June 14, 2005

Brewing your first beer, post II: the ingredients

Our first beer is going to be an extract only brew and, to simply things even further, we're going to use what's called a beer kit. We will, however, discard the directions that come with the kit. Following those instructions reduces the chance of making a decent beer. Anyway.

So what kind of beer kit should you buy? Like anything else, it depends on what kind of beer you like. Stouts, pale ales, bitters, nut brown ale. For my part, I'm going to pick a nice, crisp, refreshing beer, one that will quench my summertime thirst. I'm not usually in the mood for a Guinness just after I've mowed the lawn. To that end, I've decided to brew my next beer using Coopers Draught malt extract kit. It comes in a 3.75 pound can, which isn't sufficient for a 5-gallon batch, meaning that I'll have to buy two. On to the next ingredient.

To magically transform malt sugar into alcohol, you're going to need yeast. Once again, we'll take the path of least resistance and use dried yeast. It's economical and easy to use. I've had good success using both Coopers Ale yeast and Doric ale yeast. The Munton's Ale yeast worked okay, too, but I've had more success with the other two. I recommend the Coopers Ale yeast because it ferments fairly well, even if the temperature climbs up out of the optimal range, which is certainly possible during the summer months.

The next ingredient is obvious: water. What may not be obvious, though, is that you shouldn't use plain old water straight out of the tap. Most municipal water systems are chlorinated and that stuff will make your beer taste like a child's wading pool. However, if your water is charcoal-filtered, you're all set. You could purchase 5-gallons of drinking water(not distilled) from the grocery store if you like, but I think it's unnecessary. Up to you, of course.

After your beer has fermented and you're ready to bottle, you'll have to add a little bit more yeast food to the beer so that it will carbonate in the bottle. So you'll need a little bit of corn sugar, about 3/4 cup or so. This is NOT table sugar and you won't find it in your grocery store. Just add it to your shopping cart when you're purchasing your other ingredients at the local homebrew supply shop.

Optional ingredient: some hop pellets for aroma/flavoring.

The kit you'll buy contains hops already, but these are bittering hops. There will be essentially no hop aroma from this kit unless you add some of your own. If you enjoy a nice hoppy aroma, you might consider tossing in 1/2 ounce of Cascade hop pellets. They have a great floral, citrusy aroma, which I really enjoy. Again, though, it's not necessary. Completely up to you.

To recap:

1) 2 x 3-4 pound cans of any hopped malt extract beer kit. I've chosen Coopers Draught kit for my brew; it comes in a 3.75 pound can.
NOTE: If your kit comes in a 6-7 pound can, you will only need one can. Just an FYI.

2) 5-gallons of water, with all of that nasty chlorine filtered out.

3) 1 package dried ale yeast, purchased separately from what's included with your beer kit

4) Optional: 1-ounce packet of Cascade hop pellets.

Up next in the series: brewing the darned thing.

Posted by: Physics Geek at 09:05 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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June 02, 2005

Brewing your first beer, post I: the equipment

Since this will be your first beer, we're going to keep things as simple as possible. Terms that you likely won't hear in this series:

1) sparging
2) protein rest
3) saccharification
4) isohumulone

Things that you are likely to hear:

1) boiling
2) carbonation
3) bottling
4) drinking

Anyway, there a variety of items that you could use for homebrewing, but I don't want to stress you out. In the motto of the American Homebrewers Association: Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew.

Okay, first things first. You will need a kettle to boil your beer in. Technically, the beer will be called wort at this stage. And now you've added a new word to your vocabulary, although I haven't found a way to use it in conversations NOT about brewing.

Back to the boiling pot. It should be at least 3 gallons, although 5 gallons is probably better and 10 gallons would be better still. But if you want to save money, stick with the smaller pot. Some people get a little too serious about the type of kettle: ceramic coated stainless, pure stainless steel, pots that come with your own personal Emeril to screech "BAM!" every time you add something to it. Me? I went the inexpensive route and bought an aluminum pot. But hey, it's your setup. Whatever makes you happy.

