Friday, June 25, 2010

Hydrometer Use When Brewing Beer

I was lucky enough that when I purchased my first beer brewing kit that it came with a basic hydrometer. I knew nothing about hydrometers but it seemed to me that it was a device that was used for measuring alcohol.

I guess  I was partly right. A hydrometer measures the density or specific gravity of a liquid. The first beer kit that I used had asked you to obtain the original gravity and final gravity. My hydrometer showed a gravity setting, balling, and potential alcohol. To be honest with you I've never used the balling setting and I only occasionally look at the potential alcohol reading to get an idea if I'm course when I'm brewing my latest beer. Hmmmmm..... about 4 more weeks and my American Cream Ale from Brewers Best will be ready for summer drinking.

Ok.. you simply sanitize the hydrometer and the tube which holds the beer that you will be testing from and you are ready to go. Once I brewed my beer and was adding it to the plastic bucket (or carboy) I filled the tube up about 3/4's of the way and spun the hydrometer inside of the tube. I carefully took a measurement (let some foam dissipate) and had my original gravity. Then along the way after all fermentation was done and just before bottling, I took another hydrometer reading and wrote down my final gravity.

Here is the formula that I use to determine alcohol by volume (ABV).

Original Gravity - Final Gravity * 131.25 = Alcohol By Volume

Friday, June 11, 2010

How To Brew Beer

I know there are plenty of folks who would like to learn how to brew beer so I'll do a very quick walkthru according to how I make my own homemade beer.

Truth be known, if you are making your very first beer, I would go about it the easy way. Go out to your local home brew store and pick up a homebrew beer kit. I'm not trying to sell you on anything but it will make your beer brewing experience that much better and if you continue making your own beer years down the line, you can use the same equipment that you buy today. I do, as I brewed beer today (an American Cream Ale from Brewers Best) with my original homebrew beer kit. If you don't have a local home brew store, you can find them online at Amazon.

Here are the items that I use when I brew beer:
5 gallons of drinking water
A beer kit (includes malt, dried malt extract, sugar ie corn sugar and priming sugar, hops, possibly beer caps, and directions).
5 gallon stainless steel pot (do not use aluminum... I bought my pot at Target)
Plastic bucket - Drilled and grommeted lid (6 gallons)
Airlock (goes on top of plastic bucket which has a small hole in it)
Carboy (or another bucket)
Rubber grommet with a hole in it for the airlock when placing in the carboy.
Auto siphon
Beer bottle capper
Candy Thermometer
Glass beer bottles (about 60 should be good). Make sure to get non-screw type and I like brown bottles
Caps for bottles
Stirring spoon (I use plastic. I recommend stainless steel)
Cleaning agent (C-Brite, B-Brite, or worse comes to worse... bleach)
Bottle brush

Read all of the following through before attempting to make your first homemade beer.

How To Brew Beer

Start by sanitizing all of the equipment (with either C-Brite, B-Brite, or bleach) that will be used in the brewing process. This includes the carboy or plastic bucket, airlock, 5 gallon brewing pot, hydrometer, candy thermometer, and stirring spoon.

Follow the directions on the brew kit. If you don't mind, follow me as I go through the brew that I did today. It is an American Cream Ale from Brewers Best.
  • I put 2.5 gallons of drinking water in my 5 gallon stainless steel pot and worked on getting it to a rolling boil. While waiting for the water to boil, I put the LME (liquid malt extract) in a bowl and added very warm water. When adding the malt extract in the next step, by having it slightly warm, it pours easily. Oh yeah, having the lid on the pot helps to get it to the boiling point quicker and you don't lose as much water in evaporation.
  • At that point I added the malt extract. The malt extract is stirred thoroughly (don't let it collect at the bottom of the pot) and reached to a rolling boil. You now have wort.
  • The bittering hops are added. Again, get the wort to a boil. Make sure you do not go over the top of the pot. I continually adjust the heat to make sure the wort is boiling but there is no chance of it ever going over the top of the pot. Everything in the pot is boiled for 40 minutes.
  • I now add the corn sugar and DME (dry malt extract). It is thoroughly stirred and boiled for 5 minutes.
  • Finally the aroma hops are added and everything is boiled for 10 minutes.
Ok. Now comes the fun part. We have to take our concoction off the heat and get it cooled as quickly as possible. If you've been reading my previous posts you may have read about a wort chiller. No need to buy one for your first home made brew unless you don't mind spending the money. So, you can use either a sink or bathtub and load it full of about 10 lbs. of ice and the rest water. Put your wort (in the pan) in the sink or bathtub to get it cooled to 70-75 degrees as quick as you can. Make sure to use your candy thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Once the temperature reaches about 75 degrees, I moved the wort from the stainless steel bucket to the plastic bucket (the one with the small hole in the top for the airlock). Now it is time to pitch the yeast. Yes, just sprinkle the yeast on top of the wort and then thoroughly stir it into the wort.

