Sunday, November 7, 2010

Well I'll Be a Monkey's Dunkel - Homebrew 101

Howdy folks!   Let me introduce myself...  Ok, ya kind of already know me, but I am forging into new territory with this post.  Maybe I should phrase this a little differently.....

Howdy folks!  Let me introduce this project.....  That sounds a little better....

Let me begin by stating simply that I am now an amateur Home Brewer.  Yep, that's right, I have been wanting to do this for 14 years and I have FINALLY gotten around to it, with some much needed, and much appreciated, help from my youngest brother.  (who is quite skilled in the brewing arts and brews some mighty fine beer) A word of warning, however, once you have brewed and tasted your own beer, it becomes an obsession. I am already planning my next Weissbier, and the one I will be blogging about over these next several days is still carbonating in the bottle and won't be consumable for at least 6 more days, possibly 10.  (sigh, the wait is killing me)

But I am getting ahead of myself.  I have helped my little brother with his brewing projects over the last few months so if I am going to explain this whole process, I need to first give you some background...

What is Home brew?  Home Brew is beer that you have brewed yourself, for your own consumption within the confines of your own home (or backyard.... heck maybe even the front yard) to be shared with friends but never for sale.  That is right...  Thanks to Jimmy Carter (and people always say he never did anything while he was president) you now have the right to brew beer (though you still cannot distill hard liquor) in your own home for your own use.... as much as 100 gallons per year per adult... So hey, if your married, well that's up to 200 gallons; and if granny is living with you... well then, need I say more.... 

So now that we have established that you will not be breaking any laws, that is unless you brew over the allotted amount or try to sell it on eBay, lets establish what "Beer" is....

Beer is a blanket term for a fermented barley beverage.  Doesn't sound very appetizing does it?  or maybe it does.  I can assure you that it will as I expound upon the above statement.  Grain, usually barley or at least some barley, is first converted from starch to sugar with the help of warm-hot water (mashing) and the resulting "wort" (pronounced - wert) is inoculated with yeast.  No, not Fleischman's yeast, although it is closely related....  The yeast acts upon these sugars (maltose and others) creating or rather excreting CO2 and Alcohol.  Thus is created a carbonated beverage of alcoholic content.  AKA: Beer.

Beer comes in many, many, many, (did I mention many?) styles, but only in 2 form, or at least 2 forms that I am aware of... That would be Ale and Lager.  Ales are made with strains of "Top Fermenting" yeast that perform their function at room temperature, while Lagers are made with strains of "Bottom Fermenting" yeast that perform their function below 50 degrees.  Do the terms "Ice Brewed", "Cold Brewed", "Frost Brewed" or "Glacier Brewed" sound familiar?  They should, cause American Beer companies lays claim to how COLD they brew their beer (more on altitude and atmospheric pressure later) but I will get to that farce when I explain the process of Lagering Lagers.

What constitutes an Ale, besides the yeast type?  Stout, Oatmeal Stout, English Bitter - OB, SB and ESB, Pale Ale and IPA (India Pale Ale), Old Strong Ale, Brown Ale, Scottish Ale, Porter, Barley Wine, Trappist, Lambics, Altbier, Kolsch, Saison, Belgian White and my personal favorite... Wheat Ale or Weissbier (aka Hefe-Weizen).  All of these are fermented with some strain of Top Fermenting yeast at about 70 degrees.