Next on the list as a must have item is a fermentation vessel. You have a couple of realistic choices here as a homebrewer: glass or plastic. 5 gallon glass carboys are easy to find and they're not too expensive. Since you'll typically brew 5 gallon batches, though, you will need to use a blowoff tube for the first couple of days and then add on a fermentation lock. If that sounds like too much effort, a 6-1/2 gallon carboy is probably a better choice because you can stick the lock on top from the get go. And having said all that, I suggest that you go with a plastic fermentation vessel for your first batch. They're usually 6-1/2 to 7 gallons in capacity and have airtight lids with a single opening for your fermentation lock. Also, they're pretty much unbreakable, which isn't the case for glass fermentation vessels. Again, it's your call.

On second thought, you'll probably want to go ahead and order a 5 gallon glass carboy, or at least put it on lay-away. Glass is absolutely required for secondary fermentation. Granted, we won't bother with that for our first beer, but we will for future brews.

How will you get the beer into your fermentation vessel? You're going to need a pretty large plastic funnel. Maybe not for your first beer, but definitely for the next one.

If you want some idea of the potential alcohol in your brew, you'll need a hydrometer, a device used to measure the specific gravity of liquids. The more sugar that's dissolved in the beer, the greater potential alcohol content. And a floating thermometer is useful as well. It's bad form to add yeast to your brew while it''s too hot. Also, you'll need to know the temperature of your wort when taking the specific gravity if you want to correctly determine the specific gravity of your beer.

Since I mentioned fermentation locks in the preceding paragraph, I might as well discuss those next. There are several types available. A picture of the two most common ones can be found here. They both accomplish the same task: let carbon dioxide from the fermentation escape while preventing anything from getting back into the beer.

Once fermentation has completed, you'll need a bottling bucket. I suggest that you buy one with a spigot already attached. You will rack(siphon) the beer from the fementation vessel into the bottling bucket using a racking cane. This prevents having a lot of yeasty sludge from ending up in your bottles. Also, you'll probably want to buy a spring-loaded bottle filler, which makes filling up the bottles a much simpler task. It also leaves about the perfect amount of headspace in each bottle. In my opinion, this small piece of equipment will make your bottling experience less painless.

You'll need bottles, too, about 50-60 12-ounce bottles, or 25 24-ounce bottles. How do you aquire them? Well, you could buy brand spanking new bottles from the store, but I tend to get them from my other friends that drink beer, asking them to save all of their empties. My pals are usually very helpful in this regard, especially after I've promised to give them some samples of my homebrew. By the way, ask your friends to rinse the bottles after they're empty. Cleaning mold out of bottles isn't an enjoyable task.

Okay, you''ve filled your bottles with your beer. Now you need to cap them. This means, of course, that you will need 50-60 unused bottle caps, as well as a bottle capper to put them onto the bottles. Again, go the inexpensive route and purchase a lever-armed bottle capper. Bench cappers are nice, but more expensive, and they require more effort on your part if the bottles aren't all the same size, which is likely to be the case if you're using castoff empties.

I almost forgot: you'll need a couple of pieces of plastic tubing, too. One piece will attach to the racking cane and another to the bottle filler.

I think that our brewing list is pretty much complete. Let's recap what you'll need:

1 3-5 gallon brewing kettle
1 5 or 6 gallon glass carboy
1 6.5 to 7.5 gallon "food grade" plastic fermenter with airtight locking lid
1 6 foot length of 3/8-inch inside diameter clear plastic tubing
1 racking cane
1 fermentation lock
1 rubber stopper to fit the fermentation lock(It's bad form to not notice until you're pitching the yeast that they don't fit. Not that I know from experience or anything. I'm just saying.)

1 2-3 foot length of 3/8-inch outside diameter tubing which should fit the next item
1 spring-loaded bottling wand
1 large plastic funnel
1 floating thermometer
1 hydrometer
1 bottle capper, for which you'll need lots of new bottle caps.
50-60 beer bottles, preferably the non-screwtop type. Brown glass is the best, but pretty much anything will work.

I forgot to mention how important proper sanitation is. Let's go the cheap route yet again and use unscented household bleach. You don't want your beer to taste lemony fresh. Ugh.

That's enough to get started. We'll go over the limited ingredient list in the next post in this series.

What's that you say? You don't have a brewshop in your town? Have no fear, there are shops all over the country that will gladly ship the stuff right to your door. Check here and here. If you don't find what you're looking for there, then check out these links. Oh, and lots of places sell beginner kits containing most or all of the equipment listed above. Your mileage may vary.

See you next post.

Posted by: Physics Geek at 06:43 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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