My good friend Russell Berry has given me something invaluable. He’s given me THE KNOWLEDGE. I’m talking of course about the knowledge of beer making. Beer making is as old as civilization itself. Humans have been fermenting the drink of the gods since we discovered agriculture and started building cities over 10,000 years ago and I’m willing to bet, even before that. There are hunter-gatherer tribes living in remote areas of the world today and even they know how to make fermented beverages. No matter if you’re a loin cloth-wearing savage living in the jungle or a supermodel-entertaining millionaire living in a high rise in Manhattan, you love beer. And knowing how to make the golden beverage is an essential knowledge that must be spread. Here’s how we did it.
We set to work on a recipe for a summer brown ale. Berry’s Summer Brown Ale to be exact. The first and maybe most important part of making beer is cleanliness and hygiene. When you’re using bacteria to ferment a consumable product, the last thing you want is to spoil it with bad bugs. Wash your hands and Scrub your equipment! Cleanliness is next to godliness and we are making the drink of the gods so there you go.
Next, boil some water. The water you boil is called “strike” water. The strike water is water that is initially mixed with malted grains to form a “mash,” which is just a mixture of cracked grains and boiling water. Simple! Basically we’re just making tea out of hops and grains.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Step 1. Sterilize equipment.
Step 2. Boil water! When making beer you’ll want to have three-four large pots/buckets. One needs to be made of metal so that it can withstand being put on the stove. Stainless steel is best for this purpose. I’d recommend one 7 gallon stainless steel pot for boiling, two 7 gallon cpvc buckets for sparging (we’ll get to that in a minute) and a 6-7 gallon insulated cooler for mashing. The plastic buckets and cooler bucket should have taps on them for reasons you’ll soon see and the cpvc should be food-grade to avoid the leaching of toxic plastic chemicals into your brew.
Once your strike water boils you should pour it into the cooler bucket and let it cool to approximately 175 degrees Fahrenheit (these instructions will vary slightly for different brews). From now on I’ll refer to the cooler bucket as the “mashtun.” There’s a decent amount of jargon here, which I personally enjoy but for n00bs, I’ll supply vocabulary and definitions as we go along. A mashtun (pronounced mash-ton) is precisely what it sounds like. It’s a container for mashing. Russell modified an igloo tap cooler for his mashing purposes. He removed the plastic tap and replaced it with a stainless steel ball valve. It’s important to use as many stainless steel parts as possible when making consumables. Parts made of brass or other metals can contain lead and other harmful substances that could leach into your brew.
Now for a bit more shop talk before we move on. Inside and on the bottom of your mashtun is an apparatus called a “false bottom.” The false bottom acts as a strainer for when you drain your wort into the boil pot for the next stage of brewing. Russell made his out of cpvc, drinking-water-grade pipe. The piping has slits carved in it to allow the liquid wort (I’ll tell you what that is later) to flow through but not any grain kernels or sediment. You can see that the false bottom plugs directly into the stainless steel ball valve. All the strained liquid wort will flow through the false bottom and out of the spout. The long, vertical pipe sticking straight up is an air flow tube that keeps the pressure in the false bottom from building up and creating a show-stopping vacuum.
As soon as your strike water has reached 175 degrees F, you’ll add your grains. We used four types of grains: 7.50 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 75.00 %, 1.00 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM) Grain 10.00 %, 1.00 lb Victory Malt (25.0 SRM) Grain 10.00 % and 0.50 lb Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM) Grain 5.00 %.
This grain information isn’t terribly important unless you’re attempting to clone our brew. If you’re reading this and you want to make your own beer, chances are you’ll buy your ingredients from a different source than we did and you’ll probably also be making a different brew so ingredients and minor details don’t really matter here.
You’ll want to boil more water. You’ll be continually boiling water throughout this entire process. I’d estimate that it would be prudent to boil about 7-7.5 gallons of water all-in-all. Approximately 5.5 gallons will become beer. The other two gallons are there to pad your batch and to account for water lost as steam during the boiling process.
(Note: It is important that any grains you purchase for the brewing of beer be milled. Milling grain for beer is a fairly gentle process. If you were creating flour for baking a cake for instance, you would mill your grain into powder but for beer it is important to merely crack the hulls of your grain. This will allow the vital sugars inside the germ to be extracted during the mashing process.)
Snap back to the brewing process. After you’ve boiled the strike water and poured it into the mashtun, add the grains. Stir/pour the grains into the strike water slowly and in a circular motion to create an even grain bed. I recommend using a wooden spoon to stir-in your mash. A plastic one would be too flimsy I think and a metal one could make nicks or gouges in the wall of your mashtun that could provide safe harbors for bad bacteria. Mash until the temperature falls to approximately 150 degrees fahrenheit. Put the top on the mashtun and let the mash steep for approximately 30-35 minutes. What you’re doing here is allowing sugars to seep out of the cracked grain. The liquid this process creates is called “wort.” Wort is the sweet, sugary grain “tea” that will eventually become your beer!
At this point, you’ll move to step 3.
Step 3. Sparging.
