Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Alone and Homebrewing

Today starts the first attempt at homebrewing by myself. Is it scary? Maybe a little … I kind of relied on Nosh to help me out a bit too much last time, so hopefully I have enough confidence in having retained at least a little bit of his knowledge. I’m hoping to be up-to-par for the next big brew day at his pad—you know, with like … real brewing equipment … and not more of a helpless burden of a student.

What am I brewing? A red ale recipe from an extract kit I purchased from Stein Fillers in Lakewood, California.

Brewing Equipment: I wouldn’t say “equipment” so much as “a few things I borrowed from Nosh.” The only beer-making equipment I actually have is sanitizer and a large sauce pan. No kidding, that’s it. For an extract kit, you really don’t need that much:

* Star San sanitizer
* 5 gallons of fresh, clean, filtered water ($1.00 from the kind Asian man who owns a water, pagers, phones, Dickies, shoes, and other extra shit you’ll never buy store. If you’re from Long Beach, you know what I’m talking about.)
* 4-gallon (16-quart) pot for boiling malt extract
* Large sauce pan (at least 3-quart) for steeping grains
* Stirring spoon (plain-old wooden spoon)
* Enough ice to cool down California
*6 1/2-gallon (26-quart) fermenting bucket w/ three-piece airlock
*Candy thermometer
*Grain bag
*Gas stove

And here’s the beer recipe:

Red Ale
MALT:   6 lbs. Pale Malt Extract
GRAIN:  Crystal Malt 150° L, 1 lb
                Belgium Special B Malt 190° L, .25 lb
                Black Roasted Barley (usually about 500° L), .25 lb
HOPS:     Mt. Hood, 1 oz @ boil
                Cascade, 2 oz @ finish
YEAST:  Safale S-04 Dry Ale Yeast

OG: 1.052
FG: 1.014
SRM: 26
IBU: 17
ABV: 5.2%
(Read below for info on these numbers.)
Shane McGowan, my favorite Irishman

About Traditional Irish Ales:
Traditional Irish red ales are light-red to light-brown SRM 11-18), so this is by no means traditional. Plus, I’m using an English ale yeast, not an Irish ale yeast. OG (original gangsta’… er … gravity) is 1.040-1.048, where this one is supposed to turn out to be 1.052 — a little stronger than the traditional. The bitterness, or IBU, is from 20-28, and this one is 17, so it won’t have the same bitter qualities. Well-known Irish ales include Smithwick’s (no, not Smith-Wicks, foolish American, it’s Smiddicks) and Murphy’s Irish Red.

Joseph Lovibond. He put the L in ... Lovibond?

And the “L”?
The “L” after the grain stands for Lovibond, or rather, degrees Lovibond, hence the ° after the number. This is a scale used for measuring grain color. These numbers correspond with what’s known as the Standard Reference Method, or SRM, hence the “26” after the SRM below my list of what comes in the kit. Seeing as “Black” has an SRM of 20.0, I can only assume this beer is gonna’ be dark! Could the absence of color be any sweeter?


Pale Malt Extract (Base Malt)
So now that I know what color it will be, I’m onto figuring out what the malts I’m using are all about. First of all, I’m using an “extract,” which is a shortcut to getting to the wort (basically your “beer,” sans the yeast … basically just sugar from the malted barley and water). I’m all about simplicity after the last disaster. A malt extract is malted (sprouted) barley that has been made into a malt syrup or powder by being dehydrated, or evaporated. My particular malt is a syrup, so it hasn’t been completely dried. This extract is called the “base malt” because it gives the main fermentable part of the beer. The malt I’m using is called pale malt extract. A pale malt, after being sprouted and dried, is then kilned to a slightly darker color than traditional pilsner malts, from 3 to 4 L. It’s usually used in traditional English beers. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what variety of barley was used, so I can’t really judge what the character or flavor will be, nor how many sugars or soluble starches are in there. Sometimes corn, rice, wheat or rye are thrown in there, so I guess I’ll never know. That’s the drawback to using a less-expensive extract. Whatever, I’m cheap.

Crystal Malt (Caramel Malt)
Next up are the steeping grains, which are used for flavor and body. I’m using 1 pound of crystal malt, otherwise known as caramel malt. This malt is made from barley that’s green, meaning it hasn’t been kilned. It’s just straight dirty-hippy barley. It’s also created under very controlled measures. When this barley is cooled, the sugars turn into hard crystal. This malt won’t add to the fermentation, but it will add to the flavor, hence the reason it’s also called caramel malt. Not only will it add to the flavor, but it also increases the body of the beer as well as in head retention. Since the Lovibond is 150°, it’s considered dark…like REALLY dark. A Lovibond degree this high is supposed to give a pretty sharp caramel flavor and aroma. Damn, this is going to be a strong beer!
My grains

Belgium Special B; photo
Belgium Special B Malt
Also called for in this beer recipe is .25 pounds of a malt called Belgium Special B. This is also a type of crystal malt traditionally from Belgium. Whether or not mine was actually malted in Belgium, I don’t know. I’m going to pretend it was. Again, this is a dark pile of grains.  This malt is usually used to add raisin-like flavors to dark Belgian Abbey-style beers. But since I’m using such a small amount, it’ll be used more for a more complex, rich flavor, such as a brown or mild ale. My mouth is watering. Seriously, I just drooled on my desk. Gross.

