Wednesday, June 10, 2009

my Process (in a nutshell) for extract brewing

This is more or less for a couple of friends that are considering jumping into brewing their own beer. This was essentially my process for extract brewing. I am now doing all-grain brewing, which I have found produces even better beer, but it also requires more time and technique. Kegging is another (probably even more) worthwhile upgrade because it removes much of the time and effort from the process.. and kegged beer seems to taste better. I still occasionally bottle, but only special batches that I want to last longer.

As with most things, finding a technique that works for you while making good beer will aid in the enjoyment and satisfaction of homebrewing. This was my technique and is pretty standard. So check it out and modify it for your facilities and preferences. I still use several books to aid in my own brew planning, and am always on the lookout for others that I may find useful.

Firstly, as the craft beer commercials on TV will claim, quality ingredients are the foundation of a good beer. This sounds like a cliche, but it is easy to overlook this part of it, and this is one area I never skimp. Specifically:
  • Good water. I used to always use reverse osmosis water purchased at the grocery. I have a few 5-gallon jugs that I would get filled up at the store. These days, I have a water filter at home that I use to filter water from the spiggot outside. I still fill up my 5-gallon jugs for measurement purposes. The moral of this story is that good clean water is paramount. Get good water. (There is a lot more science to it that I would only worry about if I didn't like my beer. But this, like most other things in my brewing, I try to minimize the efforts if the improvements are small or negligible.)
  • Buy the expensive liquid ready-to-pitch yeast. Again, there are $1 packets of dried yeast that some people use and say it does fine. But I buy the $7 vial of liquid yeast from the fridge at the homebrew store and my yeast does great. Different yeasts produce different flavors, so I buy the yeast that is made for the style closest to what I am using. (If I really want to lower the cost of the yeast, I will brew two batches back-to-back and dump my second on top of the yeast cake left by the first in the primary fermenter.) I only use the White Labs yeast. Others are probably fine, but again, I like my beer.
Some helpful stuff:
  • An auto-siphon. This is a mechanism that will aid in moving beer out of a carboy with little to no disruption (like stirring or whatnot). Makes siphoning a piece of cake. Make sure you add a good 4-5 feet of tubing to the end of it so it can reach from a counter-top carboy to another carboy on the floor.
  • A beer thief: This is a handy tool for taking a sample of beer out of your carboy. I drop my hydrometer right into it after getting my beer to check the gravity.
  • A bucket dedicated to sanitizing and a bucket dedicated to cleaning solution. For cleaning, I use PBW.
  • A 6.5 gallon glass carboy for primary fermentation. This provides space for the fermentation to balloon up some without overflowing. Most kits come with a bucket primary fermenter, but it is best to go with a glass carboy one for cleaning purposes and because the smaller hole lowers the risk of airborne bacterias getting in.
  • Hops/grain bags for adding whole hops. These make it much easier to clean and filter the beer after the boil.
  • A long spoon for stirring.
Other helpful tips before starting:
  • Mark on your carboys where certain amount levels are; like where the 2-gallon and 5-gallon levels are in the carboy. This is only really needed in the primary. I use strips of masking tape.
  • When you are boiling your wort, don't put a top on the pot. It needs to release stuff that can cause bad flavors.
  • Much is said about the importance of sanitation, but keep in mind that sanitation only becomes important in the steps after the boil. If you get a good no-rinse one-step sanitizer like Star San, then it is mostly carefree. Anytime anything comes into contact with post-boil beer, I just put it in the sanitizer first. Not a big deal.
  • After the beer is ready and is at the carbonation level you enjoy, put all of the beer in the fridge to stop further conditioning. If left to its own devices, it will likely over-carbonate. This was a problem that plagued me for most of my extract brewing. Refridgeration is the solution.

