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May 2, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Brewing Beer at Home

I have been brewing beer as a serious hobby for about 15 years (off and on), and I want to describe how accessible this can be. Brewing at home is easy and inexpensive, and can be more satisfying than some commercial beer. Richard Emerson of Emerson’s Brewery in Dunedin considers one of his home-brewed beers the best he’s ever brewed. That’s how good it can be!

In the first of my home brewing articles, I will introduce you to the ‘partial-mash’ technique, which allows you to add character to the beer using speciality grains. The normal, supermarket ‘kit-and-kilo’ brews only require the addition of malt extract and sugar, which is fine in some brews (such as Belgian ales), but basically, it’s just a cheap way of adding alcohol. The recipe I’m going to use will make a strong, hoppy pale ale—think Emerson’s Bookbinder but with more alcohol. For the budding beer geeks out there, this beer will be about 5.5% alcohol by volume and 32 bitterness units. Here’s what you need.

Equipment

  • 1x 30l Fermenter with lid, airlock and tap—obtainable from Great Expectations in Lower Hutt for $45. Don’t worry, you can get items delivered for about $5
  • 1x thermometer, range 0-100 degrees Centigrade—again, Great Expectations stock them for $14.50
  • 2x pots—one should be of a largish size, such as an 8l stock pot (try The Warehouse)
  • 1x sieve—though a large sieve and a tea-leaf strainer (The Warehouse) would be better
  • 1x large stirring device, such as a soup ladel or spatula, made of metal or plastic but not wood
  • 1x Kitchen Whiz for crushing the malt—or if push comes to shove, a rolling pin or empty 500ml glass bottle will do
  • 1x pint glass
  • 1x box of Gladwrap
  • 2 metres of PVC tubing for attaching to your fermenter tap (Mitre 10 usually sells this by the metre)
  • 1x Bottling wand—about $15 from Great Expectations
  • Bottles with caps—I suggest 24 litres worth of PET bottles (go for the 2l ones to save you some bottle washing). Avoid bottles that have had soft drink in them, as you can never really rid of that flavour. A 2l bottle can be purchased from Great Expectations for $1.80. If you use glass bottles, you will need to get hold of a capper.
    White cane sugar for bottle priming

Ingredients

The ingredients for this brew cost you about $2.40 a litre. Now that’s inexpensive craft beer!

  • 2x 1.7kg tins of Cooper’s Lager—Woolworth’s in Johnsonville stocks them for about $15 a tin
  • 1/3 cup of unscented bleach
  • 1x can of cheap industrial beer

And the following specialty malt and hops, which are available from Liberty Brewing and should come to about $20 in total. You can also get Jo at Liberty Brewing to crush the malt for you.

  • 200gx Weyermann Caramunich II malt
  • 20gx Baird’s Pale Chocolate malt
  • 20gx NZ Styrian Golding hop pellets
  • 20gx NZ Fuggle hop pellets
  • 12gx SafAle US-O5 yeast (you can also get 11.5g packets of yeast from Great Expectations)

Step 1: Clean down all the surfaces you will be working on. This includes the bench and stove top. You can never be ‘too clean’ when it comes to brewing beer. Most of you will be working in the kitchen. I suggest you put down some towels on the floor. Beer making can be a little sticky and it pays to have something to mop up any spills. Avoid brewing while there is dust in the air, especially after vacuuming or sweeping. Also make sure that all of your equiptment is clean, especailly the fermenter. If you need to clean it then use a sponge or cloth. Don’t use anything that might might scratch the fermenter.

Step 2: Assemble you fermenter. The rubber washer for the tap should be on the outside of the fermenter. Stick the thermometer strip to the outside of the fermenter close to the base. Now add the unscented bleach to the fermenter and fill to the brim with cold tap water. Put the fermenter lid, spoon, can of beer and glass inside the fermenter (bending the lid will allow it to slide inside the fermenter). These need to soak for at least 20 minutes.

Step 3: Crush the malt if it hasn’t been provided crushed (CaraMunich and Chocolate) by blitzing in the kitchen whizz for 20 seconds. You don’t want flour but basically most of the grains cut in half. Don’t worry too much if you under do it. Take a moment to smell the wonderful candy aroma coming from the malt.

Step 4: Heat 1.5 litres of water to 70 degrees centigrade in the smaller of the two pots. Now add the crushed malt and hold at this temperature for 20 minutes minimum.

Step 5: Remove the glass from the bleach solution. Rinse with cold tap water and add about 100 ml of cold water to the glass. Now add the yeast. Cover with a piece of Gladwrap. The water is rehydrating the yeast – waking it up before it begins the job of fermentation. My tap water was 14 degrees Centigrade on the day I brewed. Make sure the water you use is in the 14-18 degree range.

Step 6: Decant the malty, brown water (called the “wort”) from the grain kernels into the bigger pot. Use the finest grained sieve you have to keep any of the grains from going through to the big pot. You can also consider straining through a clean tea towel or muslin cloth but you don’t need to do this if you poor slowly and gently.

