One of my occasional hobbies is making beer, I say occasional because I usually only get around to doing it once a year. It is a process I enjoy, but it is very time consuming, hence the irregularity of my brewing.
The actual process of making the beer is fun, especially knowing what the outcome should be J Making sure everything you use is cleaned & then sanitized & then cleaned again after use, that is the time consuming part. I’ve been told a few shortcuts, however I’m not in favor of taking shortcuts with A; health, B; something that could explode beer all over my closet & C; messing with the end product. So I will stay an occasional brewer with a zealous eye towards hygiene when brewing.
So a few weeks ago I decided to brew a batch of beer to be ready in time for Christmas, the way I brew takes 9 weeks to be ready, so October 20th was the last weekend day I could brew in order for the Christmas date to work. I got the ingredients needed to make a clone of Samuel Smiths Winter Welcome, a delightful rich English winter ale. Things got busy that weekend so it wound up being Sunday night before I got started. Not to worry, I had confidence in the process & although it was going to be a late night it would be manageable.
Well about 15 minutes into cooking I determined that our food thermometer was not working correctly, about the most essential tool for the process. Panic ensued, not wanting to waste the not inexpensive ingredients, so I ran to the local grocery store. The store did not have what I needed to on to Wal-mart I went. I returned home with a new thermometer about 50 minutes later, my grains having had more than enough time to soak & sparge (too much time). I got things going, a little too much at one point resulting in the pot boiling over, I was staring to thing the process was cursed, fortunately it was only a minor scare.
The rest of the process was fairly uneventful, until it was time to cool the wort (the mixture you cook up that will become the beer). Chilling 2.5 gallons of boiling liquid is a process but one I have got better at every time. All seemed to be going well initially as I gave the pot an ice bath, then the temperature stopped dropping. I transferred the wort to the fermentation bucket, added cold water to bring it to the usual 5 gallon yield & although it was cool to the touch on the outside of the bucket the brand new thermometer was showing 218 degrees F. Rather confused I started trying to check the new thermometer was working, well after putting it in the freezer & getting a 196 degree reading I realized that the new thermometer was about as much use as the old broken one.
This left me in quite the quandary, I had no way to effectively tell the temperature of the wort which meant that I would have to pitch the yeast with fingers crossed. So I did what needed to be done & sealed the bucket up & put it in the closet for a week of primary fermentation, just hoping that it would work & that I had not ruined the ingredients or wasted a whole bunch of time.
So after a week of primary fermentation, it was fingers crossed time the following weekend when it was time to transfer it into my glass carboy for secondary fermentation. Joy of joys, when I removed the lid from my brewing bucket there was clear signs of some good violent fermentation, I had (hopefully) not ruined by brew. I syphoned the beer into the secondary fermentation vessel, leaving the trub (spent yeast etc) behind in the bottom of the bucket (yay more clearning) & put it away for 2 more weeks.
After 2 weeks of secondary fermentation comes the fun(?) part of racking the beer (putting it in bottles), there is apparently a whole beer making language that you have to learn when you start homebrew! Bottling the beer does not take that long, cleaning & sanitizing & rinsing 50 or so beer bottles does take a long time. Once that is done you syphon the beer from the glass carboy back to the beer bucket, separating it from the trub again. Now you get to mix a little priming solution (dried malt extract dissolved completely) with the beer. This apparently helps with generating the carbonation needed, reactivating the suspended yeast in the beer that will be bottled. Once everything is bottled then it is back to the closet for 6 weeks of bottle conditioning (waiting).
So there you have it, with photos & all. If I remember I’ll let you know how it turns out. If I ever make the time to do it more regularly & become even slightly knowledgeable about the subject, maybe I’ll write more on it 🙂
Ok, so I originally wrote this post on December 7th, I never got around to posting it though (I should probably start paying more attention to my blog again). On the bright side, I can tell you that the end result was an excellent, rather strong, warm malty blend of goodness in a glass. Alls well that ends well (or something).