Hello to anyone interested in reading this.
Today I’ll be taking a break from looking at mobile app and game development and will be showing off one of my processes for a different hobby I have: Making Great Beer!
This post is meant to be a somewhat informative and general awesome look into the process that I currently employ for my brew-day’s. We will be taking a look at a typical brewing session involving creating a mash of brewing cereals (grains), rinsing the sugars from those grains in a process known as “sparging”, boiling the resulting wort with various ingredient additions, and finally the transfer/cooling process and pitching of the miraculous little organisms called yeast that create the magical, mysterious, whimsical nectar-of-the-gods known as beer.
The beer I am making this evening is an experimental recipe that I put together in an attempt to make an interesting spin on a classic European beer style: The Belgian Blonde.
A typical belgian blonde beer has the following characteristics:
Original Gravity: 1.062-1.075
Final Gravity: 1.008-1.018
Colour: 4-7 SRM
% Alcohol: 6.0-7.5%
To a person new to brewing, most of these numbers may mean nothing, but here is a quick rundown.
Original Gravity: This is the amount of sugar potentially available to the yeast after all the processes have been completed (so the higher this number, the more alcohol will likely be in the final product)
Final Gravity: This is the amount of sugars left in the beer once fermentation has been completed (read sweetness/mouthfeel of beer – the higher this number, the “heavier” your beer will be)
IBU: International Bittering Units – This is a measure of how relatively bitter your beer will be. This measure is more subjective. A heavier beer will require more IBU’s to be the same apparent bitterness that a lighter beer will be. So, this means that a Stout with an IBU of 30 will be no where near as bitter as a Pilsner with the same IBU.
Colour: The SRM is a scale used to measure colour, in short the smaller the number the lighter the final colour of the beer. Colour is mainly affected by the choice of malts you utilize in the mash.
% Alcohol: The reason we are all here
Let the Beer Begin!
A quick rundown of how beer is made. Beer is made of 4 main ingredients:
Malted Grains, Hops, Water and Yeast.
The process can be isolated into the following steps:
- Mashing Grains
- Rinsing Grains
- Boiling Wort
- Cooling Wort
- Aerating Wort
- Pitching Yeast
Speaking of yeast, before you begin to approach your brew-day, you need to consider how you are going to utilize your yeast:
You have several options and some great products to choose from. Today I will be using a smack-pack from Wyeast. For the purists that end up reading this, I want to be clear that I understand I am under-pitching my yeast for this brew, but to be honest, I simply didn’t have the time to build up an appropriate starter, and didn’t have the foresight to order additional packs.
Essentially, with a beer that is potentially this strong, I should be pitching roughly 2-3 times the amount of yeast cells than are present in the package I will be using. Yeast starters are a cool topic, and if there is interest, maybe I’ll write something about them one day too. For now, I will be using temperature, time and aeration to attempt to mitigate the lack of cells. To be clear, I will make beer no matter what, the issues that could arise are some byproducts of stressed yeast, a potential for a stalled fermentation, and a lag after pitching for the fermentation process to start.
Yeast’s are great little workers, and almost all of these potential concerns are alleviated by the quality of todays yeast strains.
Step 1: The Mash
Mashing grains can be put as simply as getting grain wet long enough for the sugars to be released and in solution. In reality, this process is amazing and complex. When you travel down to the local home-brew shop to purchase grains, what you are mainly buying a form of malted barley. What the term “malted” means is that the cereal grain has been subjected to a partial germination and subsequent drying process. What this has done is essentially pushed the seed to a point where it has been prepared to release its inner starch reserves through an enzymatic process, and then halted midway through. The seed is now ready to essentially grow a new plant, but instead we’re going to usurp that seed’s plans and grab all those awesome sugars for our own purposes.
Because the seed has been prepared for us through a malting process, it already has all the necessary biological goodness ready to go that will cleave apart all the starch molecules in its reserves and release them into solution. This is also why when you subject grain to the mashing process, you want to have it milled (ground up) to help make this process of sugar cleavage as easy and efficient as possible.
Enough talk, let’s brew:
Here is a collection of the tools of my trade. Included in the picture above is a brew-spoon, a thermometer with remote probe, a 5 Gallon stainless pot, a bazooka tube, 1/2 inch barbed transition, a marked jug (2 quart) and a modified 10 gallon drink cooler.
Mashing involves using a specific amount of water at a specific temperature for a specific length of time in order to separate sugars from the malted grain in the right combination for the type of beer you are trying to make. The short version is the higher the temperature of your mash, the thicker your final beer will be. This is due to various enzymatic preferences in the temperature ranges. In general, you will be mashing somewhere between 148-154 degrees fahrenheit. The goal is to hit a specific temperature and hold it for the length of the mash time, hence the cooler being used as the container due to it’s insulating properties. For my beer, I am targeting a temperature of 150 degrees (this should give me a low-medium bodied beer).
