Homebrewing 101

This post has been a work in progress for quite a while. And it’s long. But if you’re curious as to how beer is made, read on.

In case I didn’t mention it before, we are avid homebrewers – as in we brew our own beer. This tasty hobby started way back in 2009 when my husband was laid off; I bought him a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit for his birthday, just for fun. And boy, did he have a lot of fun…

…he began doing a lot of research on homebrewing. Buying lots of books, reading up on the internet, etc. Later that fall, happily employed, he upgraded his system to simply a 5-gallon bucket, kits with liquid malt, & bottling system. In 2010, we switched from bottling all our beer to kegging all our beer – quite a sight when you live in an apartment. In 2011 we moved into our house, and shortly after we moved from using beer kits to all-grain (making beer through the use of crushed grain). The amount of gadgets, books, tools and supplies that we’ve accumulated over the past 4 years is both impressive and mind-boggling. Yet, it’s a hobby I do not see us letting go of any time soon. With summer coming on, we are constantly brewing beer for gatherings to attend, and guests to entertain. Thus, we wanted to give you an inside look at how we brew.

Uncrushed grain

Uncrushed grain

Mike creates a recipe with the help of a beer brewing software he purchased. He determines the type of beer he wants to make, then calculates the ratios of grain/malt, hops, water, and special sugars, spices or other fun things to add. Sometimes Mike will come up with the recipe weeks in advance, so that he can order supplies from the internet and plan ahead for future brews.

We always start boiling about 6 gallons of water. Typical batches of homebrew yield 5 gallons;

you always want to have more just in case your batch cools off rapidly, it spills, and of course, evaporation. While you wait for your water to boil, you prepare the grain that you want to

mash. Mashing is where you break down the starch in your grain into fermentable and non-fermentable sugars.

Crushing the weighed grain (in the bucket)

Crushing the weighed grain (in the bucket)

Before you process your grain, you need to crush it with some sort of grain mill or grinder. Mike’s grain mill is operated via his cordless drill, which I have to admit is still kind of funny to watch. He weighs out exactly how many pounds he needs into a 5-gal bucket, processes it through the mill, and into the mash tun (the vessel we use for mashing.

Once all the grain has been, well, ground, it is time to add the hot water. The water needs to be at a specific temperature, depending on the type of beer you are

Sparging

Sparging

brewing. You add it a little bit at a time, stirring it constantly with a paddle to make sure all the water gets dispersed throughout the grain.

After that, you close the cooler and let the grain sit, periodically checking its temperature – which needs to be at a lower, specific temperature than the hot water you added. You always have a pot of hot water on the stove, though, to add to the grain if it cools off too much. You let the grain sit for at least an hour, so that the sugars are extracted from the grain.

photo (17)Once the grain has sat long enough, you drain it into the boiling pot. Because of our mash tun set up, we are able to drain the wort (liquid) via siphon into the brew pot. The leftover grains make great cow feed and/or compost.

The wort is now ready to brew. Instead of using our stove (which can be really obnoxious when you want to cook dinner, or it’s too hot to use the stove), we boil our wort on a propane turkey fryer. This system has worked very well for us, except with three feet of snow and negative temperatures outside (then I let my husband brew in the house ;-)) The boil process typically lasts an hour or more. During the boil process, you have to keep an eye on the temperature and the clock. If the temperature gets too high, you risk a boil over  – creating a loss of product and a huge mess. You need to watch the time, as there are certain points in the boil where hops, fruit peels, sugars, etc. need to be added.

The boil (after hops)

The boil (after hops)

After all hops & additives have been added, it’s time to cool the beer. We have a wort chiller (seen behind the brew pot) which attaches to a hose or kitchen sink & is placed inside the brew pot. When the water is turned on, it runs through the coils and helps cool the beer faster – a process that without a chiller can take several hours (unless, it’s winter, then you just sit the pot in the snow!).

Once the beer is cooled to the specific temperature needed (“room temperature”, so I’m told), you transfer it to either a 5-gal bucket, or a glass carboy to ferment. You then add the yeast. The yeast eat up the sugars and cause them to release carbon dioxide, thus creating alcohol. The more sugary the beer, the higher the alcohol content.

From there, you at least a week or two for the wort to ferment and the yeast to do their work. You then transfer the beer to a clean keg, or to a clean glass carboy if you want to do a secondary fermentation (that’s for another day, folks).

You then carbonate using priming sugar (bottles) or CO2 (kegs). And serve nice and cold.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, is how we homebrew.

Any questions and/or comments will be directed to the head homebrewer, my husband. 🙂

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