March 2015
The Herb Farm

Good For What “Ales” Ya

 
  The glass on the left is clean. The one on the right is “beer” clean. It has been sanitized. This removes all impurities from the surface making it crystal clear and the beer retains its head longer. The glass on the left shows signs of impurities where the bubbles are caught on the sides and bottom.

Here. Hold my beer and watch this!

It’s an iconic statement that usually means something is about to happen (stupid or profound, or both). Sometimes it’s the last words before someone wins a Darwin Award. Sometimes it’s a precursor to the best "BAD" idea anybody ever had. All those videos out there on YouTube showing somebody doing something idiotic probably started with those very words.

Well, not this time. Here. Hold my beer while I show you how to make your own beer.

I decided to devote most of 2015 to researching and writing about fermentables and their benefits to our health. Let’s start with a simple beer, or "ale" to be more specific.

In this column, I will explain the fundamentals of the beer brewing process, the importance of sanitization, and the bad and potentially dangerous parts of the process to avoid.

We’ll start with a simple, easy-to-make kit beer that includes some specialty grains, hops and two types of malt extract: liquid malt extract and dry malt extract. In a later column, we’ll cover some special processes and I’ll show you how to make some of your own equipment that’s pretty expensive if you buy it premade and new.

 
Beer is racked from the secondary fermenter to the bottling bucket. Racking from the bottling bucket into bottles.  

Consider this column a recipe for goodness. We are going to make a kit beer called Brushfire Smoked Brown Ale. Let’s get started.

You will need a basic brew equipment starter kit that contains a 6.5-gallon fermenting bucket, fermenter bucket lid with grommet in place, fermentation airlock, siphoning equipment, 6.5-gallon bottling bucket fitted with bottling spigot assembly, about 3 feet of three-eighth-inch food-grade tubing, bottle filler, bottle brush and sanitizer. Later you will need bottle crown caps, capper and 12-ounce beer bottles, about 48-54. Note: Do not use bottles with twist-off threads. Brown bottles are best, but any dark-colored bottle will work. You will also need a 4-5-gallon stainless steel stockpot for cooking the ingredients. Another option is a 5-gallon carboy and hydrometer.

Oh. You will also need a beer kit and yeast. The particular kit I use is sold through Midwest Supplies Homebrewing & Winemaking (www.midwestsupplies.com).

Clean and sanitize your stockpot, stirrer and any other equipment you will be placing into the boil using an oxygen-based detergent/sanitizer such as One Step or B-Bright.

Start by placing your specialty grains (in this case they include Briess Cherrywood Smoked Malt, Briess Victory, English Dark Crystal and English Chocolate Malt) into the included muslin bag and tie a knot in the top of the bag to prevent spillage.

Draw your brewing water of about 2 gallons to start. Use only good-tasting drinking water. Place your steeping grains bag into the water and bring the temperature to 155 degrees for 15-30 minutes.

Remove the grain bag. Do not try to squeeze out the water in the bag as it will impart unwanted flavors.

Bring your wort (unfermented beer) to a boil. Remove the stockpot from the heat source and add the malt extracts while stirring the wort to avoid scorching.

IMPORTANT!!! Do not leave the wort pot unattended. It will boil over! You must watch your pot and, when it starts to foam and the volume rises, stir the wort down and/or reduce the heat. I’m not kidding folks, this will happen, so be ready. A wort pot boil over is a nasty mess and totally preventable.

After dissolving the extracts, return the wort to the heat source and bring it to a boil. When the boil starts rolling, start your timer for 60 minutes. It is now time to begin adding the hops included in your kit. The first addition is now. Add 2 ounces of Kent Goldings bittering hops.

Boil for 45 minutes and then add 1 ounce of U.K. Fuggles hops.

After the 60-minute boil, it’s time to cool the wort as rapidly as possible. It is after the boil that the wort is most susceptible to wild yeasts and other fungi contamination.

Sometimes, I will boil about 4 gallons of water and then cool it in the refrigerator prior to my brewing. If you begin your boil with just 2 gallons of water, the chilled water added to your wort will help cool it faster. Place the stockpot in a sink of ice water. Add your chilled water to top off 5 gallons of wort. Change ice water as necessary to reduce the wort temperature to at-the-most 80 degrees. Pour your wort into the sanitized fermenting bucket and take a temperature reading with a sanitized thermometer. Ideal is 60-70 degrees, but 80 won’t kill the yeast you are about to pitch.

Right now it is time to take a hydrometer reading. Sanitize everything that will come into contact with the wort at this point, including the hydrometer. Your specific gravity should be somewhere around 1.064 to start.

It’s time to pitch the yeast. This kit recommends Safale US-05 Dry Yeast.

Aerate your wort in the fermentation bucket by stirring vigorously for several minutes or pouring back and forth into another sanitized bucket. Sanitize the yeast pouch, cut it open with sanitized scissors and pour the yeast on top of your wort.

Place the sanitized lid on top of the bucket and fit it with a sanitized airlock.

Important: Although some supply houses don’t mention this, it is important to keep light away from your beer while it is working. I cover mine with a black towel and set the bucket on a towel in a dark place where it won’t be disturbed.

Your airlock should start bubbling within a day and that means your beer is working.

After about two weeks, you can either leave your bucket alone to continue its process or rack the beer into a secondary fermenter (carboy) to finish. Either way, it still needs to age for another two weeks before bottling.

It’s time to bottle your beer. Your kit should come with some corn sugar to prime your beer for carbonation. Mix your priming sugar with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Boil for 5 minutes and let cool while you sanitize your bottles, caps, racking bucket, hose and bottling wand.

Pour the priming solution into the racking bucket. Siphon your beer into the racking bucket, making certain to not disturb the sediments in the bottom of your fermenter. Only siphon the beer.

Using your bottling wand attached to your bottling bucket spigot, carefully fill the bottles, leaving 1-inch headspace in each bottle.

Place your sanitized crown caps on the bottle top and secure them with your capper.

Place the full bottles in a dark place where they will be left undisturbed for one to two weeks. After that, they can be refrigerated and enjoyed.

Personally, I like to keep my ales in the coolest part of the basement or the root cellar where the temperature is seldom above 60 degrees. The only time I like my beer ice cold is the first beer after a weekend project on a hot summer day. Dinner beers? I prefer them between 55-60 degrees.

Next time, we’ll talk more about fermentable drink and, along the way this year, I’ll share some brewing tips that will expand your recipes of choice.

Let me try your beer recipes. I’d love to get your feedback on this one as well.

Until next time, remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!

Thanks for reading!

For more information, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I’ll answer your questions and I enjoy the emails!

Be sure to find me on Facebook at: Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm.

As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.