Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Brewing from start to finish

Now that I've brewed my first lager, I'm venturing into the land of all-grain brewing. There is a lot a vocabulary between the grain and the beer that I have gotten confused a number of times. I thought that it would be advantageous for me to put my ducks and a row and figure out the transformation of grain and words to beer. Then I figured I'd write about it so here we go. Please correct me if I get anything incorrect.

All grain brewing is brewing from scratch. To brew from scratch with as little as possible you need water, malt, and hops. Obviously we know what water is, good ol' H20. Malt is the grain (barley or what-have you) used to produce beer. And hops is the plant (Fun Fact: close on the plant family tree to marijuana) used to balance the sweetness of malt with bitter. There are many different variety of hops, grains, and different flavors of water, which is not going to be covered here. This is about the basics.

The malt (grain) starts as a shell and runs through a machine. The mill. The mill cracks the grain to open it up so that the flavors (again keeping it simple) can be brought out. Once the malt is cracked, it is now called grist. So the Mill This turns the grain into the grist.

Now that you have the grist you have to get all the good stuff out. You do this by mashing. To mash, you need to dump your grist into a mash/lauter tun. For your basic homebrewer (such as myself) that can be as simple as a jobsite cooler (ex. your standard gatorade sports cooler, preferably 10 gallon), with a false bottom.

A false bottom in this case is a screen in bottom of the cooler that you can drain the water through the grist.

Now you have your grist in your mash/lauter tun. Mashing is nothing but steeping the grist in hot water. This extracts all the sugars.

After about an hour of mashing, you need to lauter your mash. Lautering your mash is opening up the spigot at the bottom of your mash/lauter tun, and letting your wort (your mash has now turned into wort, nothing more) drain out.

Now you sparge your mash. This gets extra wort out by rinsing the mash with water.

Now you have wort (pronounced wert). Which you may have already heard of before if you've at least read about homebrewing. If you are using specialty grains this is where you steep your grains. Just like you would tea, except with a larger bag of grain.

Now you begin the boiling (be careful not to boil over), and you add your hops at different intervals. Once the boil is done you chill the wort, add it to your fermenter, and pitch your yeast.

Pitching your yeast involves no wind-up, no projectiles. Just dump your bag of yeast in.

Almost done here folks. If you're brewing a lager the next part is lagering. If not, but you want to refine the flavors of your beer a little more, or let more sediment fall out, it's the secondary fermentation. So whether you lager, or secondary ferment, you rack your fermented beer to another container, possibly a carboy.

Racking involves using a racking cane which pulls the wort off the sludge that has accumulated on the bottom of your fermenting vessel. You want to leave that sludge behind. A carboy is a a funny shaped bottle, much like the bottle at your office water cooler.

Home stretch now. Now you condition your beer. Conditioning involves adding a little extra sugar so when you seal your beer it ferments just a little bit more and carbonates it.

That's IT! Keg it, bottle it. Wait for it... wait for it... drink it!!

Like I said earlier, please let me know of any corrections and I will update this post. I owe a lot of information from my own experience and from John Palmers "How to Brew." Good book, go and get it.


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