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February 1, 2011 / Brewtiful BC

The importance of Home Brew

The importance of Home Brew

When I decided to start a blog a about BC craft beer I didn’t know where to start.  I had a few ideas brewing in my mind for the first entry: a review of a certain beer, commentary of the beer culture in BC, or maybe a recap of a beer event or restaurant. When I sat down to start writing, I quickly realized I knew more about drinking the beer than the actual beer itself. So, I took measures into my own hands decided to buy some books, read some other blogs, and of course, drink a lot more beer to widen my base knowledge.  These all helped, but none of it gave me a greater understanding of beer than my first experience home brewing.

Snapshot at our first brew

I had seen the process of brewing beer before.  I’ve walked through a number of breweries, done their tours, and listened to how they brewed beer.  I had also read a number of blogs explaining how to home brew or brew on a larger scale.  It made some sense to me, yet it was still a bit obscure.  If someone were to ask me how beer was made, I would be able to give a vague description with some confidence.  It’s like trying to give somebody directions having only been a passenger in a car, not driving there yourself.  If you really want to get a good understanding of what beer is and how it’s made I cannot give any better advice than to make it yourself.  So if you are up for the challenge, here are my instructions on how to homebrew.

Ingredients.

There are really only four ingredients to any type of beer.  Water, grain, hops and yeast.

Tools.

Although there are only four ingredients, making beer is quite a process and requires a lot of material to get the desired results.

  • Mash Ton
  • Thermometer
  • Spaghetti Strainer
  • Large Boiling Pot
  • Primary (Plastic 30L food safe container)
  • Secondary (Glass 23L carboy)
  • Air Lock
  • Bottles
  • Brewing Spoon
  • Rubber Tubing

Step 1: Choosing Your Beer

One of the great things about making your own beer is that you can make whatever kind you want.  You no longer have to settle for what is available in the stores.  If you want to be adventurous and make a chocolate mint stout or make a basic pale ale, the choice is yours.  Just go down to your local homebrew store, such as Dan’s Brewing on Hastings, and tell them what you want and they will set you up with the proper mix of grains and hops and send you on your way.

Step 2:  Tea

Steeping the wheat tea in the mash ton

Well not really tea, but close.  Once you have your grains, you need to extract all of the sugars from it.  To do this you need to add the grains to 80* Celsius water in the mash ton.  Be sure to add the water to the grains as you pour it in.  It’s important that there aren’t any dry spots in there.  Any grain that isn’t wet will not be producing any sugars for our beer.  Let the mixture steep for about 45 minutes keeping the temperature between 60* and 70*.   You can now drain the “tea” into your large pot.  The liquid that comes out from this is actually called “wort”.  After all of the wort is drained out, pour some more 80* water over the remaining grain to make sure that no sugars are left behind.  Take your time doing this.  You’ll want to make sure the water goes through slowly.  This should take you about an hour.

Step 3.  The Boil

Boiling of the mash

Once your entire wort is drained into your large pot, bring it too a boil.  The wort will begin to foam up just after the boil breaks.  You will need to stir or reduce heat for a bit to avoid any spill over.   Don’t worry it will all be over quickly.

Once you have passed your hot break, you can add your bittering hops.  Set a timer here for one hour.  While the wort is boiling there are two things that you need to do; (1) Think about how delicious and rewarding your beer is going to be and (2) Clean and sanitize everything that your beer is going to touch.  Sanitation is extremely important because once the boiling is over your beer is at high risk to become infected.  Bacteria love sugar and a warm environment aka, your beautiful boil of worts. A bacterial infection will spoil the taste of your beer and could result in an explosion of your bottles once the yeast is added.

When you are near the hour mark it is time to add the flavouring hops.  Keep them in the boil for about two minutes.

Step 4.  Putting the Fun Back in Fungus

It’s now time to take the pot off of the element and cool down the wort. Bacteria have a rapid growth rate and a tolerance to high temperatures and low pH conditions, making it important for you to cool the pot down as quickly as possible. The easiest way to do so is to have a tub or sink full of ice water ready to put the pot in.  You’ll want your wort to chill to about 20*.  Once you’ve reached that temperature its time to pour the wort into your primary.  Feel free to do this as roughly as you’d like.  It’s good to get some oxygen mixed into it.  Sprinkle your yeast packet onto the top of the wort and put the lid on with the air lock.

Prior to the yeast being added, all you had was delicious sugar water.  Adding the yeast, a single-celled fungus, is going to turn it into beer.  It does so through the process of fermentation. Yeast loves sugar and in exchange, it will produce both alcohol and carbon dioxide.  After a few minutes of adding it to the mixture you should see some bubbling coming out of your air lock.  This means that all of your hard work is going to be worth it.

Step 5.  The Waiting Game

Get ready for the longest few weeks of your life.  It will be about a week or so until the yeast is done in the primary.  You will know it is done when the bubbling comes to an end.  It is now time to transfer the beer, yes it is now beer and no longer wort, into the secondary.

Primary to the secondary

Doing this is a lot like stealing gas.  You will siphon it from one to the other using rubber tubing.  Lift the primary to a higher elevation, trying not to shake it up too much.  You will want all of the yeast and debris to stay near the bottom.  While siphoning, try to keep the beginning of the hose close to the top to avoid getting too much of the debris into the secondary.  Once you have gotten near the bottom pull the hose out.  Be sure to take a sample of the beer because the waiting game is not over.  Put the airlock onto the secondary and let the beer settle.

Step 6.  The Waiting Game:  Part Duex

Swingtops

It should take about another week to let the beer settle in the secondary.  You will know when it is about ready when the fogginess of the beer lowers to the bottom.  To keep you busy during these excruciating weeks there is something you can do to keep occupied:  make bottles.  The best bottles for home brew are those that have a swing top.  Swing tops free you from the need to buy a capper.  Two swing top options are widely available in BC, Grolsch and Howe Sound.  A 23L batch should give you either 48 Grolsch or about 23 Howe sounds.  They also give you a satisfying sound when you pop it open.

Transfering of the beer into the bottles

To get that satisfying popping sound we need to carbonate the beer. This is done by adding about ½ cup of dextrose, a type of sugar, in water into the primary.  Then add your flat beer back into the primary to mix with the sugar water.  This will reactivate the yeast and give your beer that much needed carbonation.  Once it is mixed it is time to siphon it into the bottles.

Step 7.  Enjoy!

Two to three weeks later your beer will ready to drink.  Not only will you be able to taste your masterpiece, but you now know what it takes to make beer and can educate your friends on the process.  When you now read a blog about a brewery or take a tour, you will have a greater understanding of what they are talking about and how one brewery or beer differentiates itself from another.

I hope this can help you on your first brewing or maybe inspire you to give it a try.  Enjoy!

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. party dani / Feb 1 2011 3:37 am

    Damn…really wish I could of been there. Glad I can keep up on what the latest haps is…much love. xo

  2. Jaker / Feb 1 2011 7:33 pm

    one key step is missing – steal milk crates!

  3. I am your mom, Jake. / Feb 2 2011 3:30 am

    Wellll! Now I know what five years of university gets you. Really, sounds like fun. When we were your age we did the same thing. The whole house smelled like yeast.
    I am glad you are having a good time.

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