Learning to brew beer is quite the adventure. Brewing combines chemistry, biology, organizational skills and an artistic flair. Although the process is relatively simple, the flavors and richness of the beer can be varied in each individual batch. I know my husband and his friend want to try making blackberry beer, mango beer and even different types of tea beer. They are not quite up to that step. We started out with our first three batches creating a Cascade Range Ale (also known as American Pale Ale) recommended by employees at The Cellar in Seattle. This beer features hops grown in the Cascade Mountain range, close to home.
When we showed up at the Cellar with the Beer Craft book ( Which I talk about in: Gold Star! I can do it myself) asking for supplies for one gallon batches, we were first laughed at and then quickly re-directed to the book How to brew by John Palmer. They said they had a few people come into the shop with Beer Craft, and they felt the book was ill-informed. After going through the time consuming first batch, it was very clear that making more beer at once is better than less. If you are going to brew, brew a lot.
I really enjoy The Cellar, which is a mix between a chemistry supply store and a livestock feed shop. It even smells like livestock feed. That, of course, is the smell of the grain in large tubs and bags in the back of the shop for brewing beer. The racks in the front hold supplies for making wine and a section in the corner for making cheese. I made a mental note about the cheese making and my husband is now taking about making wine. All of this for a later date.
After picking out various mad-scientist supplies like carboys, a graduated cylinder, thermometers, tubing, and bottles touting EZ caps, we were ready to brew. I had to work the next day, but my husband took over our friend’s kitchen and made the first batch. It took longer than the average 3 hours, and they accidently added too many hops but they were really satisfied with their accomplishment.
I helped out with the second and third batches. The process mostly includes waiting for large amounts of water to boil and transferring the liquid from one sterile container to another sterile container. I spent most of the time watching and helping out during the tricky steps. This is the basic process:
- Take over friend’s apartment. Brewing makes the whole place smell of boiling grain and takes up the entire kitchen. My own kitchen is a bit full at the moment with various other projects.
- All of the equipment needs to be sterilized if it is coming in contact with the beer. Beer is made by processing proteins and sugars for a specific type of yeast to consume. The yeast makes the alcohol. If the equipment is not sterile other unwanted microorganisms, bacteria or bad types of yeast, can take over the warm and inviting liquid and make the batch go bad. We have been using Star San. It is a non-rinse sanitizer that the gentlemen at The Cellar recommend over other options like bleach and iodine. (I found a cute little video on youtube about Star San, Basics of Home Brewing: What is Star San?. The comments on the video about vinegar made us laugh. Using vinegar sounds a bit dicey.)
- Heat water in a very large kettle. The one we bought holds seven and a half gallons! Add the grain in a grain bag and bring it to an almost boil. We started without a boiling thermometer so we had to watch it closely and pull the kettle off right before it started boiling.
- Drain the grain bag in a colander over the pot and pour some fresh water over it to get all the good stuff out, the malt. The remaining contents of the grain bag can be tossed at this step, or if you are adventurous like me, can be saved to make spent grain bread.
- Then we pour in more malt, which we buy at The Cellar. Malt is the sugar that will be processed into alcohol by the yeast, so we want plenty of that. It is very similar to molasses, very thick, sticky and viscous. This liquid is mixed and then brought to a boil again.
Next the boiling hops are added. This beer recipe calls for pearl hops. The hops we used came in a compressed pellet form that you just dump the amount required in the boiling water. On the third batch we had to use leaf hops which require putting the amount in a boiling bag like the one used for grain.
- The mixture is boiled for an hour. Five minutes before the boil is complete the finishing hops is added. For our recipe we used Cascade hops; the beer’s namesake. After the boiling is complete, the hops bag is drained and rinsed with water like the grain bag.
- At this point the liquid is done heating and ready to be put in the primary fermenter, a seven gallon bucket with a lid and a spigot at the bottom. Two and a half gallons of cold water are added to the fermenter. Then the beer mixture is poured in and then poured back into the kettle a few times to oxygenate the liquid. The yeast that will be added later need the oxygen to propagate. The lid stays on the fermenter to reduce contamination while put in an ice bath. The ice cools down the beer to a temperature hospitable to the delicate yeast. We have found that our friend’s bath tub filled with three bags of ice and water works really well.
- Once the correct temperature is reached, for us it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the yeast can be “pitched” in. A blow off valve is added to the top of the lid to allow air to leave the bucket as the yeast do their thing but not allow contaminates to enter. It is fun to watch the blow off valve during fermentation because it has water in it that bubbles. The beer ferments in the primary fermented for about four days for the recipe we used.
- The beer is transferred to the secondary fermenter, a carboy, by using suction tubing to reduce the addition of oxygen. This step separates the beer from the sediment that forms at the bottom. The beer is kept in the secondary fermenter until it is time to bottle. We averaged a week for this step.
- The bottling process is more like a game of twister. It is nice that we have three people to help. The beer is moved from the secondary fermenter back to the primary, because it has that handy spigot. Sugar is added for the carbonation. The bottles and caps must be sterilized first and then the beer is decanted into each bottle; carefully because it is easy to overfill. Then you snap on the caps.
- The last step is the most difficult: putting the bottles away in a dark location and waiting at least two weeks for the beer to mature.
Yesterday, we had a small beer tasting party that featured the second batch of beer. It seemed to go well, everyone asked for seconds and inquired on obtaining more.