Monday, February 21, 2011

Making My Own Beer, Part 4: Bottle One, Brew One

Well, my first brew is in bottles. I spend five hours on Sunday bottling up the Winter Ale I brewed the week before and brewing up a new batch of beer.

At J.W. Dover, they I got two buckets, a 6 gallon and a 7.9 gallon. While I might be confused, I think I was told the 6 gallon was the fermentation bucket and the 7.9 was the bottling bucket. Regardless, they are both plastic buckets in excess of the 5 gallon batches I've been brewing.

I intended to add spigots to both buckets, but only got one installed on the 6 gallon bucket for brew time. I then used that bucket for my fermenter. When it came time to bottle, I had yet to install the spigot in the 7.9 gallon bucket, so I had a bit of juggling to do.

I drained the fermented beer into the bottling bucket, then cleaned and sanitized the fermentation bucket - which has a spigot - then poured it back into the fermentation bucket for bottling.

And to prevent this back and forth business again, I've opted to flip-flop the buckets, with my next batch of beer fermenting in the 7.9 gallon bucket. Plus it fits better in my fermentation chiller.

Otherwise, bottling was a breeze. Again, thanks to my wife, Morgan, for helping thought the day; she was the extra pair of hands I needed.

The new beer I brewed is another kit beer, Midwest Supplies Superior Strong Ale. The kit included:
  • A premixed bag of Specialty Grains:
    • 8 oz. Brown Malt
    • 8 oz. Caramel 40L
  • 6 lbs Amber LME
  • 3.3 lbs Dark LME
  • 2 oz. Mt. Hood Hops
  • 1 oz. Tettnang Hops
  • Wyeast American Ale #1056 Liquid Yeast
I swear this stuff brewed itself. I steeped the grains at 155° for 30 minutes while we were bottling the Winter Ale, then brought it to a boil. Other than almost forgetting to add the LME, it went perfecting smooth, and that was mainly an oversight due to the bottling. The hop additions were straight forward, the Mt. Hood at the beginning and the Tettnang just before the end.

I improved upon almost every thing on my To Do Better list. I had tons more sanitizer on hand and I'm positive everything got a very thorough cleansing. Moving to the bathtub was much better than using the wash tub, even the 7.9 gallon bucket fits.

Since the LME was a bit forgotten, instead of heating it up, I let gravity do most of the work, then I ladled in some of the boil into the LME bottles, shook and poured them out. I got almost ever last drop of LME. I will definitely do this again... with a funnel, so I don't burn my hand. I also avoided another LME plastic ring mishap.

I can't say I kept a better brew journal this time, but I was definitely more on the numbers. The whole process was smoother and my temperatures seemed to be more consistent, even if I didn't write more stuff down.

While I didn't have a snow bank for my cold break, I did plan a head better this time. I tossed two gallons of water in the freezer on Saturday morning, after pouring out a little for expansion. Next time I'l give them another full day, as there were still some pockets of water.

They got the temperature down to about 150° and a nice cold water soak in the bathtub took it the rest of the way down. In all, I spent about 20 minutes cooling it down. Hopefully some solid ice blocks with reduce that even further.

Using the bathtub for the cold break and then for pouring into the fermenter was definitely the way to go. No messy spills, no difficult clean up and a super convenient drain.

If I had one thing to do over, it would be to not bottle and brew at the same time. While I successfully juggled both, it could have gone wrong easily. If I decided to bottle and brew on the same day again, I will most certainly do one, then the other.

I opted to measure my wort this time, getting an OG of 1.071. I have to admit, reading the hydrometer was a bit of a challenge. The model I have has quite the variety of data points and figuring out which one(s) I needed was a bit of work, but in the end it worked out.

Come Monday morning I swapped out the ice to find it bubbling already, at a semi-steady pace of one every five or six seconds. This evening when I changed the ice in my chiller, I was reading one every two to three seconds and I'm prepared to see some crazy bubbling in the morning.

Did I mention how much I'm looking forward to this beer?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making My Own Beer, Part 3: The Beer is Brewing.

After years of dreaming, months of talking and weeks of plotting I'm finally brewing beer. With a little luck I'll be drinking something in March that tastes less like toxic waste and more like beer.

For Christmas I had asked for a few different beer kits and yesterday I made the Midwest Supplies Winter Ale. The Winter Ale kit includes:
  • A premixed bag of Specialty Grains:
    • 4 oz Carafa II
    • 8 oz Munich
    • 8 oz Cara Wheat
    • 4 oz Chocolate Rye
    • 4 oz Melanoidin
  • 6 lbs Dark LME
  • 3.3 lbs Munich LME
  • 1 oz Northern Brewer Pellet Hops
  • 1 oz Vangaurd Pellet Hops
  • ½ tsp Caraway
  • White Labs German Ale #WL029 Liquid Yeast
Let me just say that buying a pre-drilled bucket is the way to go. Why? Because I had to drill my own spigot hole and I nearly ruined my fermenter. Perhaps using a drill bit and a utility knife wasn't the easiest way to make the hole, but the tools I looked at last night at Home Depot seemed to be more for cutting metal or wood and I was reasonable worried about ruining the bucket.

