My First Homebrewing Experience – Brewing

Posted on November 27, 2009 by

mike-stirringIt took me about three months to muster up the courage to finally give brewing my own beer a try and I have to say, it has been worth it so far. I spent a lot of time doing research and trying to put my own kit together with the best deals along the way. I checked out a few websites and I have to say most of them are really shitty. None of them have all that great of a design nor have an interface that really appeals to me. I guess because I’m a designer by trade and not stuck in the 90′s I expect a little more. However I have to say Northern Brewer is probably one of the best sites I’ve found. Its easy to use, has a great selection and the prices are pretty good. To be honest though the place I started and found some ease of mind setting information was by following these homebrewing how to videos. Though the videos were produced by one person and the personality is a bit dry, they are informative and worth taking a look at if you are brand new to brewing.

Anyway I took what was left of my father-in-laws brewing kit and put together a decent kit by purchasing the rest out right. If you want to know more about what you need to start brewing, read my getting started brewing my own beer article.

Sanitization – The Key to Success

brewers-best-red-ale

I finally bought a Brewers Best Red Ale kit from a local store and 6 gallons of “fresh spring” water from Target. The water here in Fargo tastes like a whirlpool at a hotel on a Sunday morning after 600 people stayed at it. (Ewwe)
So I filled a little tub with about a gallon of water, mixed in some sanitizer and started cleaning everything. I mean everything. I tried SUPER hard to keep everything sanitized. I rinsed out my carboy with water and then poured in some sanitizer as well and swooshed it around.

Steeping the Grains

After I was comfortable with my set up, I put the pot on high and poured 2.5 gallons of water in it. Using my thermometer attached to the pot I waited for the water to reach about 150 degree F. I poured my Crystal Grains with Chocolate into a steeping bag and placed it into the water at about 155. I steeped the grains for about 20 minutes.

grains-steeping

Immediately I was in love with this process. The water turned bronze and the smell was intense with flavor. Once you start home brewing you start to understand where the flavor of all the beers you have drank in the past have come from. I could smell the grains and chocolate. The more I brewed it the more I could smell that “hint” of chocolate. I’m starting to feel like that chocolate is in more beers than I thought it was before. While this thing brewed I put my extracts in the sink and filled it with some hot water to loosen up and pour out easier later in the process.

Add the Extract

warming-malt-extractsI brought the mixture back up to a boil. I found the thermometer to be key here because I could see when it was approaching 212 degrees F, which is the boiling point of water. Once it was up temperature and boiling I poured in my extracts. I paid attention to pour them in slowly and stir often.I didn’t want anything burning to the bottom.

“I put my extracts in the sink and filled it with some hot water to loosen up and pour out easier later in the process”

Here is where I could smell the caramel. I really don’t know what else was in it, but the caramel really came through and lightened the whole concoction up. It really brings down the temperature though, so I turned it back up to high to bring it back to a boil.

Add the Hops

Once it was back to a boil I put my first pack of Willamette bitterring hops into a little bag and put them into the boiling water. I set the timer and pretty much walked away only to come back once in a while and stir things up a little bit. I found that Sundays are great days to brew beer. I can totally watch football and in between plays willamette-aroma-hopsand commercials I can check on my batch. Lord knows there is plenty of time watching football to do other things. The game only takes like 20 minutes to play, but ends up being 3 hours to watch.

At about 55 minutes I tossed in my aroma hops, another set of Willamette hops, I believe it was like 4.5 ounces. After about 2 minutes I stuck my face in the steam coming up from the pot and I could totally smell the “beer” flavor. Needless to say I was freaking excited. I wanted to drink the shit in a cup like tea right there.

