And So It BeginsNotes from brew day #1
The much anticipated first brew day in what I hope to be many subsequent and incrementally improved brew days finally culminating in a career in the #craftbeer industry, has come and gone. This shall be a summary of the events as well as the mistakes I believe that I made along the way and thoughts on how to fix them for my next brew day.
The Beer Kit
For the first handful of brews I am trying to understand the methods and get used to the equipment that I’ll be using for the next few years of home brewing and so I have opted to buy all-grain beer kits in an effort to focus on process. The beer kit for brew numero uno was this US IPA 11L All Grain Beer Kit from Edinburgh based brew store .
The kit contained a pre-ground bag of grains (unspecified), 2 vacuum-packed foil wrapped packs of hop pellets (namely hop A and hop B) and one sachet of Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast.
The ingredients were accompanied by some general brewing tips and the …
Brew Day Sheet
This very handy two page guide split the brew into its composite stages and provided target temperatures, gravity readings and volumes as well as space for recording timings and measurements throughout the day. It was very useful and despite my occasional flapping it kept me pretty much on track. The composite parts of the sheet will be incorporated below in the stage sections.
Stage 0 - Prep!
This was added to this post as an afterthought but it is far to important to be so. Not only did I have to finish setting up my brewing equipment and hooking up gas etc. to my kegerator.. I had to CLEAN EVERYTHING and SANITISE EVERYTHING! Not doing so can lead to the beer being infected and being undrinkable at best.
I’ve worked for many, many years in bars and kitchens, I’m an avid cook and I have drilled myself during this time into always maintaining a clean and organseid work area (only in the kitchen!) so this wasn’t a stretch. I also found it very relaxing and quite nostalgic to be cleaning beer lines etc. again after all this time.
There was little risk of me not doing this stage well, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it all the me.
Always thoroughly clean and sanitise your food/drink preparation and equipment.. anything that comes in contact with the beer or ingredients during the brew day must be clean and sanitary.
Stage 1 - Striking & Mashing
In a nutshell the mash is the introduction of the grain bill to the hot strike water and steeping at an ideal temperature for a set period of time. The process activates enzymes which breaks down the starches in the grains into sugars which are then dissolved into the hot water to create wort.
The first part of this stage is measuring the volume of strike water (12L) and getting it up to ideal temperature, in this case 76°C. Whilst there really isn’t much room for error here, I did heat the strike water in an electric urn rather than in the mash tun.. it may have been quicker the other way around.. we shall see next time.
I then slowly introduced the grain bill into the water, stirring as I wanted to ensure that any grain clumps are broken down and then once the porridge-y concoction as in place, we reduce the temperature to 66°C to steep the grains for an hour. The temperature of the mash influences the body of the beer, lighter and drier beers are mashed at slightly lower temperatures than full bodied beers. This beer is middle of the road, a medium bodied beer.
So far, so good!
Stage 2 - Lautering & Sparging
Lautering is a term used for the removal of the spent grains from the mash tun, leaving only wort behind which in larger volume brewing is transferred to a separate boiling unit. My grainfather acts as both a mash tun and a boiler so I guess my beer is only partially lautered??
The next process is the exquisitely named sparge! This step in my generously named ‘brew kitchen’ involves lifting the inner chamber of the grainfather and pouring 4-6 litres of 76°C water slowly through the spent grains so that all of the remaining sugars are rinsed off and into the wort below.
My target wort volume after sparging was 15L and I’m relieved to report that I hit the target on the nose.
Two stages down and though there may be some efficiency gains for next brew, no actual beer affecting mistakes yet!
Stage 3 - Boiling
In layman’s terms, this method involves raising the wort to boiling temperature and maintaining that for a period of time, in this case 60 minutes.
Stage 4 - Hop Additions
This is where it can get a little tricky because the hops have different functions or rather add different qualities to the beer depending on when they are added. Hops add flavour, bitterness and aroma, I guess technically bitterness is a subset of flavour but it’s my blog and after buying the kit and brewing it.. my beer so :P
Hops added at the start of the boil are bittering hops and when added later in the boil or even post-fermentation this is for flavour depth (as in not bitter notes) and aroma.
The schedule for this brew was:
- 10g of hop A and 10g of hop B at 60 minutes (start of boil)
- 10g of hop A and 10g of hop B at 7 minutes (53 minutes into the boil)
- 10g of hop A and 10g of hop B - Dry hop 4 days. The hops are added to the fermenter (secondary if you have one) once the beer has fermented and left to steep for 4 days.
I had noted from various books and online videos that a very important process when adding hops is called whirlpooling and involves using your stirring implement of choice (sanitised of course) and creating a whirlpool in the wort for about 30 seconds, this allows the hops to disperse more evenly into the beer (or something like that, I need to revisit the theory).. and this was the step where I met my first challenge.
Due to me opting for a small batch, I didn’t have a lot of liquid to work with and struggled to create a proper whirlpool without hitting the false bottom inside the grainfather and potentially dislodging filters etc. The same challenge awaited me with the dry hopping stage.
So lesson 1, make larger volumes of beer! There are probably other ways to have overcome this challenge but too late for that now!
