I have a blog. That I said I was going to update more often. So, um, hello!
I mean, it’s not like there hasn’t been stuff going on. Lots of stuff going on! Folks have been asking me about the blog. That’s really cool. I’m glad you all enjoy reading.
So, here I am, with a few exciting things to write about! First, why don’t we continue the tradition of our last post and tell you about what we’ve been up to with our homebrewing?
Well, to start off we have three drinkable beers under our belt now. That’s exciting.
L to R: Bog Beast Brown Porter, Little Red Amber Ale, and lastly the Cincinnati Pale Ale, which was the subject of our last post. The beers are in reverse order of creation here, the porter being our newest. There’s full info and tasting notes for our beers over on our fancy brewery page I made on UnTappd. UnTappd is essentially social media, for beer. Which is awesome.
I’ve obviously been having fun designing our labels. We have a “base” template that I’m kinda digging. Easy to plug in artwork I illustrate, change colours, and plenty of room for beer info and tasting notes.
We also have an unnamed ESB happily conditioning in the bottles that will be drinkable in two weeks or so. They mark our last extract brew, at least for awhile…
Marshall has been completely gung-ho on moving our hobby forward. Truly, it his primarily his hobby, in the sense of planning, preparation and execution. That said, it’s lots of fun to do together and I’m able to contribute in a lot of ways… and drink the results. Best part.
Most notably recently has been are acquisition of all-grain brewing equipment. Up until now, we’ve been using pre-prepared malt extracts in our boils, as shown in our previous posts. This is referred to as extract brewing. Extract brewing is pretty great for simplicity’s sake and for a faster, easier brew (and more ideal for those in smaller spaces). However, to get the full range of brewing possibilities available to you as well as to have the most control over your brewing, it’s logical to switch to all-grain as soon as one is able. Most homebrewers will make the choice to brew all-grain if they can, and most commercial breweries do.
That’s our new gear on the floor.
The difference is quite simple: Instead of dumping extracts into your pot of water at appropriate times to create a wort, you spend extra time before your boil to crush your malted barley fresh, and use a hot water steeping process which hydrates the barley, activates the malt enzymes, and converts the grain starches into fermentable sugars. This is called mashing.
Since it involves very hot water that needs to stay hot for an hour, most homebrewers use huge picnic coolers to make their mash. Marshall was nervous about the plastics and heat, since the picnic coolers aren’t rated for heat use. So, we’re going against the grain and using a stainless steel kettle instead as shown above on the floor. The wool blanket is for insulation. Much like our big boil kettle in the previous post, but bigger. We use it for making the mash as well as for draining our wort. Brewers call this pot a mash lauter tun (MLT for short).
We also got a beast of a grain mill.
With all-grain brewing comes better water management, so we also got some various salts and lactic acid to regulate our water pH.
Oh, and what’s that thing in the back?
Another thing we’ve done for our last two brews (unrelated to all-grain) is use liquid yeast, so we had to make a yeast starter ahead of time. This creates healthy active yeast that will really aid in fermentation. It requires a bit of TLC and lots of stirring, but our last brew was so clear and lovely out of the fermenter… it was worth it.
Anyhow. On to the brewing process. Our brew of the day was a good, simple American Brown Ale recipe. We used an existing recipe but have substituted malts and hops, so ours will be unique.
The one thing I didn’t get a photo of was our first step – crushing the grains. Oops. It was pretty cool, I promise you. In total we crushed about 12.5lbs of malted barley – mostly Canadian 2-Row malt (a base malt commonly used in North American brews) with dabbles of Caramunich, Chocolate and Melanoidin malts.
While the grain crush was going on, we got a lot of water heating up in our main brewing pot, to prep it for the mash. Marshall swirled a gallon or so around in the MLT to start getting it warmed up.
Once the pot was warmed, we dumped our crushed grain into the pot and started adding the hot water. Temperature is key here – you want your strike water temperature to be higher than your desired temperature to account for heat absorption by the grain. This water is 160 degrees F, with intent on it cooling to 152 degrees F.
