Brew 2.1 - Brown Ale (5-24-10)

Today is the second day of fermentation for the Brown ale (and the Irish Stout, brew 3, but it doesn't get a post here, cause it's in a bucket, and no fun to watch!) and I have to say, it's much for fun to be able to watch the yeasties do their thing through the glass carboy! If you have the opportunity, always go glass! (just make sure you keep it dark, wrap a towel around it, or put a Tshirt over it or something.

Oh, and no making fun of our bung! We got the wrong size plug (that's all they had!) so we turned it over and stretched it across the top. It's not pretty, but it's doing the job!

The airlock is bubbling just about once every 8 seconds or so, which puts it on schedule according to the instructions.

If you click and enlarge the picture, you can get a good look at the level the foam was at only just yesterday (I wish I'd gotten a picture of it then, when it was actually bulling and stuff. Ah well.

Time to start shining up bottles for a-filling this weekend!


Brew 3.0 Irish Stout (5-22-10)

We've always been a big Guinness fan, so it was only a matter of time before we took a crack at the Irish Stout. Our little burner was still set up from Brew 2, so we got right to work.

The Irish Stout kit came with two different grains to steep. I regretted not getting a picture of the grain bag from Brew 1 so I made sure to get the picture this time. This bag would puff out black dust at the slightest touch. I held this very carefully until it was ready to steep, as I figured whatever was poofing out would probably be much better in the wort.

After adding the Extracts and hops, it started to TRY to boil over. It started to foam, boiled up to about an inch below the rim, and gave up. It settled back down to a nice rolling boil, and that was the end of it trying to get out of the pot.

That process however, was very interesting to watch. First, a think foamy skin formed on the top, and you could see the occasional bubble come up from underneath and get trapped under the skin. One by one, another bubble poked at the surface, until finally the boiling liquid broke through and started flowing over the skin like a new lava flow over rock.

It was really cool. Before long, there was a completely foam-less rolling boil, that smelled tremendous. It smelled much like molasses.

Pouring from the pan to the fermenter was difficult, as we purchased a strainer, which might be just a little but TOO fine. Getting this into the fermenter took a long time, because the strainer got clogged up rather quickly, and we had to keep rinsing it out.

I DID manage to remember to get a gravity reading on this one...

Brewing Gravity: 1.043 Which is right where the kit said it should be. (right on the low end. It's 1.043 - 1.045)

We also remembered to sample this wort. It was excellent. It was like a sweetened black tea with that slightly bitter aftertaste only hops can give you.

Brew 2.0 - Brown Ale (5-22-10)

After bottling Brew 1 (the red ale), it was on to the next adventure!

Actually immediately after the bottling of Brew 1, I made bacon and cheese omelets with a bagel for my wife and I, two fried eggs for my mother in law, and two hard boiled eggs for my daughter.

But after all that!

We set up outside, and being a nice day, it was quite enjoyable! The bugs weren't too bad, and the sun was only a little but uncomfortable. (What, I'm Irish-white. I swear the sun tries to kill me!)

Our set up this time, instead of using  the electric stove, as I mentioned before the bottom of this pan is slightly warped, we set up on this thing in the picture above. This worked very well.

Interesting thing I noticed when I cracked this kit, there were no grains to steep, and there was only one can of extract. There was also however, two pounds of dried malt extract, and a bag of malto-dextrin. (whatever that is!). Brought this to a boil, and mixed in all these things and the hops. Found it interesting, the Red Ale wanted half the hops before the big boil, and the second half of the hops with 2 minutes of boil left.

I was happy that this time, I actually got the boil over effect the instructions were telling me about, and I'm sticking with my theory that it has to do with the heat. I think on the stove, it just never got hot enough, even though it was boiling.

This one boiled up a few times, but I was ready for it. I had with me a spray bottle with sanitized water (boiled, not treated) and kept it mostly at bay. I did need to remove it from the heat a couple times, and actually did end up lowering the heat. Eventually, it did stop foaming, and the 30 minute boil began!

I have to say, this one smelled quite good while boiling.

It wasn't very long before this brew made it's way to a shiny new carboy.

I think the next beer we do in the carboy will be a lighter beer so that we can watch the fermentation as it happens. The brown ale is just a bit to dark to see anything.

One thing I'm disappointed to say here though is that I forgot to take a gravity reading, and I also forgot to take a sample of the wort.

Actually, another thing to say, it's really kind of a pain in the arse to get this stuff into the carboy. We bought a funnel, but it doen't go very far down into the carboy, and it blocks all the air, so you have to hold it, or put a shim in it or something.

We also made the mistake of not buying the handle for it. That bad boy (badcarboy) is heavy and awkward to carry without the handle!

Anyway, I'm happy to report that the brown ale is happily bubbling away in the basement, waiting it's bottles next weekend.

Brew 1.4 - Red Ale (5-22-10)

Today was a productive day. First, we bottled the first brew, and brewed two more. I'll be posting about those two seprately.

