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Craft BeerHomebrew

How beer is made, or the brewing process

If you’re already a home brewer, then you can probably bore the tits off a fish going on and on about the brewing process and the difference between an ale and a lager (but we’ll get to that another time).  If you’re not yet a home brewer (quit slacking and get on board!) then you may not even realise what the process is.  You also might be interested to know that the brewing process is essentially the same whatever beer is being made, give or take an adjunct here or there, an open fermentation there and a decoction mash in between- but don’t worry about that!

Whatever your beer of choice, it pretty much boils down to four ingredients -malt, hops, water, and yeast. Other additives might be included, such as fruit or spices, but at the base these four are the primary ingredients of beer.  The German Purity Law of 1516 (the Reinheitsgebot) stated that these were the only ingredients legally permitted- no additives.

Malting

Before absolutely everything, we start with malt. Barley is the most common grain, but brewers use wheat, rye, oats, rice, corn and various other starches in the brewing process. The barley is harvested and malted by a maltster (this is completely separate from the brewing process itself, and in only a very few cases would the maltster be the brewer- the maltster is also quite unlikely to be the farmer). The grain seeds are made to germinate, and this creates the enzymes needed to convert the starches contained within the grains into sugars which can be fermented. Before the grains can sprout, the maltster halts the germination process by heating and drying the grains. The malted barley may go directly to a brewer as what is called a base malt, or it may undergo additional roasting, which darkens the colour and changes both the aroma and flavour and is then usually called a specialty grain.

Mashing

The brewer takes a base malt and may or may not add some specialty grains according to their recipe.  He or she soaks the grains in warm water – this process is known as mashing.  Different mash temperatures produce different types of sugars, which the yeast in turn break down differently.  Some sugars are more fermentable than others, so the brewer must be careful to mash at the correct temperature. After the mash the grains are usually removed and rinsed with water to collect as much of the sugar that has been extracted from them as possible.  At this point the sugary liquid is referred to as wort (pronounced wert).

The Boil

The brewer now brings the wort to a boil in a large pot called a kettle. After the wort comes to a boil, hops are added in at different quantities and at different times. Hop additions often occur at numerous times during the boil; early additions contribute to the beer’s bitterness, while late hop additions provide the hop flavor and aroma.  Sometimes hops are added before the wort is boiling (first wort hopping), and sometimes hops are added as the flame (or other heat source) is switched off (zero minute hop additions).  In home brewing, the timing of the hop additions is expressed as the time remaining before the end of the boiling process, so a 60 minute hop addition would be 60 minutes before the end of the boil, and a 15 minute hop addition would be 45 minutes later, with 15 minutes remaining.

Fermentation

The wort which has now been battered with hops must be cooled before yeast can be added.  Many would say that it must be cooled as quickly as possible, and on an industrial scale this is true, but it is increasingly popular in home brewing to allow the hot wort to cool naturally overnight. The brewer will strain out any sediment (hop residue for example) and transfer the cooled wort into a fermentation vessel where it will stay for a period of time.  The vessel is designed to let gas (in the form of Carbon Dioxide mostly) escape without allowing any air or contaminants to come into contact with the beer by means of an airlock. The brewer adds yeast to the wort and then ensures the airlock is in place. The yeast consumes the sugars created in the mash and produces 2 key features of beer- alcohol and carbon dioxide. Once the yeast has consumed most of the sugars it settles to the bottom of the fermentation vessel.  The beer is removed from the fermentation vessel and packaged.

Other Procedures

There are a multitude of other steps that may or may not take place. The brewer may have to perform a special kind of mash such as step or decoction depending on the grains and the recipe being used.  Hops may be added after the main fermentation has taken place- known as “dry hopping”. This gives beers like IPAs their signature aromas and flavours. The beer might be aged in a barrel to give it flavors of oak or whiskey. But for the most part, the steps above cover the process of brewing.

For further information, see John Palmer’s “How to Brew”, an excellent book on the science of homebrewing, which is made available free online. /intro.html

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Homebrew

Featured post from Custom Made – Sustainable Home Brewing

This is the first time I’ve done this, but I really enjoyed reading this post after it was pointed out to me by Gillian, who collaborated with Custom Made on the writing of this post.  It’s got some great info on the history of home brewing in the USA, as well as 10 tips for how to be more sustainable when brewing at home.  If you’ve got an article you think we should share, use the contact form to get in touch! I hope you enjoy using some of these tips about sustainable home brewing.

I particularly like #1- get onto all grain if you can, because this gives you more control over your beer but also cuts out a huge amount of processing that the ingredients go through.  I also wanted to add to #7 about chilling more efficiently- I see chilling as hugely wasteful of water (and when I started home brewing I was short on money, too) so I adopted the no-chill method that the Aussie Brew In a Bag Brewers have championed.  It breaks your brewday into 2 as you mash and boil on day 1, then let the wort cool on its own in the kettle until pitching temperature, before transferring it to the fermentation vessel.  I’ve never had a problem arising from this, and it uses no water at all for chilling.

