The big push of activity, or at least the things that must be done in a very precise manner, all comes at the beginning of the home brewing process, i.e., EVERYTHING that we talked about last post. The transition from primary to secondary fermentation is quite painless, actually. Which is great, because you can excuse yourself from a whole night of doing chores/laundry/your tax return, etc., on the basis of transitioning your beer betwixt the first and second ferments…
And instead just watch an episode of Vampire Diaries or two. Preferably while drinking wine. (It’s a great system, beer brewing.)
(My Best – But Probably Not Very Good – Explanation of) How to Home Brew, Part Deux:
After you move your cooled, yeasted wort to a sterilized plastic tub for the primary fermentation, the wort will remain in the primary fermentation stage for about 5 days. This can be longer, or shorter, depending on a number of factors, namely, how much sugar there is to be digested by the yeast and how fast the yeast is able to digest the sugar.
The air lock will tell you whether the yeast is active or not. A few hours after you seal up the wort, the air lock will begin bubbling as the yeast begins to break down the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bubbles, obviously, are the carbon dioxide being released out of the wort. The flow of bubbles will be fast, for about two days, slowing down to nothing as the beer marks its third or fourth day of fermentation. Wait for the bubbles to die down completely, then wait one MORE day after that before you move to the secondary fermentation. Capiche?
On the day you intend to move to the secondary fermentation stage, sterilize the siphon, clear tubing, and the carboy (the large glass container above) or a second food-grade plastic tub with a diluted hot water/bleach solution.
Attach the siphon to the clear plastic tubing, and direct the other end of the tubing into the carboy (or second food-grade tub). Start the siphon by either pulling up on the interior tube (if it’s an automatic siphon) or sucking on the tubing to start the flow (if it’s a manual siphon).
The only important thing to remember when siphoning from the primary fermentation vessel to the secondary fermentation vessel, is to avoid sucking up any of the sediment that has formed on the bottom of the plastic tub. Essentially, you will sacrifice about an inch of your beer that is sitting in the primary fermentation vessel.
I really had no idea why there was even a secondary fermentation at all, honestly, until I googled it. According to homebrewing.com, a second fermentation isn’t actually necessary, although it’s preferred by most home brewers since the beer isn’t filtered before bottling, like commercial beer. If, after you taste the beer post-secondary-fermentation, the beer tastes too much like yeast, then you can even send it through a third fermentation period. With each additional fermentation, the dead yeast (and other sediment left over from the breakdown of grain and malt) will settle in the bottom of the vessel, which will yield you a much more clear looking and purer tasting beer.
So, after all but the last inch or two of beer has been siphoned into your secondary fermentation vessel, either top the vessel with an airlock or, for a carboy, a simple layer of saran wrap, held fast with a rubber band or two. The yeast won’t have as much sugar left to convert into alcohol in the secondary fermentation (most of it was converted during the primary stage) so there will probably be less carbon dioxide build up in the secondary fermentation vessel. Still, if you are using saran wrap, check it every day or so to make sure the carbon dioxide buildup hasn’t busted open the plastic wrap – even though bacteria can’t live in alcoholic environments, we are still aiming for a clean fermentation vessel.
I know some of you may not be interested in this… which I totally get. Because brewing beer isn’t for everyone. But hopefully you’ll enjoy the pictures and learning about the overall process!
As of now, this is our first batch, and I’m still getting the details straight. If I have any readers that are also homebrewers, feel free to correct me in the comments! We’ve already gone through the primary fermentation on this first batch, and we’re in the secondary now (all this will make sense with my next blog post if you’re confused), and we’re bottling tomorrow. So I’ll have another post explaining primary vs. secondary fermentation vs. bottling, as we finish all of these stages ourselves.
And just for my knowledge – is there anyone out there interested in home brewing? Or am I just annoying you with this post?
