Monday, April 11, 2011

Homebrewing: Day 1, continued

To make a long story short, I sanitized. What happens if you don’t? Well, a few things, the most important being your beer will totally suck. If you want to know why  your beer will suck, read on. If you couldn’t give two poops and a rat’s tail, then don’t read it—pretty simple.

The boil will kill anything in your brew pot or stirring spoon, so you don’t have to worry too much about that. But, you do need to clean your fermenter, bottles (I would wait until bottling day), airlock, racking equipment, bottle caps, kegs and tubes. Basically, all of your homebrewing equipment. And, by the way, take it easy. You know, “Easy Does It,” but with drinking aloud. Scratches happen, but you don’t want them to, so do your best to avoid them. If you’re using a $15 plastic bucket like I am (great beginner’s homebrewing kit!!), keep in mind that plastic scratches easily, so just keep it mellow and without scrubbing pads. Speaking of buckets, don’t just go out and buy a painting bucket from Home Depot! Big N-O! This isn’t food-grade plastic, or polypropylene. I would suggest the sanitizer I threw out there yesterday or bleach. Although, bleach can sort of continue smelling up the joint and has been known to cloud vinyl, so I would stay away from that, too, unless you’re just dying to brew and can’t wait to get proper sanitizer (like I did the first time with my bottles, and we know how well that went). Scented cleaners are a big no-no, too. If you’re cool enough to have a glass carboy (basically a 5-gallon glass water bottle, but not), bleach will leave lime deposits if you have hard water. How many times do I have to tell you to skip the bleach?

The Star San sanitizer only needs about 30 seconds to do its job, so it won’t take long at all. It says to use one fluid ounce per 5 gallons, so you don’t need to go crazy with it, either. You can use a pressure cooker and heat to sanitize as well, but I’m not getting into it because I’ve never used that method. I mean, of course I’ve never used this method, I’ve only brewed once. If you’re saving your bottles for your own bottling use, keep in mind that yeast and other gunk often gets stuck inside the bottles if you don’t clean them pretty well the first time. Always use a bottle brush to clean and sanitize these puppies. You don’t want to know the disgusting gunk I found in Nosh’s bottles. (Sorry Nosh.)

Why do you need to clean the crap out of everything like this? Well, you’re dealing with bacteria to begin with, so you need a controlled environment to keep it all working well together. Yeast, when mixed with certain bacteria, can present strange flavors, and not the good “oh man, that accidental Acinetobacter baumannii flavor you had in that batch was killer. Hehe, get it? Types of bacteria that can actually be found in botched brews: lactic acid bacteria, which turns beer into “sour beer.” The two most known are: Lactobacillus (a cheese culture) and Pediococcus (used in making vinegar). To be honest, there are some great sour brews out there, including one my brewing buddy made, but he knows what he’s doing. My sour beer would most likely turn into a jawbreaking scream fest.

There is also something called “wild yeast” that is yeast in low levels. This is alongside the yeast you already “pitched” into your fermenter on purpose. Sometimes, such as in a Belgian ale, this is beneficial yeast, but for me, it’s not.

So, after about an hour of cleaning, soaking and sanitizing my brewing supplies, we started the process. What that entailed I don’t remember much of because my mechanic called me to let me know my car needed a new engine, so I went into freak-out mode and my friend, Nosh, was sort of forced to start steeping my grains without me. I couldn’t have been a worse brewing buddy that day.

And here’s where my first experience ends and the recipe and screw-up begins. I have no idea what exactly the steps were because I was so preoccupied with my car that I sort of blanked out. Don’t do this! Pay attention to everything you’re doing, keep a timer and take a lot of notes! And p.s. I didn’t need a new engine, I simply needed an engine coil, which I replaced myself for less than $100. Thanks for asking. Here’s the beer recipe:

British Mild
MALT:   3 lbs Light Dry Malt Extract (Only starting out with extract brewing for now)
GRAIN: Crystal Malt 60 L (I’ll get into what the “L” stands for later), ½ lb
               Brown Malt, ½ lb
               Chocolate Malt, ½ lb
HOPS:   Goldings, ¾ oz at boil, ¼ oz 15 min. before end of boil
YEAST: White Labs British Ale

And this is where the screw-up began…
SUGAR: Organic Clover Honey, ½ lb
                Unsulphured Molasses, ½ lb
                Organic Brown Sugar, 1 ¼ cup

I decided to take a perfectly fine beginner’s ale and add my “special ingredient,” which consisted of all of that sugar. Yep, just mixed that puppy all up into a goopy, disgusting (no, delicious) mess, and dumped it in the pot just before boiling was finished.

The result? After a week of fermenting and two weeks of bottle fermenting, it was NASTY! There was little carbonation (that’s just because I didn’t let the bottles sit long enough because I’m impatient as all hell) and kind of sickening-sweet.

I will admit that after three more weeks of sitting around in bottles (not that I really let them sit around), it ended up not being horribly bad. My friends liked it (the ones who drink Bud Light), but I was thoroughly disappointed. Nosh wouldn’t even finish his pint. Ouch!

Tomorrow is a new brewing day with an all-new outlook and pile of knowledge. Photos and more to come!

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