BYOB - Brew Your Own Beer
This is a work in progress on the newest savvy survivor project. I can't say so far that this is the "correct' way to brew beer, but it is an illustration of how the process works and I will put in more details as this project moves along.
Here is a more accurate picture of what you will need to make beer. I started out with what I was told was a "complete" beer making kit, but soon realized that it required another $80 worth of stuff. At that, I ended up getting a few more items after taking this picture. What you see here is basically what would be used to make a five gallon batch of beer. I later learned that perfectly good beer can be made by cutting back to one can of malt extract and putting in more corn sugar for the five gallon batch.
The beer making kit included a five gallon pail that could be used as the fermenter, but that still requires moving the beer between the pot and the fermenter more than once. I was able to find a five gallon water jug in storage and cleaned it out with a special brush from the brewing supply place. Adding a handle helps a lot when moving it around. Beer makers will call such a jug a "carboy". I don't trust the tap water where I am at, so I went with bottled water. This is not a necessary step in the beer making. The beer making kit came with a siphon hose, hydrometer, airlock and rubber plug that works for the glass jug, but not the hole in the bucket. Ingredients that came with the kit include two cans of malt extract syrup, a bag of corn sugar, and two bags of dried yeast. I ended up having to buy the large pot and strainer, then later on got measuring cups, a funnel with a filter and tube and a few other odds and ends. The book came with the beer making kit but better books can be found at your local library.
I get the impression that beer making is not an exact science, but the various recipes on the book and on the can (none of which were very clear) all seem to point out that you don't really "brew" all of the beer in a pot. Hence, you don't absolutely need the six gallon pot, but it will help with larger batches of beer or other drinks. The malt extract syrup is very thick and sticky, like molasses. I poured it into 1.5 gallons of water and then filled and emptied the can with the brew several times in order to melt the rest of the stuff out of the can. The book said to boil the brew 15 to 30 minutes. I noticed that the concentrated stuff did not really fully mix into the water until about ten minutes after it was boiling so I went the full 30 minutes.
Once the water was just starting to boil, I put in some of the corn sugar. The different recipes had listed different amounts, so I put in what I figure would be a good amount. In alcohol making in general, more sugar content in the brew or mash will translate to more alcohol content in your drink. So on that thought, a healthy dose of extra sugar can be a good thing. I boiled the brew for a while after this to make certain the sugar would be fully suspended in the brew.
The directions were to boil the water for a while then pour it into three gallons of cold water in the fermenter. Normally, if you have added any grain or hops to flavor the beer, you will strain it at this point. I did not want the mess of trying to pour the brew into the jug through a funnel, so I put the water in the clean bucket and poured the hot brew into it. Once that was done, I used the siphon hose to put the brew into the jig with almost no spillage and minimal effort. Siphoning is the safest way to move liquids between large containers like this. Just make sure the destination container is below the source container and suck start the siphon. Gravity takes care of the rest.
Another thing that needs to happen at this point is that the brew needs to cool down. Beer making is generally a "cold" process unlike distilling. The long skinny hose helps to reduce the thermal mass of liquids running through it so they get more cooling in the air. You can also use a longer hose and run a length of it through a pail of icewater before it reaches the glass jug.
Cleanliness is stressed in beer making for a few reasons. First, there are lots of contaminates that can come in contact with the beer and alter the taste. Then there are various fungus and nasties that can make the beer unpalatable. Minimizing exposure to these things is important to the brewer. Good news is that known deadly pathogens can't live in beer - especially the home brew types with higher alcohol content than commercial beers. The glass jugs can be tricky to clean so extra steps taken to keep sediment and other stuff out can help. The picture to the left shows what was in the bottom of the bucket after the siphon reached the bottom. Better to throw the sediment away at this point than put it in with the brew. Clean the hose immediately by siphoning clean water through it. I did this fairly easily by just siphoning some hot bleach water from the sink into the bucket and then I cleaned the bucket for later use.
The jug will probably not be full all the way to the top, which is fine. It will not hurt to put in a little more water to replace spillage if you had any up to this point but don't fill it all the way to the top. At this point, it becomes important to keep the brew out of sunlight. It will probably still be warm and may look like it might be beginning to ferment, but you will need to ad brewer's yeast for the real fermenting process. The brew can take several hours to cool and it must be down to around 70 degrees before you ad the yeast.
Mix the yeast with a small amount of water as per the instructions on the packet. In the case of this yeast, that means 3/4 cup of lukewarm water. They specify to use water that had been recently boiled to kill off any other possible bacteria. Let the yeast water sit for at least 15 minutes before doing anything else with it. Once that is done, stir the stuff to dissolve any remaining yeast granules.
Check the specific gravity of the beer after it has cooled to see if you have a good sugar content. If the specific gravity is too low (meaning it is too close to water which is 1.000 on the scale) then you will want to mix in some sugar. You can ad this from the top of the bottle and then agitate the bottle to mix it in. Optimum readings should be between 1.035 to 1.042. I had to put some more sugar in at this point.
I used an improvised funnel to make sure that no yeast made got spilled on the outside of the jug. Absolutely positively wait until the brew has fully cooled before adding yeast. The first yeast to go into this brew was DOA because the brew was still too warm. You should get some bubbling within a few minutes. If you do not get any bubbling (fermentation) there might be a problem with your yeast culture. Note that does not mean you should expect it to be like dropping Alka-seltzer in a glass of water.
Sunlight can also kill the yeast, so this step is best done in a low light environment. Yeast thrives in cool, damp places like a cellar.
Here is the way the beer should look after a few hours. This is day 2 on my batch with some suds showing stuff floating to the top. A bubble of expanding gas pops through the fermentation lock about once every three seconds. Detail of the fermentation lock shows its fairly simple operation. Expanding air escapes from the jug by forcing bubbles through the water but air from the outside of the jug cannot compress the plastic float far enough into the water to enter the bottle. Thus the device is a one way airlock and crucial to any fermenting process. The same size fermentation lock is used on many sizes of bottles and jugs.
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