Thoughts on Process

I never really thought about how detailed beer can be. I’ve been on brewery tours, heard bits and pieces of industrial scale brewing, but I never really considered all the ins and outs and what-have-yous of creating a beverage. Especially creating a beverage that is consistent, batch after batch. Brewing seems so simple, but every little step turns out to have a million and one things that can be altered, or affect one another, or change something else.

The keys to brewing really good beer are good ingredients, sanitation, and meticulous record keeping. I think this applies to the home brewer as well as the industrial manufacturers. You have to start with a good foundation, ingredients that won’t continually sabotage your work. Santitation is similar. A tiny group of rogue microbes could end up ruining what took weeks to create. Finally, recording every single little detail of what you did and how you did it is extremely important. If you understand the process don’t to the last detail, then you can tweak here and there to produce exactly what you aim for. If you don’t know the process you can at least change up some things and know you’ll have a different outcome.

So now I need to figure out what’s next. A red? A stout? A trippel? The possibilities are endless…..

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It’s DONE!

The day has arrived. The beer is done!!!!

Though I will say that I broke early and popped the top off a beer to make sure the whole batch wasn’t a loss (it wasn’t), this is the true moment of glory. And the results…..

It’s ok. Not bad, not especially great. Drinkable. It tastes like beer, which I guess is the important thing.

I think it could have used another week fermenting, because there are not really any strong flavors coming out. I will have to be more patient next time. Good thing I have a lot of beer to get me through the waiting.

So I have gathered friends for the tasting, and they seem to be ok with it (they better like it, because its free). Next post will be my final thoughts, and then on to another beer.

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Time to Bottle

It has been two weeks (approximately) since I put the wort in the fermentor, and it appears that primary fermentation is complete. The airlock has stopped bubbling more than once a minute, and this means I’m ready to start bottle conditioning.

First off is sanitation – everything that touches the beer goes in the solution. I’ve also stuck all of the pop top glass bottles I could find in the dishwasher, which I have been advised (by John Palmer) is an acceptable method of sanitizing bottles (there is no way I am hand washing 50 bottles by myself.) The bottom rack of the dishwasher looks pretty ridiculous.

Now to bottling. First off is to prime to beer, which requires boiling some sugar water and adding it to the bottling bucket. Then I need to siphon the beer to the bottling bucket, being careful not to splash the beer for fear of the dreaded oxidation. The kit came with a bottle filler, which is essentially a tube with a nozzle at the bottom. Just stick the tube into the bottle, fill to an inch below the top of the bottle, and cap. My very first beer! Repeat another fifty times.

My first batch came to 45 bottles. This is pretty dang good. Now just have to wait another 8-14 days for clarifying and carbonation. Soon soon I will taste victory.

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BREWPUBLIC Takes a Trip to Odell’s

BREWPUBLIC is a blog dedicated to beer (surprised?) based out of Portland, Oregon. They recently came all the way down here (it is an 18 hour drive I believe) to tour Odell’s brewery, and wrote a very nice little piece on Odell’s taster trays. Specifically, they talked about the Bourbon Barrel Stout, which is quite possibly one of my favorite beers of all time (excepting maybe Tom’s Apple Wheat- please please New Belgium bring it back!!!).

Anywho, the post discusses all 18 of the beers on the classic, pilot and co-pilot trays, which is awesome. Read about it!

Also, keep Portland weird!

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Chilling Wort

After I got done putting the wort in the carboy, I started thinking about how I could chill wort without having to ruin my kettle. I figured there had to be somebody who had designed some little device that would do it, because I am certainly not that ingenious. Well, lo and behold, there are pretty much hundreds of different kinds of wort chillers out there.

They are all very similar in design – coiled copper tubing that is supposed to be submerged in water. Some of these coils are designed to sit in a tub of water, say your sink, which lets heat dissipate. The really nice ones are copper tubing inside of a garden hose, so that water is constantly exchanged as the hose runs.

The really nice looking one is pretty expensive, but I bet I can find all the pieces to put it together down at the nearby Home Depot (hey Home Depot want to sponsor this blog?) where they will be way cheaper. I have a new project while my beer ferments.

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Brewing Day 4: Fermentation Begins.

