Homebrew Ale – worst and all!
I’m not a Chemist!
Want to learn how to make homemade beer? Okay, granted, you’re not a chemist, and although it would be a huge advantage, it’s not strictly necessary, if you can follow instructions. While there are all sorts of grain selections, and hops to choose from, you don’t need Chateau Special B Wheat from Belgium, or Country Malt or Special Aromatic from France.
The best thing you could possibly do for making your first batch of ale would be to buy what is known as a box kit, which has the ingredients required for one batch. Of course, you’ll need a stainless steel pot (aluminum oxides leech into the beer and have been tied to Alzheimer’s disease), a 6 gallon carboy (a big bottle), some no-rinse sterilizer, a funnel, a couple of polyethylene buckets that hold 5 gallons, and various other impedimenta, such as a water filter, good thermometer, some uncrimped bottle caps, and the crimper. The person at the craft beer store will fill you in on specifics.
It’s not that hard
Depending on what kind of kit you purchased, it will have very specific instructions. It will say put (for example) 4 gallons of filtered water in your stainless steel pot and heat it up to approximately (it depends) 160° F. When it reaches the proper temperature you add your grains, in a muslin bag that comes with it, and let them steep, like a giant cup of tea. The grains will sink, so if you have a gas flame under your pot, now would be a good time to turn it off so the grains don’t scorch by touching the much hotter bottom.
You are going to have to stir that fairly frequently over the course of the next 30 minutes as the sugars, flavor, and color develop. When done, scoop out the bag and toss it in a colander or strainer over the pot. Pour hot water through it, to leech out remaining valuable essences but do not squeeze the bag because that can give you esters and oils you do not want in your starting stock.
In your kit you’ll find a large, heavy plastic jar full of brown goo. That’s your concentrated malt extract. Pop the lid and start pouring it in while you stir constantly; you don’t want to give it a chance to reach the bottom and form lumps. And don’t waste any either; get as much as you can out of the container, and then rinse it with hot water and pour that in, too. Once it is added what you have in the pot is officially called wort. Hurray, you’re becoming a brewmeister!
Can’t stand the Heat?
You’re going to want to bring that up to a rolling-boil. And this is a very particular kind of boil. A light boil, is easily dissipate by stirring; a full boil is the most violent boil possible where it is splashing out of the pot with its enthusiasm. Somewhere in the middle is a rolling boil that is continuous with large bubbles that burst at the surface, cannot be stopped by stirring, it is not splashing all over the place. It’s a nice steady state boil that constantly recirculates the contents.
This is the point where you’ll add your hops (inside yet another muslin bag so they’re easy to retrieve). This is going to be a 60 minute boil, during which time you will extract the bitter flavors of the hops, which will offset the sweetness of the malt in your wort. At the 45 minute mark, if your kit came supplied with them, there might be in additional packet of aromatic hops for additional flavor which you should also add, in the now familiar muslin bag.
Irrespective of whether you have the additional hops or aromatics, the 45 minute mark is the point where you will add the red algae called Chondrus crispu or “Irish Moss”. In many cases it comes as a tablet about the same size as a stack of eight dimes. The pill is comprised of Irish moss and compressed talcum powder so it can form a tablet.
Its function is to increase the flocculation of the excess proteins, tannins, and yeast; this will result in a much clearer beer as these undesirable elements precipitate out. Proteins add to the body of the beer, but too much of it makes it murky. A little experimentation will allow you to get the balance just right once you decide to start selecting your own grains, hops, and aromatics.
With a little pre-planning and forethought, you can have a sink partially (so it doesn’t overflow) full of water chilled with ice. When the 60 minutes of your boil have expired slip the pot into the icy water so that it cools as quickly as possible to a temperature that won’t harm your yeast. For the more sophisticated home brewer, you can get a copper pipe coil with a fitting that allows you to connect a hose and run cold water through the coil, and another hose on the opposite end which you can put in the sink to drain. The purpose here is to cool it within 15 minutes, if possible, because that will help precipitate out all the unwanted bits. If you use one of these, put it in the pot for 10 minutes before the boil ends so it is sterile; the last thing you want to do is introduce bacteria which will wreck your beer.
While the wort is chilling, use some of that no-rinse sterilizer that you bought, to prepare your carboy. Shake it around inside and make sure every single surface is in contact with the sterilizer for a few seconds. Don’t worry about the foam that it makes. It’s perfectly food grade and totally acceptable to leave that in the bottle; it will not affect your beer in any way whatsoever.
Place your (sterilized) funnel in the top of the carboy, and transfer the now cooled liquid wort to the carboy. Add cold water until the total volume is five gallons. You’ll probably see foam on top and that will continue throughout the fermentation process which is why we use a six gallon carboy.
At this point you’re going to add your yeast to the carboy. The product that comes with the kits is generally in a powdered, dehydrated form, so you can just tear open the packet and pour it in. No stirring necessary; it can manage all on its own. Now you just stick the air lock in the top of the carboy, which will allow the carbon dioxide gas to escape while providing a seal against ambient bacteria getting inside your beer. You’ll be curious and study it every day, but basically feel free to go way for two weeks, because there’s very little that you can do here except enjoy watching the process.
Its Bottling Day
Hurray! The bubbles have stopped, and you’re ready to bottle beer… So first take 3 or 4 ounces of corn sugar in about 2 cups of water and boil it until it is clear. Place that in the bottom of your (sterilized) bottling bucket. Why? That little tiny bit of sugar that you’re adding is what will eventually give you your carbonation. Without it you’ll end up with flat beer.
To make the transfer as easy as possible you should obtain an auto-siphon, which can be had for as little as $6.00 or all the way up to $80.00 depending on how thick your wallet is. Just make sure you get one that fits you carboy and that it has a rubber foot to keep it above the level or the precipitate in the bottom of the carboy.
With a single stroke you can start the flow of beer from the carboy to your bottling bucket (okay, sometimes more than a single stroke—you want the hose to be completely filled with liquid without any trapped air for quickest transfer). If you don’t know about physics, for a siphon to work, the receiving container must be lower than the source container. Go away and let it do its job.
One More Toy
One thing you can do to help your beer along, is get yourself a bottle-filler. A perfectly satisfactory one may be had for $5.00 and it attaches easily to your auto-siphon. Raise your bottling bucket above the height where you’re going to fill your bottles, and attach the bottle filler to the end of your siphon. Stick the filler inside the bottle and press it against the bottom which causes the valve to open. You pump your auto-siphon and in just a few moments the flow will fill your bottle right to the top at which point you withdraw the filler which leaves precisely the right amount of head space in the bottle.
The reason for the bottle-filler is two-fold, since for one thing it simplifies the job immensely, but the other important point is that it fills the bottle from the bottom up. It’s all very sedate and quiet and it doesn’t introduce any splashing (hence oxygen) into your beer. If you do add oxygen it severely shortens the shelf life, and it can make your beer go “skunky”.
With the bottle-filler, as soon as you lift it from the bottom of the bottle, it stops flowing. Just drop it in your sterilizing liquid for a moment, and put that (sterilized) cap on right away. Remember bacteria are the enemy.
Once everything is capped up, leave it for couple weeks to develop that carbonation. Soon it will be ready and you will taste a beer like nothing you’ve ever had before… Because you made it yourself, Brew Master!
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