Step 7: Boil the wort for 20 minutes minimum. You need to be careful of the wort boiling over – keep an eye on it. While this is happening, drain the fermenter. It’s not a bad idea to drain the bleach solution into a clean bucket. I have a 99 cent bucket from the Warehouse I dedicate to brewing. You can use the bleach solution if you need to resanitise items or for cleaning down surfaces later. Crack open the can of beer and poor half of the solution into the fermenter. Swirl around and discard down the drain. You are trying to rinse off the bleach residue from the fermenter. Rinse again with the other half can of beer. Bleach can give a real nasty taste to you beer. If you have a small taste of this second rinse solution you shouldn’t be able to taste the bleach. If you still able to taste it then consider rinsing with another can of beer. If you don’t have canned beer at the ready you can also use boiling water.

Step 8: Take your cans of Cooper’s extract and remove the plastic cap. You can chuck the yeast out or consider using this in another batch. For this recipe I have decided to go with SafAle US-05 because it is a clean, neutral ale yeast that is temperature tolerant. It’s an excellent yeast to start with and a real favourite among home brewers. The Cooper’s yeast is also fine but can be a bit of an acquired taste. Soak the cans of extract in hot water in your sink. Malt extract is colloquially referred to as Goo by brewers and if you don’t warm it up then you’ll find out how unwieldy it can be. Soaking for 5 minutes should make it manageable.

Step 9: Remove the pot of boiling wort from the heat and add your hops. Let them soak for 1 minute off the heat. You will smell the wonderful spicy and herbaceous nature of the hops.

Step 10: It’s now time to bring all of the ingredients together in the fermenter. First, check your tap is off. You don’t want the sticky sweet wort all over the floor. Boil 2 litres of water in your jug or in another pot. Open the tins of extract and pour into the bottom of you fermenter. Add the 2 litres of boiling water and mix in with your spoon. Place the sieves over the fermenter (I have a large sieve that stretchs comfortably from one side of the fermenter to the other and then lay the small tea-strainer inside it). Carefully pour the wort from the large pot into the fermenter through the sieves. Leave about 50ml behind in the pot along with most of the hop debris. The tea-strainer does a good job of catching most of the hop matter before going into the fermenter. Don’t get too worried if some hops go into your beer. It should be fine. Give another stir with the spoon. Fill up to the 25 litre mark on your fermenter with cold tap water.

Step 11: Check the temperature on the thermometer strip. The day I brewed it came in at 17 degrees Centigrade on the fermenter thermometer strip. This is a good temperature. Adjust the temperature of the beer solution with cold or boiling water so it is in the 16-18 degrees Centigrade range. Now add the frothy yeast mixture sitting in your glass to the fermenter full of beer solution.

Step 12: Apply the lid and the fermentation airlock to the fermenter. Fill the airlock with a little water. There is a mark for the maximum level. Don’t overfill it. Congratulations… you’ve just made that yeast very happy by feeding it lots of malty sugar. It will repay you soon with great tasting beer.

Step 13: You need to place the fermenter in a place where the temperature won’t vary too greatly. A good option is a wardrobe in a bedroom. You don’t want the temperature to get below 16 degrees or above 22 degrees Centigrade. The US-05 yeast is actually quite a tolerant beast and will handle outside this range but it is best to try and avoid this. If the temperature goes too low the ferment may stall and not finish out completely. If the temperature does drop then move to a warmer place for a while. If the temperature gets hotter than 25 degrees then you may get a few interesting flavours in your beer. You may have heard from people about putting your beer in a hot water cupboard or in a tea chest with a lamp. In my experience this gets the beer too hot (like close to 30 degrees) and you don’t get a very pleasant beer. Leave the beer to ferment. You will see a head of foamy white yeast after a day or two. Most of the fermentation will be over after 7 days but I suggest you leave it for 14 days. During this extra time the yeast is still working away but most of the yeast cells have dropped to the bottom of the fermenter. There will still be plenty in solution ripening the beer and improving the flavour of the beer. When you first put the yeast in solution it goes a bit nuts and creates some interesting flavour compounds. Later on in the ferment it goes and ‘cleans’ up some of these compounds. You may have heard of people talking about diacetyl and acetaldehyde. These are a couple of the compounds that the yeast is breaking down during these later days of the ferment.

Step 14: After the 14 days, you will be about ready for bottling. Sanitise your bottles, bottling-wand and tubing in some new bleach solution. Make sure you rinse your bottles either using the can-of-beer trick or some boiled-and-then-cooled water. Boiling water will warp your PET bottles. Prime your bottles with sugar. I use 1 teaspoon per litre of beer which seems to give a good level of carbonation without being a bottle bomb. Before filling your first beer, open the tap and run out about 250 ml of beer. This will rinse away any bleach in the tubing and bottle wand as well as clearing out some of the loose chunks of yeast. Now fill away. Once again it pays to have a towel down on the floor. When the bottles are filled put the cap on and invert a couple of times to dissolve in the sugar. Store in a warmish place (around the 16-20 degree range) and in a couple of weeks you will have a fantastic beer.

The beer should be served at “cellar temperature” which is in the 10-14 degree range. Decant the beer into jugs and pour yourself a pint. You’ve just made yourself a great pint of ale.

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  1. Dave says:

    Thanks so much for this! And for the brewing supply shops too! Can’t wait to give this one a go.

    Cheers,
    Dave

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