Maybe I'll swing back and pick up that $5 drill bit thingy anyways, because the 25 minutes it took to force the spigot into the bucket was pretty frustrating. Still, it ended up working out okay and it's actually water tight, which is the most important part.

I grabbed 7 gallons of bottled spring water from Giant Eagle and then set out my supplies to prepare to brew. The sanitizing part went smoothly, although I wonder if I used enough of the Sparkle-Brite. I followed the instructions, but it didn't seem to dissolve as easily as I had anticipated and I'm wondering what will come of that. See my note about more sanitizer in the "Things To Do Better Next Time" section below.

Getting the water to the steeping temperature was pretty easy. Using gallon jugs of water from the store, I filled our electric kettle to the fill line and brought that to a boil. Then I poured the room temperature water left in the bottle and the 212° water from the kettle together into the pot. The net temperature was about 145°. I did this for three gallons of water.

I tossed the grain in to steep at 145° while continuing to heat the water until I hit and maintained 154°. Seems like midway between medium and medium high is the sweet spot on my range. In total my grain got a nice 40 minute soak.

I was a little under prepared for how long it would take to bring the pot to a boil. On high, it took between 25 and 35 minutes. See my note about a brew journal in the "Things To Do Better Next Time" section below.

Last weekend I picked up a 24 quart stock pot and a lid at Dean Supply for $49.00. I had debated whether I needed the 24 qt or if the 20 qt would be large enough, but I'm glad I went with the larger pot. With a three gallon brew, I've got plenty of head room for a healthy foam up at a full roaming boil and no messy boil over. Even had a solid two inches of clean pot left at the peak of foaming.

Honestly the boil was really easy going. It foamed up nicely when it hit a boil and I was starting to get a little concerned, but once I added the first dose of hops, half of the Northerns, the foam completely disappeared and it's stayed away for the rest of the boil. I am surprised as to just how much water boiled away. The recipe didn't mention anything about replacing it back and I've read blogs that go either way. Today I did not top off, but I definitely need to do some reading there.

I did misread my recipe though and forgot to make my hop additions as scheduled. While I'm sure this will impact the final taste, I'm not overly concerned. I've learned my lession: READ. And I'm over it. The Vangaurd hops went in with 16 minutes left and the remaining Northerns went in with 12 left. They were scheduled for 30 and 20 respectively.

My experience with the pellet hops was pretty disappointing; they basically turned to dust when they hit the boil and they made straining impossible. Definitely going to need to look into alternatives here, as this cannot stand.

I did confirmed that I love the taste of hops. I took a taste of the leftover dust of each of the hops and wow. It's a major flavor explosion. Bitter, a bit fruity and quite intense. I even tasted the grains, which were a little sweet and, obviously, grainy.

Although my recipe didn't call for it, I toasted the caraway before dumping it into the brew with about 8 minutes of boil left. As a Good Eats fan, I know that you need to unlock the flavor potential of whole spice by toasting otherwise you might as well be using dust.

In order to cool down the pot, I placed it outside on our balcony in a nice pile of snow. I expected this to help cool everything down quickly, however expectations and reality weren't in alignment. It took about 40 minutes to chill down to 80 degrees, but it did so at a very random pace, so I'm not convinced my readings were all together accurate.

Getting it into the fermenter was also a bit of an issue, with a bit ending up on the kitchen floor, myself and my wife who was kind enough to hold the strainer. Between what I lost during the pour and what I kept in the bottom of the pot with all of the left over hops, I'm guessing I wasted between 12 and 16 ounces.

The yeast packet was nice and convenient, however the little package inside the package was a beast to break. Took a couple minutes to figure out the right way to get it to pop. The ease of pouring it into the fermenter made up for it though. A quick tap on the lid and then pushing in the bubbler and it was off to the fermentation chiller.

All in all, I think I expected to make more mistakes and have this be a much larger undertaking than it was. Honestly, most of the time I was sitting on my ass with just one eye on the pot.

Things To Do Better Next Time:

1) Get more sanitizer. I used an entire 3oz bag of Sparkle-Brite to sanitize everything today, but since sanitation is the first key ingredient in good beer, I think I should have much more on hand.

2) Find a better way to sanitize stuff. The wash tub in the laundry room worked okay, but it was inconvenient and a bit troublesome. Plus the fermenter bucket didn't really fit in the sink and there is no way the taller bottling bucket will ever fit.

3) Maintain better heat on the LME. I did heat my LME, but I guess I did it too far in advance, as they were cool by the time it came to getting them in the pot.

4) Pull the plastic rings of the LME containers. Yep. It went in the pot. Yep. I fished it out.

5) Keep a better brew journal. I kept making mental notes about time, temperature, etc, but I relied to much on my brain power and ended up loosing track of stuff.

6) Find a better and fast way to chill the liquid down. And I'm not buying a wort chiller... yet. I quote Chris Knight: "Ice is nice!"

7) Find a better way to pour from the pot into the fermenter. I think some reading is in order here, but at the very least this needs to move to the bathtub so I don't splash on my wife or coat the kitchen floor in proto-beer.