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Basics of beer making.

English Ale #21

Posted by Maggie on October 24, 2011

I have a vomiting child at home so, well, I might as well make beer!  I am going to try White Lab’s WLP002 English Ale yeast.  It is described as creating a somewhat sweet beer.  That sound good to me.  Dry wine and sweet beer.  I am using Munich and Vienna Malt, Pilsen dry malt extract, and just a little Cascade and Hallertau.  I hope to get a nice, mild, pale ale.   We’ll see.  This is for a three gallon batch:

  • 3/4 lb organic Munich malt
  • 1/4 lb Vienna
  • 3 lbs Pilsen DME
  • 3/4 oz Cascade at 1 hour
  • 1/4 oz/ Hallertau at 5 minutes
  • WLP002 English Ale Yeast

Instructions: Bring 2.5 gallon of water to 170F.  Add grain in a cloth bag.  After soaking the grain for 40 minutes at 170 F or less, remove.  Bring to a boil.  Add DME.  Add first hops batch.  Boil for one hour, adding second hops batch five minutes before completion.  Put pot in the sink full of cold water and ice.  There is probably about 2 gallons in the pot now due to the boil.  Cool to about 100F.  Poor into sterilized carboy.  Add about one more gallon of cold water to the carboy to get three gallons total.  Add yeast.  Put on a airblock, cover with a dark cover (I use an old sweater), and put somewhere that is at least 70F (depending on your yeast).  


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Sodium Percarbonate

Posted by Maggie on February 11, 2011

Sodium percarbonate is a great chemical to use to clean out your brewing equipment. You can just mix a little with water and soak your tubes, bottles, carboy, etc. for an hour or so to get them squeaky clean.

What is it?  It is basically dried hydrogen peroxide in granular form with a molecular formula of Na2CO3 · 1.5H2O2.   So it is just sodium, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.  It is fairly safe, doesn’t smell or create toxic fumes, it breaks down into water, oxygen, and soda ash, so you can pour it down the drain, and it is much more environmentally friendly than bleach but does the same job.   It removes the film that can slowly build up on your equipment that doesn’t come off with iodine and that is hard to brush off.  It is also inexpensive.

Read more about it at this website (devoted to using hydrogen peroxide!  LOL):

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Choosing a Sanitizer

Posted by smolove on June 5, 2010

I don’t know about you, but the sanitation imperative in beermaking causes some obsessive compulsive and paranoid tendencies to surface for me.  I am curious what sanitizing methods other brewers use, and what they believe the pros and cons are.

The sanitizer of choice among winemakers is potassium metabisulfite, and since I got my start homebrewing with my pops who is a winemaker, I have adopted potassium metabisulfite as my sanitzer of choice.  I like it because I don’t really have to rinse my equipment after sanitizing (sulfites are a preservative and good for bottling), it’s inexpensive, small quantities go a long way, and I  keep a spray bottle (1 tsp per quart of water) which allows me to quickly and conveniently sanitize anything (thermometers before each use, bungs, syphons, caps, etc.) without having to worry about stains (iodine) or rinsing (bleach).  The spray bottle rocked my world… love it.

With that said, as of yet I don’t have a wort chiller, which leaves my wort exposed at very favorable temperatures for bacterial growth for extended periods of time, but so far I haven’t had any problems.  Thoughts?

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Using Honey for Priming

Posted by Maggie on May 8, 2010

The most common sugar used for priming is dextrose made from corn, i.e. corn sugar.  Sucrose (cane sugar) can leave an unpleasant flavor.  Dextrose tends to leave no flavor.  4 oz. powdered should be used for a five gallon batch or 2.4 oz for a three gallon batch.

You can also use honey for priming.  In a strong beer, the flavor will probably not be detectable, but in a lighter, mild beer the honey can leave slight honey flavor.  However, some have said that the flavor difference is undetectable so it isn’t worth the extra money for the honey.   I have yet to use honey but will update this post if I find anything of interest from my experimentation.

