It was with anticipation and excitement I carried all my brewing equipment and ingredients to the kitchen in preparation for brewing my first batch of beer in many years. Random thoughts came and went while involved in the process and that question that nags you through the entire process. How is my home brew going to come out?
CLEANING & SANITIZING
Before any ingredients touched the equipment, a most important process took place, cleaning and sanitizing all the equipment that would come in contact with ingredients that would go in my beer. I started with Five Star PBW Cleaner, as I wash each piece of equipment before rinsing the cleaner off before sanitizing. “P.B.W. is a percarbonate that is the highest strength of the Percarbonates listed. This is my favorite cleaner of all, since it is very effective in dissolving stubborn stains in hard to reach places. It works well to clean hoses, airlocks, fermenters, all plastic and all metals, with a 30-minute soak.” (source)
One cleaned and rinsed, it was time to measure out the Star San Sanitizer, which was added to the 5-gallon fermentation bucket, as I filled a gallon of warm water. All equipment; thermometer, graduated cylinder, brew paddle, airlock, auto-siphon and hydrometer were added into the bucket to sanitize. Unfortunately, during this process I snapped my thermometer in half while reaching in the bucket and had to repeat the cleaning and sanitizing process once the broken pieces were removed.
“Star San is a flavorless, odorless, no-rinse food grade sanitizer from the makers of P.B.W. Star San is an acidic sanitizer developed for the brewing industry. When used according to directions Star San will completely eliminate all microorganisms that it comes into contact with…This residue will not affect the quality, flavor, clarity or color of your beer.” (source)
Once all my equipment was clean and sanitized, I laid them out on the counter as I started to fill my 8-gallon boil kettle with 2-gallons of bottled water. One problem I noticed once the water was ready for boiling, the 6″ dial thermometer wasn’t touching the water. recalling my previous home brewing adventure, I boiled all 5-gallons, which resulted in all sorts of problems. With an 8-gallon kettle, I just added another gallon or so of water, until the thermometer was submerged. Problem solved, however it did increase the time to get the water to the boiling point, just meant I would add less water to get 5-gallons when I was done chilling the wort after the boil.
BOILING THE WORT
Now that the equipment was clean and sanitized and the water was heating up, it was time to re-read the recipe, something I had been doing countless times. In home brewing, temperature control is just as important as clean and sanitized equipment. To start the brewing, the water temperature had to be 150°-160° F before placing the grain bag into the water for 20 minutes to steep. Two pounds of grains; 1 lb. Cara-Pils/Dextrin, 1 lb. Crystal 10, were placed in a grain bag for steeping. After 20 minutes, the grain bag was removed and we had the basis of our beer; wort.
Wort is an aqueous solution of extract made from grain, intended for fermentation by yeast into beer. “Carapils® Malt is a unique, dextrine-style malt that consistently increases foam, improves head retention and enhances mouthfeel without adding flavor or color to your beer. The top performing malt in the dextrine-malt category.” (source) The Crystal Caramel 10L are ” produced in drum roasters that have been custom designed and engineered specifically for roasting malt and barley. This custom engineering allows for the application of significantly higher temperatures to green malt, which is a must for the caramelization of sugars, uniform temperature application to all kernels, and precise control of airflow and moisture.” (source)
The ‘L’ in Crystal 10L represents the Lovibond or degress lovibond and is a measurement of color, introduced by British brewer, Joseph Lovibond in the 1860s. The 10° L will give my American Pale Ale a candylike sweetness, mild caramel flavor and a golden color. You can reference this grains and adjunct chart from onebeer.net.
As the boil neared 20 minutes, I started boiling two other pots of water. Both would be needed before I emptied the 7 lb. of extra pale liquid malt extract into the wort. This malt is a thick, with a syrup/caramel type consistency. I placed the container in the hot water to help warm the malt, to make it easier to pour. The second, smaller pot of boiling water would be poured into the empty extract malt container and swished around to get all the liquid malt out and into my boil.
Before pouring the malt extract into the wort, heat was removed from the burner in order not to scorch the malt as it was poured out, constantly stirring the wort until it was fully dissolved. Heat was added to the wort and brought to a boil ahead of adding our hops, the essence of beer!
“Hops are the flowers of the hop plant Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart bitter, zesty, or citric flavors.” (source) This is one of four basic ingredients (water, grain and yeast) that make up beer. Living in Northern California, we are blessed to be around breweries that are heavy handed when it comes to the use of hops.
“West Coast microbrewers led the way in creating beers where the character of hops—bitter, piney, grassy, floral, or grapefruity—took center stage. Beer lovers took pride in seeking out the brews with higher and higher IBUs—international bittering units, the measure of the concentration of hop compounds in beer.” (source) However, hops aren’t for everyone, I love the a highly hopped beer, from an IPA to double and triple IPAs.
For this American Pale Ale, I would be using boiling/bittering hops, flavoring hops and aroma hops. Each would be added to the wort as specific intervals during the 60-minute boil. Included in this recipe kits were three 1 oz. bags; Chinook and Willamette. Added to the boil first for 45 minutes was a dual purpose hop, Chinook.