There are lots of online calculators and software available to help you calculate your necessary temperatures and quantities for the mash. I typically use a process that involves roughly 1/2 the total quantity of water in my mash, and the other 1/2 used for my sparge. I do this to negate potential issues with pH affecting my mash. The larger volume of water essentially acting as a buffer for the solution as a whole.
I start by filling my pot with 4.5 gallons of hot water.
Hot water comes out at my house at roughly 120 degrees. After filling my pot, I place it on the stove and add 1/2 of a Campden tablet to help remove chloramine from my tap water.
I place the thermometer in the pot and heat it to my desired temperature.
When you add the grain to the water, it is going to drop the over-all temperature of your solution by a factor equal to the ratio of grain-to-water. There are a ton of online calculators (like this one) that will help you calculate what your water temperature needs to be to hit your target mash temperature. I am looking for a water temp of 160 degrees to hit my target of 150.
Once temperature is reached, I immediately transfer the total volume of my hot liquor tank (the pot) into my prepared mashing container.
Note that before I transfer the water, I prepared my mash tun by installing the bazooka tube and barb. Once the water is in my mash tun, I am ready to mash in my grain.
A quick note about ingredients
While my water was preparing, I worked to gather up and prepare my other ingredients.
Pictured above is portioned out units of my milled cereals, some cane sugar and hops. Here is the recipe I will be using today:
13.8 lbs Perle Malt
1 lb Wheat Malt
0.5 lb CaraPils Malt
0.5 lb Cane sugar
1 tsp Irish Moss
1 oz Hallertau at 60 mins
1 oz Hallertau at 15 mins
I’m making a stronger-than-style beer here, with a base malt that packs more flavour than the typical pilsner malts associated with this style. My beer should be up around 9% alcohol once finished.
Back to the Mash..
Now, mashing in the grains basically involves slowly pouring in your grain recipe…
while simultaneously stirring the solution to avoid having clumps form called dough-balls.
After all the grain is added, and I am satisfied that their are no dough balls, the mash will look like this:
At this point, I add the thermometer, seal the mash tun, and begin the timer.
For this recipe, I am going to allow the mash to sit and work for 1 hour. This is a standard mash time for a lot of beers. One hour can be a long time to wait, now might be a good time to enjoy a previous batch…
Step 2: The Sparge
Once the hour has passed, and you’ve finished your beer, it is time to perform the sparge. First, I attach my silicone tube to the barb at the base of my mash tun, and elevate the tun to allow gravity to do it’s work.
Enter my brew pot. I use a 15 gallon stainless pot with 12 inch bazooka tube and 3/8 inch barb for my tube fitting.
Opening the ball valve on my mash tun 1/4-1/3 turn, begin to let some of the fluid flow out of the tun.
I collect these initial runnings until the fluid begins to run clear, and then I return the initial fluid to the mash tun.
What is occurring here is that the flow of the fluid is compacting the grain bed inside the tun, and acting as a natural filter helping to clean out our newly created “wort” (pre-beer sugar fluid).
Once the flow of wort stops, its time to add more water to the tun and rinse the grains of any remaining sugars. It is this rinsing that is the “sparge” step. There are many methods of sparging, I will be batch sparging using another 4 gallons of heated water. This time, in order to stop the enzymatic cleaving process, I will be adding water at a temperature of 168 degrees.
Make sure that before you add this water, you close the ball valve. That would be quite a mess.
I usually let my batch sparge sit about 5 minutes, and then like before, I will partially open the valve, let the wort run clear and drain the fluid into my boil pot.
Once I’m done, I close the valve, and dispose of the remaining grain husks into the compost.
Now its time to transfer the pot and get ready for the next step…
Step 3: The Boil
At this point, the temperature of the wort is usually between 140-150 degrees. We need to bring this to a boil in order to proceed. I use a high BTU propane burner for this. Within 20 minutes, I can usually have this thing rolling.
A note for the new brewer: It is ok to leave your pot while it is heating, but you must be present once the boil begins. Once you hit the boil point of your fluid, you will have a protein shift in the solution, known as a hot break. Hot breaks can be as subtle as this:
or can range up like this:
all the way to boiling out of your pot. I use a 15 gallon pot, so boil-overs for me are rare, but an unwatched pot can quickly lead to a sticky mess.
Once a rolling boil is achieved, I add my bittering hop addition and start the timer for another 60 minutes.
Hops are an interesting beast when it comes to beer. All that wonderful fragrant smell of hops is so wonderful and fragrant due to its volatile nature. Volatility is a measure of how easily something will move into a gaseous form, or in other words to vaporize. So here-in lies the problem, if you boil something that is volatile, its volatility will increase. So, boiling hops gets rid of all the wonderful smells of hops.