You can read the full article at Custom Made

(/blog/sustainable-homebrewing/)

Or if you just want to look at the pictures, the infographics are below:

 

Click to Enlarge Image

10 Must-Do Steps for Sustainable Homebrewing

10 Must-Do Steps for Sustainable Homebrewing
Infographic by CustomMade

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Homebrew
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Bleach: the cheapest and most effective no rinse sanitiser for home brewing beer

Yes.  Bleach.

First, lets start with what sanitisation is, and why it’s important in home brewing.

Sanitisation vs Sterilisation (vs Cleaning)

Physical cleanliness, where all visible dirt has been removed

Sanitisation is the process of reducing the chances of contamination of your beer by unwanted micro organisms.  Cleaning is what you do first, maybe with soap and water and some elbow grease.  Any remnants of dirt, dust, grime, trub, krauzen, etc is removed so that your equipment is clean to the naked eye.  This is a very important step because sanitisation will be much less effective if you have dirty equipment.

But clean is not good enough for home brewing, because those potential contamination agents, such as bacteria, are far too small to be seen, which is where sanitisation comes in.

Sanitation, where, in addition to being clean, the equipment has been treated in such a manner as to remove most of the micro-organisms present on its surface.

Most.  That’s important to remember for later.  When you sanitise your equipment you reduce the chances of contamination to the absolute minimum possible for you, but it is not possible to be 100% effective 100% of the time.

To sanitise your equipment you are going to use, more than likely, a liquid of some kind, such as VWP Cleaner Steriliser,Brew Safe Cleaner SanitiserorStar San HB.  You also might use iodine.

All of the options above are effective, and I’m not going to say they’re not.  But they are definitely all more expensive than my recommended alternative: bleach.  They also may or may not require rinsing of the equipment after sanitisation and before use, which is a bit of a pain, because you either have to use boiled water to do so, or risk contaminating your equipment.

Sterilisation, where, in addition to being sanitised, the equipment has been treated in such a manner as to destroy all micro-organisms present on the equipment.

Quite frankly, for most home brewers, sterilisation is beyond the realms of acheivability.  But it isn’t necessary anyway, if you clean and sanitise properly.

If you fail to sanitise your home brewing equipment properly, then you are much more likely to produce a beer that is rather disappointing and tastes like $#1+.  It’s fairly well documented that there is nothing that can grow or develop in beer that can actually kill you, but there certainly are things that can make you sick, and not just a little bit, but for the most part, you’re just going to end up with bad beer.  I firmly believe that this is the main reason new home brewers make one attempt, find the beer disappointing, and then cry off home brew forever, or why some people turn their nose up when you say you are a home brewer because their mate made a batch that was disgusting and they think all homebrew tastes like that.

The process

Essentially you are going to clean all of your equipment with a soft cloth, water, and maybe some unscented soap or cleaning agent.  It’s important to do this well, but be careful not to scratch surfaces (especially, for example, the inside of a plastic fermenter) because those little scratches can harbour all manner of bacteria and will be harder to clean and sanitise next time.

Then you will sanitise your equipment with your chosen  product according to their instructions.  Usually mixing the product with water, allowing specific minimum contact times, and then, often rinsing with water to remove the chemicals used to avoid them creating off flavours in your beer or just to avoid ingesting them.

Why bleach is the best no rinse sanitiser (in my opinion, anyway):

Firstly, a massive thanks has to go to James Spencer of  for the inspiration for trying bleach as a no-rinse sanitiser.  Basic Brewing has audio and video podcasts on iTunes and other podcast directories.  I learned the joys of using bleach as a no-rinse sanitiser in the March 29, 2007 – Sanitizing with Bleach and Star San episode.

Here goes:

Bleach has a bad rap amongst home brewers, and maybe that’s because they’ve either had a bad experience, heard of someone having a bad experience, or just don’t want to try because they’d rather trust a named product.

WARNING: BE CAREFUL
Spoiler Alert.  I’m going to be writing about mixing bleach water and vinegar.  Do not mix bleach and vinegar directly.  Put the bleach into the water, stir, then add the vinegar to the mixture.  Further details are below.

On the podcast James Spencer interviews Charlie Talley who started in the chemical business in the late sixties.  He runs Star San which started in 1971 but only as a brewing thing in 1991/2.  Charlie himself started his career as a chemist manufacturing bleach.

Charlie Talley says that chlorine is the “granddaddy of them” all as far as sanitisers are concerned- chlorine bleach is the benchmark against which all other sanitisers are measured, but it really only works when the pH is around 8 (and you achieve this by adding vinegar), but too much vinegar makes gas (or mixing vinegar with bleach directly) and in the most extreme worst-case-scenario that could knock you out.

Good bleach should have a clear yellowish-green colour.  If your bleach is cloudy, then it has gone, or is going bad. You want it to smell slightly of chlorine, if it doesn’t it’s gone bad, too.

A major advantage of bleach is that it is easy to get- it is readily available in supermarkets, and the cheaper the better for home brewing purposes- you want thin bleach- not thick toilet bleach with scents.  It’s also an idea to buy the smallest bottle available too so it doesn’t go bad.  You don’t need much anyway.  For me this is perfect because I don’t have a local homebrew store.