I've never bottled, but I've watched it done several times online. A lot of the people I know who brew will tell you that it's the worst part of the whole experience. After my first time bottling, I have to say, I disagree. I enjoyed it immensely.

I've been saving bottles and growlers for a little while now. The growlers have no lables, they are all painted, so I didn't have to deal with those much. The bottles are a different story. I learned that not all bottle labels are created equally. I've stripped Sam Adams Boston Lager and Sam Lite, and Cherry wheat lager bottles, Bass Ale bottles, Guinness Draught bottles (and removed the little plastic air doodad) and Troegs Hop-back ale, and Smithwicks.

Ok, so the Guinness Draught bottles were the easiest to strip, they're wrapped in a plastic label. A simple slit with a razor, that label peels right off. But the Co2 doodad in there, you gotta get out. Fortunately, I have some long, tough tweezers that yank them right out. I like these bottles.

Second in line is Sam Adams. These labels come off easily when soaked in hot water. Smithwicks are by far the biggest pain in the ass bottles to remove the lables from. It's really kind of amazing how well those labels stay on!

First step of the bottling was to heat the water to mix in the priming sugar, and move to the bottling bucket. This is the new sugar that the yeast will use to produce a little more alcohol, and Co2, to carbonate while in the bottle. I believe it's basically Corn sugar, but from what I hear you can use regular confectioner's sugar or powdered sugar, but for now, I'm just using what the kit gives me.

This mixture is poured in with the beer as your transferring to the bottling bucket.

Sometime during this process, I checked the gravity. I wrote it down though, and can't find the paper I wrote it on. It was right where the directions said it should be though. Which... was the paper I wrote it on...

Anyway, we finished moving the beer from the primary to the bottling bucket, and the sludge left in the primary was pretty nasty, as you can see.

The bottling then began. We filled 6 growlers, and twelve bottles. I have to say, collecting, cleaning, filling and capping the 12oz bottles was rewarding for me. Maybe it's just because it's the first brew I actually made, but I found all that to be kind of a labor of love, as corny as that sounds. I really did get a good sense of accomplishment out of it though.

Here's the yield, currently sitting downstairs in the basement for a week, after which I'll toss it into the fridge for two more weeks.


Brew 1.3 - Red Ale (5-21-10)

So it's been 6 days since the first brew went into the fermenter. Having read the instructions again yesterday, I realized that this particular kit wants the secondary fermentation to all happen in the bottles. That is to say, tomorrow, I'm going to be siphoning from the primary to the bottling bucket, mixing in the priming sugar, and then bottling. The bottles will sit somewhere dark for a week, and then in the fridge for three more weeks. That's the plan anyway.

I'm a little bit leery of the bottling bucket, and I'm going to give it some extra cleaning, I think. I don't know how I feel about the spigot it's got on it. I get the sense that it'd be a great place for bacteria to hide, and I also think that by using that for the bottling, I will run a greater risk of bottling some sludge, as it's at the bottom of the bucket. I don't think I'll be using it, I think I'll just stick with the racking cane.

The more I watch and read online, the more confident I get about brewing in general. I think I'm to a point where I understand the process, and how / why it all works the way it does. This is giving me ideas. I realize I'm only about half done with my first ever brew, but I think I'm going to be ready to stop using the kits even sooner than I'd originally guessed... I'm getting anxious to just buy a bunch of ingredients in bulk and go by different recipes instead of kits. It's basically just cooking, and I do that well enough already.

I'd like to maybe make some non-standard brews for holidays... It's a little late for me to be thinking about the fourth of July as it's right around when this particular brew will be ready, but I'm thinking something interesting for Halloween... A pumpkin somethingorother maybe. We shall see.

Anyway, looking forward to tomorrow. Going to be doing the bottling and maybe starting another brew. or two.


Brew 1.2 - Red Ale (5-18-10) micro-post

Not much to report today. Just logging the fact that I moved the fermenter. I realized I had it on the floor in the basement, and that won't make for moving to the secondary very easy. I didn't want to move it before "moving" it to the secondary, as it would stir up the sediments, so I moved it up onto the table to make for easier siphoning.


Brew 1.1 - Red Ale (5-17-10)

It's now been two days since I poured the Wort into the fermenter. The air lock is bubbling along at a steady bubble every five to eight seconds, and the bubbles escaping smell terrific! SO tempting to just tear it open and try some. Don't worry, I wont. It does make me really want a beer though, and right now unfortunately I'm out.

I didn't mention in the previous post that I sampled the wort before the yeast was introduced. Actually, before the three gallons of cold water too. It was something of a fruity tea with a slight bitter after taste. I tell you what, it was good. :)

The fermenter is down in my basement, where the temp reading as of 2:00pm today was 64°F according to the thermometer, a good temp for an ale, so I'm told.

Something I did not do that I maybe should have was pour the wort through a strainer to remove the hops as I poured into the fermenter. I'm not sure what this might do other than make it a little hoppy, and if that's all it does, I'm OK with that. I like a good hoppy beer. I'm not worried about it ruining the beer, not by a long shot, but I was curious to taste it exactly how the kit was meant to be made as a sort of baseline, or controlled run so that I could gauge future brews as I start to experiment. Such is life.

