Patersbier Brew Day – Post-Brewing

06/10/2010

At the end of 15 minutes, cut the heat. Now is the time to cool. You want to cool the wort as quick as possible to <100 degrees F, preferably <80 degrees F. The faster you are able to cool, the more pronounced the cold break will be. Like the hot break, this is another point where the temperature causes protein to coagulate, and more coagulation is better. The difference is that you won’t have to worry about boil-overs, though, which is quite nice. I learned that cooling 3 gallons of liquid from 212 degrees F to 80 is actually rather difficult. The most basic method is creating an ice bath. I took a hand towel, folded it, and covered the sink drain with it. I used a hand towel primarily because I didn’t have an actual stopper, and secondarily because it slowly drains water. I put the lid on the hot brew pot and place it in the sink on top of the towel. Now I turn on the sink for water and start adding ice. To do it without worries, the 3 gallon cool will require about 40 pounds of ice. Yea. Just start adding the ice to the sink around the pot and let water keep filling it. Repeat until a) out of ice and b) you have a brew pot that is cool to the touch at all points. One modification is to only use water at first and then begin to use ice about halfway through. This is a physics/chemistry thing. Basically, room temperature water will have a similar cooling ability as ice water on a 212 degree pot, but as the temperature of the pot approaches that of the water, water will become much less effective at cooling while ice will remain useful. So you can get away with using less ice this way, which is nice.

There are other, better ways to cool the pot. Another way is to buy an immersion chiller. This is a coiled copper tube that you put in the wort at the end of the boil (last ten minutes or so, to sterilize it). A hose attached to one end of the copper tube attaches to the sink faucet, and a hose attached to the other end can be placed in the drain. This is by far the easiest and most effective way to chill your wort, especially when combined with a pre-chiller, which is essentially the same thing outside of the wort that will further cool the water before it goes in. The problem with these methods is that I don’t really feel the need to drop $60-100 or more on a piece of copper tubing. It is admittedly cost effective if you would otherwise be buying ice from, say, a gas station and plan on brewing ten or more batches of beer. I just don’t have that cash to drop right now. These chillers are a ‘set it and forget it’ solution, definitely a luxury. It will decrease your wort chill time down from 30-45 minutes to 10-15 minutes and you don’t need to baby it, so you’re free to do other things (like clean up).

The cooling stage is one where you are more likely to infect the beer with unwanted bacteria. The cooler the wort gets, the more desirable a home it becomes for bacteria. Keep in mind it is warm and already full of water and sugars, which is exactly what they want. I have read about methods where you freeze water in tightly closed plastic bottles, sanitize the bottles, and then add them to the wort, using the bottles as giant ice cubes. I recommend against this method because the efficacy would not really outweigh the risk of contaminating the wort with foreign bacteria and such. You can also do your cooling with the lid off. The steam action will definitely facilitate quicker cooling. Again, you increase your risk of infection this way, but in my experience so far this is a relatively small increase. I often find myself almost knocking the running water into the wort, and having the lid on has saved me every time (tap water does contain trace bacteria). Off the top of my head, these are all the methods I’ve read about. I find this step to be the most difficult/stressful on brew day.

In the meantime, prepare your carboy. Since you started out with boiling 3 gallons of water, you’ll want to have about 2 gallons of water in the (sanitized) carboy. If you have your water well ahead of time, you can cool it in the fridge, and then it will further cool the wort that tricky few degrees between 75 F and 65 F. Once you’ve got the wort cooled to room temperature, add it to the carboy. You’ll be wanting a funnel to do this, and many people also use a filter to keep solids from going into the carboy, but this isn’t really necessary for beginners. Finally, check your volume to make sure you’ve got about 5 gallons, and if not, add more clean water.

One of the important ingredients for strong fermentation is oxygen. Even though fermentation itself is anaerobic, oxygen is used by the yeast to reproduce. I find it easiest to aerate the water in the carboy before you add the wort to it by way of shaking the hell out of it. Just shake the carboy, or pour the water back and forth between (sanitized) buckets. The more the water is disrupted, the more air is getting in. You can shake it up/pour it back and forth after you add the wort, but if you aerate the wort when it is too warm, you can begin to oxidize the beer (which is the last thing you want). There are also other mechanical methods of aerating the wort, but seriously, what is so hard about shaking up three gallons of water? You don’t need an aquarium pump and oxygen stone or any other complicated system. Just do it. If you don’t properly oxygenate your wort, the yeast may run out of what it needs to keep going and so the whole operation just kind of shuts down (a “stuck” fermentation). You don’t want that, so just shake your dang water.

Finally, you’ve got 5 or so gallons of wort in your carboy at room temperature. You’ve also got an activated yeast smack-pack ready to go. Sanitize the pack and a pair of scissors, cut it open, and pour the yeast into the wort (again, I recommend using the funnel). Put the airlock in the carboy and move it to the cool, dark location where it will sit for the next 2-6 weeks.

