Brew day step by step
After cleaning up the gear, I started off by following the Homebrewing for Dummies instructions. They were pretty easy to follow, but I'll paraphrase them below and add my own thoughts:
- Fill your brew pot about 1/2 full with "clean" tap water or bottled water and then place it on the largest burner of your stove. Set the burner on medium-high . (My stove is weak, so I cranked it all the way to high.)
- Remove any plastic lids from the kit's ingredients and set they yeast packets aside. (My ingredients came in a metal can and sealed plastic pouches, so not plastic lids for me.)
- Remove the paper label from the can(s) of extract and place it in a saucepan filled half-way with tap water. Place the saucepan on another burner set to medium.
- Flip the extract can every couple of minutes to warm it evenly. Don't forget to use pot holders! Note: Here's where the Dummies instructions fell a little short for me. My kit included some dry malt extract and crushed grains. Somewhere between steps 4 and 5 I looked at my ingredients and realized I had a problem. My first instinct was to call my local brew supply shop and beg for help. Unfortunately their answering machine picked up. I left a brief message and my phone number. I decided to give the recipe kit instructions a quick read and all my questions were answered.
I had to dump the grain into a bag that also came with the kit. The bag was similar to cheese cloth. Once filled, I had to tie a knot at the open end of the bag and drop it into the warming water in the brew pot. Instantly a nice reddish ale color began to permeate the water. Things were beginning to resemble beer already, very satisfying. They had to sit there until they reached 160° - 170°, but I didn't have a thermometer. (Note to self, purchase beer making thermometer.) So I winged it. I was careful not to leave them in too long removing them well before the water boiled.
- Once the brew pot is boiling its time to open the can of extract and dump the contents into the boiling water. This can be a little tricky as the can is too hot to hold and oven mitts don't provide very good grip. I'd avoid the electric can opener and opt for an old style hand crank can opener. It will make things a bit easier and hopefully less messy. Spilt extract means less flavor for the beer.
- Once you manage to open the extract do your best to empty all of it into the boiling brew pot. use a long handled spoon or a rubber spatula. Note: I had to defer to the recipe kit instructions yet again and realized I had to also dump the dry malt extract at this time. Something I think is important to note is that the steam rising from the boiling pot can and will cause a portion of your dry malt to stick together if not dumped quickly and efficiently. This can be potentially very messy!
- Very important! Stir the extract/water mixture immediately to prevent scorching the extract at the bottom of the pot. You now have your very first wort! Congratulations! According to Webster's
Wort (rhymes with dirt)
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English wyrt; akin to Middle High German würze brewer's wort, Old English wyrt root, herb
Meaning: a liquid formed by soaking mash in hot water and then fermented to make beer
- Top off the brew pot with more clean water, but keep your level a few inches from the top of the pot to prevent messy and costly boil-overs
- Bring the wort to a boil. This may take some time as the tap water has cooled the wort considerably. At this point Brew's Best calls for the bittering hops included in the recipe, so in they go. It was at this point that my wife came home early from work. I remembered the lady at the home brew supply shop mentioned something about your house smelling like a brewery when you made your own beer. That's a good thing right? My wife walked in and said, "It smells like brewery in here!"
Note: Don't forget to open a few windows and let fresh air in when making your own beer. Your wife will thank you!
- Dummies will tell you to boil the wort for an hour, but my recipe kit also called for finishing hops after 55 minutes of boiling. After 5 more minutes of boiling it's time for some quick cooling.
- Put stopper in the kitchen sink and place the covered brew pot in it. Let cold water fill the sink to rapidly cool the wort. I added some ice cubes to the sink water to assist with the cooling. According to Dummies, "Freshly brewed beer is warm and sweet, it is the perfect breeding ground for microbiological opportunists." Yuck! I had to change out the water and ice several times to get the wort cool enough to receive the yeast.
- While the wort cools, pour some water into a sanitized bowl and empty the yeast package into it to gently wake up the dormant yeast, readying them for the fermentation process that will hopefully soon follow. This process is known as proofing.
- At this point, It's time to dump the now cooled wort into the fermenter and top it off with cold clean water. You want to fill it up to the 5 gallon marker and pour it vigorously to help aerate and complete the wort. The vigorous pour will add oxygen which will help the yeast work it's magic.
- Now you're in the home stretch. Time to take a hydrometer reading. The hydrometer looks a bit like a giant thermometer, but it in fact measures the specific gravity of your brew. Basically it tells you if your brew is done fermenting later in the process and it allows you to calculate the alcohol potential of your brew. I'll talk more on that later. According to my recipe my starting gravity should be about 1.040 - 1.048. Unfortunately, with all the foam at the top of my wort, reading the hydrometer was a challenge. I had to use my stirring spoon to clear away some of the foam. But I got a similar reading.
- Now it's time to pour the hydrated yeast into the wort and give them a hardy stirring with my brew spoon.
- Place the lid onto the fermenter and tuck the wort in for it's long nap. Only one last thing to do, inserting the airlock. Learn from my mistake! As I inserted the airlock I pushed a little too hard. The rubber seal around the whole in the lid popped out and sunk to the bottom of the fermenter. After a few minutes of trying to scoop it out with my brew spoon, I almost gave up completely. Instead, I quickly sanitized the bottling bucket and then slowly poured the wort into it carefully looking for the rubber seal. Finally, at the end, I found it hiding within the sediment at the bottom. I scooped it out with my brew spoon and re-sanitized the lid, seal and airlock. After pouring the wort back into the fermenter, I carefully place the top and airlock back on top of the fermenter.
My fear was that with all this additional handling, I may have introduced some contaminants into the mix. If I did, all that work would have been in vain, only time would tell.
- I placed the fermenter in my basement and set the downstairs thermostat to maintain an average temperature of 65° - 70 °, the ideal temperature range for healthy yeast and fermentation. After checking the airlock a few hours later, I found no bubbles in the airlock. (Bubbles indicate fermentation.) But after a final check later that night before bed, I saw some bubbles. The following day, around 24 hours later, I saw a very satisfying amount of bubbles. Perhaps all was not lost. It would be weeks before I would know if my first attempt at making my own beer had worked. The fermentation process itself would last at least a week if not more. For now, I would have to wait. Stay tuned for bottling day, cheers!
Note: This part III of my first attempt at home brewing that I originally included on an older site. The site is no longer up and running, and I only made one more batch of beer after this attempt (as of Jan 15th, 2007). But I hope to change all of that in the coming weeks and months. I intend on documenting my progress here on this blog. I've included these old entries to show the full story of my adventures in home brewing. I never finished documenting my first batch, and completely skipped over my second. So I will make two more posts (one to wrap up batch 1 and the second to tell the sad story of batch 2) to close the loop, and then you can join me as I begin my third batch and move forward from there.