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."