Last step. Fill the airlock half full of water and push the airlock into the hole in the plastic bucket. Move the
bucket to a dark cool that is between 64 to 72 degrees. Make sure your wort is no where near fluorescent lighting. Fluorescent lighting causes beer (or wort) to go bad. I use the plastic bucket in this instance but some folks use the carboy. Its just a personal preference. For me, its much easier to pour the wort into a plastic bucket versus a carboy with an opening of about 2 inches diameter.

Within about 24 hours you should start to see bubbles within the airlock. These bubbles usually start at intervals about a couple of minutes apart and can get to the point where you will constantly see bubbles. It really depends on the beer. As an aside, if brewing a belgian tripel, I recommend a tube going to a bucket filled water rather than using the airlock. In that case I also start fermentation in the carboy rather than the bucket. Belgian tripel's are known to have about 9% alcohol and are violent in their bubbling.

After 4-6 days the bubbling should subside. You'll notice that where at one point bubbling was going on every second or two.. well now it is ever few seconds and then ever minute and then every couple of minutes. At this time you should make sure your bottles are sanitized. Once the bubbling has stopped for two straight days, we will begin the bottling process.

Get two cups of water boiling in a small saucepan. Add the priming sugar and boil for 5 minutes. Now siphon that priming sugar into the bottling bucket. Make sure to stir the priming sugar into the bucket very easily. Do not stir hard as this will aerate the beer and we don't want to do that. Yes, I called it beer. Once it ferments (even before adding the priming sugar) it has changed from wort to beer. Of course I wouldn't drink it at this point although from time to time I do take a sip before bottling the beer.

Now we are going to take out our auto siphon and grab our sanitized bottles. I put the wand from the auto siphon about 2 inches from the bottom of the bucket so I pick up as little sediment as possible when moving the beer from the plastic bucket into the bottles. You will have to prime the auto siphon and then you will notice the beer start to flow. Move from one bottle directly to the next and fill to about an inch and a half from the top of the bottle. Once I've filled 24 bottles I grab the bottle capper and caps and proceed to put the caps on the bottles. Then I quickly go auto siphon my next case of bottles. I've brewed 41-42 bottles at one time and 52 bottles the next time. Depends on how much water you lose when boiling, the amount of ingredients that came with the beer kit, and how much sediment you want to leave on the bottom of the plastic bucket when auto siphoning from the plastic bucket to the bottles. I try to move as little sediment into the bottles (no one wants to drink sludge and it clouds up the beer as well) and when I've tipped the bucket to the side and gotten as much good beer out as possible, I stop... and then go cap the rest of the beers.

As you progress with you homebrewing, you will start to do a double fermentation process where you will move your wort/beer from one bucket to another bucket, or the carboy to the bucket or vice versa so that you reduce the amount of sediment in the final transfer to your bottles.

Put your bottles in a place with no fluorescent light and at about 64-72 degrees for 2 weeks.

After 2 weeks, your beer will have carbonated and its time to drink your beer!!!

