Our beer is inside this bucket, and carbon dioxide should begin bubbling through the airlock on top by tonight. We'll bottle the final product in 2-3 weeks. We'll probably do a bit more research before determining which week to bottle it. After it's bottled, it has to sit for at least two weeks to carbonate, which will happen because we'll add priming sugar.
Of course, success can be measured numerous ways, and we won't really know if our method created a drinkable beer until about a month from now once we crack open a beer. From what I've read online, though, most likely we'll end up with something drinkable even if we did make mistakes, and next time we can learn what we'd change to make it even better.
The beer brewing equipment was a gift from me to Green Guy for Christmas/our three-year anniversary, and I had chosen the equipment set based on suggestions from my cousin, who's been brewing since 2012. He shared advice with us after finding out we were interested in brewing, and fortunately he was available to answer a question we had yesterday about whether the water we added to the wort to bring the total to five gallons in the fermenter needed to be pre-boiled/sanitized. He said yes, unless we used bottled water, and that made us realize we'd made a mistake in not thinking that far ahead in advance. Rather than try to boil three gallons of water and then cool it down in a matter of twenty minutes, we broke our own sustainability rule and Green Guy ran out to the store for some gallons of clean water. We'll be better next time!
Green Guy pouring the malt extract into the brew pot.
Brewing beer is similar to following a recipe to bake cookies or anything that requires specific conditions to make the final product turn out exactly how you want it. Knowing what's coming up next is important, and keeping track of timing and temperature is crucial throughout. The other thing that's perhaps most important is keeping everything sanitized that will come into contact with the wort, or unfermented beer. It's easy to accidentally contaminate something without thinking, and fortunately people have invented sanitizer that doesn't have to be rinsed off and can be used to sanitize everything in advance relatively easily. There are numerous options and methods for sanitizing while brewing, and this variety of method seems to be true of most things in the brewing world.
Here's Green Guy taking the temperature of the brew pot at the beginning of the process before we added some caramel specialty grains (malted barley). You can see the various containers on the counter that have boiled water or sanitizer in them. This allowed us to place the thermometer and other instruments in sanitized water in between use. You can see the steps we took for this particular recipe on the Brewers Best website here.
In addition to having to buy gallon bottles of water to add to the fermenter, we also had trouble cooling down the wort quickly in the sink.
The wort has to cool down quickly to about 70° F from boiling before being added to the fermenter. It has to be quick to avoid bacteria growth and that temperature is the target because it's an ideal temperature for the yeast to survive. We only had two bags of ice, which wasn't enough to bring the temperature down before they all melted, so we were very wasteful, bad Californians and ran cold water in the plugged sink to circulate cooler water around the pot. More ice next time!
We also had a challenge in getting the water at the right temperature to rehydrate the yeast. More planning in advance as well as experience over time will be helpful in the future for all of these challenges.
The biggest bummers of the day, though, were breaking the hydrometer within the first few minutes and breaking the thermometer right before we could finish cooling the wort. The hydrometer was in the sanitizing bucket when I added some measuring cups, and I think they just crushed it in half as they floated down. It didn't look like any of the hydrometer minerals got into the bucket. This meant we didn't measure original gravity, which isn't the end of the world, but it means we don't know as much about our beer as we could/should.
The thermometer broke while I was measuring the temperature of water that the yeast would rehydrate in. It just broke at the tip and began oozing whatever the materials inside of it are. So much for using that cup for the yeast. Thus, we ended our brew day not knowing the exact temperature of the yeast rehydrating water or the wort. We knew we were close to 70° F for the wort, though, so hopefully it was cool enough when we added the yeast.
Lesson here is to be more gentle with hydrometers and thermometers and also buy high quality ones for brewing--it's not like we were jamming them into cups so I'm not sure why they broke so easily. I got mine in the set from Austin Homebrew, and I'm sure there are higher quality versions out there.
Here are some other photos from our first brewing experience:
This is the used bag of specialty grains that we steeped in the brew pot before adding malt extract and hops. Later that evening, I made these spent malted barley grains into chocolate chip-barley cookies (see below for details).
This is the brew pot on the stove around the time when we added bittering hops.
I had a copy of John Palmer's How to Brew on the counter throughout the process. Thanks to my dad and stepmom for the book (and for the apron and hop earrings, pictured below)! I read all of the relevant chapters for this kind of brew process before we began, and even with all of that knowledge, we still had some challenges. The spray bottle to the right is filled with sanitized water and is there in case the brew pot began to boil over. It can be used to spray it down. We didn't have to use it this time around, which might have been because the water wasn't boiling enough. Next time we'll turn up the heat when boiling the hops to see if that makes a difference.
Two thumbs up for a fun brew day with Green Guy! It was really great to work on something together, problem solve when we ran into trouble, and feel accomplished at the end of the day that we had done what we could to create something that we can hopefully enjoy and share with our friends and family. Did I mention this will make nearly 50 bottles of beer? We'll definitely be sharing our homebrew when the time comes, as long as it's drinkable!
Spent Barley Chocolate Chip Cookies
As I was cleaning up last night, I remembered reading that some people bake their spent barley that steeped in their brew pot into cookies or other goodies. I found a forum posting that suggested using a food processor to grind them up more, but my new Magic Bullet isn't equipped to grind up soggy grains (I tried). Instead, I just used the barley at a one-to-one ratio for an oatmeal cookie recipe. Because the grains were still somewhat soggy even after squeezing the grain bag out and perhaps because I didn't follow the recipe exactly, the cookie consistency is more muffin-like than cookie-like. They're still delicious, though!
Here's a cup or so of malted barley in a bowl sitting next to the spent grain bag. I portioned out about three cups of the grain and then wrapped the rest in saran wrap, set it inside a tupperware, and put it in the freezer. I got the idea from this post on BeerAdvocate.
I based my recipe off of this one for soft oatmeal cookies. I didn't have baking soda, so I used some smaller amount of baking powder after reading the conversion online. I just looked again and realized that perhaps I should have used more baking powder than I did. Whoops!
I also added about a cup of chocolate chips and baked them for more like 12-14 minutes until the edges looked brown. They're pretty yummy, and in fact, I'm eating one right now for breakfast!
What an awesome day of new experiences, challenges to solve, and fun spent in the kitchen!
Thanks for reading this post, and if you are curious to learn more about brewing beer, I would recommend these links:
- John Palmer's How to Brew book is available online for free
- Reddit's Homebrew Subreddit has a great FAQ section, posts from tons of brewers, and you can of course post your own questions
- Home Brew Network on Facebook - It's a closed group, but if you request to join, someone will add you.