the books arrived in the form of the Eighteenth Amendment which, along with the Volstead Act, lead to the dark times known as Prohibition.  All production of alcohol was illegal, leading to massive job loss and the rise of organized crime.  The Twenty-first Amendment, in 1933, saved what was left of the American beer industry but the damage was already done.  
While Prohibition had ended, it still wasn't officially legal to brew your own beer yet.  Wine making was legal but through an omission, "and/or beer" never made it into law.  We had to wait until 1979 for the Federal Register to be corrected and allow beer production.  

Is it expensive?

No, not at all.  Many starter kits, with everything you need for a first batch of beer, are available at affordable prices.  You don't have to buy the kit I linked to but that's the one I have so that's what I'll be using for this demonstration.  In addition to the equipment in a starter kit like the fermenter and capper, you'll need to add your own kettle and a few common kitchen implements.  

Everything you see here

What do I need?

I started with that kit linked above.  It includes the fermenter, threaded stopper and three-piece airlock, sanitizer, auto-siphon, and hose.  Also included in the kit was a bottle filler, capper, and bottle caps.  Of course, this kit also includes your first recipe.  I went with the Irish Red.  I really only had to add my own kettle, scissors, and beaker.  

Is that all?

Not yet, just one more thing, but you'll like this.  You need to get a dozen empty beer bottles.  You can buy them from your brewing supply house but there's a better way.  Get a dozen-bottle variety case of your favorite craft beer.  You see where this is going.  Drink it responsibly between brewing day and bottling day. Soak the empties in warm water to remove the labels; brown glass bottles with non-twist-off caps are preferred.  Now you have everything you need for your first batch.  Enjoy!

Trademarks are property of their respective owners.  Products featured or linked here are used as examples only, without endorsement or commercial consideration.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I've been homebrewing my own beer and mead for a few batches now and I though "Febrewary" would make a good play on words for a new month-long series on homebrewing.  Yes, I am easily amused by my own cleverness.
So this article is just an introduction to the series and a way to increase my post count without really trying.  I'm an engineer, I'm all about getting a solution without really trying.