Beyond Your First Brew

So you’ve now brewed a beer. Maybe it went great! Maybe it didn’t. Maybe it tasted delicious. Maybe it tasted flat, or soapy, or off in some other way. Maybe you’ve just finished bottling and are eagerly waiting to taste your first home brew in a couple weeks. Maybe you’re itching to try again. To give it another go. To make another beer.

What do you do now? My advice is simple. Get another recipe kit and brew! Brew your favorite styles. Brew different recipes. Get a feel for different kinds of beer. What you need to work on is mastering the process. Getting used to cleaning/sanitizing your equipment, having a smooth 60-minute boil, adding the ingredients at the right times, etc.

Don’t feel like you have to make your own recipes, at least not yet. You need to give yourself time to go through the motions and understand what’s happening at each step. “Why am I adding hops at the beginning of the boil? Oh yeah, that adds bitterness.” Etc. Get used to the basics. Get used to the ingredients used in a stout versus the malts used in a pilsner versus an India Pale Ale. Look at light vs dark malts. Try different hops, different yeasts, etc. KEEP A JOURNAL! Keeping a journal is huge! It’s the difference between a scientist and hobbyist. Home brewing is a science. If you want to figure out what’s happening and why, if you want to understand how different ingredients and methods affect the final product, WRITE YOUR NOTES DOWN!

Keep bottling, keep brewing, and keep tasting. If you have questions, feel free to ask here or search online. Google provides answers. Homebrew forums provide loads of experiences and stories of homebrewing, answers to thousands of questions. If you have an issue, someone else has had the same problem before and posted about it online, where others have discussed and provided possible answers.

As for this blog, look forward to more in-depth posts about brewing various styles, about the different ingredients, and about my own experiences in brewing. Do not expect regular updates, however. I’m in the final semester of Grad-school and expect to be quite busy. You’ve got to be patient. In the meantime, brew a beer and drink up.

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Your First Brew

There’s not much I can tell you about your first brew. I went over the basic method here but I don’t want to delve too much into the nitty gritty and overwhelm you with details. You have to just go through it on your own to see and feel what it’s like.

(Note: this is going to be for extract brewing, which I suggest any starting home brewer begins with, as it’s much more simple and requires much less of an investment of both money and time)

If you don’t have equipment and aren’t sure what to get, here’s going to be my advice for lots of things: Find a Local Homebrew Store (LHBS) and speak to the staff there. They will be knowledgeable and helpful. They will point out useful beginners kits and equipment you need. They are great. It’s likely they are homebrewers themselves and always seem interested to help out newbies. Honestly, when you have any questions in regards to homebrewing, asking the staff at a LHBS is never a bad option.

If you don’t have a LHBS close by, you can look online for homebrewing kits. northernbrewer.com isn’t bad. Check out the reviews for various kits and pick one. Try to figure out what you might be looking for. A glass car-boy is old school and looks great, but can be difficult to clean with its narrow opening, meanwhile a plastic bucket is practical and cheap, but has its own issues. Really, any starting kit will work. If you want to put together your own kit, check out the basic brewing post I mentioned above. It has resources at the bottom that will tell you exactly what you need.

Now you have equipment. What’s next? Ingredients and a recipe. Since this is your first brew, I suggest purchasing a recipe kit, which includes all the ingredients you need as well as step-by-step instructions. This takes much of the guesswork and thinking out of it which means you can focus on the process and familiarize yourself with it. Your LHBS will likely have recipe kits. My LHBS, Homebrew Emporium, has kits and its own recipes, all of which are solid. I have heard northernbrewers recipe kits are decent as well.

Once you have your equipment, recipe and ingredients, you are good to go! Make sure you have a good 4-5 hour block of free time and brew! It shouldn’t take that long every time but it’s always good to plan for it, as cleaning itself can take awhile. Follow the instructions on the recipe. Your beginner’s kit may have instructions as well but ignore those and simply follow the recipe. It will do you fine.

When I made my first brew, I tried to follow both the kit’s instructions and the recipe, which confused me to no end. Ultimately, I ended up with a lackluster beer. Follow the recipe.