BTW, if using honey, 0.5 cup should be used for a 5 gallon batch and 0.3 cup for three gallons. That’s the word.

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Flat Beer

Posted by Maggie on May 6, 2010

Recently, one of the ales I brewed and bottles was a bit flat even after sitting in the bottles for two weeks.  The flavor was great (I have already drunk/shared most of it) and the alcohol level was adequate.  It was somewhat carbonated, so it wasn’t like truly blechy flat beer.  These was still some fizzle on your tongue and a slight head when poured into a glass.  I added 2.5 oz. of priming sugar before bottling for 3 gallons (30 beers).  The temperature in the garage where the bottles rested was not too cold, so fermentation should not have been prohibited due to that.

In consultation with Kal at Oak Barrel Brew Supply in Berkeley, I think that I was too fastidious about avoiding the yeast at the bottom of the carboy when I was siphoning the beer into the bottling bucket.  I like a nice clear beer with no residue at the bottom of the bottles.  It looks more professional.  But perhaps there was not enough yeast still floating around in the brew.  Most of it must have settled out and so not enough was there to get a good carbonation going.

In the future, I will be sure to allow some of the yeast from the bottom of the carboy to be siphoned up into the brew before bottling.   It is better to have a little yeast residue at the bottom of the bottles than inadequate carbonation.

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Posted by Maggie on May 2, 2010

Once your cooled wort and yeast are in the carboy, you need to put an air trap on the top to allow air to escape but keep air (and dust and yeast and bacteria) from getting in.  A perfectly good air trap can be purchased for less than two dollars.  It fits into the hole in the center of a rubber plug for the carboy.  If you don’t have a trap, you can use a flexible hose inserted into the rubber plug on one end and then into a jar of water on the other.  Depending on where you are leaving your beer to ferment, you might find the jar of water troublesome.

For the first 12 hours, while the fermentation is getting started, the carboy should be in a spot between 65 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the yeast.  Most brewer’s yeast packages state on them the ideal temperature for getting the process started.  You can buy a simple standing thermometer at a hardware store to place next to your carboy to monitor the temperature.  If it is too cold, it might prolong the period before fermentation happens but it could also prevent fermentation.   Your goal is to have the yeast start to rapidly multiply, eat the sugars and create alcohol, before other organism that happened to fall into your brew have a chance to multiply.  The alcohol will kill any intruders but you need the alcohol to build up first.  It is a microbial battle and you are aiding the yeast side.

I put my carboy up in the middle of my Wedgewood stove where the pilot lights keep the temperature around 70 degrees.   I put a couple of dish towels under the carboy so that the bottom doesn’t get too hot.  The carboy needs to be covered with a towel or something to keep light off the liquid.  Light will ruin the flavor.  I use an old sweater my daughter outgrew.  It fits perfectly.  After a few days, I move the carboy to the top of the refrigerator to have it out of the way.

You should see the brew start to bubble in 12 – 24 hours.  There should also be a nice foam on the top of the brew.  If it doesn’t start to bubble within 24 hours, there is probably something wrong.  It could be that the yeast was bad, or the temperature was off, or your wort got very contaminated – enough to hinder yeast growth.   You can try adding more yeast to see if that starts the fermentation.  If this is unsuccessful, you might need to start again.

I have to say that this has never happened to me.  If you are careful with sterilizing, are nice to your yeast (keep it in the refrigerator until a few hours before you are ready to use it) and buy good quality brewer’s yeast, you should have no problems.

I remember that when I started brewing beer, I was concerned that I would buy the equipment and the ingredients, spend time on the wort, and then the beer wouldn’t work out.  It would be like working hard sewing a bathrobe only to have it look terrible.  However, I have yet to have a beer fail.  If you do everything as you should, the chance of failure is small indeed.  The chance of making a delicious beer is quite high.

The beer might bubble away for a week or might just bubble like crazy for 36 hours and then be done.  Even if you see no more visible fermentation taking place, you should still leave the beer in the carboy for two weeks total.  This is both so that the flavor can develop and so that the yeast and other material, such as hops, can settle out and you can have a lovely, clear, refreshing beer.