Patersbier Brew Day – Brewing

06/10/2010

Patersbier is my first brew. Going into it, I tried to plan meticulously. Lots of reading and re-reading. I wrote out my entire plan for brew day beforehand so I would have a guide to follow. Every time I had a niggling question, I had to go and look it up, no matter how trivial. When I write instructions (for lab experiments in the past), I’m extremely thorough, because it turns out that I think of a lot of strange things when I’m actually in the thick of things. That probably doesn’t surprise you, but I don’t want to find out later that I should have held something with my left hand instead of my right in order for the experiment to work. The tediously fastidious nature of growing one type of cell in the absence of all others through dozens of generations taught me that. And when you do screw up… back to the liquid nitrogen, and hope the cells you froze five generations ago weren’t already ruined and you didn’t know it (hint: they were). So here is the brew day process.

Today’s Equipment: 5 gallon stainless steel brew pot (20 quarts), 6.5 gallon glass carboy, hydrometer, thermometer (my kitchen thermometer), grain sack, wort stirrer (a metal spatula), water spray bottle, 2 cup measuring cup, big funnel, scissors, plastic beer thief (a long turkey baster would be better).

Ingredients: 0.5lbs CaraPils, 6lbs Pilsen malt extract syrup, 1oz Tradition hops, 0.5oz Saaz hops, Wyeast 3787 Trappist smack pack. This is all from the previously mentioned Northern Brewer kit. Also, I used 3 gallons of filtered tap water and 3 gallons of unfiltered tap water.

First thing to do is activate the yeast smack pack. Try and shake the pack so as to get the inner yeast nutrient package to the bottom corner. Then just clap your hands forcefully with the pack in the middle. You’ll know in a few hours if it was successful. I usually hit it a number of times to prevent failure. I like to activate the pack the night before brew day. By the next day (or at least 12 hours later), the pack will look like it’s about to burst from all the gas produced by the multiplying yeast (it won’t). This will provide for you a healthy fermentation, reduce stress on the yeast, and shorten lag time. Lag time is the time in between pitching the yeast into the finished wort and the beginning of the rapid yeast growth phase where they furiously ferment your beer. Ideally, you want to pitch enough yeast so that they don’t do much reproducing when they hit the wort – they go straight to fermenting. Shorter lag time is better for us impatient types and for the beer. After three hours you should be able to tell that the pack has puffed up. You just need to know that your yeast is alive and growing before pitching it.

Expanded smack pack

The smack pack after a few hours of growth

Set 3 gallons of water to boil. Leave the top off of your brew pot for the entire brew. It will slow heating, yes, but it will help evaporate undesirable sulfurous compounds. My specialty grain for this batch was 0.5lbs CaraPils. I steeped it in a mesh bag for 20 minutes up to a temperature of 170 degrees F. You’ll notice that I have my grain bag suspended in the pot with my spatula (I am so clever). I’ve seen some people just let their grain bag sit in the water. The problem with this is that the bottom of the pot is much hotter than the water because it is in direct contact with the heat source, and so the grains that are sitting on the bottom will get much hotter than the water whose temperature you’re checking. So a) you don’t actually know how hot your grains are and b) they’re probably over 170 degrees F. Food for thought.

Steeping the specialty grains. Also, note the level of the water.

Steeping the specialty grains.

Following that, I removed the brew pot from the heat and added the 6lbs of Pilsen liquid malt extract (LME). It is now called “wort” (pronounced wert). The purpose of removing it from the heat is to keep any from getting burned to the bottom of the pot (if you have an electric stove, it’ll be in the shape of the coil…). It is a bit slow to dissolve, but not too bad. I’ve seen some people just pour the whole thing in at once and then stir, but I prefer a stable pace for controlled solubility. Once you’ve got that mixed in, put it back on full heat. Once it’s at a rolling boil, add bittering hops. I added 1oz of German Tradition hops in pellet form. Bittering hops are typically boiled for 60 minutes (the entire length of the brew). When you buy hops, they’ll come notated with the percentage of alpha acids they contain. These were 6.9%. The alpha acids are a group of compounds that, under the heat of boiling, isomerizes and solubilize in the beer. The purpose of these hops is to balance the maltiness of the grains and extract.

Addition of liquid malt extract

Addition of liquid malt extract

Now you will want to watch for boil-overs. Despite having 3 gallons of water in a 5 gallon pot, the boil over I encountered during this first brew readily filled that remaining 2 gallons in the time I spent looking in another direction. This is where a spray bottle filled with water comes in handy. A simple spritzing causes the boil over to subside almost instantly. Generous stirring and a close watch can prevent boil-overs, but the spray bottle was definitely worth it to prevent the ridiculous mess I would have otherwise had to deal with. This is called the “hot break.” Certain proteins are coagulating under the high temperature and they rise to the top of the boil, just like boiling too much pasta in too little water. This is a good thing because it makes these proteins easier to remove when the time comes and leaves you with a cleaner, more refined beer.

The wort following the addition of bittering hops. Note a) how green it has become and b) how close it is to the top of the pot

The wort following the addition of bittering hops. Note how much the level has risen

Following the addition of the bittering hops, this recipe calls for 45 minutes of boiling. Then I add the aroma hops. For this beer, they are 0.5oz Czech Saaz pellets. I appear to have neglected to record their alpha acid content. These hops are more for aesthetic appeal, especially aroma. Some sources will even refer to them as ‘aroma hops.’ More hops later in the boil will produce a hoppier beer. The shorter boil time means that fewer volatile oils containing hop essence will evaporate, and thus more will be present in the final beer.

At the end of 15 minutes, cut the heat. Now is the time to cool. I’ll continue next time with what to do post-brewing.