About 10 years ago, I got my dad a basic set of homebrewing equipment. It was essentially a plastic 5 gallon fermentation bucket with lid, bottle capper, caps, bottle brush, airlock, cleanser and so on. Dad never used it, for whatever reason. A couple years ago I dug it out and made a batch of stout from a purely liquid malt extract (pre-hopped) kit. It was…ok, but the yeast packet was weak and fermentation wasn’t near what it should have been. It had a little bit of green-apple flavour from the incomplete fermentation, though that eventually went away in the bottle.
A few weeks ago, I decided to go ahead and make another batch of beer, this time an English Brown Ale.
I used a “Brewer’s Best” kit, which included liquid malt extract (LME) and dry malt extract (DME) plus some crystal malt (malted barley, that is), hops pellets, yeast pack, a steeping sock, and priming sugar for bottle conditioning – that is, carbonation.
Basically, you heat the can of DME syrup, and meanwhile you take the malted barley and steep it in about 155 to 160 degree water for around 30 minutes or so – then, remove the grain and set aside. You’re essentially making malt tea. yum. or something. Then the liquid and dry malt extract is added and brought to a boil. Shortly thereafter you dump one pack of hops pellets in and continue to boil. The total boiling time is about an hour, and just prior to finishing it up, you add more hops for aroma. A standard batch of beer for small scale homebrewing is 5gal (about 53 bottles). Since we’re only boiling about 1gal or so, you need to dilute it down to 5 gallons, and get it out of the bacterial danger range quickly, down to about 75 or so degrees. 75 degrees is also a pretty ok temp to pitch the yeast at. So, following Alton Brown’s controversial method, we used one 7lb bag of ice in a sterilized fermenter bucket, plus 1gal 1pt of water, and then poured the just of the boil concentrated wort over the ice water. This quickly got it down to temp. The yeast was then pitched, the lid put on the bucket, and an airlock inserted. The airlock lets the CO2 build-up from the yeast out, without letting oxygen in. Fermentation took around a week. Once the primary fermentation was done, we racked the beer over into a new glass carboy (think a glass office watercooler bottle), which gets it off of the inch deep layer of dead yeast (called trub) that has sunk to the bottom. It sits in secondary fermentation for 2 weeks, which lets residual yeast settle out, and the yeast gets to clean up those yucky partly fermented things that give weird green-apple or other flavours, and finish converting them into ethanol.
Today was bottling day. We sterilized bottles and bottle caps, and transferred the beer from the carboy to a bucket, in order to get it off of the dead yeast build up in secondary – you really don’t want that in the bottles. This also let us add a little corn sugar (according to the directions in the kit) to the beer so that the remaining live yeast will have something to eat so they can carbonate the beer. We filled 49 bottles and capped them. They’ll sit for somewhere between two weeks and a month before they’re carbonated and ready to drink. I poured off an ounce or so of beer for a smell/taste test. It’s a little one dimensional, and a little sweet from the priming sugar, and of course, totally flat, but it smells and tastes nice enough, and should carbonate nicely. There aren’t any off flavours at all in this batch, so that is a victory, and tells us our sanitization procedures were sufficient.
It’s good fun, and considering the kit cost $35.00, we’re making decent beer for $0.72/bottle.