2 handfuls of rice hulls
8.5 pounds pale malt
1/2 pound chocolate malt
1/4 pound black patent malt
1 pound crystal malt
1 ounce Fuggles hops (boiling hops), in a small cheesecloth bag
1 ounce East Kent Goldings hops (aroma hops)
4 cups pecans, chopped, in a large cheesecloth bag
1 10-gallon Rubbermaid water cooler
1 stainless steel false bottom
1 12-inch piece of copper pipe
1 3-inch piece of high temperature hose
1 4-foot piece of clear hose
1 large stainless steel pot (holds about 6-7 gallons)
1 wooden spoon
1 6-gallon commercial food-grade plastic bucket
1 large plastic tub (large enough to hold the stainless steel pot)
a top to a Tupperware container, about 5 inches across or larger
at least 6 bags of ice (about 60 pounds)
(My Best – But Probably Not Very Good – Explanation of) How to Home Brew: Clean your water cooler, false bottom, pipes and hose, and stainless steel pot. These just need to be clean, although you don’t have to go as far as sanitizing them with bleach, since the homebrew will start hot, and will therefore be almost impossible to harbor bacteria.
Place the false bottom in the bottom of the water cooler. Attach the piece of high-temperature hose to the valve on the top of the false bottom. Detach the push valve on the outside of the water cooler, and push the copper pipe through the hole, threading the copper pipe into the open end of the high temperature hose. On the outside of the water cooler, the copper pipe should still be sticking out – attach your piece of clear hose to the copper pipe, and wind the hose through the handle on one side of the water cooler. Essentially, the hose should wind upward, so that the brew will not flow out of the water cooler due to gravity and water pressure. (If this is the first time you are homebrewing, test your set-up by filling up the water cooler with water, to make sure the valve/pipe/hoses are watertight. Once you know your set-up is watertight, you can skip this step in further homebrew sessions.)
The false bottom, attached to the piece of high-temp hose and the copper pipe
Meanwhile, heat at least 3 gallons of water in your stainless steel pot. You want to bring the water up to 190 degrees and keep it at around that temperature until you’re ready to start the protein rest stage.
Scattered rice hulls along the false bottom
Scatter 2 handfuls of rice hulls on top of the false bottom. Slowly pour your hops on top of the rice hulls, alternating with 190 degree water. You want to add just enough water to moisten the malt, but not enough to make a soup. Stir the malt to moisten with water, using a wooden spoon or spatula, and be careful NOT to scrape the inside walls of the water cooler, and make sure NOT to touch the false bottom in the cooler, either. If you scrape the inside walls of the water cooler, bacteria can grow in the grooves between brew sessions. If you hit the false bottom in the cooler while stirring, you can jar it and cause malt to get into the hose, which can cause blockages in the hose which can ruin your whole batch. (It helps to have two people at this stage; one to pour the malt into the Rubbermaid, and one person to slowly add water and stir to moisten the malt.)
The temperature of the malt for the protein rest should hover at about 130 degrees, so add water (stirring between additions of water) until the grains are moistened, and then adjust for temperature. If your grains are above 130 degrees, add cold water and stir until the grains cool down to 130. Screw on the water cooler cover, and let sit for 15 minutes, periodically checking the temperature of the malt and adding water as necessary.
Meanwhile, boil another 4-5 gallons of water in your stainless steel pot.
Once the 15 minutes is up, proceed to the mash stage – add hot water to the malt about 1 gallon at a time, stirring continuously, and checking the temperature intermittently, until the temperature of the mash reaches 155 degrees Fahrenheit. The mash should be a soupy consistency – if you reach 155 degrees before the mash reaches a soupy consistency, add cold water until the appropriate consistency is reached. (This is another point where it helps to have two people: one person to pour water, the other to stir the mash and intermittently check temperature.) Let mash sit, covered, in the water cooler for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil another 4-5 gallons of water in your stainless steel pot.
