Saturday, March 13, 2010

Our first home brew - Part 2

My apologies on the delay for this post, but our beer is finally done!

Where we left off: We had just put our first beer into the fermentation bucket after taking our original gravity reading. Typically there are two ways to determine the amount of time in for fermentation, a bubbles per minute rate, or a suggested time on the recipe. Bubbles per minute is a good guide because each recipe is going to create different amount of alcohol and require different fermentation times. Your fermentation is done when you see a bubble in the airlock at a rate less than 1 bubble per minute.

It will take 12-24 hours after yeast addition to start to see your first bubbles. Maintain a cool, consistent temperature. If the temperature drops too low, then the yeast can go dormant and fermentation will prematurely cease. If there is any daily fluctuation of temperature, there is a risk of straining the yeast and that will affect your flavor. We put our brew into a spare bath tub. The bonus of being in a bath tub is if there are any leaks, or over bubbling from a vigorous fermentation, clean up is a breeze.

Some beers will have a rather vigorous fermentation and others will slow and steady make it to the end of the race. Either type of bubbling is fine because there are many factors that affect the bubbling rate. If you have more space in your primary fermenter, then you will have a less vigorous fermentation. Depending on the amount of sugar in your recipe, you will also have more or less bubbling. Just keep an eye on the brew to make sure the beer is not bubbling out the airlock or the airlock has not been dislodged.

After a week, we transferred our beer to a carboy for secondary fermentation. Our main goal was to achieve a greater clarity of the beer. When transferring the beer, you do not want to disturb beer. The best way to do this is by racking the beer into the carboy.

Beer after removal of lid - lots of good bubbles!

Racking beer into the carboy

When racking your beer, make sure not to collect any of the dead yeast from the bottom of the bucket.

Yeasty stuff on the bottom of the bucket

Then once again put the lid on your carboy and place the carboy in a cool, dark place.

Some recipes do not require a secondary fermentation. This particular recipe did not require it. We choose to do a secondary fermentation for a few reasons. 1. Beer, like wine, gets better with age. Since we are kegging the beer, we wanted to do any 'aging' before putting the beer into a keg. If you are bottling, aging the beer can take place within the bottle. 2. We wanted to get better clarity on the beer. The addition of honey into this recipe gave a very cloudy product and we were hoping to use the aging to improve this. 3. We sampled the beer during the racking process and detected a yeasty taste, which is typical for most wheat beers. But, it was rather strong, and if we have the option to let some more yeast settle out of suspension, then we'll take it. 4. Most of the beers that D wishes to brew are higher gravity beers that require a secondary fermentation, so this was good practice.

Due to our schedule, the beer stayed in secondary fermentation for over two weeks. This is fine and will not hurt your product. However, it is not recommended to leave your beer for extended periods of time in the primary fermenter post fermentation because the dead yeast will break down in a process called autoylsis. This can leave a bad taste with the beer. Plus with your primary fermenter free, you can start your next batch of beer! So do any aging/clarity in either a secondary fermenter or a bottles.

When we were done with secondary fermentation, we prepared our kegging system by sanitizing the lines and the keg itself, along with the racking cane. Once again, follow all instruction on your particular sanitizing product. With that complete, we were only had to rack the beer into the keg. Don't forget to take another gravity reading to determine your percent alcohol in your beer

Our next blog will cover carbonating your kegged beer and the final product review of our first home brew.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Making your own keggerator

Have you always wanted a keggerator? But not willing to pay the price? That is exactly how we felt so we decided to make our own. We already had some of the essential components - the keg and CO2 system

and the tap tower


Both were purchased from Keggle Brewing Company.

The first challenge was to purchase a suitable refrigerator. If you have an old fridge around, it can easily be converted to a keggerator, but we do not have an extra. We were looking for something on the small side, something that would resemble a typical keggerator. The first thing you need to look for is a fridge that will fit the keg and also one that doesn't have a freezer built in. If there is a freezer component you won't be able to drill through the top of the fridge to run the line and mount the tap tower.

