Monday, July 15, 2013

Home brew's best

I love beer (wine pales in comparison on most fronts for me). Being from England and growing up with a real ale drinker and home brewer (my dad) I know a good beer from a bad one too, so home brewing has been a natural  thing for me to take up.

The pros are many:

It's cheaper
It tastes better than the 'industrial' rubbish most brewers make
It's more sustainable (lower air miles, packaging, lower energy and water use)

The cons:

It takes a bit of time (2-3 hours the way I do it)

Here's how I do it. My method is a hybrid of the basic method and a full mash. I buy craft brew kits from my local home brew shop TWOC Brewing Supplies. My favourite kits are Paddy McKenna stout, Sierra Nevada pale ale, Ruthless Rye IPA, Czech This Out pilsener and Wee Stephan lager. I also buy a basic beer concentrate, usually Deliverance. This mix gives a good quality beer without the time it takes to do a full mash. The brew kits are made up of grains, sugar and hops in separate bags. First thing on brew day is to rehydrate the dry yeast. I do this by adding about 200ml of water to a pint glass, heating it in the microwave for about 20 seconds, dissolving half a teaspoon of sugar and adding the yeast. I cover this and leave it to activate. When you come to add the yeast to your wort it will be really cranking, the brew will start fermenting sooner and you'll be less likely to kill the yeast if your wort is on the hot side.

Next step is to bring the grain to the boil in a large stock pot, turn it off and sparge the grain bag (poor boiling water over the bag in a colander). Then you add the sugar and boil for another 10 minutes, then you add the hops and boil for another 1-5 minutes. You leave the wort for an hour or so to cool down in a basin of cold water, changing the water every now and again.

Sterilise your keg and other implements next. Then add the beer concentrate to your brewing keg and dissolve it in boiling water. When the first wort is cool enough add it to your keg, straining through a sieve. Fill the keg with water up to about 22L, preferably filling from a height to oxygenate the wort. If the wort is below 30C you can now pitch the yeast.

The brew will take 5-10 days to finish the primary fermentation. I usually leave it two weeks and then bottle it. This is where having a few good gadgets comes in handy. A bottle tree is a must to drain the bottles; a bottler to get the beer from the keg into bottles; a sugar measure; a bench capper to cap the bottles and of course some bottles! You can buy them at brew shops but I think a better way is to buy beer in suitable bottles, drink it and then reuse the bottles. In Australia Cooper's king browns are good and I love Little Creatures pint bottles too. Look out for non screw on types, since screw on caps don't seal as well. Last but not least you'll need some sterilising powder. Remember, the three most important things in home brewing are hygiene, hygiene and hygiene! If you've ever had a brew go sour then you'll know what I mean, all that hard work goes down the drain...

To bottle the brew clean your bottles, triple rinse with water and leave to drain. Then add the priming sugar and bottle up. Try to avoid moving the keg too much before you bottle or you'll stir up the sediment. Then cap the bottles and leave in a warm place for a week for secondary fermentation (to carbonate the beer). Leave the bottles for another 3 weeks to condition and then get stuck in.

A note on timing. In WA I don't brew in summer, it's just too hot and too hard to keep the brew at the right temp. It's much easier to warm a brew up than cool it down. I have a heater belt but I don't use it these days. What I do is brew stouts and ales in autumn and spring, checking the forecast for mild temps (these brew best between 20-25C). I brew pilseners and lagers in winter using special yeasts which brew at lower temps (Saflager W34/70), between 9-22C. This way I'm not using energy to keep the brew warm. It works out well too because I drink mostly ale and stout in winter and pilsener and lager in summer.

I know what you're thinking, it sounds like a lot of work. It's really not and you can always do it the quick and easy way (just add beer concentrate, water and yeast to your keg). It is worth the time and once you're set up it's pretty cheap to do. Have a look out for brew kegs on the verge too, so many people do one brew and give up! Give it a go though, you won't regret it.

1 comment:

  1. Looks great Adam. I agree with you, there is nothing quite like home brewed beer.

    I too only brew in Autumn and Spring, because it is just too hot during Summer. It is better drinking weather by far!