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Posted by Maggie on May 1, 2010

Ah…..bottling.  This is when you get to taste your fermented brew and get a sense of what it will taste like when it is carbonated and gets to mellow.   Beer tends to reach its best flavor six to eight weeks after bottling.  It shouldn’t be drunk less than 2 weeks after bottling because it won’t be carbonated yet.   I like a glass of the uncarbonated brew after I finish bottling.  Usually there is some left that is not enough for a final bottle so I pour it in a glass and enjoy.  It tastes very earthy.  I feel a part of history.  There have been times and places where beer was the primary beverage.  The alcohol killed contamination and hard labor made people thirsty.  I think that that first glass of a new brew that hadn’t been bottled or carbonated yet must have been an appreciated drink back in time.

Hopefully you have a dishwasher.  This will make your job much easier.   Put your rinsed out bottles in the dishwasher with no soap and with the ‘heated dry’ setting.  Let them be washed and hot dried.  Time your bottling so that after they are done but before they have cooled you can bottle your beer.  For three gallons, you will need 30 bottles.  For five gallons, 50 bottles.

The first step is to disinfect your bottling bucket, tubes, and bottle caps.  I use iodine drops in water.  Other methods are also available.  If using iodine, soak everything for at least 10 minutes and then rinse.  Before siphoning the beer into the bottling bucket, make your bottling sugar mixture.  Usually one oz. per gallon is recommended.  I put the sugar in a cup of water and microwave it until it is hot and the sugar melts.  I pour this into the bottling bucket.

Next I siphon the beer into the bottling bucket.  See “Siphoning” for instructions on this.

With the bottling bucket up on a high surface, such at the kitchen counter, attach the flexible hose to the spigot and then the bottle wand to the flexible hose.  The bottle wand is a stiff, clear hose with a valve at the end that opens the wand end when you push down on the end of it.  The wand is blocked until you push the end down in a beer bottle which makes the job much easier and less messy.  Between bottles, you can just lift the wand without beer spilling out.

Line up your bottles on a surface lower than the bottling bucket (I use the floor of the kitchen), turn on the spigot, and press the wand down into the first bottle.  When the beer reaches the top, pull out the wand.  The space left by removing the wand from the bottle is the perfect air space needed at the top of the bottle.

One by one, fill up the beer bottles.  When all the beer is in the bottles, you can start capping.  Take a sterilized, rinsed cap and use a beer capper to cap each bottle.  If the last bottle is not filled all the way, don’t cap it.  Drink it or throw it away.

It is a good idea to store the bottles in a box.  It has never happened to me but bottles can explode.  It is better to have the happen in a confined place.  Leave the box somewhere cool and dark.

Light can ruin the flavor of beer.  Best to use dark brown bottles.  If you don’t have any, keep the beer away from the light.

After a couple of weeks, you can start to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

If, when you open the bottles,  they foam over and half the beer foams out onto the counter, then your beer was contaminated with wild yeast.  It is fine to drink.  It won’t make you sick and may not change the flavor.  However, it doesn’t look that great and it wastes a lot of beer.  It can also make a mess.  To help avoid this, fill your bottles directly out of the dishwasher, close all your windows while bottling, and keep everything clean, including your hands.

Have fun!

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Posted by Maggie on April 30, 2010

The most challenging aspect of the beer making process is siphoning the beer out of the carboy (large glass bottle) and into the bottling bucket once fermentation is complete.  The beer needs to be siphoned for two reasons:  1) You don’t want to pick up the sludge at the bottom of the carboy so you want to siphon off the liquid without mixing it up; 2) You don’t want the beer to mix with too much air since this will hurt the flavor.

Some people get the siphon started by sucking on the flexible tubing that will be used to siphon.  Hmmm…This is a fine way to contaminate your beer with the germs that are in your saliva.   A better way is to fill the flexible sterilized tube completely with water and then attach the flexible hose to the stiff L-shaped hose that is in the carboy sitting in the beer, without letting the water run out of the hose.  This will take some coordination and practice.

