In the previous post, I showed what some of the equipment looks like, and the various ingredients that go into this particular beer, a Honey Brown, from Northern Brewer. Now we get to put it all to work!
Remember that, prior to this point, we activated, or primed, our yeast and sterilized our equipment. I can’t emphasize this enough: if you don’t have sterile equipment, your beer probably won’t taste right. Many companies sell sterilizing compounds that are rinse-less, but you can always use bleach as well…just make sure you over-rinse the stuff to get rid of any excess bleach.
The first step in this kit is to take some of the assorted grains that the kit came with and steep them in a pot for 20 min. You can do this while you heat up the water to boiling. The kit came with assorted grains (including chocolate!) and a cheesecloth to use, so effectively, we’re just making a giant tea bag for your beer. Not all beers come with this kind of addition, but it generally adds some extra flavors to the beer before the malt even sees the water.
Speaking of the malt, once your water is boiling, you can add the malt to the water. In this black pot, we added about 3 gallon of water, which took quite awhile to boil…but once it does, you can add the malt, which then must be heated at boiling for 60 min. During this time, you can also get a second pot and boil an additional 2 gal (although, I’d boil more than that if you can…) for a total of 5 gal.
Prior to boiling, you can add your hops. They come in different shapes, but many kits send it in a pellet form that looks a lot like rabbit food. They smell like a good India Pale Ale (a really “hoppy” beer), and you can get different varieties of hops to bring out different flavors in your beers. Regardless, they usually go in prior to the 60 min boil, but you can add “finishing hops” at the bottling stage. This kit doesn’t include any finishing hops, though.
As it heats, you’ll notice a foam forming on the top. This stuff is pretty sticky, so it behooves you to watch the pot as it boils (I know, right?). You don’t want it to boil over, ’cause this foamy stuff will overflow into your range…and it’s a pain to clean up, and the smell from it is also difficult to get rid of. So yeah, keep an eye on it – don’t go watch a show or anything! [Note: This particular batch didn’t boil over, but back in undergrad, we boiled them over many times…bad news…]
After you boil your beer (and another pot of water…), you need to wait for it to cool down. Think about that. You are waiting for 5 gal of liquid to cool down from boiling (~212 F) to…um…colder than that (~78 F) so you can add your yeast. This can take awhile. Even in Iowa when it’s 40 F outside, it still took forever, so I recommend using an ice water bath to help cool down the beer faster. You want this to occur as fast as possible. The longer you wait, the more likely you’ll get various critters and infections in there to mess with your beer.
Pretty color! You’ll pour it all into the bucket and then add any additional water to get it to 5 gal. It’s, of course, preferable to sterilize (i.e. boil) all water that goes in the bucket, which is why it’s probably best to boil the additional 3 gal rather than 2 gal, as you’ll lose volume over the hour that you’re boiling everything. Always best to boil some excess if you’ve got the space for it!
Finally, you seal ‘er up and put the trap on the top along with a small volume of water and move it to its home for the next few weeks. We are putting our beer in our basement, which is usually at an ambient temperature of 55 F (so far, even with the furnace running 20 feet away…). Now, 55 F is a touch chilly for the recommended temperature for our yeast (recommends 60 – 75 F or so), but within a few days, the bubbling had begun.
Speaking of “bubbling,” that’s what the trap on the top is for. It’s got two little reservoirs with water in it that allows for CO2 to escape from the fermentation bucket while preventing other things from getting in. It’s kinda shaped like the plumbing pipe beneath your bathroom sink. Basically, in order to know that fermentation is occurring without popping the top of the bucket (assuming you don’t have a glass carboy, which I’m not using presently…), you can see bubbles flow through the water in the trap. You should see this within 48 hours of adding yeast to your fermentation bucket – if you don’t, you probably need to move it to a warmer place, but thankfully, 55 F was “good enough” for my purposes.
In the next post, we’ll check the “specific gravity” of the beer, helping us approximate how much alcohol is being generated. You usually do this a few days to a week after starting the fermentation process, and you try to limit the times you do this ’cause you have to actually open the seal at the top, potentially introducing invaders to your beer.