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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How to homebrew with an extract kit

I am still pretty much a beginning brewer, so for right now I prefer to use pre-made extract brewing kits.  A huge advantage of extract brewing (for me, at least) is the time savings you get over brewing with grains.  Making wort from extract takes minutes, while making wort from grains can take hours.  On the minus side, the typical grain batch is 10 gallons, while extract is only 5 gallons.   Also, extract brewing is more expensive than brewing with grains.

I had a Midwest kit on hand for Amarillo Pale Ale, which uses Amarillo Hops for aroma and flavor, and another type of skunky hop called Columbus, for bittering. I love the taste and smell of Amarillo hops. If I could find a cheap source, I would put them in every batch I make.   Heck, I would put it in ice cream.


I haven't mentioned before what ingredients come in these kits.  The primary ingredient is malt extract.  This is either a dry powder or a concentrated syrup containing sugars and enzymes from malted barley and/or wheat.  

The Midwest kits always seem to include some "specialty grains", which are usually roasted malts.  These are used to adjust the flavor of the beer.

Hops are also included.  These hops will be used for bittering, flavor, and aroma.

The kits also include a small bag for steeping the specialty grains, priming sugar to carbonate your bottled beer, and yeast to ferment the mixture (convert the sugars into alcohol).

Here are a few of the ingredients for this particular kit that I had near the boil pot:  Priming sugar at the top of the photo, a digital timer (mine), two 1lb bags of dry malt extract, and 3 small bags of pellet hops.

The steps to brew are pretty straightforward:

Take your yeast out of the refrigerator and allow it to begin warming to room temperature.  Shake it up a bit to ensure the yeast are all exposed to the nutrients.

Next, to make 5 gallons of beer, start out with 6 gallons of water.  You will be boiling the mixture for an hour, and one gallon will steam off during that hour.

I like to get my water from the hot water tap in the house because it's already at 130 degrees.  This saves both time and propane.  I have a deep sink to fill my pot, but would use a pitcher at the kitchen sink if that weren't available.  Try to use good-tasting water if you want good-tasting beer. 

Here is a picture of my brewing rig: 
  • Chair to chill out and have a cold one while making more cold ones.
  • Turkey cooker burner and lighter
  • Brew-pot
  • Long-handled stirring spoon and thermometer inside the brew-pot
  • Propane tank 
  • Immersion wort chiller
  • Brew kit and some ingredients between the chair and burner

Bring the 6 gallons up to 155 degrees and hold the temperature there.  You put the specialty grains in the muslin bag and allow the grains to steep in the water for 15-30 minutes.  Pull the bag containing the grains out, and squeeze the juice out of it.  Playtex gloves are nice for this step, because 155 degrees is unpleasantly hot on bare fingers.  Trust me on this!

Here we are in the process of steeping the specialty grains.  I am using a paper binder to keep the steeping bag from falling all the way in.

After the specialty grains are out (I feed them to the deer afterwards), you turn off the burner.  TURN OFF THE BURNER!  Here's why:  Liquid malt extract has the consistency of rubber cement.  It doesn't want to pour.  Because of this, it tends to drop to the bottom of the pot and stick there.  If the fire were on, you would scorch the extract at the bottom of the pot and ruin your beer before you even got it made.  So shut off the heat and give the hot water plenty of time to dissolve this gooey stuff.  Stir it with a long spoon until you are sure it's dissolved.  Then stir some more.

Here's what to do with the Liquid Malt Extract to improve the dissolving process.  I put it in a water bath and pre-warm it on the stove while steeping the specialty grains.  This helps thin the stuff from rubber cement to more of a syrup consistency.

This should give you an example of the consistency of liquid extract at room temperature:


I prefer the dry malt extract for a couple of reasons.  First, since it's not watered down, pound for pound, your beer will be stronger.  And second, unlike the liquid extract, it floats.  It doesn't sink to the bottom and try to burn itself up on the bottom of your pot. 

Now that we have dissolved the malt extract in hot water, we have the basis for beer!  When you dissolve malt extract in water, you have made the Wort (pronounced "Wert").  But we aren't done yet.  You could perhaps make beer from this, but it would be sweeter than pepsi.  Worse, it might become a bacterial science experiment.  So let's boil the wort, shall we?

Light your burner and bring the wort slowly up to a boil.   Slowly, because you can also scorch the sugary wort on the bottom of your boiling pot.  Slowly for another reason too.  Our wort is full of sugars, starches, and proteins, so the bubbles like to foam up and over.  A boilover of this stuff is messy!  You have to watch it like a hawk and be ready to cut the gas off.  Shortly before it begins to boil is when the "protein break" happens and a boilover is likely.  Afterwards the danger is over.  Just get it back to a rolling boil.