After the water-filled flexible hose is attached to the stiff tube in the carboy, drop the end of the hose into a pan or pot to catch the water running out of the hose, pulling the beer behind it.  The weight of the water and gravity got the siphon started.  The Carboy should be up on a high surface, such at the kitchen counter, while the pan and bottling bucket are on the floor.

Once the beer starts running, put the other end of the hose down in the bottling bucket and let the beer flow into the bucket by force of gravity.  As the carboy empties, allow the bottom of the stiff L-shaped tube to move to the bottom of the beer but keep it above the sludge.  You won’t be able to get all the beer out while avoiding the sludge but your beer will be clearer and milder.

Be sure that before you get started to sterilize your clear tubes and your bottling bucket and then rinse them well.  Wash your hands and keep the windows closed so that no wild yeast falls into the bottling bucket.

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The Wort

Posted by Maggie on April 29, 2010

Wort is a mixture of water, specialty grain extract, malt extract, and hops.  I love the smell.  It seems to reach some primitive part of my brain.  I imagine women over thousands of years stirring up their wort over a hot fire or stove.  It smells nutritious and delicious.   I find that I keep leaning my head over the pot to get a good whiff of the steam.  Since the wort needs to boil for an hour, the whole house (if you live in a not-too-big house) starts to smell like the wort.

Cooling the wort is an important process.  You can’t add the yeast if the the wort is too hot – ideally you want 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.  However, you don’t want any wild yeast or bacteria to get into the wort while it is cooling.  The hot wort will kill any invaders but once it is cooled it is susceptible to contamination.

The method I prefer is to place the pot of wort in a bowl of ice water.   I then stir the wort for about five minutes to help cool it.  Then I stop any stirring so that the hops sludge can settle to the bottom of the wort.  I keep adding cold water to the bowl.  It is easiest to do this if you have a large sink and can just pour the water directly from the faucet.  I am careful not to drop anything into the wort such as spittle.

If I am making 3 gallons of beer and have 1.5 gallons of wort, once the temperature has cooled to 130 degrees I can pour the wort into the carboy and add another 1.5 gallons of cold water to end up with a good temperature for the yeast.

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Homebrewing Grains

Posted by Maggie on April 29, 2010

If you are going to brew your own beer, which is easy to do, the first thing you need is grain.  Barley is most commonly used but corn and wheat can be used as well.

My local brew store carries about 20 types of malted and roasted barleys.  Each one lends a different body and flavor to the beer.

Malted and roasted barleys come in a variety of styles.  These styles are usually broken down by location-related beer style.  The main ones are Belgian, German, Canadian, Domestic (United States), and British.

Caramel and crystal malts of various types also lend different flavors and colors to beer.  You can also get flaked corn, wheat and oats that are used is some varieties.

These grains are usually ground up a bit so that they release their sugars and flavors when steeped in water.

Malt extracts.   You can extract your own malts from barley but it is a tremendous amount of work and only worth it for the adventure.  I recommend buying malt extract in either a dry or liquid form.  The dry form is purer but the liquid form dissolves more easily in your wort.  I personally like the dry because I like the process of standing over the stove, slowly dissolving it while smelling the nice roasted barley smell or the “tea”.  If you are buying from mail-order, the dry malt weights less for the amount of sugar content you want so it may be cheaper to ship.

These malts come in a few varieties.

Barley Malts:

Pilsner Malt.  This is a dry malt that is great for light ales or lagers or pilsners, for that matter.

Light Malt.  This also works well with a variety of brews and is less dry than the Pilsner malt.

Dark Malt.  As the name suggests, this is good for darker beers such as porters.  It has a richer flavor.

You can also get wheat malt that is used for making Hefeweizens or any other wheat-based beer.

Malt extracts do not look like the specialty grains described above.  Dry malts look like a refined powder.  The liquid looks like thick maple syrup.

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