Okay, so you’ve gone to your local home-brew store, online retailer or bat-shit cray-cray guy in the neighborhood and secured all the required equipment that I talked about last week. You might, at this point, be looking at the pile of buckets, carboys, tubing, brushes and other bits and pieces that you cannot even identify and The Fear might be creeping inside.
Don’t worry. Grab a beer, we will get through this.
First you need a recipe. There are hundreds of resources online, not to meantion at your local home brew store (or LHS as we call it in ‘the biz’). Here we are going to start you off with a pretty simple beer, our Apogee Amber Ale.
HOWEVER! You don’t have to brew this for your first batch. The great thing about making beer is that the process for most ales is pretty much the same. Only the ingredients differ.
So if you want to make an IPA, gather yourself the fixings for a hoppy-as-hell IPA.
You want a light summer blonde? Brew it, Son.
You want a stout AS BLACK AS YOUR SOUL. Hey, buddy, you do you.
My point is brew what you want to drink. What I’ve pulled here is a simple recipe that I believe will appeal to a large number of people. It’s not too hoppy, it’s not too sweet, it’s not too dark, it the freaking Goldilocks of beer.
Here’s how you brew it:
We start with sugar, the basis of all beer. Specifically barley sugar.
You’ll need 6 lb of Briess Golden Light Liquid Malt Extract and 2lb of Golden Light Dry Malt Extract. You’re local LHS doesn’t carry this exactly? That’s the beauty of your homebrew store, there are usually some reasonably knowledgeable humans that can help you find an appropriate substitute. It might not be exactly the same as ours but it will be pretty flipping close. Close enough that your freeloader friends will suck it down like it contains the secret of life itself. Only you and I need to know your dirty little secret.
Six pounds liquid malt extract and two pounds dry malt extract. Got it? Excellent.
Now your extracts can’t do much by themselves. You are basically just pouring several pounds of sugar into a pot. You need something extra to give it that little bit of… je ne sais quoi. A little miss en scene. A little menage a tois.
We’re talking specialty grains. These are types of barley that have been kilned, roasted, crystalized, caramelized or undergone some other unknown dark art that impart specific flavor to the beer and give it a little color as well.
In this case, you will need the following.
One and a half pounds of Crystal 30: Crystal malt is literally barley that has a tiny bit of crystalized sugar in the middle. How does the sugar get there? Well someday we will talk about that. For now let’s just say elves do it. They creep into the barley fields and use magic. It’s what elves do.
Anyway, Crystal malt gives your beer a little bit of body, sweetness as well as some toasty, fruity, light caramel flavors. There are several different levels of roast when it comes to crystal malt and each one will give your beer something unique. At 30L, (L short for Lovibond. As in Quincy Lovibond, a lovable drunk who would set things on fire and then assign a number to them based on how burned up they got. Don’t believe me? You shouldn’t That was a completely lie but it made me giggle so that’s the new official story) this grain will give it a nice, light caramel flavor and some sweetness. But wait, there’s more!
One pound of Crystal 60: You think I’m playin around here? This is serious business! You need more crystal. In this case something a touch darker to add that lovely amber color as well as fruity sweetness and more body. A pound of that. And lastly…
One ounce of chocolate malt: Read again one ounce. Say it with me One (1) Ounce (like… 1/16th of a pound). A tiny amount. Just a drop. Why so little? Well, first the chocolate is a dark roasted grain that will add just a little more red color to our beer. But add too much and it adds so much red that your beer will TURN BLACK. It’s true. A lot of black beers are actually red. Hold them up to the light if you don’t believe me. But be careful or you will spill your beer.
Also, and here is cool part, the chocolate malt will give the beer just the slightest dry finish that will make it extra drinkable.
Throw those grains together, put them through a mill and put them into a muslin grain bag. Your local home-brew store should have a mill available for this. When they don’t I drop to the floor scream, cry and kick my feet until they get one. That usually works. But seriously, they all should have one. They should also have muslin grain bags. If you thew a big enough fit about the mill, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Okay what’s next…
You might be one of those people who bemoan the amount of hops that modern craft breweries insist on pouring into their beer. You’re still gonna need them even for a relatively malt-forward beer like this one. In this case you need just a little bit.
One ounce of Amarillo and one ounce of Citra to be exact. Not only will these little green pellets give your beer an acceptably bitter balance, they will impart just a touch of fruit to the flavor.
