Adventures in Brewing – Part 1

Well, I’ve made the leap into the realm of homebrewing. I’ve noticed lately that while I do participate in a number of creative activities, most of what I end up creating is virtual (i.e. it’s all done on the computer). There isn’t anything wrong with that, of course, but I’ve been itching to make something out here in meatspace, and brewing beer should help me scratch that itch.

I stopped by a local brewshop yesterday and picked up a brewing kit, complete with a Brewer’s Best English Brown Ale ingredient kit (which should make something akin to a Newcastle Brown Ale). A Trappist brew master, I am not, but it seems like a good place to start (a step ahead of the venerable Mr. Beer, but far below the all-grain brewers). My first brewing attempt is tonight, so wish me luck. Beer nerd details are below, and I’ll post an update after I’ve finished.

Brew #1: English Brown Ale

November 7, 2010

3.3 lb. Amber liquid malt extract

2 lb. Amber dried malt extract

8 oz. Caramel 60L malt grains

4 oz. Chocolate malt grains

6 oz. Crushed Carapils malt grains

1 oz. Willamette Bittering Hops

1 oz. Willamette Flavoring Hops

0.25 oz. Willamette Aroma Hops

Steeped grains in about 2.5 gallons filtered tap water at around 150°F for 20 minutes (some of the thinner grains filtered out of the bag before even putting it in the pot – is that bad? I just poured the debris into the pot too…). Removed grain bag slowly, letting whatever water was left in there drain out. Brought wort to a boil (mental note: allow more time to heat and boil water), removed from heat, added liquid and dried malt extracts, stirred vigorously, brought back up to a boil (again, I’ve underestimated how long it takes to bring even hot wort back to a boil and even had trouble keeping it at a good rolling boil – it was a very light boil). Once it was boiling again, added bittering hops. Kept at a small rolling boil for 45 minutes, added flavoring hops. Boiled 10 more minutes, added aroma hops. Boiled for 5 more minutes, then took off heat and placed pot in my sink (which was filled with some cold water and some ice) to quickly cool. This didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, and I’ll probably need more ice next time. Got the wort down to manageable temperature and poured it into my fermentation bucket (attempting to remove sediment with a controlled pour through a sanitized strainer, but wasn’t super successful with that). Added some extra water to the bucket to bring up the 5 gallon mark, pouring from high up to aerate the wort. Pitched yeast, stirred a bit, threw the cap on, and installed the airlock. Done!

Original Gravity: 1.040 (this is a bit low, but the temperature of the wort was still a bit high at the time (around 80°, which can throw off the hydrometer because calibrated for 60° measurements). Correcting for temperature, I’m estimating something around 1.042-1.043. Still 0.002 or 0.003 off from the recommended O.G., but this will hopefully still work well enough. I’m guessing the ABV will be a bit lighter than predicted, but that should be ok.)

Well, it took a lot longer than I expected (between 3-4 hours). 2.5 gallons of water plus steeped grains/malt extract takes a while get back up and running on my setup (I have an electric stove, so temperature control is limited here, and honestly, it was even a bit difficult to keep it at a good boil without putting the lid on (but you’re not supposed to do that really, so I tried to avoid that)). Part of it is also that it’s my first time, so I was trying to be attentive and didn’t really take any time away from the kitchen to do other stuff (next time I’ll probably read a book or something, knocking out two birds with one stone). I’ll need to check in tomorrow morning to (hopefully) report on the bubbling of the airlock (which would mean that fermentation is underway). In any case, it was an interesting session, and I think I’ve learned a lot, which is probably the best I should be hoping for at this point. Hopefully the next session will go a bit smoother (not to mention the wracking/bottling process for this batch).

Update 11/8/10: I was a little worried this morning when I didn’t see any activity in the airlock, but when I got home from work, all appeared to be well. I have no idea how active it’s supposed to be, but it’s going at about one bubble per 20-25 seconds. Looking around the interwebs, this seems to be ok. There are too many variables to be sure, but at least there is some bubbling going on… So now we play the waiting game.

Update 11/9/10: Well, now this thing is bubbling up a storm. Intervals between bubbling have decreased to about 3-4 seconds. Once again, no idea how active it’s supposed to be at this point, but this seems promising.

Update 11/20/10: Beer has been bottled. Read a recap here

(Cross posted at Kaedrin Weblog)

4 thoughts on “Adventures in Brewing – Part 1”

  1. Awesome! Good luck, I look forward to hearing how everything turns out 🙂

    I love a good brown ale…Newcastle is a solid goto, and a favorite of mine for summer and fishing.

    Good luck and happy brewing!

  2. Funny, I never considered Brown Ales as a summer thing, though I suppose it could work. I was actually toying with the idea of throwing some cinnamon into the wort towards the end of the boil, but I got wrapped up in it and forgot… I wanted to try something that would be good for the season, and a spiced brown ale seemed appropriate.

    Otherwise, I’m virtually positive that I messed something up. I had to put the lid on the pot during the boil a few times, and I could never get a really good rolling boil without the lid on. Also, I’m pretty sure the wort was a bit too warm when I pitched the yeast (I was looking at something earlier today that said this was a common problem for beginners – dammit). And I probably should have rehydrated the yeast as well. And maybe I should have rehydrated the dry malt extract. See, lots of potential problems here, not to mention potential lapses in sanitation.

    This probably sounds like I’m worrying, but really, I think it was just a good learning experience. Even if it does turn out bad, I think I’ll come away with a positive experience.

    I’m already looking to put together my next recipe – I think I might hit up a Belgian style tripel (one of my favorites), spice it with coriander and clove. Mmmm. And for the summer, maybe a nice saison. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

  3. Well, for the most part, I agree, they’re way more autumn-ish or wintery, but something about Newcastle just always worked for me as a summer fishing beer…no logic, just tastes perfect for it.

    How goes the homebrew?

  4. Well, this summer I was drinking all sorts of imperial brown ales and Belgian strong dark ales, so it’s not like such beers are forbidden in summer!

    Believe it or not, I literally just finished bottling about an hour ago. So after a couple of weeks of bottle conditioning, they’ll hopefully be ready to drink. I probably ended up wasting a few bottles of it whilst figuring out the bottling process/siphoning, etc… (I was definitely overcautious about siphoning from the fermenter to the bottling bucket – at least a few beers were left there, but I was paranoid about getting some of the yeast in my bottles) I ended up with a little more than a case and a half of stuff, which is probably just as well.

    I tried some of it right from the fermenter, and it seems ok! I mean, it was warm and not carbonated enough, but that’s why you add primer in the bottling bucket. Once they condition in the bottles, they should be decent.


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