Friday, February 1, 2013

HBD: Breaking The Seal

When I decided to start writing this series, I had no idea where I would be two months later. However, given my attitude toward beer, I've decided to continue it, as much for my own reference as anything.

I'm actually a couple batches behind at this point, but I still wanted to get this out there. As some of you might not be totally familiar with the process, I thought I'd give it step-by-step this time -- later posts may just summarize the "interesting" points.

As I said before, this isn't exactly my first rodeo. But that doesn't make me experienced in any way; when I was little I got to help fill bottles, and when I was in college I mostly just ... observed.

So with this first batch, it was time to get down and dirty.

Kit: Muntons Connoisseurs Nut Brown Ale, which we'll call a "starter kit."

Step 1: Sanitation.

This is probably the most important step, and in our case it wasn't fun. We used bleach (not necessarily the recommended agent, but best for killing mold if your bottles have been sitting for years.) I did most of the bottles at the same time as the mixing and fermenting equipment, later doing a soap-free dishwasher run with the bottles right before bottling. (So mold removal and most of the germ killing right away and then essentially a polishing step right before bottling.)

Step 2: The Mixing.

Maybe because I enjoy cooking as much as I do or because I'm waaaay into kitchen chemistry, but this was probably my favorite part.


Now, if you're lucky enough to be into all grain brewing (a stage I am not yet ready for) this is a much more involved task. If you're a first-timer, you can buy kits that make it quite easy.

Kit brewing requires your liquid malt extract (the can), yeast (included with the can, generally), boiling water, cold water, and some combination of corn sugar and dry malt extract. The sugar/DME proportions are basically up to you -- a little bit of research may tell you what works best, but for the most part with the kits you can adjust things to your own taste. (I used more malt than sugar, but that was just me.)

This step is very, very easy. A Muntons kit will even let you mix right in the fermentor (some kits require stock pots). It's also quite fun. I find mixing to be ... well, a little mesmerizing, actually, which mostly just tells me I picked up the right hobby.

The fermentor (essentially a five-gallon bucket made of food grade plastic) is covered and then fitted with an airlock -- in my case, a simple three-piece one that I fill partially with water. As sugar is fermented, carbon dioxide is released and the airlock bubbles. The faster it's bubbling, the longer it has to sit.

Step 3: The Waiting.

Our wort fermented for three days or so before I transferred it to a carboy (a clarifying process, plus a chance to give the yeast a boost with a shot of sugar). After that, it was a matter of waiting for the bubbling to slow (to one-ish an hour, which is rather hard to gauge) so we could bottle.

Step 4: The Bottling

There's very little to say about bottling. It is a step. It will get your floor all sticky, especially if you have clumsy help. (Or if you're me, which is basically the same thing.) It's easy to get junk in your beer if you haven't cleaned things appropriately and if you're not careful about what you're doing. If you're looking at equipment, there are different versions of bottle-cappers out there and truth be told, I don't know as anything fancy is needed.

That's about it.

Step 5: The Rest Of The Waiting
We tested this batch at regular intervals (honestly, it was me trying to be scientific about things) and let me tell you -- too young and your beer will bite back. After about five weeks, this batch was nearly perfectly aged. It's been a couple months now and it's starting to taste old, which was not unexpected. Home brewed beer will not have the same shelf life as just about anything you'll buy in the grocery store, much like the cookies you'll bake at home versus even the ones you pick up in a bakery.


And really, that's it! This particular kit smoothed out beautifully, although my use of malt in mixing kept the alcohol content fairly low. (At least, I think that was part of the reason.) It was best fresh out of the refrigerator and with the carboy step, I had very little sediment.

As I said, this is probably the only step-by-step I'll be posting -- well, until I get to the all-grain stuff, which may be awhile. I'd be happy to hear any of your stories! This was blessedly uneventful, but I've known of batches that exploded (bottle by bottle while the brewers had houseguests), plenty that have tasted skunky right from the start, batches that have gone flat or ultra-fizzy ... Who has a story to tell?

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