When first getting started, it is usually best to buy an ingredient kit. I like the Brewer's Best kits. But again, buy your own liquid yeast, even though the kit comes with some yeast. Those kits typically do it right and step you through the process. The process in a nutshell is:
  • Take the yeast vial out of the fridge and put it somewhere out of the direct sunlight. It needs time to warm up and get ready to start working.
  • Heat up about 2-3 gallons of water (your pot needs to be large enough to have some decent boil room - and you will be adding quite a bit of liquid extract). Steep your specialty grains. The kit should tell you what temperature and for how long. Don't boil, though. I typically put the grains (in the grain bag) in with the cold water but start timing it when it hits the target temperature. While steeping, if the extract is in liquid form, put the cans in some hot tap water. This will loosen up the extract, making it easier to pour.
  • Remove the specialty grains and turn up the heat to boil the water. When it hits boil, remove the pot from heat and add the extract by stirring it in. (You are trying to avoid the overflow as well as a caramelizing of extract on the bottom of the pot.) When you put it back on the heat, turn the heat down to bring back to boil slowly. Keep an eye on it as it starts boiling again.. it will foam up a lot. Blow on the foam and stir to keep it from overflowing.
  • Once the extract is added and you are boiling again, add the hops according to schedule. You probably want about a 45-60 minute boil (that's actual boiling time - not time on the burner), so add the hops accordingly. (hops to add at 10 minutes means 10 minutes from the end of your boil).
  • Everything that contacts the beer at this point (after the boil) forward needs to be sanitized. I use the star san no-rinse sanitizer and love how easy it it. I keep a bucket around just to use for sanitizing purposes. So sanitize your carboy, funnel, funnel filter, beer thief, and air lock with the sanitizer. I typically pour some sanitizer in the carboy and shake it up a bit. The rest of the items I leave in the sanitizer bucket until I am ready to use them. (I typically make about 2.5 gallons of sanitizer water at a time to use. Requires one fluid ounce of star san (i think).)
  • After the boil, pour your hot wort into the carboy that should already have 2 gallons of cool water. The cool water should protect the carboy from the shock of the heat from the hot wort. Pour it through a filter in a funnel; this will filter out the trub as well as help aerate the beer for the yeast.
  • Add enough water to bring the total amount of beer to about 5-5.5 gallons. Take a sample to use for a hydrometer reading. Taste the beer from the reading and then throw it out. If the beer feels close to room temperature, then add the yeast directly from the vial. If it still feels pretty warm then wait until it cools to about room temperature, then add yeast. Either way, the air lock needs to be used to seal the top of the carboy at all times (except for when adding the yeast).
  • Now put the beer in a cool dark place. Keep an eye on it to make sure the airlock has sufficient water in it. It should start fermenting within 24 hours or so. It can sometimes take longer to get started.
Probably 5-6 days later.....
  • When the foam and top layer of fermenting activity subsides and the airlock has essentially stopped bubbling, it is ready to move to the secondary. (It could also be bottled/kegged at this point and there are many arguments about the value of this, but I always move to the secondary, even if just for a few days. I think it smooths out the beer some.) For me, the secondary is a 5-gallon carboy. I just sanitize it and use the auto-siphon to move my beer across, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the primary fermenter.
When you are ready to bottle....
  • First, move the secondary fermenter to the location where you want to transfer the beer from the carboy to the bottling bucket. This allows the sediment to settle at the bottom while you do other preparations.
  • Boil about a cup of clean filtered water and add about 1/3 cup of priming sugar. Most kits come with a half cup, but I prefer a little less carbonation. Once the sugar water dissolves completely and boils a few minutes, remove from heat and cover and allow to cool some.
  • Wash and sanitize your bottles. I just create an assembly line and wash, rinse, and sanitize them, lining them up for use (or putting on the rinse rack).
  • Put the caps you will use in some sanitizer water. (Add a few extras)
  • Sanitize you auto-siphon, bottling wand, beer thief, and bottling bucket.
  • Take a sample of the beer and measure the Final Gravity.
  • Pour the sugar water in the bottom of the bottling bucket.
  • Transfer the beer to the bottling bucket with the auto-siphon.
  • Attach the bottling wand and fill your bottles up to about an inch from the top. Too much space and too much pressure can build up. Go ahead and fill all the bottles.
  • After filling all of the bottles, set caps on then and then clamp all of the caps down.
  • Put the bottles in a dark closet for 1.5-2 weeks. I usually try one after 10-12 days. 2 weeks is the standard time-period for bottle conditioning.
One of these days I will go into my all-grain technique. The first step in that process is to acquire more equipment....