I made the jump to all-grain brewing this weekend. So far I’ve brewed 2 batches of beer (American Wheat from Homebrewing 101 and Pilsner Urkel) using extract kits and decided to take my shit to the next level and actually do all of the work from scratch myself. Homies DBlue and Shojonz came over on Saturday and we cooked up 10 gallons of Southern English Brown Ale. If you don’t give a shit about how you can make beer like the breweries at the convenience of your own home than jump to one of Serg’s posts about bacon dogs or deep-fried pancakes, they are way more entertaining.
First, I’ll try to enlighten you guys on the overall brewing process before I nerd out. In order to make beer, you need 4 things: malted barley (milled), hops, water and yeast.
Here is a synopsis of the all-grain brewing process (taken from John Palmer’s book, “How to Brew“) :
- Malted barley is soaked in hot water to release the malt sugars.
- The malt sugar solution is boiled with Hops for seasoning.
- The solution is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
- The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol.
- When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit of added sugar to provide the carbonation.
I’m going to cover steps 1-3 today. Steps 4 and 5 will be covered in follow-up posts.
I needed to buy some more equipment so I picked up a mash tun and sparge vessel (or hot liquor tank) from my homeboy brewd00d. He sells some awesome rigs and I can’t recommend checking out his site enough. Here’s the shit in action:
“The Mash Tun is simply used to steep the various grains selected for brewing beer. Grain is mixed with water and allowed to steep for a set amount of time (60 to 90 minutes) which allows the starches to be coverted to fermentable sugars. After the mashing is complete, the liquid mixed with the grain is allowed to slowly drain off through the bottom valve into the bucket. At the same time, water is introduced from the sparge vessel (or hot liquor tank) and introduced to the top of the grain bed. This allows the residual sugars to be rinsed from the grain and is known as fly-sparging.”
Yes, I copied the explanation above from this place because it was written way better than what I had.
In the photo below (taken from brewd00d’s site because I’m too lazy to go outside and take my own picture) you’ll first see the bottom manifold inside the mash tun which is basically a filter to keep the grain inside.
For our batch this weekend we heated up 5.5 gallons of water and poured it into the mash tun. Once the water cooled down to 163 degrees we added the milled grain I bought from Dave over at St. Louis Wine and Beermaking and stirred it up to prevent clumps of grain from forming. The temperature of the mash hit 153 degrees so we closed the lid and set the timer for 90 minutes while we drank some of DBlue’s homebrewed lemon wheat and APA beers and heated up some more water for the sparge vessel. Once 90 minutes passed, we slowly began to drain the liquid (now called wort) from the bottom cooler into the bucket.
Just prior to draining the wort from the mash tun, we filled the sparge vessel with the water we heated while waiting for the mash to finish. A sparge vessel is basically a giant thermos that is used to hold the hot water at a constant temperature. This hot water is slowly trickled into the mash tun via the built in sparge manifold.
Here is a photo of the mash tun’s sparge manifold in action. The manifold is that thing attached to the lid which evenly distributes water to prohibit channels from forming in the grain. The grain bed has settled and is now naturally filtering shit so I’m not getting grain husks and crap in my wort.
Once I collected the required amount of wort, in this case 11.5 gallons, I dumped it into the brew kettle. We collected the extra 1.5 gallons because we are nerds and calculated the evaporation loss from a 60 minute boil.
My not-so-ethically aquired brewing kettle is an old keg that my homie Jamy gave me in exchange for a six pack of the first beer I brewed. These things are perfect. They hold 15.5 gallons, are stainless steel and much cheaper than a kettle you would buy from a homebrew shop. I cut a hole in the top of that bitch with a sawzall and cleaned it up with a Dremel tool. A spigot was later added after I drilled a hole in the side of the keg and returned the $45 drill bit to Home Depot. The burner is a Bayou Classic hookup that I got at the same Home Depot and shit is rated at 200,000 BTUs.
Once the wort hit a boil we added our first stage of hops. Hops add bitterness, flavor and aroma to beer. The longer that hops boil they lose their aroma, flavor and then become bitter. So we added some magnum hops for bittering at the beginning of the boil then let that shit go for 45 minutes while we ate some of Sarah’s chicken adobo. With 15 minutes left in the boil we added some East Kent Golding hop pellets for flavor and aroma.
After 60 minutes passed we cooled off the wort with DBlue’s immersion chiller.
An immersion chiller is basically a coil of copper tubing that you place in the hot wort to cool it down. Here’s a damn good explanation by Karl Lutzen and Mark Stevens from their book, “Brew Ware“:
“Wort chillers are used to quickly cool the hot wort after boiling. Rapid wort cooling is important to the making of good beer. It helps to reduce the formation of off-flavor compounds and it allows the brewer to add the yeast to the wort more quickly, thereby reducing the chances for bacterial spoilage. Immersion chillers are usually built from a coil of copper tubing with connectors on each end to which hoses are attached (garden hoses are often used). One connector is run to a source of cold water; the other is run to a drain for expelling the hot water. The immersion chiller offers a simple, effective way to quickly cool hot wort.”
There are a few other wort cooler contraptions out there that are much more efficient but I’ll get into that when I post the “Build Your Own Immersion Chiller” article.
Once the wort was cooled to 80 degrees I drained it into a sanitized fermenting bucket and 6 gallon carboy (big glass jug). I made a yeast starter from a pack of English Ale yeast a few days before so it would be ready to kick ass when I placed it in the wort. Airlocks were placed on the bucket and carboy to allow CO2 (one of the byproducts of fermentation) to exit but keep bad shit from entering and infecting the sterile wort.
I placed the bucket and carboy in the closet of our guest bedroom away from the light. For this style of beer you want it to be at around 65-70 degrees for optimal fermention and let it go for 11-14 days.
So last night I was at DBlue’s crib and mentioned how much extra wort we had and how I practically topped off the carboy. He laughed at me and advised me to check on it when I got home and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t overflowing with foam (krausen) produced by the yeast. Here’s the email I sent to DBlue:
I got home and checked the bucket and carboy- shiiiit.
The bucket was ok but that fucking carboy practically exploded shit everywhere. No glass breakage but it probably wasn’t too far off. The airlock has crap all up in it and I tried to release some pressure but was greeted by a spray of foam shit all over the front half of my body and the closet wall. I managed to wrap my shirt around the top of the carboy and airlock but the middle piece of the airlock kept coming out with the foam so I said fuck it and walked downstairs and built myself a blowoff system out of an old #7 bung, some tubing, an avocado and a glass bowl from the kitchen filled with sanitizer (that I sanitized the tubing and bung with). I hope I didn’t contaminate anything but I’m assuming not since all the shit was on it’s way out.
I’d say we’re bubbling away like a motherfucker now.”
To be continued…