Once it comes to a boil, we set a 60 minute timer, and add bittering hops.  The hops you add will be either pellets or leaves.  This kit comes with pellets.  You can drop them loose in the wort, but I prefer to put them in the steeping bag.  I clean out the steeping bag of the specialty grains and re-use it for the hops.  You don't want all that plant material in your fermenter.  It will make your beer have a grassy taste.

We now have our wort boiling and killing any germs in the mixture.  The boiling is also releasing oils from the hops, which over an hour will bitter the beer, countering the sickeningly sweet mixture with some bitterness.  At about 15 minutes before flame-out, I place the wort chiller in the boiling wort to sterilize it.

Depending on the beer, most recipes will call for other hop additions.  These can occur anywhere  in the boil, but mid-boil hops are for flavor/bittering, and toward the end are more for the "nose" or aroma of the beer, and not for bittering.

Assuming all the hop additions were done properly (at the correct time and correct amount), we are ready to shut off the fire and cool our wort down and let the yeast begin working their magic!

I use an immersion wort chiller to quickly bring the wort down to a temperature where yeast cells can survive.  You can do it with an ice bath, but it takes longer and increases the chance of an infection.  After about 5 minutes of chilling with the wort chiller, the wort is down below 80 degrees, at which point the yeast cells can survive.

Hopefully by this time your dormant yeast will have warmed up, your sterile wort will have cooled down, so the yeast won't have to deal with a big temperature shock. 

There is one thing you need to do before adding the yeast, however.  When you boil water, you de-aerate it, driving off all the oxygen.  Yeast need oxygen to get started, so you need to aerate the wort.  Some folks slosh the wort around vigorously, while others pour it back and forth between containers.  I'm lazy and worried about infection, so I use an air compressor and a sanitized tube to blow bubbles from the bottom of the wort for about 30 seconds.

Next we pour the wort into a sanitized fermenter.  The fermenter is a sealed container that keeps the wort and yeast in, releases gas the yeast generate, and keeps the germs out.

Then we pitch the yeast.  That's what it's called: "Pitching the yeast".  It means we are adding yeast to our wort.  Then we place an airlock on top of the container, filled with sanitizing solution.  The airlock will allow the container to breathe, while killing any germs that might try to get to our beer.

After a day or so the yeast will have adapted to their new environment and start devouring all that sugar and releasing alcohol.  At that point so much gas will be generated that the airlock will be bubbling continuously and it will smell like beer.  After a couple of weeks, the yeast will pretty much be done, and all we have to do is bottle it!

Here is a picture of fermentation at the beginning of the process.  This is two days after brew day when the yeast was pitched.  The layer of goop on top of the wort is called krausen.  

If the yeast is very vigorous, or you don't have enough head space in your fermenter, this stuff can expand, plug your airlock, and blow out of the fermenter.  That HAS to be nasty to clean up, as well as potentially infecting your beer with bacteria.  Here is a picture I found on the internet of such an event.  I know the wife would be most unhappy about a mess like this!

Back to less eventful brewing... I used a hot pad to warm the wort and help get the yeast active.  The note on the fermenter is to remind me when I brewed and what kind of beer is fermenting.  I have 3 different batches going right now, and don't want any confusion.

I don't actually bottle my beer, once again because I am lazy, and don't feel like washing and sanitizing 55 botttles every time I brew a batch.  Instead I wash and sanitize ONE cornelius keg (AKA corny keg).

Another advantage of keg storage is that you don't have to boil and then add priming sugar to your beer prior to bottling.  Priming sugar is used to give the yeast something new to eat and allow them to make CO2 gas, to carbonate beer in the botttle.  With a keg, you carbonate your beer with a gas cylinder and regulator.  I don't waste the priming sugar however.  I add it to the wort to make the beer stronger!

And here is what all that trouble is for:  Something the big breweries will never make - beer with flavor, character, and potency!



Monday, February 18, 2013

Homebrews #4 and #5

OK so it wasn't ALL work this days off.  We had one single day where the weather was warm-ish and not windy, so I chose to brew up a couple of batches of beer. 

I prefer to brew two 5 gallon batches back-to-back, because home-brew setup and breakdown both take me a fair amount of time.   Someday I will have a proper setup with a rolling cabinet, but that is not the case right now.  I have to haul each piece from storage to where I am brewing.  In this case, I needed to be near the garden hose.  Eventually I moved to a spot in the sun so I could keep warm :)

This first bach is called Cologne Kolsch.  The wife likes Alaska Brewery Summer Ale, so I am giving this a shot.


