Sunday was our first
For real. We’d been musing about home brewing beer for some time, and at the end of August we finally decided to jump into the hobby. Over the years I’ve had many friends tell me all about their homebrew (as well as tasting a ton of great ones) and I’ve since had an underlying itch to try it for myself.
After a lot of research (mostly by Marshall, who is a research guru) we did a lot of reading, price comparing and listmaking. We got our equipment from OBK and Toronto Brewing, with a smattering of supplies bought locally at Defalco’s and a few good books, including the biblical How To Brew by John Palmer, the first edition of which is available online for free. It’s a great resource if you want to learn about homebrewing. One of the best, in fact.
I’ll be doing my best to explain everything in this post as though explaining to newbies who want to learn; if anything escapes you, you can peek at the link above, or just ask me in comments! Our first recipe is a Cincinnati Pale Ale recipe, suggested in the book above.
Anyhow. After breakfast out (to not dirty the kitchen) and an errand to pick up a few last-minute items, we were ready to go. We decided to begin our homebrewing hobby with a simple beer recipe that uses malt extracts. Many homebrewers commonly use an all-grain method that is longer and more involved, but we wanted to keep it simple for the first time.
So, for extract brewing, the homebrewing process consists of these main steps:
- The malt extracts (dry and/or liquid) are boiled with hops for seasoning.
- The solution is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
- The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol.
- When the primary and secondary fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit of added sugar to provide the carbonation.
- Several weeks later… BEER!
On Sunday, we began our brew. The substance you get from boiling the malt and hops is called a “wort”. Pictured below is our 8-gallon stovetop brew pot, fitted with a thermometer gauge and a spigot for easy pouring later on. On the right is our fermenting bucket, which was currently sanitizing all of our equipment.
The first step is to clean and sanitize everything. Twice. Any homebrewer will tell you that this is the most important part of any brew. The heavy use of yeast plus long rest times at room temperature assures that any contamination will show through in the beer. The pot and spoon only need a thorough cleaning, but every other piece of equipment also requires sanitization. We used a solution that is a no-rinse sanitizer to clean everything out.
With that done, the fermenting bucket was set aside and we started adding water to the pot. Six gallons of water. Twelve full containers.
We started the water to boil. This was going to take quite a while to heat up. Marshall got the wort chiller ready to go. That’s it below. It’s an immersion chiller that we will use later on when we need to cool the pot. Marshall built it himself and I’ll talk more about it later!
Meanwhile, I passed the time by writing our the recipe. And failing. Oops. Need to re-write that. Our bible was on hand, of course.
Testing the wort chiller one more time to make sure it was leak-free. And it was. Marshall did an awesome job.
When the water reached 40°C, we added our malt extracts. We used both liquid and dry malt extracts. The liquid extract was syrupy and slow to come out, taking a lot of coaxing to empty the bottle. Next time, we’ll let it warm up a little instead of using it straight out of the fridge.
Now it was just a matter of stirring the malts periodically and waiting for the water to reach boil. It took almost an hour and a half for the six gallons of water to go from 20°C to boiling (100°C).
I took the time to re-write the recipe in a format that made more sense. This was a learning experience in many ways.
…while Marshall got comfortable and waited for the water. Turns out a watched pot will still boil.
See? This was just before boiling point. Quite exciting!
Now all we had to do was wait a few minutes for the wort to reach “hot break” (when the foam begins to form proteins that eventually separate and sink) and then our first hops were added. Below is our two types of hops. The Nugget hops are our “bittering” hops: these are usually added at the beginning of your boil. They don’t have much, if any flavour and are used for bittering the beer. The Cascade hops on the right are what are called the “flavouring” hops and are usually added at a few different times during the boil, to give the beer its floral nose and flavour. Many beers use more than two hops, but as I said, this is a simple recipe.
At the beginning of the boil we added 1oz of our bittering hops. I should note that at this point, our entire kitchen was really smelling like beer. Mmmm.
The entire boil took 60 minutes. At 30 minutes we added 0.5oz of the Cascade flavouring hops, and added 0.5oz more 15 minutes before the end of the boil. This part involves a lot of waiting, stirring the wort periodically and keeping an eye on the boil.
During that time we also re-hydrated the dry ale yeast to be added to the fermentation bucket later.
Right near the end of the boil, we immersed the wort chiller to sanitize it before it starts work.
At 60 minutes of boiling over with, we began chilling the wort immediately. It’s very important to cool the wort as quickly as you can so that a “cold break” occurs, keeping sulphur compounds from forming as well as thermally shocking more proteins out of the wort. The immersion chiller that Marshall made consists of copper tubing that gets immersed into the wort and has cold tap water run through it and back out to the sink. It worked incredibly well, cooling the wort to about 25°C in 15-20 minutes.
Now that the temperature was back to almsot room temperature, we poured a small sample to take a gravity reading. This measures the amount of sugars suspended in the beer, and it’s a good idea to take a reading before AND after fermentation. Our first gravity reading (original gravity, or OG) was a bit lower than the projected OG in the recipe, but we used slightly less malt extracts than the recipe so this is okay.
We then poured the wort into the fermentor. I have no photos of this task because it took two of us. We poured the wort out of the pot’s spigot and into the fermenting bucket. We used a steel strainer to keep the sludge of hops, proteins and leftovers (called trub) from falling into the bucket. The slow pour allowed the wort to aerate as well, which is important for fermentation. Once the wort was poured, we poured in the rehydrated yeast (i.e. pitched the yeast) and shut the lid.
Marshall the strongman lugged the bucket down to the basement, where we applied the airlock (a one-way gas escape) and set it up under a table in the workshop where it won’t be interrupted for two weeks.
The temperatures in that room are ideal for fermenting, and the airlock is bubbling happily as the yeast does the heaviest work over the next few days. And otherwise? We wait. Our next step is in two weeks, when we bottle. Until then, we will brainstorm our brewery logo and design our first label!