Black Roasted Barley; photo

Black Roasted Barley
Ok, here’s where the real dark and bitter qualities come from. The bitterness in this malt is considered “high,” but hopefully not jaw-crushing high. I’m using .25 pounds of this dark stuff, too. This barley is usually unmalted and roasted at high temperatures for a coffee flavor. Most dry stouts use this malt, and more of it.

Hops are used to add bitterness to counteract or balance the sweet, sweet, delicious malt. Not only do hops do that, they also help stabilize and preserve the beer. My kit has hop “pellets,” which are dried, chopped and compressed into tiny, itsy bitsy pellets. So here’s where IBU comes into play. Notice my kit says the IBU (International Bitterness Units) is 17. Get a book if you want to really get into what that means, because I’m not going to attempt to casually put it in here. I can’t even add and subtract properly, much less figure out IBUs. Here, try this on for size: IBUs = 1.65 * 0.000125^(SG - 1) * ((1 - e^(-0.04 * t)) / 4.15) * ((AA * m * 1000) / V) See? There are plenty of apps that do this for you, too. I just let the outside of the cardboard box this kit comes in to tell me what I need for now.

What I can relay is that IBU of 17 means this brew is not toooooo bitter. The standard Irish red ale has a low-to-no hoppy aroma and medium-low hoppy bitterness in flavor. The black-roasted barley I’m using will add some bitterness on its own. And since I accidentally boiled it for a few seconds (as you’ll read below), I might have added an “extra special touch” of bitterness. Oops.

Mt. Hood
These hops are homegrown here in the States. The alpha acid content is 4.5-8%, so I don’t know exactly where mine falls. This is how you calculate the bitterness, by the way, by alpha acid content. I’m not ready to get into how to figure out bitterness quite yet. This variety of hop is being used in this case mainly for bitterness. How do I know? Because I’m supposed to toss 1 oz of them into the pot at a toasty rolling boil. Why not just throw all of the hops in the pot at the beginning? Blasphemy, that’s why! Because the chemical reaction needed (isomerization), which makes the alpha acid resins soluble in water. The beta acids become soluble only from oxidation, which is quite the opposite. Basically, don’t use old-ass hops that have been sitting on a dusty shelf for a year. Remember, the flavor and bitterness of hops are two entirely different things.

All in all, total IBUs when punched into my fancy program, ProMash, is 82.1. I don’t know what that means. Hmmm…at a loss.. Sounds a bit high, doesn’t it? If my jaw locks after sipping it, I’ll know it’s too high.
Fresh Mt. Hood hops

These are your typical all-American hops. In this case, I’m using them for aroma, which is why they’re called “finishing” hops. I’ll throw these in about 15 minutes before the end of boiling. These hops are usually used for IPA-style brews, so I can only assume they’re pretty … well … hoppy. Usually they add some citrusy and floral flavors, mainly grapefruitish. Alpha acids are 5.5-7%, a little more than the Mt. Hoods I’m using for bittering.
Fresher-than-fresh Cascade hops

This can be a frightening word. Yeast is alive! It moves, eats, releases, belches and makes beer delicious! Single-celled organisms tend to do that. Yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, which is the carbonation. There are literally thousands of different strains of yeast, but only a few are used for brewing. The type brewers use are from the genus Saccharomyces.

There are liquid and dry yeasts you can purchase. My beer recipe called for a dry yeast called Safale S-04 Dry Ale Yeast. I’ve never seen anyone brew beer with a dry yeast, so this will be new. It reminded me of powdered milk, so I had a natural aversion to it for my first homebrewing attempt. Thanks, dad. This means I’ll need to rehydrate it before pitching it into the concoction. S-04 is apparently known for its “flavorful profile,” which works for me! I wouldn’t know the difference yet, anyway. Dry yeast is supposed to be a quick starter, which is great because I like to hear the bubbling of the yeast munching on sugars while I sleep. Sweet, sweet, sugar eating. It’s kind of relaxing.

