I finally got a chance to brew a big ol’ batch of beer on my new gear! But before I jump into recounting that day, I want to outline my old method first for two reasons. New readers may want a little context, and also I’m rusty – need to stretch my writing brains!
My first steps into actual homebrewing were done in small 10 litre batches done in a bag, in a big aluminium pot on the stove. Very basically, milled malt is thrown into a fine fabric mesh bag which is then put into a pot of hot water – about 70 degrees. The malt stays in there for an hour before being pulled out. At this point the water is now full of malt sugars, proteins, and other goodies. This is boiled and hops are added. Finally, the brew is thrown into a fermenter (post cooling) and yeast is added for fermentation. Nice and easy. This yields between 6 and 10 litres of beer, which sounds great, but after 6 hours of brewing and a month of waiting, it can be rather disappointing to only get a case and a half of beer out of it.
But now everything’s different! Now I have a 40 litre copper brew pot, three 10 litre aluminium pots, and a 20ish litre mash tun! Which means that if I wanted to, I could brew up about 3 times as much beer in one go! Whoo!
In principle, the process is the same, except for a few small changes. Instead of throwing the malt into a bag, it’s put straight into the mash tun (which is a modified cooler box).
left for an hour, then the resulting liquid is put into the copper pot to boil. No longer do I need to watch the flame under the pot to maintain a constant temperature!
Now that context is out of the way, I can say that my first brew went off with only one little (pretty big) hitch! Sunday morning started off with assembly. I had to figure out how and what and all that junk. Having never brewed with any of this stuff meant that I had some serious brow-sweat winging to do. After about 2 hours I eventually had everything in place in a way that 80% of the liquid transference was done with the help of gravity.
80% meant that 20% had to be done with either lifting or my tiny pump. Hoping to not have to lift 30kg of just-boiled liquid, I had planned to use said tiny pump along with a long pipe, for cooling and getting the wort from the pot to the fermenter – the pump broke that morning.
There’s my hitch. No cooling. This may just seem like impatience, but anybody who’s brewed beer before will tell you that cooling is pretty darn important, this is why chillers sell for thousands of currencies.
The reason for this is that beer is at its most vulnerable just before the yeast is pitched – you’ve created the perfect environment for all the nasties in the air with plenty of food and no competition, so the quicker you can cool it to yeast pitching temperatures, the better. There are also other desirable reactions that happen during rapid cooling which result in a clearer, better tasting beer. It took many many hours for it to cool…. Eish.
Now, this is not to say that the beer is ruined. I’ve heard of hop forward beers (bitter, fruity, aromatic beers) doing perfectly without any cooling whatsoever. Malt forward beers (stouts, lagers and the such) on the other hand, seem to fair worse. My beer is rather lightly hopped, and may need some extra hoppy goodness added in to hide my failure!
The rest of the brew day went along very well, and there are a couple things I’ll do differently next time around. One of which is the construction and use of a counter-flow wort chiller! It’s basically a pipe within a pipe. The inner pipe carries the wort forward from the boil pot to the fermenter while the outer pipe carries cold water backwards to cool the wort. It’s simple, effective, and needs no pump!
I have a couple more brews planned for the coming months. I endeavor to make a drinkable lager, which is a lot tougher than you’d think, given that it’s such a popular beer. Unlike ales, which should maintain a temperature of around 20 degrees during fermentation, a lager should ferment closer to 10 degrees. Not only that but it should be kept at fridge temperatures for about a month after bottling. It doesn’t sound too tough, but you try storing 60 beers in the fridge with the rest of your food.
The second beer is a very simple recipe for an English style ale. It’ll be using only a single hop, and will hopefully not suck!
In non-beer related news, I now have a moped which has leaks for days. Apparently the mechanic who had it before me doesn’t know how to fit a bolt without stripping the hole. I now work full time at The Bootlegger homebrew shop, and have been there for almost a month with only Sundays off. This has given me a renewed appreciation for working from home – thankfully I get to only go in 4 days a week from now on. I finally have wood needed to build the shed for all the non-baby junk in the house. Lastly, the grape vines are doing great! Which means that I can hopefully try my hand at terrible wine this year!