If you've enjoyed my personal guide on how to brew beer and I highly recommend that you continue your brewing beer education with the following book. If you want to learn how to brew beer from an experts point of view but talking in layman's terms, I cannot give enough praise for this book.

and if books aren't your thing,  this video series well teach you how to brew beer

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wort Chiller

Over the next week or so, I'm going to talk about a few items that may help your homebrewing endeavors either in time, precision, or sanitation. In no particular order, the first such item is the wort chiller. Simply put, a wort chiller does exactly that, as it chills down wort (your brew after being boiled but before it is beer). The idea is that the wort needs to be chilled quickly, otherwise there is a chance that bacteria can enter your brew. Bacteria equals a bad tasting beer. Yeast cannot be added to the wort until it is chilled.

So, what does a wort chiller look like?

Immersion or Counterflow wort chiller?

An immersion wort chiller is dropped into the hot wort while cold water circulates through the copper tubing (usually hooked up to a garden hose). As that cold water continually moves through the copper tubing within the wort, the hot wort has no choice but to cool down. I've seen wort moved from 165 degrees to 75 degrees in a matter of 25 minutes.

A counterflow wort chiller works while hot wort goes through the inside of the copper tubing and at the same time cold water passes around the outside, thus the name counterflow. To picture this you should imagine about 25 feet of copper tubing inside of something that looks like a rubber/garden hose. Again, with hot wort running one way and cold water the other way, this device is very quick to cool off your wort. The negative is that the counterflow wort chiller becomes clogged easier and cleanup can be a chore.

Here is what I'm using:

This device wraps around your pot or keg and by continually running cold water through the copper tube, the volume area of the wort chiller helps to cool your wort rapidly. How well does it work? Well, let me put it this way. I brewed a beer this past winter (January in the Chicagoland area) and it was 5 degrees outside at about ten in the evening. We had a really nice snow only a couple of days earlier so my thought plan was to grab the wort while it was still in the pot, take it outside and wrap snow around the pot. 40 minutes later I went to check on the pot and to my absolute amazement, it was still hot. So I repacked the outside of the pot (my hands were numb) and left it out for another 30 minutes. It just started to cool down. Took about another half hour before I felt comfortable that it had gotten down to 75 degrees and I could add the yeast. Gheeeez.

Or you can work with a wort chiller. Prices range but my local shop has one for about $85. Basically there are two thoughts on wort chillers. Get one that wraps around your pot or keg or get an immersion wort chiller in which you place the device (of course completely sanitized) directly into the wort.

So, I talked above how it took 100 minutes to cool down my wort. 100 minutes of worrying that it will cool quickly enough to avoid bacteria. What is the alternative? Plop your pot in a sink full of ice water. Been there done that as well. How quickly will the wort cool down with a wort chiller? Well, it depends on how it is used (immersed directly into the wort or wrapped around the keg or pot) but 15 to 30 minutes is not unheard of.

With a little bit of work, you can have your own homemade wort chiller.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hybrid Microbrews

Cream ale/American lager/blonde ale
This blend produces a mild, pale, light bodied ale.
I will be brewing a beer starting this evening. I decided
to choose a light summer beer. Light compared to my prior
beers (a stronger red ale and a belgian tripel) but I believe
this American Cream Ale from Brewers Best hovers in around
5.5% or so ABV.

The hop bitterness in this style is normally very
low, with hip aroma often very slight or absent altogether.
Sometimes they are referred to as cream ales, yet they are crisp
and very refreshing.

As an aside, I had to upgrade to a larger 20 quart (5 gallon)
stainless steel pot for my brewing.

American wheat ale/American wheat lager
This type of beer can be made by using either lager
yeast or an ale. Brewed with 50 percent wheat,
the hop rates are higher and the carbonation is
lower than German styles of wheat beers.

At low levels, a fruity estery aroma and flavor
is normal, although clovelike characteristics
shouldn't be perceived. The color is normally
golden to light amber, with the body being light
to medium in character.

Fruit beers
These types of beers are made by using fruit as
an adjunct in the primary or secondary fermentation.
Fruit beers provide a very unique taste, and
they can also be quite potent if made in the right

Vegetable beers
These beers use vegetables as an adjunct in primary
or secondary fermentation, helping to provide an
obvious, yet harmonious quality. These beers
shouldn't be overpowered by hop character.

