Huzzah! The long awaited post about our first attempts at home brewing. Rather than make separate posts about the first two batches, I'm going to roll them into one so you can revel in our efforts to move from all-extract brewing to all-grain brewing.
Buoyed by our renewed enthusiasm for fine craft beer after our American Beer Odyssey 2012 and beer-fuelled conversations about home-brewing with our friends Martha and Doug in NYC, we decided it was time to give it a go. How hard can it be? Four basic ingredients - water, malted barley, hops and yeast - plus a bit of time putting them all together and some patience while you wait for the magic to happen. Ems bought me John Palmer's excellent 'How to Brew' for my birthday and I picked up Charlie Papazian's 'The Complete Joy of Home-Brewing (Third Edition) from Powell's City of Books in Portland. There was a LOT of time spent pouring over Palmer's book before we settled on what we wanted to do first. He provides an solid all-extract Cincinnati Pale Ale for beginners which we decided sounded like a good option to start with.
But before we could get stuck into making our own sweet ale, there was the issue of getting kitted out with all the equipment we needed. Thanks to Zipcar and a day off work, we took ourselves off to The Home Brew Shop down in Aldershot. After a frantic half hour with the proprietor grabbing bits and pieces off the shelves according to our list, we were back on the road to sunny South London. There were a few more items we had to order online, like our boil pot and an auto-siphon, but we were soon ready for our first brew day.
|Ingredients for the first brew plus the improvised chiller filler|
Our first lesson learned was that brewing takes all day so make sure you start early and don't plan to do anything later in the evening. Maybe if we brewed all-extract again we could be quicker but I doubt we'll go back to that now we've started brewing all-grain. It is easy despite how complicated it sounds but more about that later.
The second lesson we learned is to make sure that you use a lid on your boil pot to help bring your wort up to a boil. We took advice from John Palmer's book that you shouldn't boil with a lid on so that dimethyl sulphide (DMS) compounds could properly boil off and not drop back down into the wort, giving it canned sweetcorn-type flavour (ugh!). Obviously those with a science background (like both Ems and me), know that the best way to get something to boil is to put a lid on it so that it increases the vapour-pressure inside the boil vessel and it reaches boiling point a lot quicker. So we spent a LOOOONG time waiting for our wort to reach boiling point. And by a LOOOONG time, I mean hours. In the end, we improvised with some tin-foil and that sped things up substantially.
Next thing we were looking for was the fabled 'hot-break' which is coagulated bits of protein from the malt that rise to the surface before falling back into the wort. According to various sources, it's meant to look like 'egg-drop soup'. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what 'egg-drop soup' is meant to look like and I'm not convinced that either of us saw anything that looked like lumps of coagulated protein. There was some speculation about various things we saw but I guess sometimes it's worth taking Charlie Papazian's ubiquitous advice and 'Don't worry...have a home-brew!'.
|Ems stiring the wort - yes, it is a Deschutes Mirror Pond T-shirt|
As per the recipe, we did our hop additions at the required times and once the hour was up, we were done. Next up, cooling the wort.
Next lesson learned was to make sure that the wort chiller fits the end of your cold tap and that you know which end of the tubing you're meant to attach. So guess what? We hadn't bothered to test the wort chiller until just before we'd started to brew and found that it didn't fit our kitchen tap. Bugger. This meant that we had to improvise in the only way that two technically minded people can. Gravity is the scientist's friend and in the end, we spent a lot of time holding the inlet tube of the chiller up really high while dumping cold water into a funnel (loosened to prevent a vacuum forming) while the other ensured the outlet was as low as possible so that the warmed water flowed out the other end. It probably took us 45-60 minutes to cool the wort to the required 21 degrees Celcius, which is a little longer than planned but we think everything seemed to be going ok.
Next lesson learned. Read the back of the packet of liquid yeast. Yes, our liquid yeast smack pack of American Pale Ale II needed to have been 'smacked' and allowed to sit for at least three hours. Fortunately we'd discovered this before we were ready to pitch but it did necessitate a little sitting around until we were happy that the pack had swelled to the maximum. If we'd known more about yeast, we would have made a starter the day before and pitched the liquid yeast to that so we would have had loads of lovely healthy yeast cells to pitch. In the end, we pitched what we had, filled our bubbler airlock with some Smirnoff vodka and stuck the fermenter into the spare room (now our fermenting and brewing equipment storage room). After cleaning up, we collapsed on the sofa completely knackered. By Emma's count, we had been brewing for around 8 hours straight but it had taught us a few valuable lessons which we knew we'd learn from for our next batch.
The next morning, we woke to an exciting sound. The airlock was bubbling away like a child burping after one too many carbonated drinks! So much so, it had forced quite a bit of the vodka out of the airlock and it had scatted over the top of the fermenter. Despite the fermenter being plastic, you could still see a thick, foamy krausen forming on the top of the beer. Nice. The fermentation continued in this vein for about 4 days before settling down. The next weekend we racked the beer to a glass carboy and dumped a load of Cascade hops into it to dry hop it, which was a variation from the John Palmer recipe as we like our American Pale Ales to be light in body but with plenty of fragrant hop aroma. The smell of Cascade hops is awesome so we had to add them. When we transferred the beer from the primary fermenter to the secondary, we also harvested some of the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter and stuck it in the fridge.