Another interesting thing happens to hops when you boil them. The alpha acids responsible for the hops natural defences isomerize, and become a variant that the human palate detects as bitter. This isomerization requires a lot of energy and is in constant equilibrium (flux).
In short, what I am trying to say in a long winded way, is that if you add hops at the start of the boil, they will lose their flavouring and aromatic characteristics, and become solely bittering agents. Should you add hops at the end of the boil, they will tend to be more of a flavour and aroma addition than a bittering one. Additions at a time in between these would range between the two types of additions in a scale.
Back to the boil
Once the hops are added, I have another brief protein break (due to the proteins in the hops immediately coming to a boil) and then the rolling boil is returned. I use hops in pellet form, meaning I need some form of container that will allow water to pass through the hops, but will keep hop particulates separate from the solution. Otherwise, they will clog up my bazooka tube during the transfer process. I use 4 inch mesh tea strainers that I found on eBay:
These have been fantastic since I found them, and are made of stainless steel so there aren’t concerns with odd metals getting into my beer.
With 15 minutes left in the boil, I add my second hop addition:
And finally with 10 minutes left, I add my sugar and my Irish Moss (a fining agent). The irish moss is actually made from seaweed, and works to help lump together a bunch of un-wanted proteins and haze and attempt to keep it out of my final beer.
Once the boil time is up, we move on the the cooling of the wort…
Step 4: Cooling the Wort
Once we finish with the boil, the single most important aspect of making beer comes to the forefront: sanitation. The boil has killed off pretty much anything that could have been growing in my wort to this point, if I now use any un-sanitized equipment I risk contaminating my wort with unwanted bacteria and wild yeasts.
I have prepared a solution of my sanitizer of choice, and placed some of it in a squirt bottle for easy application.
I use a copper wort chiller for cooling.
With a few minutes left in the boil, I add in the wort chiller to let the boiling solution sanitize the surface for me.
Once I reach flame-out, I use a sterilized spoon, and create a whirlpool effect around the chiller with the wort.
I take care not to splash or agitate the surface of the wort, to avoid a potential issue called hot-side aeration. Using this method, I drop the temperature of the wort 80 degrees fahrenheit in 5 minutes.
After I drop the temperature, I move inside and allow the wort chiller to do the rest of the work for me. Once inside, it is time to prepare my fermentation vessel.
I have a pre-washed and cleaned Car Boy ready to go. I typically use a 6.5 Gallon Car Boy for my fermentations. The carboy has been soaking in an Oxy-Clean Free solution for a week. I rinse it out, and add a gallon of prepared sanitation solution, then shake.
At this point, the wort should be cooled to the target temperature, which is typically the temperature that I wish to ferment at. Once cooled, it is time to transfer the wort to the Car-Boy.
Step 5: Aeration
After the chill, I am typically left with roughly 5.5 gallons of almost-beer. Fluid has been lost to hops, grains and boil-off. Now that my wort is appropriately concentrated, it is ready to move into the fermentation chamber.
Using a sterilized 3/8 inch tubing, i run the wort through the bazooka tube and into the Car Boy. Once complete, I have roughly 5 gallons of wort.
Yeast requires oxygen to propagate. We just boiled away all the oxygen that was in solution, so we need to put it back. There are many ways to accomplish this, some more effective than others. I shake my wort to aerate it for about 5 minutes, then it’s on to the final step.
Step 6: Pitching the Yeast
Finally, its time to make our wort into beer. Once the yeast is pitched, I will allow my beer to ferment away for roughly 7-14 days. I then usually let it sit for a further 2 weeks or so to allow the yeast time to finish out and perhaps even clean up some off flavours or by-products within the beer.
Pitching is accomplished by sanitizing the yeast vessel and then simply pouring in the liquid organisms.
Once pitched, I will seal the vessel with a sterilized bung and airlock.
The beer will be placed into a temperature controlled or at minimum temperature stable environment. This beer will be fermented at 18-19 degrees Celsius.
Measurements – How did I do?
Once finished, I pull a sample from the dregs in the pot:
The lower stuff is called trub. It is basically a bunch of protein and gunk that we don’t want in our beer. The upper layer is the wort. The colour is representative of the final expectations. The taste leaves a pleasant sweet flavour due to all the sugar, but at this point I detect no off-putting flavours.
Here are the measurements of the sugars in solution. They are taken using a refractometer, pictured here:
Original Gravity: 1.082
Predicted OG: 1.081
I hit my mash temperature as expected, and was 0.001 point off on my gravity reading. Based on the sample I pulled, I’m excited to try this beer. It’ll be a rough 4-5 weeks waiting.
Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post interesting.