“Developed by the USDA breeding program in Washington State and released in 1985 as a high alpha bittering variety, Chinook is a cross between Petham Golding and a USDA male. In recent years, it has found favor as a dual purpose hop in the craft brewing community as a result of its [citrus], spice and pine aroma characteristics.” (source)
After 45 minutes of boiling, 1 oz. of Willamette hops were added and boiled for 10 minutes, as flavoring hops. “Released in 1976 from the USDA breeding program, Willamette is a triploid seedling of English Fuggle. For years, it was the most widely grown aroma variety in the US. It is named after Oregon’s Willamette River which runs through the heart of the state’s hop growing region.” (source) This variety is includes floral, fruity and herbal characteristics. The Willamette hop was also used during the last 5 minutes of boil as the aroma hop.
COOLING & FERMENTATION
After 60 minutes, the boiling was complete, heat was removed and it was time to cool down the wort before transferring to the fermenter. One reason I purchased this Beginning Homebrew Kit Upgrade #3 from homebrewing.org was the inclusion of a wort chiller. A wort chiller is a series of copper coils with rubber tubing attached to it that, when submerged allows cold water to remove heat from your wort. While not essential, it does decrease the time required to get the wort to an acceptable temperature in order to pitch the yeast.
This was a dilemma I had before I started brewing, where was I going to connect the wort chiller to as my water supply? In the end, I ran a garden hose from the patio, through the kitchen, to the sink. At that point I connected the garden hose to the wort chiller. In a matter of 20 minutes, the temperature had decrease down to nearly 70° F.
With the bulk of the wort in the fermenter, it was time to add the remaining water to fill the bucket to 5-gallons in preparation for adding the yeast and fermenting. At this point of the home brewing process, I took a few minutes remove some of the wort and pour it into a graduated cylinder.
The wort in the graduated cylinder served two purposes. First, it allowed me to see the color of what the final product should look like. By all appearances it was a nice golden color to it. Second, it allowed me to take a reading, using a hydrometer to measure the specific (original) gravity before adding adding yeast and fermenting the wort. This reading would be used with a second reading, the finishing gravity, after fermentation is complete and before bottling.
Using the formula above, we can measure our alcohol by volume percentage or ABV. It was also recommended to take a taste, as this would give some indication of the overall flavor of the beer. It as a citrus flavor, a bit sweet and some hoppiness to it. Of course, judgment will be reserved until after the bottling process and we have some chilling in the mini-fridge.
Using the sample I extracted from the fermenter, I dropped and spun the hydrometer in the graduated cylinder to record the original gravity. I attempted to measure the sample numerous times, but was a bit discouraged by the reading I received. The recipe said the original gravity reading should be at 1.052, but I recorded 1.048 numerous times. A bit concerned, I contacted homebrewing.org today. It seems there can be various reasons for a low reading, from not getting all the malt extract in the wort to a minor temperature discrepancy when the reading was taken.
While the extract container was clean, I could only guess the wort was a bit above 70° F after filling the bucket to 5 gallons. I was told not to really worry about it, could cause the difference in the hydrometer reading. I recorded the 1.048 on my paperwork as I neared completion of the brew.
The last step before closing snapping close the top on the fermenter was to pitch the yeast. After sanitizing the scissors and dry yeast pack, I cut open the pack and spread the yeast over the wort.
For this recipe, I was using the Fermentis SafAle US-05, which produces “well balanced beers with very clean crisp end palate. This yeast also “forms a firm foam and presents a very good ability to stay in suspension during fermentation,” says the technical sheet from Fermentis. “Pitch the yeast” is a brewers term for adding yeast to wort.
As the boiling and fermentation process of home brewing was coming to an end for this first batch, I was excited to think of the possibility of what this home brew holds. If there is one thing I have gained over the years when it comes to drinking beer was a more delicate palette. Having the ability to detect aromas and flavors based on the grains and hops used to brew the beer. Not sure I had this respect when I first attempt that cherry wheat beer back in the mid-1990s.
The yeast pitched, the final steps to the process was to snap the lid on the fermenter. Once locked into place I added some of the sanitizing solution into the air lock and fit it in the grommeted hold on the top of the lid. This airlock allows carbon dioxide released during fermentation to escape, while preventing outside air from entering the fermentation process, avoiding oxidation. I stuck on the liquid crystal thermometer on the fermenting bucket and placed the bucket in the darkened hall closet to ferment for the next 7-10 days.
The hard part seemingly out of the way, the waiting began. Then I started to think, what will I name this pale ale? It might take two weeks to come to a conclusion on the name my first home brew. However, I have a few ideas in play that I have bounced off a few close friends.
I’ve been checking on the bucket since I placed it in the hall closet and it’s remained at a constant temperature (68°-72° F). More important, I am making sure I don’t have any excessive bubbling that could see the airlock get clogged with the yellow-brown foam that is created on the top of the wort as fermentation is taking place.
It’s with excitement and anticipation I wait for fermenatation to end, so bottling can begin.