So if all those are Ales, then what is a Lager?  Well, Lagers are Lagered Beers, meaning they are stored at a low temperature to age before bottling.  There are many styles of "stored" beer such as Pilsener (the American mass market favorite, but there are MANY different styles of Pilseners as well), Marzen, Oktoberfest, Vienna, Munich, Bock & Dopplebock, Schwarzbier, Dortmunder, & Rauchbier (Smoked)  All of these are fermented by some strain of Bottom Fermenting yeast below 50 degrees but preferably around 40 degrees.  Bud, Miller and Coors are all basically an American Pilsener made with a combination of Barley malt with Corn and/or Rice to create a light flavor... ALL of them are Lagered beers and thus are fermented below 40 degrees, because that is the way Lager yeast works.  Thus any claims made by said beer companies regarding the "Cold Brewing" of their beer is ludicrous. All Lagers are brewed "ice cold", just like the German DoppleBock I am enjoying now.... MMMM Tastes like the Rockies... er, I mean the Alps....   LOL

Truth stretching Mega-Brewers aside, it is time to take back what was ours before prohibition denuded America of it's rich Home Brew history. Let's Brew Beer!!

Before I explain the procedure for turning Grain, Hops, Yeast & water into liquid bread let me begin by stating that I have always had a soft spot for wheat beers or weiss bier.   My very first "micro" brew was a Widmer Hefewiezen, and while this is an American Hefeweizen (using a slightly different yeast strain than those of the German variety) it is still served in the southern German tradition... hefe meaning with the yeast and, of course, it is delicious on a hot summer afternoon with the proverbial squeeze of fresh lemon to accentuate the "Banana-Clove" flavor and aroma provided by this special yeast.
That being said, when fall and winter approach I normally must say "Auf Wiedersehen" to my favorite beer.  In Germany there are many different wheat beers such as Dunkelweizen (dark Hefeweizen) and the heartier Weizenbock, which comes in both light (helles) and dark (dunkel) versions.  mmmmm W e i z e n b o c k. (that was my best Homer Simpson impersonation)  Alas, unless you have a provider of said brews in your midst, they are a little difficult to find cause while your standard Mega-Mart will often carry such things as Pyramid Hefe and Widmer Hefe along with the newest Lagunitas or RedHook offering or even Blue Moon's Belgian White, good German style Wheat beers are a little hard to find. 

Thus it is that I have embarked upon a fall and winter wheat... Dunkelweizen.  Nice and dark, slightly higher alcohol content... Rich and malty chocolate flavors, and of course, because I like the unexpected, I have decided to add a little Edlerberry Juice to the mix.  Sort of an Elderweizen if you will.

In closing this particular segment, I will leave you with a brief synopsis of the brewing procedure before getting into the details in the post to follow.

Cleaning all the equipment - This is necessary, for cleanliness is next to godliness - You can use soap for this.

Sanitation of ALL equipment - This is necessary for the same reason as stated above.  You can use either a diluted bleach solution or and iodine solution for this.

Mashing - this is a little tricky, and there are several options.  I will discuss these at length later but the short answer is that you must choose between extract brewing, full mash brewing or a hybridized version utilizing both. (this is what I will be doing)  Suffice it to say that this is when you convert your grain starches into ferment-able sugars using water, controlled heat and, of course, malted barley and other grains and/or non-diastic malt extracts (if using)

Sparging - This is the process of straining the grains from the mashing liquid, resulting in a Wort (wert) which will be the base for your delicious brew.  All filled with grain sugars and enzymes (diatase) which were breaking down the starches and forming more sugars during the mash phase.

Boiling and Hopping - this is the process were the resulting Wort is boiled with various hops bringing our the hoppy qualities of Bitterness, Flavor and Aroma... Depending on what you expect from your hop will determine WHEN the hops are added.  The boiling also deactivates your enzymes so no further starch breakdown occurs, this preserves the dextrines that were formed so the beer has "body" as these sugars are not broken down by yeast.  Finally, the boil will sterilize your wort and create a pristine environment for your little friends, the yeast.

Sparging again - You need to Sparge to hops with the hot wort and into a container for cooling.  The hot wort needs to be at a temperature of 70 degrees before the yeast can be "pitched".  The use of a Wort chiller can facilitate fast cooling, which is preferable, but a big sink full of ice water will accomplish the same thing, just a little slower.

