Many years ago I was introduced to Untappd, a social app for beer where you log, rank and review the beers you drink, and see the same from your friends. Having never gotten into wine I thusly became a beer aficionado. Well, really I treated beer like pokemon; gotta catch 'em all. In a good way though, it encouraged me to always try something new and different when I was out (or getting something to take home). So far over the 7.5 years I've been using it I have drunk 813 different beers (not 813 pints, just to be clear).
Having done a few brewery tours I've always wondered about having a go at making my own, but I know that if I decided to actually get the kit I'd spend ages researching everything and then I'd want to spend several hundred pounds on fancy vessels, electronics and other brewing accoutrement, ignoring of course that I've never actually brewed anything in my life and have no idea if I'd make anything worth drinking.
And so my dreams of becoming a master brewer had remained just that...until my 40th birthday. Having mentioned before that I'd be interested in having a go at brewing my sister and BiL bought me a brewing kit for my birthday. It came with everything one needs to brew beer; a demijohn with bung and air lock, flip cap bottles, sanitiser, grain, hops, siphon hose and vitally instructions.
So digging out the large old aluminium pressure cooker that Jane had handed down to her from her grandmother to use as a brew kettle I set to work and brewed my first beer, a fine tasting stout that simply could not have gone better. It tasted great, the secondary fermentation in the bottle worked to carbonate the beer, everything was perfect.
Clearly I had a knack for this and having had success with the kit I used I looked to see if I could pick one up for another style. No luck, it turns out that at some point they'd gone bust. Handily I found The Malt Miller a fantastic place where you can order pretty any combination of grains, malt, hops and yeast you could want. And even better people can publish their own recipes which you can then order yourself. I clicked away and ordered myself all the ingredients I needed to make myself a Belgian Witbier; a wheat beer flavoured with orange peel and coriander. If you've drunk Blue Moon before that's a well known example of the style.
This weekend just gone I finally decided it was time to actually brew this up so it would be ready by Xmas so I could bask in the glowing praise of my extended family (covid permitting) as they sampled my craft.
Having gotten all the stuff out on the side to get cracking I realised I had no idea where the instructions were from the first time, and I didn't actually know exactly what I should be doing 🤦 A quick google later and it was time to crack on. Firstly the most important thing in brewing is sanitising, if you don't sanitise all your equipment well before you use it there's a good chance you'll end up with some sneaky little bacteria popping up and souring beer. As it happens I'm into sour beer but that's not what I wanted this time.
As I'm working from grains the first thing to is soak all the grains and wheat to extract the sugars and prepare the base of the beer, this is called the mash. Having heated up my container of water on the hob it was time to dump everything in, stir it up and leave it to steep.
Grains and wheat in I was trying to find a way to hang my thermometer in the pot to monitor the temperature. The mash takes about 90 minutes and you should hold the temp between 64-68 degrees. I figured I could tie a bit of string to the the thermometer and wedge it into the hood over the hob and suspend it perfectly in the pot. In the process of trying to do this I dropped my thermometer on the floor where it shattered into many pieces. Arse. Thankfully another present I'd been given for my 40th was a digital probe meat thermometer, a few minutes digging in the draws and it was hooked up. Only somehow it seemed that something had gone wrong and I'd slightly overheated my mash 😐
The internet assures me that a few degrees over for a short time shouldn't do any serious damage to my brew, I think it was actually up around 75-76, you can see from the picture I had it in a large bucket of water to bring the temp back down.
Having finished the mash next comes lautering and sparging, this is where we separate what is basically sugar water, called wort, from all the grain and wheat flakes. This insolves a large sieve to collect it all and then you wash it through with the wort and some fresh water to extract as much of the sugar as possible as this is the food for your yeast later.
Wort extracted it's onto the boil, this is where the hops are added (and towards the end any other flavourings), this is another 90 minutes where you want it at a rolling boil to help remove unwanted enzymes and oxygen. Once you have it boiling nicely you can pretty much leave it alone for a while.
Atfer the boil is done we want to cool the wort down to around 25C as quickly as possible so the yeast can be added and we try and avoid any infection getting in. Having prepared an icebath in the sink I got the pot into it, temp probe in and started stirring and moving to get it cooled.
Remember how I said earlier than towards the end of the boil you add flavourings, for this brew I had some coriander seed and bitter orange peel. And I had forgotten to put them in! Out of the icebath, back on the gas and back up to boiling for another 5 minutes with the flavourings. Mistake hopefully rectified (I'll know in about 3 weeks when the first fermentation is done) it was back in the ice bath and getting cooled again.
Once the temp is down all we have to do is decant it into (sanitised) demijohn, pour in the yeast, give it a shake and put in the bung and airlock. Hopefully now all those little yeasty beasties will get to chomping away at the lovely sugar we've given them and turn it into alcohol, also everything should settle so while the final beer should be a bit hazy it look quite as manky as this. The airlock allows the excess co2 from fermentation to escape and stops unwanted oxygen getting in.
During the fermentation you want to keep it inthe dark and somewhere the temperature is around 20C, there is an ideal little cupboard under our stairs that should do the job, for the stout I used a windowless room in our garage house but that was the middle of summer, with no heating out there it's certainly far too cold now.
I had a little peak before bedtime, nothing was happening, this got me a little nervous as for the stout it got going fast and I had brown beery bubbles coming out the airlock within a couple of hours. Finally about 24 hours later I saw that sufficient gas was being produced to push the water in the airlock all into the right hand side so I know that there is fermentation of some kind going on. I've been checking it daily and there's still gas coming off but slowly so maybe I'll move it somewhere slightly warmer for a while see if it helps get it going. I wonder if maybe I left the yeast too long after getting it before using it and it taking some time to reanimate.
Beer making though is a slow process with lots of time spent waiting and I don't even know if I'll get anything good at the end of it, but that's half the fun of it, and I only used half the ingredients I ordered so I can try again and try and tweak it if I need to. This is definitely something I'm going to continue to do and try and get better at. Next steps will probably be looking at kegging rather than bottling, I have a friend who used to run a brewpub who told me that kegging gives a more reliable output for carbonation compared to bottling, we'll see how it goes.