Home Brewing Step 3

It’s finally time for bottles! Today, we’re completing the last step in the home brewing process: bottling. You’ll need bottles. I suggest collecting bottles from neighbors, friends, coworkers, whoever. If necessary, you can buy bottles. Jason once dug bottles out of the recycling bins behind the Brew & View in Asheville. I don’t suggest that because let’s be real, that’s gross. But, if you must. They should sell bottles at the home brew store, and they might even have larger ones (22 ounce). You’ll need 45-50 bottles.

You know you’re ready for bottling when your beer has been in it’s secondary fermentation container (glass carboy) for about two weeks. You do have more flexibility in this phase than the first, though. Also, don’t expect your airlock bubbler to be bubbling quite so vigorously. In fact, don’t stress if it’s not bubbling at all.

These are some extra things you’ll need for this step. Corn sugar, crown caps, and a bottle-cap-sealer contraption. (All available at your local home brew store.) Also, you’ll need a second 5 and 1/2 gallon bucket, this one with a spout on the bottom. And that same piece of plastic tubing you’ve used before. Last thing, you’ll need an attachment called a bottling tube (hard plastic tube with spring-loaded tip that opens when pressed).

To sterilize your bottles, soak them in a water/bleach mixture, then scrub the labels off. We usually use two rubbermaid containers (one filled with the bleach/water mixture, and one filled with warm water). Let the bottles soak in the bleach/water mixture, then move them to the warm water to scrub. After removing all the labels, you’ll need to run the bottles through the dishwasher or clean the insides with this cool bottle-cleaning device. Okay, bottles are clean.

Simmer the crown caps. Much like canning lids, crown caps have a little band of gummy adhesive on the inside that needs to be warmed up in order to make a good seal. Don’t boil, just simmer for a few minutes. Then, let them cool until they can be handled.

Now we’ll need to move the beer from the glass carboy to the plastic bucket with the spigot on the bottom. Do this in the same way that you did it before, in Step 2. Be careful not to let it splash around.

In a pot on the stove, dissolve 2/3 of a cup of the corn sugar in about 2 cups of water. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Then, pour the sugar water mixture into the bucket in to the beer. Why sugar, you ask? The corn sugar that we’re adding is called “priming sugar,” and it provides a food source for the yeast in the beer. Because the beer is about to be bottled up, the yeast will eat the sugar and that will create the carbonation in each bottle! After you add the sugar to the beer, stir GENTLY. Only a little. Just enough.

Bottles! Begin by attaching the tubing the the spout on the bucket, then attach the bottling tube. Now, open the spigot. Put the bottling tube all the way into a bottle, and press the tip of the tube on the bottom of the bottle. It’ll fill up!

Cap it! Repeat times 45-50. We ended up with 48 bottles. There will be some yeast on the bottom of the bucket, don’t bottle that, it’ll be gross. Jason tried to drink it. By the way, you can totally taste your flat, room temperature beer if you want!

You’ll have to wait 2 months to drink your beer. Really, I think they peak after about 4 or 5 months, but feel free to go for it sooner. Just save some because you’ll be amazed by how much it can change. In the meantime, store it in a cool, dry place and try to forget it’s there!

If you’re interested in brewing but still feeling unsure, let me know! Leave comments, tweet me about it @annaespears, or call me on the phone because you probably have my number, blog reader! My friend Noelle has already brewed a batch with (a little) help from me. She mostly had help from the folks at Wilmington Homebrew Supply. I know these people, they went to UNCA (and Hoggard in WIlmington). Tell them you know me and buy lots of things from them.

Now, we wait.

Home Brewing Step 2

Everybody ready to tackle step 2? You’ll know that your beer is ready for this step when the airlock bubbler is bubbling only about once a minute. Remember that thing on the lid of the bucket? For the first few days after you brew, it should be bubbling pretty frequently. It will eventually slow down (7-10 days later) and you’ll be ready for this step.

We’re going to “rack” our beer. Why it’s called this, I don’t know. I do know that the beer needs to be racked to separate it from the yeast that has settled on the bottom of the bucket for the rest of the fermentation. And for this beer, we’ll also be dry hopping. I’ll explain in a minute.