Primary Fermentation - Once the Wort is cooled, it needs to be transferred to a sterilized glass carboy; though you can do this in a plastic bucket, a glass carboy will make it easier to practice closed fermentation, to protect your yeast from invasion.  You will more than likely need to add additional water to bring the volume of liquid up to 5 gallons.  Then, if the temperature is at 70 degrees... Pitch the yeast into the wort.  Cover with a stopper containing a bleed off tube to allow for blow-off (explained later)

Secondary Fermentation - For about a week, your beer will bubble and ferment.... Initial blow-off will normally occur within the first few days.  After the Kraeusen has blown, you can fit the carboy with a fermentation lock... (more on that later)

Racking - Removing the fermenting Wort from one carboy to another in order to extract the Trub (pronounced - troob).  The trub is comprised of inactive yeast and proteins that have fallen out of suspension.  This detritus can cause "off" flavors in your beer, normally with a 5 gallon batch, and the normal fermentation of 10-14 days, this will not be a problem... it's just a precaution.  Refit the fermentation lock over the newly filled carboy and allow to ferment a few more days (until the bubbling slows significantly).

Cleaning and Sanitizing - All your bottles must be cleaned and sanitized in iodine solution... Boil your bottle caps and soak any hoses or equipment you will be using to bottle.  Remember, cleanliness is next to godliness.

Priming - While your bottles are drying, boil a little malt powder or corn sugar in 1 pint of water, this will be added to your fermented beer in order to reactivate your yeast and cause it to begin producing CO2 after it is bottled.

Bottling - Using a special bottle filling implement, fill your sanitized bottles with the freshly primed beer wort...  attach sterilized caps with a bottle capper and store in a 70 degree location for another 7 - 10 days letting your beer carbonate itself.

Kegging - If you have a 5 gallon Cornelius keg (soda keg) and a tapping system, you can skip the bottling and simply prime the freshly fermented beer with 1/2 the amount of sugar or malt, then simply move the primed beer into the keg and "bung" it.  Let it carbonate over the next 7 - 10 days before hooking up your CO2 propellant (that is all the CO2 does, is push the beer from the keg, and make sure there is no oxygen to oxidize the beer)

Sampling - This is the second to last phase and the most desired phase... Your beer is completed, it has been properly fermented (cause you were fastidiously clean, right?) and primed with effervescent CO2.... You crack open a bottle (or tap the keg) and dispense your soon to be famed brew into a chilled glass....  Time to kick back, relax, imbibe a little liquid bread and revel in your accomplishment while you are contemplating your next brewing endeavor.

Shopping - After you have decided upon your next recipe, it is necessary to shop for the ingredients to your next brewing adventure.  The best place to shop is at your local brew supply shop... If you do not have one available, your would be surprised how much is available on the internet.  Please, no sampling previous brews before driving to said brew supply shop.

Brewing your next batch - It is imperative that when you begin to brew your next batch, you have a nice cold pint of your previous batch... this will help you relax.  Because above all else, this is suppose to be fun.  And while brewing is science, it is also an artistic endeavor.

It all sounds very complicated, but it's not really that difficult... The hardest part is the waiting... Living with the knowledge that you have created something truly awesome, and you have to wait to find out just how awesome it will be....  :)

Stay Tuned for the next exciting episode.... The details of Mashing, Sparging, Boiling and Pitching!

Cin Cin!!


Patti T. said...

I have always been fascinated by this whole process. I am really enjoying reading about your adventure with beer. I love microbrews and if I had just a little space in this TINY house, I would probably give this a try. I will just have to live vicariously through you once again. Shane is my hero!

Maryann said...

What happened to all the pictures you took?

Culinary Alchemist said...

Thanks Patti... :) I will admit that you really need some extra room to have a 5 gallon carboy sitting around for 2 weeks.

Maryann - Oh, don't worry, they are still coming.. :) I am still editing... So far I have 125 pictures and I still have 65 of those to edit (shrink, crop, sharpen and light adjust) But I have finished the ones for the next installment...