Making Homebrew – Life’s Simple Bliss…
6/25/2014 – by James Fedewa (@jamfed)
I finally got around to brewing this year. Wow, it’s been over a year since my last solo brew day. My Father in Law has an amazing all grain system at his house, but we can have up to 4 or 5 people helping out with those brews, which is fun, but different. I think brewing solo is a little better, with an entirely different type of fun (but that’s a different story).
So, here’s my steps (with ingredients) I used to make this American Amber Ale (extract).
I started with 3 gallons of tap water in my 5+ gallon pot. I live in Lake Stevens, WA (so the water is pretty good unfiltered). Plus, I just got a postcard from the water company talking about how good our water is, which sold me… AND got me thinking about brewing again. Be careful of where you live though, sometimes local water could be hard and/or can have a high chlorine taste, which can alter your desired flavors. Bottle water is cheap and highly recommended, but I’m a believer in local flavors (including water).
Anyways, 3 gallons of water, and I used .75 lbs. of Caramel / Crystal Malt (dry) Grain. Placed that grain into a cheese cloth sleeve and heated the water on medium high for 30 minutes, making sure not to pass 170 degrees (this is called steeping). The water reached 170 degrees in about 20 minutes of “the steep” and I just turned off the flame for the other 10 minutes, then I remove the damp sack of grain in the cheese cloth sleeve. I put two spoons across the pot to create a little spot to place the sack of grain, put them close together and place the sack on those two spoons across the top of the pot and let drip for about 5 minutes (to get those nice essential sugars from the bag, but do not squeeze).
I added 8 lbs. of Light Dry Extract (powder) and 1 oz. of Malto-Dextrine (powder) and blasted the flame on high till I got to a boil (at 212 degrees), stiring with a clean long plastic spoon and started my 60 minute timer/clock. Turn the heat down to about medium, but make sure to keep the liquid boiling (but softly).
15 minutes into my boil, I added 1.75 oz. of pellet Nugget Hops (in a cheese cloth sleeve). This is the “bittering hops”
30 minutes after that, I added .5 oz. of pellet Nugget Hops (in a cheese cloth). This is called the “flavoring hops.” I also added one teaspoon of Irish Moss to clarifiy the wort.
I waited 15 minutes for those flavoring hops to cook up and now my boil is done, so remove both sacks of hops and set aside.
This 3 gallons of liquid is called WORT. I poured the 3 gallons of wort though a strainer (just because I added the Irish Moss) into your primary fermenter container. I use a 5 gallon bucket (with an airtight lid, with a pressure release gasket w/ airlock – but you don’t need the airlock yet), and add 2 gallons of fresh cold tap water into the primary fermenter (to equal 5 gallons).
Next step: COOL THE WORT. This takes some time, and there are tools to help speed up this part, but if you don’t have those tools, here’s the old fashion way. I have a big garage sink, block the drain (with golf ball) and put the 5 gallon bucket of wort into ice cold water in the sink to get the temperature down to at least 80 degrees. Going from 212 degrees to 80 degrees took me 3 hours. I leave the lid on the bucket though which takes longer (but not all the way pressed down, but close), because any type of germ or bacteria can ruin your wort or beer. I don’t want any bugs or random things flying in this 3 hour cooling process.
The wort temperature is now 79 degrees so I tested the gravity (original gravity – OG) with my hydrometer: 1.066 (which is good and what I was looking for).
Temperature is good so I “pitch the yeast.” I use a bag of liquid yeast that needs to be activate a couple of hours before using it. So before I started brewing (about 4 hours before using), I thwack the bag of yeast to break the inner bag, so the yeast gets activated. Slappin’ da yeast…
I used an American Ale Yeast for this ale. I was told to use a weird special yeast, but I upgraded it. However, my upgraded yeast expired quickly, and I had to buy another one (the American Ale Yeast). Dry yeast is fine, and doesn’t expire, but there is a log of unique and different yeasts than can enhance your beer. I pour the yeast into my 5 gallon primary fermenter container, and tried to get every last drop out of it, then seal it up (with the pressure release gasket in the lid, and inserted the airlock with liquid in the airlock).