We we got our extract, our grains our hops.. what else… oh yeah!
Arguably the most important ingredient of all. Without it you just have some really, really sweet strangely flavored barely soup. The yeast turns all of that into the refreshing drink that we all know and love.
We’ll be using a dry yeast for this batch. Dry yeast is easier for the beginner since it rarely requires any extra effort to make viable. To be specific, we need Safale 05. This is a pretty standard American strain that will finish off quick and clean and settle out leaving a nice, clear beverage. You’ll need a package of this or a reasonable substitute as well.
Okay, your back! You got your ingredients? No? What have you been doing this entire time?! Go get the stuff, already! We will wait.
Got everything? Good.
Okay. First, get your big-ass brew pot! (As opposed to your big assbrew pot because… ew…) Fill it with about two gallons of water and put it on your burner and put fire underneath it. Not a lot of fire, you don’t need to turn that bugger up to 11, you beautiful, crazy bastard! Turn it on about half. What we are looking for is a nice, slow climb to boiling.
While the water is heating up, drop in your bag of specialty grain. It is up to you if you would like to stand over your pot and cruelly mock your milled grains as you slowly boil them alive, you horrible human being, you. While it’s getting up to boiling, I like to stir the water a little to keep the bag from settling on the bottom and getting burned by our FLAMES OF DEATH.
When your water gets up to a boil, use your spoon, a pair of tongs, strainer, or far-too-trusting friend to remove the bag of grain from the boiling liquid. Resist the urge to squeeze the bag. You’ll be looking at that grain bag dripping with sweet, sweet proto-beer and you will want to give that sack a little hug. Don’t do it. You can squeeze some strange flavors out of that little sack. Let it drain a little and toss it. Your done with it.
It is now time to add the extract.
This is where that friend comes in handy (assuming they aren’t driving to the hospital after you convinced him to stick his hand into boiling water, seriously what is wrong with you?!?) Have them stir while you slowly add the thick liquid and/ or dry malt extract. Don’t have any friends? Well, first, maybe you would if you weren’t trying to burn them all the time and, second, gently stir the pot with one hand while adding the extract with the other. The point is, you don’t want the sugar to sit on the bottom where it will scorch and add strange burnt flavors to your beer. That is no bueno.
Once all the extract is in, slowly raise the temperature to a boil being careful not to turn the heat too high so that it boils over. It is a thing that can happen and, trust me, it’s a mess.
Once you’ve dialed your heat so that you’ve got a nice gentle boil, grab yourself a beer sit back, relax and….
JUST KIDDING GET UP AND ADD SOME HOPS YOU FOOL!
Okay, so here is how hops work. The longer they boil, the more flavor and aroma they lose but the more bitterness they impart to the beer. This is often described in the following simple hop schedule:
60 minutes: Bittering hops
30 minutes: flavor hops
5 minutes: Aroma hops.
It’s quite a bit more complicated than that, but it works well enough to be a general guideline.
That being said, we don’t want a ton of bitterness, so we are going to skip the bittering hops entirely and wait thirty minutes. So feel free to do whatever time-killing thing you do for thirty minutes. Read a book, listen to music, throw rocks at passing cars … actually stop. Quit using my humorous asides as an excuse for your anti-social behavior.
After thirty minutes add a half an ounce of Citra hops. Just toss them in. It’s cool.
Now set a timer for fifteen minutes. Now dance. Now pretend to be a dog. Now run outside and scream ‘I’m a pretty boy’ at the top of your lungs.
Okay you’ve now been watching a pot boil for the better part of forty-five minutes. Before you start questioning your life choices, it’s time to add more hops! In this case, one half ounce of Citra and one half ounce of Amarillo. If you happen to have a wort chiller, this is a gosh-darn good time to set that in the pot as well to let the boiling wort sterilize it. Set the timer again, this time for ten minutes.
*insert awkward waiting music*
Do you think florists get really depressed? It’s like you work really hard to make something pretty but you know it’s just going to die in like… three days. Less if you forget to put them in water. I always forget. Really makes you think.
*more awkward wait music*
Okay! We are now 55 minutes into the boil! It’s almost done! Just one more thing… MORE HOPS. We’re just going to add a touch of Amarillo. Just a half an ounce for a little burst of citrus aroma once the beer is done.