Ok, Here We Go! How to Brew Beer:

Grains in their handy grain bag
Steeping grains
1. First thing’s first. Since the step of taking the sugars out of grains has already been done for me, resulting in the extract, I simply steeped the grains in a covered sauce pan with 3 quarts of hot (clean) water until at 150° F for 30 minutes. Ok, live and learn … I thought that keeping the heat at medium-low would produce a steady 150° temp, but since it’s covered, it of course boiled. Great. Don’t do that! Keep it covered, but I suggest keeping the heat on Low. Ugh. I hope I didn’t just destroy the brew. I use a candy thermometer because of the handy-dandy clip, but you can use a floating thermometer if you have the urge to burn the crap out of your hand every 5 minutes to check the temperature.

Grain "tea"

Placing the bag over a strainer
allows for an easy rinse.

2. After 30 minutes of making grain tea (They’re in a grain bag, but you can use a regular kitchen strainer or cheesecloth if you want to be even cheaper than  me.) I drained and rinsed it with 3 quarts of very hot water that’s at 170° F. So many numbers! I needed this tea for boiling the extract, so I just kept it in the pot and put it aside for later. Placing a basic strainer over the pot and throwing the grain bag on top of it seemed to be the easiest way to rinse the grains. What do you do with your grains? Call your local pet shop and see if they want them because they’ll make dog biscuits and other delicious goodies for our four-legged loved ones.

Giantus kettleithicus
Pouring the extract syrup into boiling
pot after removing from heat
3. Next step was to bring 2 gallons of water (again, use the clean water) to a boil in a stock pot that’s at least 4 gallons (I was lucky to have borrowed a 7-gallon pot), took it off the heat after boiling, and then added the extract. After I was sure the extract wasn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot and was mixed in well, I added the grain tea and enough water to bring the volume up to 3 gallons. (Remember, water evaporates in the boil.) As for the candy thermometer, oops, my bad. Now my dumb self has to stick my hand in the pot to measure it since the thing is made for a little old lady making candy in a small pot. Get a real brewing thermometer, one that’s nice and looooong.

Mt. Hood hops pellets
She's a brewin'!
4. I put this mixture back on the heat and brought it to a boil. As soon as the first bubbles starting bursting out of the top, I added 1 oz of Mt. Hood hops and let it continue boiling for 60 minutes. Phew! The hard part is done. So many numbers, so little brain.

5. After an hour of boiling with the hops and all, I turned off the heat completely and threw the 2 oz of Cascade hops in there.

6. This next part was really important, but difficult to achieve properly because of lack of brewing equipment. Usually homebrewers have a crazy contraption called an immersion wort cooler that is made of wrapped-around copper piping they connect to a hose or sink in order to cool the wort. Why do you need to cool down the wort as soon as possible? This reduces the chances of bacteria growing before pitching (literally tossing in) your yeast and also improve your beer’s clarity.

Note the amount of water that evaporated
so you can replenish your fermenting bucket.

7. Since I’m po’, I used the age-old method of dumping my pot in a sink full of ice and cold water. The only thing I really don’t like about homebrewing is the amount of water needed to clean and cool down the wort. I feel guilty. I’m going to confession, be back later. At this point, I also poured 1 gallon of the remaining water into my fermenting bucket since I lost about that much during the different boiling steps.
The dopest way to cool down your wort

Yeast, being yeasty
8. While the wort was going through a few minutes of ice melting, I used that time to rehydrate my dry yeast. To do this, I boiled 1 ½ cups of water and threw it in a sanitized cup, and then let it cool down to 105° F (put the sanitized thermometer in the cup) before I tossed the yeast in it. I let the yeast sit in there until the wort that was cooling in the sink and the yeast were at the same temperature, about 70° F.

9. WAIT A SECOND!!! Before I pitched the yeast in, there were two things I needed to do first: scoop up a sample of my wort with my hydrometer and pour the wort that’s been chilling into the fermenting bucket. Try to make it “splash” a little bit to aerate it. I didn’t actually “scoop” it. Unfortunately, I goopy pile of mushy hops was gunked up at the bottom, so I hope they dissolve or whatever they do. Yikes.

I filled up the hydrometer container from the fancy spigot on the bucket. Remember, you don’t want anything touching your wort, especially your dirty hands. Go wash them, they’re dirty. You’re gross. You don’t technically have to take a hydrometer reading, but if you want to take good notes and know the density of the wort (relative to the density of the water), you’ll do so. This does a few different things for you, but the main reason I’m testing it is to find out the alcohol content (ABV). I will also test it once a day when I hear the yeast stop working it’s corner to see if it has changed. If it hasn’t, then the yeast is tired of pimpin’ and the beer is ready to bottle. Why take a sample at this temperature? Because a proper density reading can only be achieved at 60° F. Otherwise, you have to do dreaded math.
I have no idea what this reading is, but Nosh will tell me!

My house smells delicious! My roommates will be so excited…

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