We took our keg with us to Hhgregg and tried out the available models. We found one that would work, and did not have a freezer. Our first step was to center the tap tower and figure out where to drill. We also had to take notice of the temperature gauge that is on the top of the fridge, hence our tap tower is near the rear of the fridge.

Then let the drilling begin

We drilled the four holes to mount the tap tower and a hole on the rather large size for the line because some day in the future we would like to put in a second keg and have two lines running through the hole. Until we reach that brewing and consuming capacity, we will fill up the extra space with insulating foam in a can from Lowes.

It was pretty easy from there to attach the four screws and put the line down into the fridge. Here is the finished look.

and with the keg inside....

Happy drinking!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Our first home brew

After months of prepartion and research, we took the plunge and made our first home brew. While we did find a lot of information on brewing and plenty with recipes, we ended up purchasing a prepackaged kit from Alternative Beverage, their Evil Summer Wheat kit. This kit could be considered an intermediate brewing level because it contains flavoring malts and hop additions. A beginners kit would only have DME (dried malt extract), which will also make a wonderful beer. We chose this particular package for a few reasons. We thought our research gave us enough knowledge to be able to handle an intermediate style kit. Also, this type of kit gives the brewer freedom to customize flavors, which is our future goal. This particular kit was on sale, so if we screwed it up by jumping to an intermediate level too quickly, then we weren't out too much money. Plus, this is my favorite style of beer, which happens to be simpler to brew than D's favorite styles!

The kit included:
3 lbs of Wheat DME
3 cups of Crystal Malt -10L
3.4 oz Sterling, bittering Pellet hops (5.3 alpha)
1 tablet Whirlfloc
2 lbs Honey
1/2 oz cascade, aromatic Whole hops
1 cup of Priming Sugar

The first step is to clean and sanitize all equipment to be used. And I mean everything.
(our equipment air drying post cleaning and santization)

The crystal malt will add additional flavor to the beer. The main source of sugars comes from the DME, but additional sugars will be gained from steeping the crystal malt. The crystal malt needs to be steeped in 1 gallon of water between 150-160 degrees F for 20-60 minutes (refer to the recipe you are following for exact times). The grains are steeped separatly from the rest of the brewing process because high boiling water temperatures will release bitter flavors from the crystal malt.
(grains just added to water)

(watching the temperature carefully)

Preparing the DME for boil: We added our DME to our brew pot and 2 gallons of water.

Then we stirred it up to get all of the DME to dissolve.

When the crystal malt was done steeping (our recipe indicated 30 minutes), we poured the steeped liquid through a strainer into the main brew pot. You do not want the crystal malt to enter the main brew pot.

You will end up with all the yummy grain in your strainer. We took an extra gallon of water and poured it through the grain to rinse in more good flavor (called sparging).

Now remove the grain and strainer and crank up the heat on the brew pot. You will want to hold the brew at boiling for the time indicated for your recipe. Our particular recipe said to add the bittering hops at the start of the boil, then continue to boil for 35 minutes, add the Whirlfloc tablet (gets rid of haze, clarifying agent) and continue boiling for an additional 10 minutes. Then the aromatic hopes are added, and boiled for another 2 minutes. The pot was removed from heat and the 2 lbs of honey was added.

It is important to cool your brew down to 70 degrees F as fast as you can. Put a lid on the brew pot and keep it slightly vented, but do not stir or aerate the liquid while it is hot. Aeration will give your beer a stale taste. Put the brew pot into a ice water bath. Unfortunately we do not have any basin/tub that was large enough to fit the brew pot, so we had to use the next best thing, our bathtub. Cooling can take up to 30-45 minutes. Add ice or refresh water to ensure it does not take any longer than this.

Once the liquid is cool, you can now add it to the fermentation vessel. Because of our hop additions, we needed strain the brew again on the way to the fermenter. (since the strainer was already used for the grain earlier, the strainer needed to be re-cleaned and sanitized). Now that the liquid is cool enough, you are now encouraged to aerate the liquid while pouring into the fermentation vessel. This will give your yeast better fermenting ability.