The numbers Charlie Talley gives in the podcast are:
Standard bleach is 50000 parts per million of the active ingredient.
1 oz of bleach  in 5 gallons of water = 80 parts per million of chlorine
80 ppm is all you need provided you match it with vinegar (equal measures).  This should be white vinegar preferably.
So the ratio is 5 gallons water: 1oz bleach:  1oz vinegar.  Never mix bleach and vinegar together before adding to the water because you will produce chlorine gas.  This is why people are afraid to use bleach- people get scared, but if you mix the bleach into the water, and then add the vinegar, this is perfectly safe.  Personally I think this is simpler than the brewing process itself.

If you clean properly and sanitise properly it will all be good.

And here’s the best bit:

Rinsing is not required at that level!  If you rinse you have to make sure your water is sterile.  Tap water has micro organisms in it.  So to avoid contaminating your sanitised equipment no rinse is best.  At this concentration, after sanitising and then draining you cannot smell or taste bleach.

And as for soaking it for a long time to sanitise- no way!  The necessary contact time is 30 seconds if the pH is right.
You don’t need longer than that, which makes brewday or bottling day much quicker.
So clean and sanitise just before you start brewing, clean after brewing.  Sanitise again before brewing the next time.

My method maintains the ratio but I use less of everything.  So for 1 gallon of water I use 1 teaspoon of bleach and 1 teaspoon of distilled vinegar.  I’ll use this to sanitise everything by wiping it with a cloth- fermentation vessels, lids, bottles for bottling, pressure barrels, hydrometers- it all gets cleaned and sanitised with bleach and then set to drain for a moment before use.

I’m not the most experienced brewer in the world, but I have brewed over 25 batches of beer, with at least 22 of them using this sanitisation method, and I have not experienced any infections or off flavours.  And I do not rinse- I just clean, sanitise, drain and use.

It is the perfect solution for me.  Others may prefer to use products like StarSan etc, and that’s ok, I’m just saying that bleach is a legitimate option.

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Homebrew

Why bother home brewing anyway? What’s the point of making your own beer when there’s so much great craft beer?

Well, I’m sure plenty of non home brewers wonder about this, and if you’re thinking about starting to brew your own beer at home then hopefully I’ll make you see that there are plenty of reasons to home brew.

One fairly common reason to brew your own beer at home is the cost-saving element. I’m not sold on this reason, personally, but it’s a great one to convince your significant other if they’re not keen! If you take away the cost of the equipment, then, yes, brewing your own beer at home is remarkably cheap. In the UK one of the easiest ways to get into home brewing is to use extract kits. These kits are known as pre-hopped extract, and they are basically highly concentrated, sticky, unfermented beer (or wort to be precise- this is what beer is called before it is fermented with yeast). You can choose from a variety of styles of these cans of extract, and you can find them for as little as £10, including a sachet of yeast. Add to that about £1 for a bag of sugar (this boosts the alcohol content a little) and you’ve spent £11. For that, my friends, you can brew around 40 pints, 20 litres or so, of home brewed satisfaction in a glass. Tasty. And for less than 30p per pint, that isn’t half bad. Of course, you’re going to need some equipment to brew your own beer at home. A starter kit might cost you £50 or so, and that might include your first ingredient kit (except the sugar). So if you right off your first batch at £1.25 a pint (still not bad for your own homemade beer that you’ll enjoy more than any commercial brew (because it’s home made and your first)) then every batch thereafter gets you back to 30p a pint. (Try this kit).

Another often-quoted reason to brew your own beer is that you can make it just the way you want it, or you can make your own version of a beer that you can’t find easily or at all wherever you are in the world. And to a certain extent, I’m down with that, although it might not be enough to convince you given the abundance of choice even in budget supermarkets nowadays, let alone specialist shops. In addition to that, you’re going to need a good bit of experience to be able to pull off this kind of creativity and detail.

For me, the best reason for home brewing is that it is so satisfying. Whether you use pre-hopped extract kits, dry or liquid malt extract plus hops (and maybe specialist grains for a partial mash), or all-grain-brewing (in one of its many forms), it doesn’t matter- it is incredibly satisfying to drink a beer that you made yourself. Home brewing feels a little like alchemy. For some it is pure science, for others it is more art, for most, it’s in between the two, but every home brewer in the world knows the satisfaction you get when you crack open that bottle, or dispense the beer from your barrel or keg and sit back to enjoy it. Your friends may or may not partake of your homebrew, and that’s ok, because you made it, and you can enjoy all 40 pints (responsibly) on your own if you have to.

If you’re completely new to the hobby, I really recommend the pre-hopped extract kits. It’s a great way to start brewing your own beer at home. Some snobby home brewers look down on these kits, but don’t listen to them. I’ve made over 400 pints this way, and enjoyed every single one! I had some help to drink them, and no complaints either.

These are some great starting kits and products.  Links in this post may be affiliate links- if you purchase any items I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.  I only recommend items I have personally used.

 

Further articles will follow with procedures for these kits as well as other brewing methods. I, personally, brew using the brew in a bag BIAB method, which is an all-grain method, and I’ll be posting an article about my procedures too. See this article for a taste, although that brew day didn’t quite go to plan!