First, here’s the equipment that you need: a large glass carboy (or plastic), a couple of carboy-cleaning brushes, a bottle/carboy cleaner (it’s the small gold-colored thing), the same brewing equipment sanitizer that we used before, and an auto-siphon (the tall plastic thing). You’ll also need a pice of plastic tubing about 4-5 feet long (not pictured because I forgot… make sure it fits on your auto-siphon). All of these items are readily available at that home brew supply store we talked about it the Step One post. And the guy will let you know if you’ve forgotten something.

Before you open your bucket of beer, sanitize all your tools and carboy in the sanitizing solution.

Let’s talk dry-hopping. These are hops. They’ve been dried and come packaged. These are Cascade Hops, and we used them to dry-hop this beer. All that means is that we put these whole, dried hops into the beer at this point in the process. So, these go into the carboy before anything else.

Now, we siphon!

It’s really important at this phase to be sure not to let the beer splash around in the bottom of the carboy. There shouldn’t be any air incorporated into the beer while you rack it. After most of the beer has been siphoned into the carboy, tilt the bucket to get all that you can. Make sure not to dig the bottom of the siphon into the yeasty business at the bottom. But, if it happens it’s not that big of a deal because there is a filter at the bottom of most auto-siphons.

After all the beer is in the carboy, put a stopper in the top and put the airlock bubbler in the top of the stopper (half full of water). The stopper will probably come with the carboy. This step is done! Gently place the carboy in a cool, dark place and wait somewhere between 1-3 weeks. Stay tuned for Step 3!

Home Brewing Step One

Step One: Do not be intimidated. If I can brew beer, you can brew, too! That said, I’m definitely going to advocate that you speak to someone who works at a homebrew supply store before you do any of this. Please.

First, it’s important to know that there are ALOT of steps in this process. There’s also a bunch of waiting. So, if you want to drink the fruits of your labor anytime soon, you should make lemonade or something that lends itself to immediate gratification. Today, Jason and I completed the first of three different stages. That’s all!

As you may know, there is a lot of weird equipment required to brew your own beer. There are ways to shortcut it, but in reality, the things you find in homebrew stores are not all that much more expensive that what you could invent to do the same job. For today, all we will need is a stockpot large enough to boil 2 gallons of water (I use this enameled one, but stainless steel is better if you have it), a 5 and 1/2 gallon food-grade bucket, a top with a hole and gasket (again, these things are all easily available at a homebrew store), a long thermometer, and a muslin bag. (I forgot to put it in the picture, but you’ll also need a bubbler airlock that goes in the hole on the lid, you’ll see that later.) That’s it for today’s equipment.

Let’s talk ingredients. There are four main bases you have to cover to make a brew. Malt, hops, yeast, and grains. What kinds of each of these you choose all depends on what kind of beer you are making. The kind of beer depends on what time of year (and the temperature of the room you are keeping it in). Generally, you make the sort of beer you would want to drink in that time of year. So–December is for porters and stouts. Early summer is for IPAs and pale ales, and dog days of summer are good for wit beers or belgians. Generally, a brew makes 5 gallons of beer, which comes out to about 50 regular-sized bottles.

We’re making a dry-hopped rye IPA.

Malt. Here’s the scoop: You can make your own malt from just grains. But, this takes lots of time. So we used malt extract. There are different kinds that correspond to each type of beer. (Your homebrew guy can tell you which one you need.) The amount of malt that you use does not equal malty beer flavor. The malt controls the alcohol content of the beer. We wanted to be in the 6.5-7% range, so we needed to use this much malt. We used liquid for the majority (each jar is 3.3 pounds) and then supplemented with dry (1 pound each). Simple as that!

HOPS! They’re my favorite part. They all have fancy names, and again, the homebrew guy can give you a “hop schedule,” which will tell you exactly what kind of hops you need and when to add them. We have a bunch of different kinds (Warrior, Centennial, Williamette) because we are making a hoppy beer! Other (less hoppy) beers will require fewer ounces and kinds.

Yeast. This is where the magic happens. We have always gotten liquid yeast, but dry is also simple to use. Again, the brew store guy told us to get this one. Ask for something forgiving and hard to kill. Trust. We got California Ale Yeast.

Grains. Again, the types of grains are determined by what kind of beer you’re brewing. We are using a pound of Rye, a half pound of Caramel 10 and a half pound of one that’s just called Biscuit. Homebrew guy can help you. He’ll also probably run them through a mill for you. If not, you can break them up with a rolling pin and a large plastic bag.