Below is the second batch, a Christmas gift I received, which is a Belgian Honey Wheat.   It comes with orange peel and coriander flavorings, and should taste similar to a Blue Moon, but with about twice the kick.

Here the grains are steeping for 30 minutes before bringing it to a boil.  The copper coil in the background is the wort chiller, which quickly brings the temperature down after the boil.  This allows you to quickly get the temperature down to where yeast can survive and then get it sealed up before airborne germs can infect the beer.

Basement is finished!!!

We ordered some cheap industrial carpet for the big 30x15 room in the basement to finish it up.  The carpet was installed on Wednesday, and our handyman installed the baseboards on Friday. 

I could have done the baseboards (I have installed my own before), but I wanted it done quickly and without having to lose a couple of my days off over the job.  The handyman matched the stain and style, then clear-coated them all before even coming over to do the job. 

While he was installing the baseboards, I replaced the light fixtures with something more appealing than the old ceramic bases and bare bulbs.


After the baseboards went in, I set up my home gym. It's been a LONG time since I've had this set up, and I never had this amount of room before. It used to be on one side of the garage in Bakersfield, which was pretty tight. We put down the interlocking foam sheets for two reasons: 1) So I don't cut the new carpet when I drop a weight, and 2) I sweat like a pig when exercising, and didn't want to sweat all over the new carpet either :)

The other end of the big room will be for storage, and we have a lot of work do do in that respect. We still have a ton of boxes to unpack, but have stacked boxes containing most of my wife's seasonal decorations. One more rack like this and a couple of Home Depot cabinets, and we should be set.

This is what we started with.  So glad it's finished!!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

One final day in the closet

After complely removing all shelving and poles in the closet and then rebuilding it to suit us, the texturing and painting still remained.  My wife is always in charge of spackling and texture, while I am in charge of ...whatever she tells me to do... :)

Anyway, I bought a can of oil-based quick-drying wall texture.


Which immediately gave both of us massive headaches. You are supposed to use it in a well-ventilated area, which the closet is not. A fan just distributed the skanky odor outside the closet into the bathroom and master bedroom. Some contents of this can: Mixed Xylenes, Toluene, Acetone, Isobutane, Ethylbenzene, and propane propellant. That's just the hydrocarbons that turn to vapor, not the texture itself! If you decide to use this product, get the slow drying formula instead! Save a few brain cells for cerveza to kill.

On the bright side, since the stuff dried so quickly, by the time we poured the paint and spread the drop cloth, we could start painting.  And so we painted.  It turned out really nice.  Check it out!




Saturday, February 02, 2013

Two days in the master closet...

No, I am not in trouble with the wife.  In fact I may have scored a few points!

When we left California, we loaded up our 5th wheel trailer pretty much to the roof, and used it as a moving van.  Most of the stuff in there wasn't everyday stuff, and a lot of it was clothing that we could no longer fit into.

We dug through the 5th wheel to try and locate some drapes that I wanted to put up in the office.  We never did find the drapes... However we realized that a lot of the clothes in the RV now fit again, because  we have each lost about 35 lbs since going low-carb back in October.

Which brings me to the master closet.  It's a room about 12ft x 8ft, with a 9ft ceiling.  Each side had a single pole for hanging clothes, and a shelf with about 3ft of wasted space above it.  We decided to reorganize the closet because there was room for two poles per side.  It would also allow us to empty the clothes out the RV, and maybe use both the clothes and the RV for the first time since leaving California.

Here is my side of the closet.  The white line is the elevation of the footer board that supported the original shelf and clothes rack.  Since the footer board was caulked to the drywall, I pulled a fair amount of drywall off when I tore it loose.

Here is my side of the closet with the lower shelf and pole installed.  My wife spackled a few holes in the wall as well.

Here is my side of the closet, completed, and loaded with clothes from both sides of the closet. At this point we were preparing to demo the other side.

Before photo: My wife's side, looking toward the door. This side was slightly more complicated because we needed to split it out, leaving one tall section for longer clothing like dresses.

Before photo: My wife's side again, this time looking through the door into the closet.

After Photo: My wife's side looking toward the door.

After photo: My wife's side looking through the door.


I am very happy with how it all turned out. We doubled the clothes hanging area of the master closet for about $100. Most of the cost was particle board and hangers, and I had the guy at Home Depot make 90% of the cuts. That saved me a ton of trips across snow out to the shop where my table saw is located.  The handful of cuts I had to make, I did with a small Skil Saw.

We still need to texture the walls and then paint. If you look closely in the last photo, you can see the red can of spray texture on the lower shelf. Next time I am off shift, we will be finished with that project!