Sparging is the process of trickling hot water through your mashtun for the purpose of extracting the wort. We used an apparatus called a “fly sparge.” It’s similar in construction to the false bottom. Russell made his fly sparge out of the same drinking-water-grade cpvc piping but instead of slits, it has holes drilled in it at intervals to allow the water to trickle evenly through the mash. You need to evenly trickle the water, or the “hot liquor” to use the brewing vernacular, so that you get all that your mash has to offer. In the picture to the left, you can see our whole setup. The hot liquor tank is at the top. It drains into the fly sparge, which trickles the hot liquor down over the mash and through the mashtun false-bottom where the wort drains out into the boil pot for the next stage of brewing.
*Important note. We boiled down about 1.5 pounds of sugar and water into a syrupy consistency and put it in the bottom of the boil pot before draining the wort into it. This sugar will be important during the fermentation process as it will provide the yeast with the fuel they need to make alcohol!
Step 4: Brewing the Wort.
This is where the brewing process briefly turns from science to art. During the brewing process is when you add different ingredients at different times to influence the flavor of the brew. We added 1.00 oz Cascade [6.30 %] (60 min) Hops 20.6 IBU, 0.50 oz Cascade [6.30 %] (15 min) Hops 5.1 IBU and 2.50 oz Fresh sweet valencia orange zest (5 min). We also added some other spices to tweak the final product but I won’t list them here because every brewer should keep some secret ingredients to him or herself 😉
The process of draining the wort creates quite a froth, so I recommend spooning-off this foam before the brew really starts to boil. We boiled the wort for 60 minutes. (*Note: You have to be vigilant during this process otherwise your brew could boil over spilling precious beer and making a huge mess. I recommend stirring every five minutes or so. Also, try not to always stir in the same direction. Mix it up and do figure eights through the center of the liquid. Stirring in one, constant direction creates sort of an “eye of the storm” if you will–neutral zone inside the whirlpool created by your stirring that will allow boiling hot liquid to shoot up and splatter everywhere. Just pay attention, stir when you see your brew starting to bubble up a lot and try not to burn yourself.)
We added one full ounce of cascade leafy hops at the very beginning of the 60 minutes. With 15 minutes to go, we added another full ounce of the leafy cascade hops as well as a tablespoon of Irish moss for clarity. At five minutes left we added the orange zest. And finally, at zero minutes we added the willamette pellet hops for added aroma.
Once you’ve boiled and crafted your brew, it’s time to cool it down so that you can add the yeast!
Step 5: Cool the Wort.
For this process, you’ll need a second person to help you carry your 5.0-5.5 gallons of boiling-hot wort outside. Once outside, you’ll use a weird-looking apparatus called a “wort chiller” to cool your brew down to about room temperature (70-80 degrees F). The wort chiller is made of a coil of copper piping with hose connectors at each end. Before you jump to any conclusions, neither the hoses nor the hose water ever touches your brew. The wort chiller simply allows the cold hose water to travel through the wort and transfer heat away from it. This process only takes few minutes, it’s fairly efficient. Once your wort is chilled down to around room temperature, pour it through a straining screen into your initial fermentation bucket and place the bucket in an ice bath to continue the cooling process. Next, if you’re interested, you can check the specific gravity of your brew. This will give you an idea of what the alcohol content will be once the fermentation process is complete. To check the specific gravity, you’ll need yet another little tool, which I’ve included a picture of. It’s basically a little bobber that measures buoyancy. It comes with instructions that are fairly easy to follow so I’ll leave it at that.
Step 6: Add yeast.
This entire process hinges on the abilities of our little bacterial yeast friends to convert sugars into alcohol. All you have to do to get them started on their noble work is dump them in the bucket. Next just put the top on your fermentation bucket, seal it up, put it in a cool, dark place in your house and forget about it for a couple of weeks. For Berry’s Summer Brown Ale, the initial fermentation time is approximately 21 days, however this time will vary for different types of brews. We made a trappist ale the other night and it has to ferment for approximately two to three months before it’s ready for bottling. Also, when sealing up your brew to ferment, it’s important to have a gas valve on the top of the bucket. I’m not sure if the gas created by the fermenting yeast will build up enough pressure to pop the top off of your fermentation bucket, but it’s something I’d rather not bet on. They sell the gas valves at home brewing shops for very little money. It’s definitely worth the few dollars to buy one. The valve should just be inserted into the little hole in the bucket top made just for this purpose.
There you go! Once your beer has fermented, you’ll need to bottle it. We saved old beer bottles from parties, cleaned and scrubbed them thoroughly with sanitizers and used them to bottle our beer. The best bottles to use are the non-screw top kind. We used a hand-held bottle topper to cap our beers. It’s just a little vice that crimps the tops down over the bottle lip. Once bottled, home brews should be refrigerated for 1-2 weeks before imbibing to clarify and for secondary fermentation. There’s also a certain amount of “priming sugar” you should add to the beer right before bottling to ensure good carbonation but I won’t go into that here. The info is freely available on the Internets if you’re interested.
The Berry’s Summer Brown Ale was very good. It was super enjoyable, gave me a great buzz and was very easy to drink. I think next time I would add more orange zest to give it more of a citrus kick but that’s about all I’d change. Can’t wait for our trappist brew to mature. We brewed it on Leap Day, February 29, (of course we named it Leap Beer) to celebrate the Leap Year. Should be a good one! Can’t wait 🙂 Have fun brewing!