You’re also going to need to gather 5 gallons of distilled water. Put 2 gallons into the refrigerator.

Let’s get started!

-Put 2 gallons of distilled water into a large stockpot over medium heat.

-Put all of the grains into a muslin bag and tie off the top.

-Hang the bag into the water using a spoon, like so. This keeps the grains from touching the bottom of the pot and burning.

-Wait until the water reaches 155-160 degrees F. We’re making a tea that will serve as the base for the rest of the wort (that’s what this concentrated mixture will be called).

-Once the temperature has reached the 155-160 degree range, make sure it stays there. It should never boil. Steep the tea for one full hour. (The time starts when the water first reaches 155-160 degrees.)

-When the hour is up, remove the bag and squeeze out the excess water.

-Remove the pot from the heat.

-Stirring constantly, pour in all of the malt extract (liquid, powder, or both).

-Once all of the malt is poured in, return the pot to the burner and increase the heat to high. For the next hour, the wort should be stirred constantly. Again, start the hour when the wort gets up to heat. This prevents the malt from sticking to the sides and bottom of the pot (which it will try to), and prevents the wort from ever coming to a full boil. It should be hot enough to boil, but controlled by stirring.

-The wort will boil over. Don’t freak. It’s just gonna happen, and it’s just gonna be messy. I think ours did right after this picture was taken.

-While you’re doing all this stirring, your “hop schedule” becomes important. It will tell you how often to add each kind of hops. By the end of this hour, all the hops will be incorporated into the wort. (With the exception of dry hops, which come into play much later.) The hops will probably be in pellet form, packaged by the ounce. They look like rabbit food and they smell AWESOME.

-Follow your hop schedule, and remember to stir constantly.

-While your brewing partner is stirring, plug the sink and fill it about halfway with cold water.

-After an hour of stirring the wort (and after all the hops are incorporated), remove the pot from the heat and set it into the sink full of cold water. Pour ice in the water surrounding the pot.

-Using the thermometer, wait until the wort has gone down to about 110 degrees. (This temperature was appropriate for us because we were shooting for a final temperature of between 70-75 degrees–that is the range that our yeast requires. It will tell you on the yeast container what range you need to be in. So, because we needed this wort plus 2 gallons of refrigerated water and one of room temperature water to end up at 70-75 degrees, we figured that 110 for the wort would be about right.)

-While the wort cools, sanitize your 5 and 1/2 gallon bucket using a sanitizing solution (also available at homebrew stores).

-When the wort reaches 110 degrees (or whatever temperature you estimate you’ll need), pour it into the bucket.

-Next, pour in the remaining 3 gallons of water.

-Now it’s showtime for the yeast. First, be sure that the temperature in the bucket is correct for the yeast. If it is too hot, your yeast will die. If it’s too cold, it will not activate. (Note: if you are uncomfortable deciding at what temperature to remove the wort from the water bath, always go hotter rather than cooler. When everything is in the bucket and it’s all 10 degrees too hot, it’s much easier to wait for it to cool than it is to heat it up again.) Once your temperature is correct, shake up the liquid yeast and pour it in. (If you’re using powder, follow the instructions on the package.)

-Take one big sniff–the beer smells really good at this stage, and this is the last time you’ll get to smell it!

-Put the lid on the bucket.

-Using a dishrag to cover the hole in the lid, shake the whole bucket for as long as you can. I recommend finding someone else to do this part and then insisting that you just have to document their work very carefully. The more agitating, the better! Shoot for about 5 solid minutes.

-Fill the airlock bubbler about halfway full with water, place it in the hole on the top of the lid, and admire your handiwork! This is as much reward as you will get today.

-Place the bucket somewhere our of direct sunlight where the temperature remains relatively steady. Leave it there. In 24 hours, the water in the airlock bubbler should be, well, bubbling! This means that you have not killed the yeast, and that you’re on the way to successful beer!

If all of these steps feel overwhelming, go visit a homebrew store. Read about brewing in the books that they have. Talk to someone who works there. (It does help to read first because then you know what questions to ask.) There are also brew kits on the market that combine all of the ingredients needed to make a particular kind of beer. I would recommend picking one of these up for your first try if you’re at all unsure or nervous. The result should be consistent and after that, you’ll be ready to play around with picking your own ingredients!