KegWorks Glass Beer GrowlerJeff and I had originally planned on using growlers instead of bottles, that way we'd only need to fill 10 vessels, but I decided for my half, I may use one or two, but I'd like to be able to have maybe just one beer from time to time, and cracking a growler for just one makes the left over contents go flat easily.

We shall see though.

Brew 1.0 - Red Ale (5-15-10)

Ok, finally got to brew on Saturday. Was an interesting time.

I kind of cheated doing this, I didn't exactly make it from scratch. We bought a kit, which basically amounts to making a cake from a box of cake mix instead of from scratch, but from what I understand, the end result is pretty much the same, though frowned upon by the purests. But hey, first brew. I wasn't going whole hog on something I was likely to foul up. The kit we used was for an Red Ale.

Anyway, there were a couple of things that bothered me about this particular experience. First, the pan we used was warped on the bottom, and I have an electic stove. That meant the middle never came in contact with the burner. This may or may not have been a problem. The mixture DID boil, albeit a fairly mild boil. It never came to a big rolling boil.

Why is this a problem? Well... I dunno, it may not be a problem at all. There's a step toward the end of the process where it says once you put everything in, the mixture should foam and try to boil over. You remove it from the heat, and put it back again, each time it starts to boil up and over. You don't let it boil over. Eventually, it's supposed to stop foaming like that, and that's how you know it's ready for the next step (which is to put in the hops). This is known (I'm told) as the "Protein Break". However, this did not foam up like that, and I'm thinking it had to do with the fact that it didn't get to the rolling boil that it should have.

I was advised that sometimes the protein breaks early, and doesn't foam though... So I went on with the process. I got everything together, got it into it's bucket and the air lock is now bubbling. Next weekend I will move it from the primary fermentor bucket to the secondary, leaving behind some sludge. There'll be pictures. Speaking of pictures...

The first step was to boil the water, and then take it off the heat while the grains steeped in it for 25 - 30 minutes. The grains came with a big sock-like fabric, with which you basically make a very big tea bag. I wish I'd thought to get a picture of it, but really... Just imagine a sock filled with a bunch of things that look like the bits in Rice Pilaf that aren't rice... Similar to that. After that was done, I had a gallon and a half of this tea like stuff that smelled a bit like bread, but not quite.

This was after steeping the grains, and added the malt. To learn more about Malt, click here. To learn nothing more than what it looked like in this particular kit, read on.

The malt came in two seperate cans, about the size of  a family sized can of baked beans. The malt itself had a consistence of molassas, perhaps a little thicker, although you heat it up in a pan of hot water, so it came out more like maple syrup. It smelled a bit like hot brown bread.

After putting in the malt is the step I was talking about. You're supposed to boil this, let it foam up and take it off the heat before it boils over. Repeat, until it stops trying to boil over. What you see in that picture is the extent of the foam that I got.

These little rabbit-food-like pellets are the hops. For some pics and information about real live hops, click here. For my very un-learned description, read on.

The hops are what gives the beer it's bitter taste. To experience the full effects of a "hoppy" beer, first sip something like Bud Light... Then try an IPA. It's that bitter bite you get after swallowing. I for one love a hoppy beer.

After adding half the hops, it was left to boil for 28 minutes, and I added the second half of them for the last 2 minutes of boil. From there, it was moved to the fermentor bucket, which is an air tight plastic bucket, and mixed with 3 gallons of cold water.

Hydrometer checked in at 1.050.

After it was down below 90°F, I added the yeast, and closed it up. An air lock is put on the top, which is just a plastic tube filled with water, through which air can come out, but not in. This is because oxygen can make the oxydize. I don't know what that would taste like, but it sounds like it'd be bogus. As the yeast eats, it produces Co2, so that's what is escaping. The fact that the air lock is bubbling is good, it means the yeast is doing it's thing.

My plan is to do a few of these kits, and see how things go. After five or six of them, I may just try to order grains and hops (and not in pellet form) and see what the brewing differences are. Perhaps I'll experiment with things like strawberries and such as I get more confident in the process. I'd like to have maybe four or five brews fermenting at any given time. I think I'd save a good bit of money on family gatherings and cookouts to just be able to hand out my own brew, rather than go buy it.

That's about the extent of my brewing experience thus far. I hope it comes out at least drinkable. I'd hate to have to dump five gallons for which I've spent about five hours on. Keep your fingers crossed for me, and I just might share some if it's any good!

...and you can bet I'll share some if it's not. I won't want it...

The kit I used was a "True Brew 5 gallon beer ingredient kit."

Mission Statement...

Recently (Two days ago!) I started brewing my own beer. This blog is going to be my ongoing log of brewing. I'll detail each and every brew experience, my thoughts during the process and pictures as I go. Mostly, this blog is for me, but if you find anything in here that interests you, be my guest and comment! Love to hear the thoughts of other brewers as the time goes.

Please bear with me as I change the layout of this blog to suit me.