The Cold Break

ice-waterHowever, there was lots to do. I filled up the sink with cold water and dumped the whole ice maker worth of ice in the sink. I was prepping a cold break for my wort. Soon as about 5 minutes were up I took the hops out and took my pot over to the sink and placed it in the bath of cool water. The temperature dropped quickly from 212 to about 165, but slowed way down after that. It was about 20 minutes before it didn’t register on my thermometer. At this point it was time to mix the wort and water together in my carboy. I rinsed off and filled my siphon tube with no rinse sanitizer. I stuck one end of my tube in the wort and the other I bled off into a cup until wort came to the end of the tube. I siphoned all of my wort into the carboy where I had put my water in already. Some people fill the fermenter first then put the water in and some do it the way I did. Not sure which is best at this point, I think as long as you mix a lot of air in with the water and wort, it will be fine. Either way, I got the ingredients together and put a sanitized rubber stopper on the top. I mixed that son of a bitch up for a good 10 minutes. I had read stories that the gravity is determined partially by how well the mixture is put together.

Pitching the Yeast

I took a sample of my beer and filled the hydrometer. I think I made a newbie mistake here. I didn’t fill the tube up all the way. I didn’t want to make a mess, but now that I think of it, the tube should be filled all the way to get the most accurate reading. I was borderline 1.048 which my recipe said was ok for pitching. So, I did…

I got a little excited at this point and totally forgot the things I read in not only my instructions but my book, “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” 3rd Edition by Charlie Papazian. The book told me to wait until around 68 to 73 degrees to pitch the yeast, but I ended up pitching at 77 degrees.
With a higher temperature and a low end, prolly lower than I wanted, gravity I pitched. I shook that thing up again, smelled it, (delicious) corked it, put my sanitized 3 piece airlock on it and took a picture.

mike-carboy-wort

I forgot to mention that I took a full tube sample out of the carboy after pitching and put it in a sanitized 12 oz amber bottle. I figured I could take gravity samples off of this instead of opening the airlock and risking organic yeast getting in. I took them downstairs and placed them in a dark place that sits at about 65 degrees.

Clean Up

Cleaning up wasn’t to bad. I rinsed, soaped and re-sanitized everything with the no rinse sanitizer again. I stored them away for the next time.

The Waiting Game

Anxiously I waited to see my beer start to ferment, but 48 hours in I still saw nothing. A lot of people had been giving me advice, twitter has been a great asset for me. Some said just give it time, others told me more specifically that dry yeast takes longer and I may not have had enough and so forth. Regardless, I was anxiously awaiting some bubbles to float to the top.

It had been almost 96 hours. The carboy was at about 66 degrees and that night when I got home I saw a few lil bubbles in a ring about 1 inch in from the side. The temp didn’t go up, but I don’t think I had seen those bubbles, or I was just reaching for anything. Just in case, I did pick up another package of brewing yeast. If I didn’t see more action by the next day I was going to pitch another one in.

red-ale-brew-fermentation

WOW! It finally started to move. I walked into the room and could instantly smell the beer working. So delicious! I took the covers off and here is what I saw! It was in full swing now and will hopefully be ready to bottle the day before Thanksgiving.

However, day before Thanksgiving I was determining if I should bottle or not when I talked to my brewing mentor Jay. He mentioned that I should give it a good swirl / swoosh to try and get the yeast to eat up all the sugar that is in the wort before bottling. It was a great tip. As soon as I swirled it up it started to bubble again. After doing all my hydrometer tests I was sitting at about 3.7% ABV. Hopefully swirling this around will bring it up just a little more.

A couple days later after the swirling my gravity went from 1.016 to 1.012 bringing my ABV up to just over 4%. Now we are talking…There was still some bubbles on top so I decided to leave it for a couple more days to squeeze out that last little bit of flavor and alcohol.

On to bottling…

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  • Brian

    Mike, I really enjoyed this article, I now know all that I’ve missed out on not going ahead and brewing my own beer. Very will done site!

  • mike

    Hey Brian!

    Thanks for stopping by. I am completely making use of the equipment that you’ve gifted me, and adding to it. It is a heck of a lot of fun brewing, but the best part is when you get to drink it and you won’t miss out on much of that. I’ve got a couple of batches in the hopper right now that will for sure make their way into your hands. I’ve got a Pilsner coming up that I’m creating for a summer beer at the lakes. It will be ready probably by June.

    Thanks again for stopping by and supporting the site!

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