Home Brewed Beer: Part 1

In honor of Oregon craft beer month, last weekend, while Nate and Bobby were in town, I introduced them to the art of home brewing. And what a lovely form of art it is. In fact, it’s such an art, I’ve been asked to teach a “class” on home brewing at work next month.

My favorite type of beer to drink, year round, is IPA, so what better type to make? I’ve experimented quite a bit with the variety – adding molasses, fresh fruit, spices, substituting honey for the malt, and while delicious, this time I wanted pure and simply, a deliciously hoppy IPA.

So I headed to Main Street Homebrew Supply and collected the ingredients I needed. The guys there are pretty amazing – you can tell them what type of beer you want to make, the attributes you want it to have (super hoppy, etc.) and they’ll grab the ingredients you need and create a hopping schedule for you.

For this particular recipe, I used:

  • 2 oz. Zeus Hops
  • 2 oz. Cascade Hops
  • 2 oz. Centennial Hops
  • 1 vial White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast
  • 10# Extra Light Malt Extract
  • 12 oz. 20L Crystal Malt

Before I started, I cleaned out my stock pot, steep-sock, primary fermenter, lid and airlock valve using Iodophor Sanitizer. I prefer it to bleach because it’s foodsafe, doesn’t stink or ruin everything it touches, and a tiny bit goes a long way.

Sanitizing your equipment is very important – if you introduce bad bacteria or wild yeast to your wort, it can completely ruin your homebrewing experience.

After everything was cleaned up, I added 3 gallons of cold tap water to my stock pot. In Portland, we’re blessed with delicious tap water. If you’re not, or you prefer bottled water to your tap, use bottled or filtered water in your beer. Bad water = bad beer.

I put the pot on the stove and cranked the heat. We have a glass-top halogen stove, which doesn’t get quite hot enough for this purpose, so I straddle the pot over two burners and crank them to high. It will bring 3 gallons of water to boil in about an hour.

With the water warming up, I poured my grain into the sock,

And added the sock to the pot. Make sure the grain sock doesn’t rest on the bottom of the pot, or it will melt.

Bring the water to 170 degrees Farenheit and let the grain steep in the water for 20 minutes. Notice the delicious color already?

After 20 minutes, pull the grain out, press out any extra water, and compost/discard. At this point, add the malt while stirring the wort.

Pour a bit of the hot wort from the pot into the container and slosh around to get the remainder out. Then stir to ensure all of the malt dissolves. Don’t try to put the lid on the malt bucket to shake it… the heat will cause the lid to blow off mid-shake and the stickiest malt solution ever known to man will cover your entire kitchen. I know from experience. A good sloshing will do the trick.

Bring the wort to the boil, and set the timer for 60 minutes.

At this point you want to start adding your hops based on the hopping schedule. The rule of thumb goes like this: Hops left in the longest (60 minutes) simply provide bitterness, Hops put in at 30 minutes add distinct hop flavor, and some bittering, Hops put in at 10-15 minutes or less left in the boil provide aroma and hop flavor, with very little bittering.

A word of warning: When you add the hops to the boil, they have a tendency to create a bit of a membrane that can cause the wort to boil over rapidly. Stir the hops in, and watch the wort.

There is nothing worse than hot, insanely-sticky sugar water spilling all over your stovetop.

Since I prefer very bitter IPA’s, I used the following hopping schedule:

  • 1.5 oz. Zeus at 60 minutes
  • 1 oz. Centennial at the last 20 minutes
  • 1 oz. Cascade last 15 minutes
  • 1 oz. Centennial last 10 minutes
  • 1/2 oz. Cascade last 5 minutes
  • 1/2 oz. Cascade at end of boil

I also plan to dry hop the beer when I transfer to the secondary fermenter to add additional aroma – more on that in about a week.

After 60 minutes of boiling, I pulled the stock pot off of the stove and moved it to the kitchen sink. The goal is to bring the temperature of the wort down to about 75 degrees so you can pitch the yeast, without killing it. Since yeast is a living organism, if the wort is too hot when you add it, it will actually die and your beer won’t ferment.

I fill the sink with ice and add cold water to bring the wort down in temperature as quickly as possible. The quick drop in temperature helps prevent bad bacteria from finding their way into your beer.

You might need to change the ice bath a few times, but once the wort is down to about 75 degrees, it’s time to strain into the previously sanitized primary fermenter.

I use the same sock I boiled the grain in (after it’s been rinsed out), and put it over the opening of the fermenter. With one person holding the sock (beer brewing is about community, after all) another person can pour the wort through the sock, which will strain out all of the hops and large particles.

Then squeeze the sock to get every last drop out (with clean hands, of course).

With the filtered wort now in the fermenter, grab a ladle, and put a spoonful into a glass and set it aside.

Now you can add the yeast. Shake the vial, open and pour into the wort.

Give it a stir or two.

Put on the lid very tightly, and covering the airlock hole with the palm of your hand, shake vigorously. The three things yeast needs to thrive: food (the sugar in the malt), the right temperature (~75 degrees) and plenty of air (shaking the wort in the fermenter helps force air into it).

With the wort foamy and shaken up, add a bit of water to your previously sanitized airlock valve, and press it into the fermenter.

Voila. Put it in a closet, after about 24 hours, the beer should begin to “bubble” through the airlock. Let it sit and do its thing.

Now is the fun part. Remember the glass we set aside earlier? Time to taste the beauty you’ve just created.

The verdict? INCREDIBLE!

At this point in the game, the wort is way sweeter than the final product will be (the yeast will “eat” much of the sugar during the fermentation process), but you can get a good idea of what your beer will be like. In this case, I think it’s going to be one of the best batches I’ve ever made.

Prior to sealing the fermenter up for good, you can also take a hydrometer reading, but I’ve never had much luck getting accurate numbers. Maybe I’ll get back into that next time.

At this point, you really just let it sit in the closet for approx. one weeks, or until the time between “bubbles” in the airlock is more than 1 minute, then you’ll “rack” the beer to the secondary fermenter. Stay tuned for more on that.

For recipes, home-brew starter kits or more detailed step-by-step instructions, feel free to check out two of my favorite home brewing sites: Corvallis Home Brewing and Main Street Homebrew Supply.

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