Herb and spice beers
Herb and spice beers use either herbs or spices
other than hops to create a very distinct taste
and character. The spices can be derived from roots,
seeds, fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

Hybrid microbrews offer you a break from the
ordinary beers, providing unique tastes and very
distinct character. There are many types of hybrid
microbrews available, all you have to do is look
around or experiment.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Microbrew Guide

Below, you will find a guide to a few microbrews.

Long Trail Brewery - Bridgewater, Vermont
This brewery offers several brews that will easily
quench your thirst. The long trail ale is a very
good choice, as it's very tasty and not too heavy,
just right. The hibernator is also good, although
it's winter seasonal and high in alcohol. With a
pinch of honey, the pollenator provides a thirst
quenching solution to a hot summer haze. Nice names, huh?

Catamount Brewery - White River Junction - Vermont
The best seller here is the Catamount amber, as it
is very tasty. The Catamount gold is also good,
as it is lighter than the amber and offers plenty
of refreshment on a hot day. For winter months,
the Catamount Christmas ale offers a crisp taste
for the cold.

An Amazing Microbrew Success Story

7 Barrel Brewery - New Hampshire
The 7 Barrel Brewery is a restaurant as well as a
brewery. The best brews here are the Dublin brown
ale and the red 7 ale, although you really can't
go wrong with any of their offerings. They also
offer live music every Friday night with many
great bands.

Vermont Pub - Burlington, Vermont
This pub is the sister brewery of the 7 Barrel
Brewery. They offer a great bar that serves two
rooms, with plenty of fresh and tasty beer. The
brown ale and dog bite bitter are the best, as they
are both very tasty.

Magic Hat Brewery - Burlington, Vermont
This brewery offers some of the best in the state
of Vermont - as well as the entire United States!
Their well known popular number 9 can be found on
taps around the state. When you visit, don't
forget to look under the cap, as they call it
"Magic Hat" for a reason!

Tomlinson Brewery just finished a belgian tripel.
Great taste for a strong beer. Paul is currently
working on an American Cream Als as of 07/08/10.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Home Brew Beer Bottles

I was asked what type of home brew beer bottles I use for my home personal home made beers. My first thought on this is a standard 12 ounce brown glass bottle. This is the kind that does not have a twist top. Of course these bottles must be sanitized and be absolutely clean before being used. I say that because my bottles are used over and over again. Oh yeah, we will need to buy new caps every time we are ready to bottle our beer. These caps are cheap enough and you'll have to throw the cap out (they cannot be used) as soon as you've opened your bottle.

I didn't always think this way. In fact, my father used to make his own beer and although I did not participate in the beer making with him, I was interested in the procedure. My dad reused Grolsch bottles. These were the kind that had a flip top that could be used over and over again. The only issue is that some of these bottles were green (more about that later) and after 20+ years, the seals on nearly half of the bottles were going out. Now don't get me wrong. I love these Grolsch bottles... the brown ones. Lucky enough, my local home brew supply store sells new flip tops for these Grolsch bottles.

I may show my ignorance here but when I think of beer coming out of green bottles, I think of a skunky taste. Some people will flat out tell me that I'm wrong and then we can get into an argument over whether a record or CD sounds better. The fact is that somewhere between shipping and when the green beer bottles land on your local  liquor store shelf, if a good amount of light hits these bottles, it can change the taste of the beer. So, in reality it is not the beer that is skunky but rather the green beer bottles (combined with light) which cause the beer to taste "off".

Ok. So you can find empty brown beer bottles (the non screw type) or brown Grolsch bottles usually at your local brew supply store. If you do not have a brew supply store nearby, you are going to have to suck it up, go buy some brown bottles (no screw type) and maybe invite some friends over so you will have empty bottles. And one other thing. You will need a bottle capper. A bottle capper will insure that you get a tight seal on your bottles. Ok.... thats it for now. Any questions?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Homebrew Kits

I'll take this article in a different direction. If you are familiar with the supplies necessary to make beer (as in a big pot, carboy, plastic bucket, blow off tube, siphon, and bottles), you want access to a variety of homebrew kits to choose from. I'm talking great tasting home made beer.