Let it boil for five minutes and shut off the heat.
So what do we have here? Right now, the sweet, grassy concoction you’ve created is called wort. Wort is unfermented beer or, more simply, beer without the AWESOME added.
So how do we add the AWESOME? First, cool that bad boy down. Yeast don’t like boiling liquid any more than any other life form. So we need to get it down to about 70-75F (or 21-23 degrees for you strange Celsius aficionados. Yeah, I’m talking to you, every other place in the world besides the United States! Get with the program!)
If you have a wort chiller, all you have to do is hook it up to a water source, and kick back for a while. If you don’t, it’s time to ice bath that biach.
Get a tub, or sink and fill it with water and ice cubes. Slowly submerge your pot. Let it sit in the ice bath until it cools adding more ice as you feel in necassary. You can help this process along by slowly stirring wort.
So while your liquid was boiling we weren’t that concerned with sanitation. I mean, don’t do anything incredibly disgusting, you freak, but otherwise the boiling liquid will take care of any bacteria or yeast stupid enough to fall into it.
Those were the good old days.
But shit’s got real now. Your wort is no longer boiling, which means it’s prone to infection. So you want to make sure that anything that touches it has been properly sanitized. This is where a spray bottle of a no-rinse sanitizer is really, really handy. You can also use a bucket of diluted bleach water so long as you rinse everything really, really well.
So the game has a new rule now. Everything that touches the beer has to be sanitized.
So if your spoon wasn’t sitting in the boiling wort, take a moment and spray that sucker down before you go sticking it in the pot. While your at it, make sure you fill your fermentor of choice with the same sanitizing solution.
Once your wort is cooled it’s time for it to go into the fermentor. Grab your bucket or carboy or whatever you crazy kids are using for alcohol production these days.
Pour your wort in!
Top up with water to five gallons, shake and/ or stir to get that water and wort good and mixed together.
Time to take a sample!
There a several ways to go about this. The easiest is to use the handy-dandy siphon. Use that to suck out a few ounces of liquid and fill the test jar most of the way to the top. Put on a flat surface and drop in your hydrometer.
Here’s how a hydrometer works:
Sugar water is thicker than regular water. But not as thick as blood. Just in case you were wondering where wort sits on the whole water-blood density scale. It’s like right in the middle.
The hydrometer will float higher in high-density liquids. The more sugar in the wort, the higher the hydrometer floats. To take the measurement, you want to look at the spot where the surface of the water touches the hydrometer (This is called the meniscus for all you former AP Chemistry kids! Stoichiometry 4 Life, Son!)
Assuming everything went to plan, your beer should be at about 1.057 give or take. If it didn’t hit that exact number, don’t panic, just write down what it did hit. You will need it later. Now, double check the temperature. If you’re between 65 and 75 degrees it’s safe to add the yeast.
Some yeast producers recommend throwing the yeast in dry. Some recommend desolving in warm water first. I have found no great difference with either method so do whatever you feel is best.
Attach an airlock and marvel for a moment at your creation.
So what happens next?
Well, short answer nothing. You’re done. Congratulations, I guess what do you want, a medal? Long answer… soooo much!
Within twenty four hours you should see significant activity. If you have a clear carboy your beer will be a storm of swirling liquid and your airlock will be ferociously bubbling. It might even be so active that yeast, foam and other gunk might start bubbling into your airlock and clogging it. For extremely active fermentations, a blow-off tube might be required.
“What in all the hells is a blow-off tube?” you might be frantically asking yourself as you watch your newly-made beer gradually turn into a Mess. Well, a blow-off tube is simply a tube wide enough to let all that yeast and gunk blow off. You put one end of the tube into your carboy and the other into a bucket of water or sanitizer. This is another instance where the fine folk at your LHS can really be useful.
The really active fermentation typically only lasts twenty-four hours after which it is safe to put the airlock back on.
And now wait. Like two weeks. Yep, that long. Trust me, it will be worth it. So I guess we will check on it then.
Apogee Amber Ale
6lb Briess Golden Light LME
2lb Briess Golden Light DME
Crystal 30L: 1lb
Crystal 60L: 1lb
30min: .5oz Citra
15min: .5oz Citra
15min: .5oz Amarillo
5min: .5oz Amarillo