You will begin with cleaning and sanitizing every piece of equipment that will touch the Wort after the boil. Then you will steep specialty grain in a pot of water for 15-20 minutes or so, depending on the recipe. You will bring the pot to a boil, then add the malt extract and bittering hops. Throughout the 60 minute boil, you will add more hops and any special ingredients. After the boil, you’ll cool off the wort in an ice bath of some sort. Once the Wort has cooled down, you will transfer it to the fermenter and cap it with an airlock after pitching the yeast. Stick it somewhere dark and let it sit for two weeks. Then you bottle. Then you wait two more weeks and drink.

Congratulations, you’re a home brewer! In posts to come, I’ll talk about what comes next after your first brew, go into depth into the various stages of the process and throw up a glossary of the various terms that are always thrown around in home brewing.

Thanks for reading, now go enjoy a beer.

 

The Basics of Home Brewing

Let’s go over what home brewing is. Home brewing is brewing beer at home. Simple? Sure.

Beer, is a handful of ingredients boiled together, which yeast is pitched into, which then ferments. This fermentation results in alcohol and CO2 which is why beer is carbonated and gets you drunk. You need a variety of equipment to perform this as well as ingredients to actually make the beer. I’ll briefly go over everything in this post but expect more detailed posts into each topic to come later.

INGREDIENTS

  1. Malted barley grain which is grain that has been “malted”, which I won’t go into but essentially converts the starch in the grain into simpler sugars that will be consumed by yeast later. The majority of ‘beer’ is this grain, first mashed to release more sugars, then boiled. Different grains produce different body, colors and tastes of beer.
  2. Hops are flowers of a hop plant that are put into the beer at various times throughout the brewing phases to give aroma, flavor, and bitterness to the beer. You generally add hops when you boil the malted grains, early in the boil to add bitterness, closer to the end of the boil to add flavor and aroma. There are many different hops, all with different characteristics.
  3. Water is essential as beer is mostly water. Using tap water is generally fine for most home brewing though there are ways to change it if need be.
  4. Yeast is also important. Can’t make beer without yeast. The yeast consume the sugars and release CO2 and alcohol into the wort, which is how the wort becomes beer. Different yeasts produce different flavors and characteristics in the beer. There are many strains of yeast out there, for many different styles of beer.
  5. Other ingredients can be added for different effects for different styles of beer. Spices like ginger and cinnamon for a Spiced Winter Ale, Orange Peel for an Orange Wheat, or even just something like Irish Moss to help clarify the beer so it’s not so hazy when you look at it through a glass. You don’t need any other ingredients than the first four, however, and many fantastic beers are made with just those.

 

How do you get malted grain? Well, there’s two ways you can go about it (three, if you malt your own grain, but that’s getting a bit too involved for our purposes). First, grain at the home brew store is already malted. Second, the home brew store also contains Malt Extract in Liquid and Dry form. This is malted grain that has already been Mashed, which saves a step in the brewing process and is the biggest distinction between two major home brewing methods: All-Grain or Extract.

All-Grain simply means you buy multiple pounds of grain and Mash it at home which requires more equipment and effort as you have to keep the grain in water at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time to get the grain to release the sugars. All-Grain is more intensive and more complicated. It also gives you more control over fine details in the beer.

Extract means you purchase already Mashed Malt, which saves time and effort. Back in the day, extract beers were simpler and blander than All-grain but these days you can easily steep a pound or two of specialty grains, use malt extract and get a beer that rivals an all-grain beer.

EQUIPMENT

Equipment needs change depending on whether you’re brewing all-grain or extract.

Extract:

  • 3-5 gallon brew pot (for boiling)
  • Fermenter (holds beer after boiling)
  • Measuring cups
  • Something to stir with
  • Bottling Bucket
  • Bottles
  • Bottle capper
  • Bottle caps
  • Bottle brush
  • Siphon(for transferring beer from fermenter to bottling bucket)
  • Racking Cane(used with siphon to take liquid and leave behind sediment)
  • Thermometer
  • Optional: Hydrometer (for taking Original/Final Gravity), Wine thief (helps with taking Gravity readings from narrow-necked car boys)

All-Grain:

  • Bigger brew pot (6 gallons or more)
  • All of the above
  • Mash Tun (holds grain and water for Mashing process, my friend uses a 10-gallon igloo cooler)
  • Lauter tun (can be the Mash tun with a false bottom, holds grain while you Sparge( Sparging is pouring hot water over the grain after Mashing…I’ll get into it later))

 