I placed this container in the back of my garage, behind a few things. The temperature is pretty stable in there, at about 70 degree (or less). I should be in a colder area (about 60 degrees), but this should be fine. Remember, ancient Egyptians uses to brew beer, so there is some leeway to the rules or recipes, but firm guidelines are usually the smart way to go (especially if you’re following a specific recipe or desired flavor).
I’ll leave the bucket fermenting for about 14 to 20 days, checking up on the bubbles every other day in the pressure release valve. Bubbles = Fermenting. I won’t open the container, just because I don’t want to risk contamination, so let it ride…
7/11/2014 – After 17 days of fermentation in my garage, and no bubbles coming from the the airlock for 48 hours, I decided to bottle my beer. It was a fairly steady and cool week (temperature wise) where I live, with the garage premature was around 65 degrees most of the time (but we were heading for warmer temperatures soon).
I had 4.5 gallons of uncarbonated beer ready to be primed with more sugar (which will add the bubbly carbonation to our beer). The beer has some white flakes and dots in it, which is normal. It’s either extra yeast or extra malt floaties and no big deal, and at the bottle of the bucket is thicker dense “trub” that we really do not want to drink. Trub’s not bad, and generally rich with B complex vitamins, but we’ll avoid the trub and aim for a less chunky beer.
I tested the Final Gravity (1.016), which is right on target. Testing the original gravity vs. the final gravity give you the calculation for the alcohol content. My beer should be right at 6.7% alcohol by volume (ABV), which is nice…
Tasting the uncarbonating amber ale at this point makes me very curious of how the final product will turn out. I’m a little finicky with amber ales as I don’t want too much of a caramelly flavor (like a Fat Tire) and I don’t want anything too sweet and rich like an Alaskan Amber, and my beer tastes perfect. I think we have a gem, yet we were aiming a Full Sale Amber Ale.
I added 3/4 cup of corn sugar (for the secondary carbonation fermentation) to the bottom of my (other) bottling bucket with spigot. I siphoned the beer slowly from the primary fermentation bucket into the bottling bucket so the corn sugar mixes easily with the beer. We do not want to pour the beer from bucket to bucket, or stir in the sugar, as oxygen is not a good thing to mix into the beer now. Too much O2 could taint the brew…
I scrubbed out and soap cleaned 26 twenty-two ounce bottles, then ran them through my dishwasher (without dish-washing detergent) under the sani-rinse and heat-dry setting. Let the bottles cool to room temperature, then start adding the beer to each clean bottle leaving about 1.5″ gap of air in the bottle. Sanitize the bottle caps too, making sure the are clean and have no rust on them.
Currently, the beers are in the garage at about 72 degrees and they’ll sit for two weeks before I try the first bottle. Fun Fun Fun process. I typically brew beers with several family members or friends, but I think brewing by yourself is a little more satisfying. Solo beer lets you focus more on the finer details, with all decisions based on what YOU think.
I’ll keep you posted…
The beer bottles have been primed for 20 days, so the carbonation should be fine and the beer is ready to test. (I snuck two tastes earlier a while back; one at ten days, the other at two weeks and my fear was lack of carbonation).
The initial glance has my Amber Ale: looking like a very bronze unfiltered tone color, with no head at all. I gave the pour some distance, to try to get some more head, but I only got some big temporary bubbles. The carbonation is light and tight, but lightly sharp. I feared not enough carbonation with the lack of head, but it was OK and not bad at all…
The smell is very sweet and pleasant, nothing too overbearing at all. First pull has a malty sweetness flavor with hints of caramel. A small unique (almost smokey) and tangy aftertaste finished this flavor, which is the twisted bonus (which is very nice). This is an definitely an amber ale with the caramel undertones, but I do not know how the very lightsmokey flavor developed… AND ITS VERY COOL
The bonuses about homebrewing is when you do follow a recipe (for the first time), you can have some slight changes or preferred alterations. I did make a couple of minor alternations with the recipe, but it’s all noted (so if I wanted to make this again, I can).
Rating this beer: C+
It’s good, but almost too sweet and a little average. It has some uniqueness to it, so it’s deserves a + part of my grade.
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