A better view of filling the MLT from our boiling pot. Confused yet? And yes, we do brew in pyjamas.
After the MLT is filled with water and given a really good stir, we wrap it up. That yellow blanket is pure wool, and I stuck a fleece blanket on top of the lid for good measure. We let it sit in its warm hug for an hour, stirring once on the half hour.
Now, ideally the mash stays around 152 degrees F for that hour. But that said, temperature loss is usually to be expected within that time frame. At the half hour point we had dropped to around 144, so we added some extra water from the pot to the MLT to heat it up again. It worked great.
While the mash was doing it’s enzyme thing, we heated up even more water for our next steps. Our brewing pot got a good workout that day. It’s important to get water heating up ASAP since this much water takes… awhile to heat up.
Here’s a few more of the new toys Marshall got to help our brewing process. The red thing is a pH meter for reading the pH of our mash. We also got a digital thermometer which is useful everywhere, throughout the process of brewing. At the bottom is a refractometer – a device that helps us measure the sugar level of our beer (and predict our beer’s gravity) without using a hydrometer. It’s less precise than a hyrometer, but we can use it throughout the process at any temperature, requiring only a few drops of liquid to work.
After an hour, our mash is done… mostly. We do a short process called recirculation, where we drain a few quarts of wort into a pitcher from the MLT’s tap, pour it back into the pot, and repeat. Once the wort’s coming out clear, we begin to lauter – pour the wort from the mash kettle into the brewpot.
In the photo below, the pots have switched places – the MLT is on the counter and the brew pot is on the floor receiving the wort from the mash pot. The additional pot on the stove is holding the water we boiled two photos ago.
You might be wondering how all the crushed grain doesn’t come out of the tap. I didn’t get a photo yet, but inside our MLT at the bottom is a device called a false bottom. It’s like a reverse sieve that attaches to the tap that filters the grain at the bottom of the pot and allows only liquid to pass through to the tap, leaving the grain in the pot.
Once we’ve drained the wort into the brewpot, we add our sparge water to the MLT – that’s the hot water in the smallest pot above. Adding the sparge water to the leftover grain in the pot allows us to get as much of the sugars out of that grain as possible – we give the whole thing a good stir, let it sit for fifteen minutes and then pour out THAT water into the brew pot as well.
This leaves us with 7 gallons of delicious-smelling malt wort ready to start boiling for our brew. Now we’re at the part we started at in the last brewing post. Make sense?
The 12.5lbs of spent grain is generally tossed at this point – but we can bake and cook with it, as well as make some awesome natural healthy cookies for Finnegan. In the warmer months we can also use it for compost if we wish. I saved 8 cups of it to play with this time around, which really wasn’t much at all.
Another thing we saved was a quart or so of the wort – I had read online about this magical-sounding drink called a “hot scotchy” – popular with homebrewers. Take a small glass of hot wort and blend it with a healthy shot of your favourite scotch. We tried Islay Mist with our wort and oh my goodness gracious this was a tasty drink. Especially on a cold rainy day while one is brewing. Highly recommend.
With hot scotchy in tow, we did the usual tidying up while monitoring our hop additions.
… then pouring into our fermenter. You may notice that it’s not a bucket this time – we’ve upgraded to a 6 gallon glass carboy. Complete with a lifting harness. The pouring took a long time – the trub (leftover brewing gunk) in the boil pot kept clogging our sieve in the pot, but eventually we had all of it out.
We pitched our yeast into the carboy, then Marshall got to try out the last of our new toys – an aerator that attaches to our power drill to aerate the wort. As you can see, it works great.
Then the beer goes to rest in our electronically-temperature-controlled custom beer fridge in the basement. Oh yeah, I guess that’s a new toy too, isn’t it?
And now we wait for our brown ale to mature, all the while enjoying the past fruits of our labours. Such a fun and rewarding hobby this has been so far.
For those who care a bit less about brewing, the next post will not be brewing-related. I promise. :) Stay tuned.