Sparge in process
Once the 45 minutes is up, prepare to sparge. Get a small plastic cup for tasting, and set next to your water cooler. Put the water cooler on a higher surface (such as a countertop) and set your large plastic bucket below the water cooler (such as on the floor). Unwind the hose from the side of the water cooler, and point the hose into the plastic bucket. The water that comes out of the mash will be dark brown, and it is called the wort. The wort coming out of the malt will be sweet, and the idea is to leach out all the sugar from the mash by pouring hot water through the mash until the water no longer tastes sweet. Thus, as the wort that comes down the hose begins to slow, take your tasting cup, and put it under the hose to catch a small taste of wort. Taste it to make sure it is still sweet. If it is still sweet, then have your helper pour some of the hot water into the mash (place the Tupperware top on the top of the mash, and pour hot water onto the Tupperware top – it will diffuse the water pressure and encourage water to slowly filter through the mash instead of simply falling through the middle). Continue pouring hot water, tasting more frequently as the wort tastes less sweet.
Kristy tastes the wort
Obviously it’s quite difficult for me to explain when to stop sparging (i.e. when to pinch the hose and stop the wort from pouring into the bucket). Both times we have brewed, we stopped when it tasted as though the wort was still a little sweet, but the aftertaste was more starchy. If you feel that you aren’t sure, I would say stop sparging. Also, if you accidentally add a little bit more wort, it’s not such a big deal – you’ll know to stop earlier next time. Your beer will still be delicious!
If you end up with less than 5 gallons of wort in your bucket (remember, stop adding wort when it stops tasting sweet) then you can add more water to your bucket. Essentially, the sugar that you extract from the mash is finite, and because sugar is converted into alcohol in the fermentation process, the amount of alcohol in the batch is finite. But, the percentage alcohol can be lowered if you dilute the wort with additional water. None of this is really something you have to worry about as long as you follow the recipe – if your recipe is supposed to yield 5 to 6 gallons of beer, then make sure you add enough water to make sure you have 5 to 6 gallons of wort. Otherwise you will end up with a much higher alcohol percentage.
Empty your stainless steel pot, and pour the hot wort into the stainless steel pot. Add the boiling hops and the pecans. Cover and bring the wort to boil, and boil for 60 minutes. (This is called the “boil” stage. I know, it’s a convenient name, right?)
You can also dispose of the used malt now. Scoop ‘em out and put them in a double-lined trash bag. (Hint: these are hot, and feel like a giant hot compress. If you use them like this. Yes, that is my backside.)
The boil in process
At around Minute 40, add the aroma hops to the boil. Also, pitch the yeast. Pitching yeast simply means adding the yeast to a small amount of warm water, so that the yeast can activate, a.k.a. “bloom.” At this time, also prepare your ice, i.e. run out to the store and GET ice if you need to.
After 60 minutes of boiling, spread a 5-inch layer of ice in the large plastic tub. Lift the hot stainless steel pot into the plastic tub. Add ice around the hot pot. The object is to cool down the wort to about 80 degrees, as quickly as possible. (Remove the bag of boiling hops and pecans at this point as well.
Up until now, you’ve been dealing with hot malt, hot mash, and boiling wort. With such hot temperatures, you haven’t really needed to be super sanitized with your equipment, because any bacteria that got into the mash and/or wort would have been killed during the 60-minute boil. Now, you’re dealing with a cooled wort, which means that any bacteria that gets into the cooled wort can thrive. THUS, any equipment used from now on MUST be sterilized. The best way to do this is to fill your sink with a solution of bleach and hot water, and soak/wash any equipment in the bleach solution. Rinse with hot water and allow to dry.
Get another clean (it doesn’t have to be sterilized though) plastic cup and set next to your plastic bucket. Attach your (sterilized) clear hose to your (sterilized) siphon. Use the siphon to suck the cooled wort from the stainless steel pot into your (sterilized) plastic bucket. While siphoning, take a sample of cooled wort straight from the hose. Add the cup of water and bloomed yeast. (If some yeast sticks to the bottom of the cup, add more warm water to the cup, swish to get the yeast to unstick, and add to the plastic bucket. (A little extra water won’t hurt anything.)
Put the top on the food-grade bucket. Top with air lock (and fill with water as necessary).
Let sit for about 5 days. This period is called the primary fermentation.
I’m still getting the details straight for the home brewing post – sorry for the delay if you’re waiting anxiously by your computer! (Let’s face it, you’re not. You’re still drinking the spiced bourbon. It’s cool, we are too.)
But since it’s the holidays, I thought you all deserved an early Chrismukkah present.