While some of the beer making kits will give you all of the necessary supplies and beer making ingredients for a cost of around $130+, you can buy the ingredients together in a kit for $35+. So what is your favorite type of beer? Is it an ale, pilsner, a lager, or perhaps you enjoy the smooth taste of a stout? We're just barely touching all of the possibilities out there.

Speaking of Ales, do you know that there is more than just one version? How about Belgian Ale, Bitter Ale, Brown Ale, Old Ale, India Pale Ale, and Scotch Ale just to name a few.

I live within 4 miles of a home brew supply store where we can purchase supplies, and beer and wine ingredient kits. I understand that most of the world is not that lucky. I recently picked up a Brewers Best American Cream Ale and its in secondary fermentation right now! Brewers Best has a great selection to choose from.

Traditional European Bock Homebrew Beer Ingredient Kit    Steam Beer Homebrew Beer Ingredient Kit   Scotch Ale Homebrew Beer Ingredient Kit

So how do you determine which beer kit you would like to purchase? What type of beer do you like to drink? Would you like something with a little more taste as compared to what you currently drink? My recommendation is to try a red pale ale for starters. You don't want to do what I did and quickly make your way to a belgian tripel. Whereas some beer kits will have you drinking your first beer in about 3 weeks, that belgian tripel took about 5 months before it tasted right.

So long as you already have the beer making supplies, homebrew kits are meant to give you everything you need in one box or tub. You'll have one or more of the following ingredients: Grain, barley, malt, hops, yeast, and priming sugar. If you are lucky enough to have a local brew supply store, sometimes they can help you pick individual ingredients so that when you have experience, you won't be restricted by the "beer kit". If you don't have a local store, you can find many premium kits online.

MR.BEER Premium Edition Beer Kit

Don't be afraid of the process. You will soon find out that homebrewing and use of the homebrew kits can be one of the most satisfying hobbies that you can get into. Start planning a party and invite your friends over for the 4th of July.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Beer Making Supplies

So you are out at your local beer establishment or pub and you try one of their in house beers. Usually you'll find that they have much better flavor than the standard beers that you may be used to without that watered down taste. With any luck they might have a sampler where you can try anything from an ale, a lager, a malt, belgian tripel, and on and on. Its amazing that sometimes you will find chocolate stouts that taste incredible and a pizza beer on the same beer menu. You think to yourself, I would love to be able to brew my own beer but I don't know where to start!

Some of us are lucky enough to have a local brew supply store and they can help guide you along the way. Pretty much what happens though, is that if you don't have a job at the store, you won't have the time for someone to sit there and hold your hand with all of your questions. Its amazing when you get into the home beer brewing hobby, the range of questions that will cross your mind. How many different types of hops there are? What brand of hops do I need when brewing a specific beer? What type of sugar do I need to use? How do I ferment the beer? What does ABV mean? How do I bottle? The questions can go on and on.

So, what beer making supplies do you need to begin brewing your first beer? Well, for me, I needed a large pot to boil the ingredients, a glass carboy, a plastic bucket with a lid that seals and yet allows CO2 to escape, a siphon, and 48 non screw top empty beer bottles. I can tell you that what I mentioned above is a good home brewing supply starting point.

What you will find in time is that some specialty brews require larger pots to handle all of the ingredients. You'll come to realize though time that some home brewed beers have a higher CO2 (carbon dioxide) level and may require a larger tube to let out the gas. If you do have a local brew supply store, you will not only be able to choose from a variety of beer kits but you should also be able to purchase either a beginners or advance home brewing supply kit. Of course some of us are not lucky enough to live within a few miles of such a store.

It sound complicated when you are a beginner but the truth of the matter is that home brewing is fun and the end result is something that you can be proud of and share with friends.