Brewing Beer

I recently got a beer brewing kit for my birthday and started my first batch the other day.  I’m starting with a Dunkelweizen as it was listed as a beginner recipe, the fermentation temperatures are within easy range without a refrigerator, I like german wheat beers, and it’s the time of year for darks.  Is that enough justification?

As I was warned several times prior to starting this, the hardest part is definitely cleanliness.  Everything needs to be sanitized before it can be used and you have to be very careful to not get anything into the beer that might contaminate it.  In order to keep from being completely overwhelmed on brew day, I cleaned everything a day prior using a mild dish detergent (diluted heavily with water).  I was then careful to completely rinse everything to ensure I don’t end up with soapy flavored beer.  I set everything aside for the next night to sanitize it.

Prior to sanitizing my equipment, I cleaned the area to get rid of as much foreign particles as I could.  I even vacuumed the kitchen and living room to get rid of as much dog hair as possible.  Once the kitchen was clean, I set to sanitizing.  I mixed up about a gallon of sanitizer in the bottom of my primary fermenter and dumped all my tools into it.  Using just my hands and the water, I made sure the sanitizer came in contact with everything for about 30 seconds.  As I read on several sites, this does not mean it needs to be completely submersed, just wet for 30 seconds.  Confident that everything was sanitary (including the spoon rest on the stove) I dumped my sanitizing liquid so that my fermentation bucket could dry a little.  This was my first mistake, as I wished I had some sanitizer handy while working on the beer.  Next time I will simply dump it into my secondary fermenter even though I don’t need to sanitize it on brew day.

Following my recipe, I brought 2.5 gallons of store bought water up to 150 degrees and placed my grain bag in the water.  Using a thermometer, I kept a close eye on the temperature to make sure it didn’t get outside my range of 150-165 degrees for the 20 minute steep time.  I wish I had a floating thermometer so I didn’t have to continuously hold my thermometer when I need to check the temp.  At the end of 20 minutes I pulled out the grain bag and let it drain thoroughly.  I now had a wort (pronounced wert).

Next I brought the wort to a gentle boil and added the Liquid Malt Extract (LME) and maltodextrin while stirring continuously.  You have to be careful to not let the LME stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.  Prior to dumping in the LME, I let the containers sit in the sink with very hot water to soften it up as much as possible.  After pouring it in, I held it over the pot for a bit to let the steam soften it a bit more to get as much out as I could.

Once the wort returned to a boil, I added the bittering hops by slowly sprinkling them in.  While doing this you have to be careful to not let it boil over, as the hops will cause it to bubble up significantly.  Sprinkling them in slowly is the key.  The wort now had to boil for 40 minutes.  I stayed close by and stirred the pot quite frequently.

At the end of 40 minutes I added the flavoring hops to the wort and continued the boil.  This had to boil for an additional 20 minutes before it was time to cool the wort.

The wort is supposed to be cooled as quickly as possible to avoid bacteria growth and to help settle the “trub” to the bottom of the pot.  Since I don’t have a wort chiller, I resorted to an ice bath in the kitchen sink.  Here is another of my mistakes – I completely underestimated how much ice I would need and how long it would take to cool the wort from boiling to 70 degrees.  I only had as much ice as my built-in icemaker holds and that melted very quickly.  I did the best I could by changing the water in the sink frequently, but it still took a very long time to cool completely.

Once it was down to 70 degrees, I started to siphon it out of the pot and into my primary fermenter.  The primary fermenter is a 7.5 gallon food-grade bucket with lid that has a grommet for the airlock.  Being careful not to suck up the trub from the bottom of the pot, I transferred all the wort to the fermenter.

At this point it is time to add the rest of the water to bring it up to 5 gallons.  While adding the water, I took several gravity readings using the hydrometer to make sure I stayed within the OG (Original Gravity) range specified by the recipe.  Adding the remaining 2.5 gallons put me right within the range.

The last step to mixing the wort is to add the yeast and stir it in well.  Now that all the ingredients are mixed in it’s time to secure the lid to the bucket and put the airlock in place.  I used some cheap vodka to fill the airlock (halfway) as I saw on several forums for 2 reasons: 1 – we had the cheap vodka laying around, and 2 – as was noted in the forums, if for any reason the airlock sucks any of the liquid back through, alcohol is better than water as it won’t have any bacteria in it.

The fermentation temperature range is listed at 64-70 degrees for this beer and since my house is typically 70-72 degrees this time of year, I ran a cool bath in the second bathroom and put the bucket in there.  Initially I had to add ice several times to get the bathtub to get it to stay below 70 degrees, but now I’ve only had to add ice about every 8-10 hours to keep it at the lower end of the range.  I used a couple of the old water jugs and filled them half full with water to freeze as ice blocks.  Using these ice blocks, I can add one every time I notice the temperature starting to rise and it will go right back where I’ve been keeping it – about 66 degrees.

I also have a dark t-shirt draped over my fermentation bucket for 2 reasons.  The first reason is to help keep it cool.  The t-shirt hangs into the water which then evaporates from the t-shirt.  This is supposed to create a wicking effect like a swamp cooler and keep the beer cooler.  I haven’t noticed that it keeps it much cooler, but I also haven’t had my beer fermenting without it, so I’m not sure how difficult it would be to maintain my temperature without the t-shirt.  The second reason for the shirt (and the reason it’s dark) is to keep as much light off the beer as possible.  Beer is supposed to ferment in a cool dark place, but since I don’t have any closets that are a good candidate and I don’t have a basement, the bathtub had to do and I can’t keep it dark in there all the time.  Hopefully this is enough dark for the beer to not skunk.

This coming weekend (4-5 days after brewing) I’m planning to move the beer to my secondary fermenter which is supposed to help clarify the beer and give it an overall better flavor.  I’m looking forward to that as that will be the first time I’ll get to look in the bucket to “see what’s going on in there.”  I’m finding that my patience will be tested with this process as I really want to move on to the next step and have a finished product.  At least in the secondary fermenter it will be a glass carboy so I can see what’s happening in there.

At this point I have to just hope that I’ve done everything right and kept it all clean so I can have a good, homemade beer in a few weeks.  We shall see how it goes.

Leave a Reply