Saturday, August 2, 2008

Back in the saddle

I have a tendency to acquire hobbies. I find something that interests me and tend to jump in with both feet. Shooting is the latest in a long string. Between working on my house, which ate most of last summer and fall, and shooting, which has eaten most of this spring and summer, I've been leaving other hobbies languish. Lately I've resolved to pick two hobbies and stick with them. Shooting is one, homebrewing, which has fallen by the wayside for a while is the other. Last weekend I brewed my first batch in about a year.

Last weekends batch was an English IPA. It was an extract batch, which means I started from malt extract, which is basically pre-made dehydrated wort. Wort is the term for unfermented beer. Basically, with extract, the first third of the brewing process is done for you. Extract is easier and requires less equipment, but extract costs more than malted grain.

The stages of making beer are malting, mashing, boil, and fermentation. Malting is the processing of barley by allowing it to germinate to produce enzymes, and then kilning it to stop the process. Different strains of barley and different roasting and kilning processes lead to different types of malt. Almost no one does this at home, and professional breweries don't do it either. It's generally done by malt houses which purchase grain from the farmers, malt it, and sell it to distributors and brewers.

The next step is mashing. Mashing is the process of using the enzymes from malting to convert the starches in the grain into sugars which the yeast can ferment. This is done by mixing the malt with hot water and holding it at a temperature or series of temperatures to control the enzyme activity.

The next step is the boil. This is where the process starts for extract brewers. Boiling does several things for the brew. The most important is that it extracts bitterness from the hops. Even beers that aren't noticably bitter contain bittering hops. If they didn't they'd taste cloyingly sweet. This is because yeast can't ferment 100% of the sugars in the beer, so the hop bitterness is there to balance them out. The boil also drives off some compounds that you don't want in the beer because they produce off-flavors. Another thing the boil does is coagulate some proteins from the malt that would otherwise make the final beer cloudy.

The final step (other than packaging) is fermentation. This is where the magic happens. Yeast convert sugars to alcohol and CO2. There is a wide variety of brewers yeasts available that lead to a variety of different flavors in the final beer. Temperature control during fermentation is important to avoid off flavors and other unpleasant things you don't want in the beer. Also, a given yeast will produce a different flavor profile at different temperatures.

After fermentation, the beer is packaged in either bottles or kegs and then carbonated. There are two main ways to carbonate a beer: bottle conditioning and force carbonation. Bottle conditioning involves adding a measured amount of sugar to the beer so that it will ferment a bit more in the bottle. Since the bottle is sealed, the CO2 produced dissolves into the beer. The other method is force carbonation, which is using a pressurized CO2 tank to add CO2 to the beer.

So, back to today's batch. Today I made an all grain beer. This is significantly more involved than an extract batch. The short version is that last week's extract beer took about 3 hours start to finish. Today's brew is going to come to about 6. I had some equipment issues today that pushed the time out. Once I get back into the swing of things, I think I can get an all grain brew day down to about 4.5 hours or so.

I'll post details of ingredients and such later, this post has gone on long enough. The next beer post will probably also include my planning for the next couple batches.


Bruce said...

When you bottle, skip the sugar and use a malt extract solution. Helps maintain the desired flavor.

Papazian's "Complete Joy of Home Brewing" should have the details.

You DO own that, right?

zeeke42 said...

Bottle? What is this bottle of which you speak? I force carbonate in kegs. No wasting time filling bottles or waiting for the beer to carbonate.

I have a copy of Papazian's book, but I much prefer John Palmer's "How To Brew". Papazian's a hippie, while Palmer is an engineer. Homebrewers everywhere owe a great debt to Charlie Papazian for being the first, but Palmer's book is way better for technically minded brewers like me.