Stage 5 - Cooling
During this stage we rapidly cool the wort from boiling to a target temperature of 18-23°C for transferring into the fermenter. In my case using the grainfather this is done by pumping the boiling wort through a counter flow wort cooler which is a coil that ts atop the unit and attaches to a cold water outlet of your choice, the cold water is contained within the cooler and the hot wort is pumped through the coils, reducing in temperature with each circuit. Conveniently the hot wort sanitises the cooler as it goes through the first run as that would be a nightmare to have to sanitise otherwise.
I had a few issues here due to buying a cheap garden hose to connect my only compatible tap to the cooling unit a number of metres away.. there were leaks and containing them wasn’t fun.. but only water was sprayed about so no big deal.
As I have no thermometer unit in order to gauge the temperature of the wort as it flows through I also over-chilled the wort at this age, reducing the temperature to about 14°C. Which was the temperature that I transferred the wort into the fermenter.
Stage 6 - Fermenting
The temperature was too low, but I have a temperature controlled conical fermenter so I set the temperature to 20°C and I took my sample to record the original gravity (OG) reading from my hydrometer. However due to the leaks and missed target temperature I got slightly flustered and instead of waiting until the wort had hit the preferred temperature I pitched the yeast too early (at about 15°C).. This mistake inevitably impacted the beer.
Once the wort was transferred and yeast pitched, I sealed the unit and added the airlock. Before long the yeast that hadn’t needlesy died of hypothermia started munching on the sugars creating alcohol and causing the airlock to gently bubble reasonably frequently. The sound of the yeast ‘farting’ was a source of entertainment for a couple of days.
The wort is left to ferment and turn into beer over the next 7-10 days, or whenever two identical gravity readings are taken over the space of two consecutive days. Every 2-3 days I needed to perform a yeast dump, which is to slowly .. dump dead yeast from a valve at the bottom of the fermenter.. I wish I had paid more attention to the word slowly before engaging in this process.
7 days passed and I had very static gravity readings, not anywhere near target but consistent.. in fact I had them after 4 days but didn’t want to give up hope so waited the week. Hops were added, a failed attempt at whirlpooling occurred and the fermenter was re-sealed for 4 days.
So, to summarise my mistakes in this stage:
- Over-cooled the wort - recoverable, but…
- Pitched the yeast before the wort recovered to a target temperature - killing some yeast and leading to a higher final gravity and lower ABV beer.
- Rapidly dumped yeast, losing a fair amount of wort in the process.
Lessons learned: Breathe and take your time.
For reference the following were my volume and gravity targets and final gravity (FG) results:
- Desired Volume: 11L
- Actual Volume: ~11L (woohoo!)
- Desired OG: 1.061
- Actual OG: 1.059 - That seems pretty close to me
- Desired FG: 1.012
- Actual FG: 1.027 - Ah FFG! Missed by a whack but I think it’s explained by the mistakes I made.
- Desired ABV: 6.5%
- Actual ABV: ~4%
Stage 7: Kegging & Carbonising
After 4 days of hops steeping in the fermented beer it was time to transfer this nectar into one or many receptacles.. I opted for a keg because it’s simpler albeit more expensive. I also, as a bartender of almost two decades, really, REALLY wanted to have draft beer on tap at home.
Panic set in a little here as I had read so many different carbonation methods, some ‘natural’ ones involving the introduction of brewing sugar and storing at room temperature for weeks and some rapid ‘forced’ carbonisation using CO2 at high pressures in order to produce carbonated beer on tap within 4 hours. I am by nature a very patient man but I forgot to buy sugar so.. I opted to carbonate the beer using CO2.
The option I eventually settled on actually came from the grainfather manual and involved pressuring a keg at 30PSI for 2 days in the fridge, reducing this to 10-12 PSI for 1 day in the fridge, then reducing this to 8-10PSI and hooking the beer outlet pipe up to the tap.. then after 4 hours.. DRINK!!
So I followed the instructions and sampled the beer after the suggested duration.. it poured like a dream! The head retention was phenomenal.. but sadly the beer itself was a shade flat. It occurred to me pretty swiftly that this was due to the lower volume of beer in the keg.. so I disconnected, upped the PSI to 30 again for another day, reduced to 10-12 PSI for half a day then hooked the beer up.. BINGO!
However, I have noticed that I do have a very slight CO2 leak. I think I know why, I don’t think the keg is sealed as well as it could be. I’m going to try and focus on this a bit more with the next brew but honestly, I think it will take some practice before the leakage is eliminated.
Stage 8: Drinking
So, was it all worth it in the end? Hell to the yes!
I have never drank this particular beer before and so I don’t have a direct comparison.. It is however, despite its flaws, drinkable and even quite enjoyable! Even more so after a few days of settling.
There are improvements that I think could be made and reached primarily by resolving the mistakes above but also I could have used irish moss to clarify the beer if the haziness was of concern (it wasn’t) and this will be a consideration going forward.
My next brew day is tomorrow and all of my equipment has already been cleaned, I will sanitise as I go. Whilst I had hoped to use the same beer kit in a larger volume the brew store didn’t have it, so I’ve gone with their limited addition NEIPA (New England IPA) which I am very much looking forward to.
The journey continues!
Note: The image at the top of the post is a photo of a selection of beers from Fierce Brewing in my beer fridge. They are one of a number of breweries who have inspired me to this point.