Now that the brew is in the fermentation bucket, you need to add water to make it to 5 gallons. We once again sparged the hops when we added our extra water. More flavor the better! Once at 5 gallons and thoroughly mixed, you can now take your first gravity reading.

Now you can add your yeast - follow direction on the package for whatever yeast you purchased. We only had to empty the packet into the fermentation bucket. Then you need to seal your bucket and attach the sanitized air lock. Keep your brew sealed in a cool dark place and we will continue with another post for the following steps.

Also stay tuned for brewing blunders......

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cleaning and Sanitzing

Ok, so you have your equipment, and you are ready to make some beer! Put on the brakes for a second, because a very important topic needs to be discussed - cleaning and sanitization. Without proper cleaning and sanitizing you can ruin a good batch of beer before you even finish your first boil.

Cleaning: All equipment used needs to be cleaned. This means grime and dirt free. There are plenty of cleaners that you can pick up from your local homebrewing equipment store that are appropriate for your supplies. We looked to other homebrewers for recommendations on their favorite products. The first recommendation that I received was to use PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash), and the second was given was B-Brite.

Sanitizing: There is only one living thing you want in your beer, and that is your yeast. Therefore, this is a very important step in order to kill all living microbes that could grow in your beer. Anything that will touch your wort in a non boiling state needs to be sanitized. Your brew kettle and spoon can skip this step because they will be submersed in the boiling water. There are plenty of commercial products available at your local homebrewing store. We took the recommendation of the owner and purchased Star-San. I give the Star-San two thumbs up on ease of use. The no-rinse solution makes the sanitization process super quick and easy, which allows you to get brewing faster!

We fully recommend following the manufacturers instructions on the products you use. No other helpful tips from us, other than to make sure NEVER to skip these steps. Happy brewing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


This post is dedicated to the equipment we will use to brew our beer.

The brew pot: We have a 6+ gallon brew pot. Our pot has some upgraded features. It has a built in thermometer as well as a draining spout. This is where all of the 'brewing' will occur. We chose to get the larger pot if D wants to do all grain brewing in the future, so we don't need to buy another pot. A smaller pot will work perfectly too.

The fermentation bucket: This is also a 6+ gallon bucket. The larger size bucket will allow space for vigorous fermentation of a 5 gallon batch of high gravity beer. The bucket also has a spout to allow a double use as a bottling bucket. The bucket has a lid with an opening that is pictured being plugged up with a rubber stopper and an airlock.

The carboy: We have chosen to use the "better bottle" plastic carboy. The advantage to plastic is that it is much lighter than glass and there is no worry about breaking the bottle

The Hydrometer: We will also use a hydrometer to test the gravity of the beer.

We have decided to keg our beer instead of bottling. There is a greater expense with kegging, but there is also the advantage of not having to sanitize all of the bottles as well as the time to fill and cap all of the bottles.

Corney Keg and CO2: We have a standard corney keg which will hold a 5 gallon batch as well as the CO2/regulartor system to carbonate and pressurize the beer.

Tap Tower: We plan on "making" our own keggerator. We are going to modify a smaller refrigerator with the Tap Tower to create a keggerator. This will give us what we want at half the cost (another blog will detail the creation of our keggerator).

Minor equipment: Some other minor equipment will be featured in our blogs. They are not necessary to feature, but will be needed during the brewing process. They include: stirring spoon, strainer, grain bags, cleaning brushes, cleaner, sanitizer, tubing, and siphon tube. Just follow along with our pictures and instructions and the additional equipment will make sense.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Welcome to the brewing world

This blog is dedicated to the adventures of homebrewing. What could be more fun then making your own beer? My husband has been collecting the necessary equipment and together we have been doing the research and dare I say, we are ready to brew!

During our planning, I realized that documentation was going to be key. We need to keep track of recipes and procedures in order to property evaluate our beer and design our next batch of brew. I guess it is just the chemist in me, but I need to write it down. I thought a 'lab notebook' would be too boring and old school, so this blog was born.

My goal is to give enough pictures and information to eventually guide other home brewers on their quest for great beer. Feel free to comment and leave questions. Both D and I will try to do our best to keep up with any response we receive.