Wednesday, January 08, 2014

All grain brewing

I still haven't told you much about my beer making activities. Over Christmas week my brother and I tried to level up. We tried our hands at all grain brewing.

If you're new to brewing or are interested in trying it, then you'll want to steer clear of Mr Beer or the kits you can get from Bed Bath and Beyond. I've not tried either, but I've heard bad things about Mr Beer and I got a good chuckle looking at the kits from Bed Bath and Beyond. They're cheap for a reason.

First, you want to be sure there's a place where you can store a bucket at 68°-72°F for a couple of weeks. And you'll need some storage space for all the supplies. That'd be two 5-gallon buckets and a 5-gallon glass jar. And that's for making ales. If you want to make a lager you need a place to keep them around 52°F for 12 weeks (or so). That means a whole extra refrigerator.

Then find your local brew supply store and look into Brewers Best. One kit will get you set up with all the right equipment. Then there's shelves of smaller boxes that are just pre-selected ingredients.

I did three batches just using their kits. When I started adding seasonings to their kits I said I'd leveled up. Last summer as I was leaving Kansas I stopped to visit some friends who were doing their first attempt at all grain brewing. I figured helping with that got me to level up, again. So I asked for a grain grinder for Christmas so I could start earning XP as I worked my way up to Level 4 Brewmaster. For comparison. The guys at Flying Dog are probably operating at level 100. Budweiser's guys are probably operating at level 50 or so.

In the kits you'll get a couple of 5-lb tubs of Liquid Malt Extract. Malt is the stuff that the yeast eats and turns into sugar. In all grain brewing you're making your own malt. Some instructions talk about making the grain sprout and then throwing it in a kiln, but apparently that's just for certain types of beer. For our purposes we took some of the red wheat that my brother grows and some pilsner that he got from his brew supply store. So we ran 7 lbs of the red wheat through the grinder. That was WORK! I mean, you know it's time to cut the wheat when you chew the grains and it's like noshing on pebbles. The grinder feels the same way. Grinding red wheat is like trying to crush large pieces of sand. About ever pound or so my bother and I had to switch places or at least readjust. Once that was done we dropped in 3 lbs of pilsner grains. It breezed right through. Compared to the wheat, it was like grinding tofu.

The next step was to use the burner from Dad's turkey frier to heat 3 gallons of water to 169°F and put the water in a water jug. It's one of those big round suckers like you see Gatorade being dumped out of over a coach's head. Only it has been modified into something called a mashtun. It has a false bottom so that the liquid can get out, but the grains can't. So the water goes in, the grains are slowly stirred in, a lid put on, and the whole thing left for an hour. With the grain added the water drops to around 152°F. You can keep it hotter or cooler depending on whether you like your beer maltier or drier.

After an hour you start the water draining into another container. It's just a trickle coming out. And get another 3 gallons heating up to 170° or so. Once the initial water has drained you need to refill the tub with the grains until there's an inch or so of water covering the grains. Add it slowly. Maybe run it through a colander so the water doesn't drill a hole in the grain. See, what you're trying to do is wash out all the sugars and other things yeast likes to eat.

We ended up with about 5.25 gallons of water. More would have been better so we could cook it down for stronger beer. Because from this point on it would be just like making beer from the kit. We took what we had and put it back on the burner. Our original gravity was enough that we should have a weak beer when we were done. We figured it'd boil down below 5 gallons by the time we were done.

It was an odd shade of green. Even before the hops were added. We're assuming that's normal.

It was a long process and I had to leave the follow up to my brother. He should be bottling the beers tomorrow. Two weeks after that he can give some to the dog and see if it dies. If not, we have product.

I brought home 10 lbs or so. I'll be repeating the process here in Baltimore once I empty enough bottles to have somewhere to put the beer.

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