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Homebrew Tutorial for Dummies and Other Regular People Too

Homebrew Tutorial for Dummies and Other Regular People Too

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As I was brewing alone yesterday, I had time to relax and take some photos of my homebrew setup for a tutorial and your viewing pleasure. This will help if you were curious about what my homebrew process is - which is nearly the same as a brewery's process, just scaled way  down and crude as far as technology goes. It all starts with the mash tun + malted barley+ water. My mash tun is a 15 gallon keg with the top cut off. The perforated false bottom you see helps me open that valve after the mash and get clean wort out, leaving the used grains behind.

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You fire up the water to ~162F, dump the grains in and stir - then hang out for an hour (great time to enjoy a beer), applying heat as needed to keep the mash temp around 152F. The purpose of the mash is to convert the starches in the grain to sugars, producing the sweet liquid called wort which is the malt base of the beer.

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There's a lot going on in the picture above, so bear with me. After the mash is complete, I rinse the grains (process called sparging) from above with 170F water (pot on far right) while I'm pulling wort through the valve on the bottom into that white bucket. For a 10 gallon batch, I collect ~13 gallons of wort,  and I dump that into my boil kettle - which is another keg (on the left) with the top cut off. Heating the wort collected along the way saves loads of time - boiling 13 gallons is not quick.

I bring the wort up to a rolling boil, then start my boil clock - which is usually 60 minutes. Here hops are added for bitterness, flavor and aroma - depending on when during the 60 minute cycle they are added. I use this ghetto contraption to hold the hops during the boil so they don't get in the piping and clog things up.

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Commercial hops primarily come in two forms: dried whole-leaf style, and the pelletized version (looks like rabbit food). There are pros and cons to each, but the end product tastes the same. I use both, depending on what's available.

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Still with me? So we boiled the wort for an hour, adding hops along the way to get our desired taste profile. At this point, the beers you may or may not have consumed catch up to you and you typically forget something in the last 10 minutes which makes for the only really stressful part of the brewing process. Now we're at the end of what's called the 'Hot' stage, where sanitization gets taken care of by heat. After this, everything gets a little more fragile - and some rouge bacteria or unsanitized equipment can ruin a batch. To take this boiling wort down to room temperature where the yeast can get to work - you have to use a chiller or heat exchanger of some sort, or else the process will take forever and bacteria will likely get to work before your yeast can. I use a counter-flow chiller which runs my cold hose water over a copper coil containing the wort on its way from the kettle to the fermenting vessel (carboy in my case). This takes the wort from boiling temps to ~65F in the time it takes to transfer via gravity to the carboy. It's awesome.

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After this you pitch your yeast of choice, and as soon as the yeast starts working, you start having beer instead of wort. This is what my temperature-controlled basement bathroom/laundry looks like now:

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The 10 gallons I brewed last night need blow-off tubes for when the yeast gets excited, and there's some dry-hopping of the Pale going on in the background. Start to finish, the process takes me a little under 4 hours - well worth it for 80 pints of beer. I'm looking forward to sophisticated brewery equipment and high levels of consistency...but something tells me I'll sort of miss my homebrew setup someday.

If there's anyone still reading after all that and is still interested in what I brewed, it was a new IPA recipe which still needs a name - after I taste and approve of its existence.

Quick Specs: 1.075 OG, 71 IBUs, 8.3 SRM

Ingredients:

  • Malts: Pale 2-Row, Caramel 40 and 60, Carapils and Victory. Victory!
  • Hops: Bittering – Warrior.   Flavor/Aroma – Belma, Citra, Simcoe. Dry Hop – Belma, Simcoe
  • Yeasties: Wyeast 1056 slurry vs. BRY-97 slurry

It may be a little big to fit under the 7.5% abv threshold for IPAs, but it's still winter, and bigger beers rule the streets.

2/20: Finished at 1.016, for 7.7%ABV, dry hopped for 8 days with a second addition for 5 days since I had some centennial and simcoe lying about. Flavor is very fruity, but the alcohol is too forward, needs to mellow out for a week or two. Named it "Father Figure IPA" for the upcoming life change and George Michael's hit.

Get Smart!

This primer will tell you mostly everything you need to know about how to interpret those acronyms and numbers on the wall/menu of the beer hall of your choosing. The most common are #3 and #4, but an understanding of all 5 will really give you an appreciation for what you’re ordering and will impress your friends. #1: Original Gravity (OG): This reveals the specific gravity (density/sugar content) of the wort before fermentation begins. Essentially, it is potential for alcohol – alcohol is just fermented sugars right? By itself, it is not a very helpful stat, but it is relatively popular nonetheless. It’s usually expressed in the conventional format, 1.055 for example, or in degrees Plato (14°). The conversion between the two is easy, Plato * 4 roughly equals the last 2 digits on the conventional gravity. 20° Plato is the same as 1.080. This value can range widely, 1.045-1.110 are typical values.

#2 Final Gravity (FG): Another gravity measurement, this time at the end of fermentation. This tells you how many residual sugars are left in the brew when the yeast is done with its work. This number can help you determine how malty a beer will taste and how balanced it will be with the hops included. Example: A beer shows an FG of 1.012 and 80 IBUs (we’ll get to that soon). Pretty good chance that is an IPA that is all about the hop showcase, not trying to balance the malty sweetness as much…on the other end of the spectrum you may have an FG of 1.022 and 30 IBUs – that could be an English Old Ale, meant to be sweeter with the malts as the focus. Typical ranges are 1.010-1.024.

Checking specific gravity with a hydrometer

#3: Alcohol by Volume (ABV): Doesn’t need much explanation in terms of what it is (and how it makes you feel), but do you know how it’s calculated/measured? You cannot (as far as I’m aware) measure the alcohol content in beer, you have to measure the Original Gravity and the Final Gravity and do this: (OG – FG)*131 = ABV. Example, Double IPA: (1.085-1.016) *131 = 9% ABV. Nerd out.

#4: International Bitterness Units (IBUs): I won’t go into how this is calculated (you’re welcome), but this value tells you the bitterness given to the beer by the hops used in the brewing process. Just about all types of beer use hops in the boil, and therefore have some bitterness. Brewing is all about balance, and the dance between the hops and malts used. Don’t assume that a beer with 50 IBUs will be more bitter (tasting) than one with 35. The former could be a big stout, with loads of heavy and complex malt used which require the bitterness to balance it out, otherwise it would taste syrupy and over-sweet. The latter could be a german pilsner, with less/simpler malt used, letting the hops shine. So there is not, or should not be a threshold here that you stay away from based on limited experience. You’ll have an overly hopped pale at 65IBUs that is too bitter, and a Black IPA with the same 65IBUs could be juuuuuuust right. Typical ranges are from 15-100IBU. You can’t taste the difference after 100.

#5 SRM: This is a less common measurement, unless you are a brewer or go to brewery website to look at the stats of certain beers (everyone does that right?). SRM is ‘Standard Reference Measurement’ used by brewers to describe the color of the beer. Depending on the malts used, brewers tweak this value to produce the look of the beer desired. Basically, the scale goes from 2-40 from light to dark, although it does not have anything to do with clarity of the beer. The photo below shows the 3 beers I have on tap now at my house – Pilsner (3.5), Fresh Hop Amber (13.8) and Black IPA (38).

The color spectrum

Hope you enjoyed the info, it will make you appreciate the beer in your hand more – I promise.  Now drink up – cheers!