PROCESS

  1. Clean/sanitize everything (Infection is #1 cause of bad funky beer)
  2. If All-Grain: Mash/sparge grain. This gets you your wort.
  3. If Extract: Steep specialty grain at 155 for 15 minutes before removing.
  4. Now you have Wort. Bring it to a boil.
  5. If Extract, take off boil, stir in your malt extract, bring back to boil.
  6. This is the start of your 60 minute boil. Throughout the 60 minutes, you put in hops, early for bittering, towards the end for flavor/aroma.
  7. After 60 minutes, you end the boil and now you need to cool it down. Beginners use an ice bath in the sink/bathtub, others use a Wort Chiller, still others use both! An ice bath works fine though.
  8. Once wort cools down, you transfer it to the fermenter. If you did a partial boil of 3 or so gallons, you would now add room temp. water to increase the volume to 5 gallons. Once you have 5 gallons, now is when you would take an Original Gravity reading.
  9. You pitch the yeast! Hoorah! Depending on the yeast, you can just pour it in.
  10. Put the cap on the fermenter, fasten an airlock or blowoff system to it, and put it in the place where it’s going to sit for awhile, hopefully at a temperature that is good for the yeast.
  11. After a few days, the airlock/siphon should show signs of activity, CO2 bubbling up. Also, a strange foamy head will form at the top of the liquid in the fermenter. This is good.
  12. After a couple weeks or so, the fermentation should be complete and the beer ready to be bottled. This is when you would take a Final Gravity which would tell you if the yeast finished consuming all the available sugars in the wort.
  13. Then, you bottle. This generally consists of boiling some priming sugar, siphoning to a bottling bucket, then filling bottles, then capping them. The priming sugar gives the yeast a bit more work to do so they produce CO2 which carbonates the beer. In a couple more weeks, WA-LAH! Beer!
  14. Drink!

 

I know this is the simplest overview of what can be an incredibly complex process. I promise to go more in-depth in future posts but I wanted to start with the basics. I wanted a post to tell people, you’re curious about brewing beer? Here’s what it generally entails, here’s a simple overview of what it takes and what the process is.

 

Resources for more information:

Homebrewing Ingredients

Homebrewing Equipment: How To Brew or Homebrew Manual. Also for All-Grain

 

Home Brewing, an introduction

Homebrewing (or home brewing or even home-brewing) is a hobby and a craft. The freedom in brewing a great beer is similar to that of cooking a great meal. When all the ingredients come together, when you spend time and effort going through the process and the end-product is enjoyable, you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

When I have 40-50 bottles of homebrew sitting in the office, I feel great. That’s success. I’ve turned $50 of ingredients into my very own beer! When I taste that homebrew and it’s delicious, I feel validation for the time, energy and money well-spent.

It’s not easy and it’s not quick. You need patience to let the wort boil and the primary fermentation to complete and the bottle priming to finish. You need diligence to clean and sanitize every piece of equipment you use. You need hard work to scrub debris out of the bottom of a bottle or a glass carboy.

But cracking a bottle of homebrew, pouring it into a glass, seeing the color, smelling the hops and tasting the beer…makes it all worth it.

This blog is going to be about Home brewing. Now, there’s tons of information already out there in various forms. There’s hundreds of threads on multiple forums, there’s dozens of software and apps you can use, and I’m sure there’s thousands of blog posts, articles, and newsletters as well. So what’s the point in having one more? Why am I contributing?

I’ll admit, in this day and age, with information at our fingertips like it is, you will likely be able to find most of the information here elsewhere on the internet. You can always find information about ANYTHING on the internet and this is true in regards to home brewing as well. So again, why one more blog?

First of all, just because information is out there doesn’t mean it’s reliable or valid. It may not be easy to find and even if you find it, you might not be able to understand and utilize it.

The sheer volume of conflicting information can be overwhelming and intimidating. I know from personal experience searching for advice.

This blog is meant to synthesize and simplify information. I’ll discuss my techniques, my experiences, and my issues, as well as providing links to resources for further reading. I’ll talk about the various opinions on the home brewing forums, the places I’ve found good information and the applications I’ve found useful. I’ll be giving my personal experiences over the half a dozen years I’ve been home brewing and try to give you information as well as an enjoyable reading experience.

I’ll take you through your first brew, through confusing instructions and haphazard boil-overs, through bottle-bombs and steeping grains.

It all sounds more difficult and dense than it is, trust me. Home brewing is worth the effort and the struggle.