It has begun. The airlock is popping up and down, and there is a nice creamy foam forming (called kraeusen) on top of the wort. The kraeusen looks pretty disgusting, and the wort is very cloudy compared to the first day. This means the little yeasts are getting down to business. Temperature in the pantry seems to be pretty stable, which is probably helping out a bit.

According to John Palmer, who has published a lovely (and extensive) online home brewing guide (which I used as a source for the previous post), the kraeusen consists of a foam of  yeast and wort proteins, while the nasty green “islands,” as he calls them, are hop resins, dead yeast and more wort proteins.

Charlie Papazian suggests an advantage to removing the kraeusen – it will result in less bitter beer, and you will also remove fusil oils, which are “a by-product of fermentation and contribute to what are often referred to as ‘beer headaches’.” I could deal with that.

However, I risk contamination of my beer by outside microbes, and it would be pretty difficult to get the nastiness out. Palmer states that the kraeusen rarely causes super bitter beer, and Papazian even says its probably not worth it for a first batch.

So for now my beer will continue to look like a sewage treatment facility. Hope the taste is better than the look.

 

 

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Yeast: Tiny Little Guys That Make Beer

(Note: This post drew extensively from articles in The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian, How to Brew by John Palmer, and a nice little web page by NASA. Please see their information for a more thorough understanding of yeast.)

Yeast is a single cell organism. Technically it is a fungus. There are many types of yeast, but here we will be discussing the most fantastic form of yeast other than baker’s yeast: brewer’s yeast.

Yeast is extremely important for beer – it fuels the fermentation that produces alcohol and much of the flavor. But yeast should not be thought of as simply an ingredient. It is a living thing, and as with all living things the environment it resides in affects what it does. This means the way you treat their world, the wort, will ultimately determine the type of beer you have.

Yeast comes in either dried or liquid form. Dried yeast is simply dehydrated, which increases its shelf life, and usually comes in a small packet. Liquid yeast usually comes in a can. There are more strains of yeast available in liquid form than dry, but the amount of viable yeast is higher in dry.

Yeast is available in two types: ale yeast and lager yeast. Ale yeast generally ferments on the top of the wort, while lager ferments at the bottom. One major difference in the types is optimum fermentation temperature: ale yeast works better in warmer temperatures, while lager prefers the cold.

This brings us to the wort environment. Yeast, like all organisms, requires certain environmental conditions in order to survive and propagate. They are oxygen, temperature, pH, and food.

Oxygen is a unique requirement for yeast. They can actually live without oxygen, but they thrive when the right amount is introduced. Oxygen powers the yeast’s initial life stage, called respiration, where it absorbs oxygen and sugars to store for energy. Too little oxygen in the system and the yeast will have a very slow or incomplete fermentation.

Temperatures that are too high or low cause the yeast to shut down or die, or allow other microbes to flourish until there is nothing left for the yeast.

pH is a pretty simple concept, and applies to all living creatures: you can’t live (comfortably at least) in an environment that is too acidic or basic. Yeast prefer a more acidic environment, and luckily beer wort is just about right for them.

Food is also pretty simple. Yeast requires sugars, fats, proteins, and minerals (just like us). Sugars and fats are a result of the malting process, while oils come from the hop flower. Elements come from the water.

All of these factors rely on the concept of moderation. Too much of one thing or not enough of another can cause a funky home for the tiny yeast. Just enough of everything and the yeast will flourish.

Finally, let’s discuss the life cycle. As mentioned above, yeast begin (for our purposes at least) their life when pitched into the wort. Initially, the yeast begins respiration by taking in free oxygen molecules, and also converts sugar to carbon dioxide and water. It is storing energy for the next stage. Yeast also begin to reproduce by budding (yeast are asexual, and reproduce by forming sister cells that pop off every 24 hours.)

Fermentation and more reproduction occur next. The yeast population grows rapidly, increasing three to five times the original amount until the optimum cell number is reached (50 million per milliliter). At this stage the yeast is still converting sugar to CO2 and water, but it begins to produce alcohol as well.

Finally, as food supplies dwindle, the yeast begin to prepare for dormancy once again. They drift down to the bottom of the wort to form sediment. As the yeast settles it produces a substance that reserves a little energy for the yeast in case it finds more food. This is how (beer) yeast strains are propagated over time.

There you have it. They are a wondrous little bunch. Just think – every time you drink a beer you are consuming millions of tiny little things that worked very hard for you.

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