The beer sat in the secondary for two weeks before we bottled it. We managed 37 500ml bottles out of an anticipated 38 so we were pleased with our yield. We also hit our target final gravity so we were pleased about that too. We also tried it and, despite it being flat, it tasted the way we hoped. Fragrant hop flavour at the front with enough malty sweetness to balance it out, so another thing to be pleased about. So then the excited waiting began. Two weeks of waiting for the beer to carbonate so we could taste the results of our efforts.
|Bottling Day - how much would all this cost in a shop?|
Another lesson learned, trust the recipes. Despite following nearly all the advice we'd got from various quarters, I was still worried that we didn't have enough yeast in the beer and it wouldn't carbonate. However, as ever reassuring advice was received from Doug and on 14 December, 5 weeks after brewing the batch, we opened the first beer of the batch and were rewarded by the stress-relieving *hiss* from the bottle once opened and a healthy, foamy head when poured. Huzzah! We had brewed our first beer and it was exceptionally drinkable. Emma commented that she had paid money for worse beers in the past so that filled us both with confidence that we'd done things right and hopefully picked up a few good habits along the way. We gave a few bottles away to family and friends and the feedback we received was encouraging.
|Nicely amber and extremely drinkable - Our APA!|
Moving ever onwards, we bounced into our next batch. We'd been excited by a number of Black IPAs that we'd tried in a few of the excellent craft beers establishments around London (the IPA Project's Black IPA in Cask and Magic Rock's fantastic Magic 8 Ball in the Euston Tap, though technically a Black Pale Ale), so we decided that's what our next batch should be. Randomly, while flicking through CAMRA's Beer magazine that we'd picked up at the Great British Beer Festival in August, Em's found Phil Lowry's recipe for an all-grain Black IPA. The recipe looked pretty straight-forward and had lots of those delicious Pacific North West hops that we love. But the challenge was that it was an all-grain recipe. We'd thought about going to a speciality grain with extract recipe next but this exciting prospect of brewing our own Black IPA was too good to resist.
I found a pre-made mash/lauter tun on the Home Brew Shop website and ordered it. I don't have time to start messing around making one myself plus I don't have ready access to tools. A bit of hunting around online also turned up all the grains and hops for the recipe and we were ready to go. This time we thought ahead and made up a yeast starter in a big 2 litre conical flask a few days beforehand. It was bubbling and blipping away within a few hours and it went into the fridge the night before brew-day so to settle the yeast to the bottom.
Our first all-grain brew day arrived very quickly. We cheated a little and used an iPad app (BeerAlchemy) to calculate our water temperatures and generate our brew day instructions. This really helped as it kept us on track so we'll definitely be using it again. All you need to do is stick all your parameters into the app and it does all the calculations for you and lays it all out in a straight-forward manner.
Another lesson learned here - make sure you get a BIG boil pot to collect all the runnings from the lauter tun. We had got a 22.7 litre boil pot from Nisbits catering supplies for our first batch but this was nowhere near enough for this batch. We ended up collecting the remainder of the runnings in our pressure cooker and largest Le Crueset saucepot we had. We kept these hot and used them to top up the wort during the boil as the level dropped because of evapouration. We now have a BIG 33 litre boil pot which we can heat with two of our gas rings at the same time so we'll not run into this problem again and hopefully will boil quicker with two rings heating it.
This time, for the boil, we had a lid so the boil went much, much smoother. We got it up to boiling much quicker than last time but still didn't see anything resembling the fabled 'hot break' (is it like unicorn poo?). Also, once the lengthy 90 minute boil was finished, we were able to hook up the wort chiller to the tap as I'd found an adaptor that fitted, so no standing on chairs and pouring cold water into a funnel this time. Wort chilled in under 30 minutes. Winner!
Wort into fermenter with lots of splashing for aeration, pitched our healthy yeast starter and then sealed the whole thing up. Cleaning done and we collapsed once again on to the sofa. This brew took 8 hours again, so we're getting quicker considering we did a mash and a sparge as well this time.
An hour later we surprised to hear that the airlock was bubbling already. An hour? Seriously? The beer seemed to be going through a VERY vigourous fermentation but over the next few days but it didn't seem to develop as much of a krausen as the first batch. After a brief period of slight panic, we were once again reassured by the ever helpful Doug and we put our fears aside.
After the usual period of primary and secondary fermentation, we bottled the Black IPA. I named it 'Declassified'. We hit our target final gravity (1.018) bang on so it came out at a healthy 7.2%. We tried it flat and it had a very healthy hop aroma with lots of complexity in the flavour and a delicious roasted malt flavour in the finish. We could't wait to try it in two weeks time. I'll be sure to post something about how it turns out...
Post-script: When we tried this beer after two weeks bottle-conditioning, it was pretty hot out of the bottle in terms of alcohol flavour. But that soon mellowed after a week or so, leaving us with a fantastic tasting beer with citrus hop aroma, a warming alcohol heat and a great finish. We brewed this again just a few weeks ago with a little bit of wheat malt in the mash and all New Zealand hops. Can't wait to try it!