Part I of our homebrew description is here. In case you don’t feel like clicking and reading (and if you don’t, you’re probably too lazy to spend six hours brewing a batch of beer… but anyway), we covered the facility, grains and mash, and sparge. Now let’s go make some beer.
Hops and Boil
We typically boil for 90 minutes. This accomplishes three things: 1) eliminates all DMS (dimethyl sulfide - which has the aroma of creamed corn) 2) we get just a little bit of kettle carmelization and thus richer malt flavors 3) boils off more liquid to get our original gravity pretty high. If our OG is too high once the boil is over, we add back a bit of boiled water to nail our OG. Usually we get it in within 1 or 2 points.
|The beauty of the Boil|
Hops are pretty much hops. We throw them in when we need to. We store all our hops in the freezer until ready for use, and just recently started using a vacuum sealer to keep them fresh. We adjust for alpha acid bitterness contribution using the bittering hops only – flavor hops are what they are, and are typically not adjusted.
We’ll add some yeast nutrient and whirlfloc (if necessary) at the end of the boil. We then cool using an immersion chiller. Sure, we could have used a counterflow – but frankly I was concerned about potential contamination (thinking back on it now, I’m sure we could have bought one and had no issues.). On hot days, we pre-chill our water by connecting the immersion to another, smaller immersion coil, which is immersed in ice water. This allows us to get our water down to very cold temps even in mid-summer.
One more thing on whirlpool. If you add hops during the whirlpool, let the wort chill below 140 degrees F before adding any. This prevents isomerizing any hops (i.e., creating any bitterness) and minimizes volatilization of any essential oils in the hops, which will give your beer great hop flavor. If you’re into that sort of thing.
Measurements and pitching yeast
Once the wort is chilled, we’ll take a sample and check for original gravity (OG); if too high, we’ll dilute with boiled water. If good, we’ll just pour the whole thing into a fermenter through a strainer to remove any hop residue. Pouring usually oxygenates the wort enough for a fairly fast start to fermentation.
|Hydrometer at end of brew day|
We almost always make a yeast starter using dry malt extract (DME) prior to brew day. Here’s our favorite site for making starters. We do use a stir plate – saves so much time and money in starter wort/DME. Often, we’ll crash the starter in the fridge for a day or two and pour off the spent wort before pitching the yeast. Homebrewers: you need to make a starter to make great beer. Making great beer is about malt, hops, and water, but it’s much more about yeast and fermentation than it is about all those other things.
Usually we’ll use a regular food grade 5 gallon bucket for fermentation. We’ve used glass before too, but it’s so much heavier, and it can break and all, and there really isn’t much difference at this scale. We only use glass now for stuff we will age a long time, like big beers and lagers, to prevent any oxygen ingress into the beer. We’ll also use glass if we’re planning on harvesting the yeast for future batches.
Wort and yeast go into the bucket. Now it’s the waiting game.
Fermentation, dry hopping, kegging
We’ll ferment in all sorts of places depending upon the weather and the beer we’re making. Usually in the summer it’s in a basement – in the winter, some higher floor in one of our homes. We have a temp controller; sometimes, we’ll place in the fridge, say for a lager, or wrap in a heating blanket, say for a Belgian-style ale. This is the only area I think we could improve – we could use a better fermentation temperature controller. We’d need to drill a hole, mount a well, then connect to a cooler or heater, or both, to do this right.
We’ll let the beer sit for min of 6 days to a max of 3 months, depending on style. Usually, if the beer has reached terminal gravity for 2-3 days, and it’s not very strong or requires lagering, we might keg it – or, we’ll dry hop it, or add fruit. We never use a secondary fermenter anymore – too much risk of oxidation during transfer.
We used to exclusively bottle with priming sugar. Now we keg. We keg for only two reasons: a) speed – because we can carbonate in about a week vs three weeks in the bottle and b) preventing oxidation. We can flush everything in the keg with CO2 during the transfer to prevent oxidation; this is very hard to do with homebrew bottles. But, I miss bottling sometimes – the carbonation is so much nicer, it is a lot easier to count how many bottles you have left of a beer and bring them places. And, it was fairly cheap compared to the price of kegs. We got a lot of our kegs and kegging equipment used, both online and at Niagara Tradition.
|Kegs. Oh, and beer too.|
What went wrong? What went right?
We’ve had some bad screwups – but not THAT many. The pH screwup I told you about was on our vanilla oatmeal stout – it turned out super bitter and dry – we tried to compensate by adding too much vanilla – the beer turned out like vanilla extract. We had some bottle bombs too, on an overcarbed dunkelweizen. It was the first time I thought I ever heard gunshots go off in Amherst. The worst was the time we mashed using warm water that had been sitting in my garden hose for like a month. Four weeks water later I tasted it and asked Corey “um, get any garden hose in this batch?” 10 gallons down the drain.
The screwups are few and far between though. We used to have efficiencies all over the place, more volume or less volume than planned, stuck mashes. But we’ve got better and better and those things never happen anymore. We learn from our mistakes. And – knock on something dammit – in 70+ batches, never one contamination. We clean and thoroughly sanitize everything we need to. Our beer is always getting better. And it will continue to do so.
|What it's all about...|
|... the beer.|
Seriously. Let us know if you have any questions. We love helping other homebrewers. Cheers.