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June 14, 2011

APA 4/16/11 - The Pour

Our American Pale Ale has been ready and tasted from some time, but I guess the 7.3% abv keeps me from remembering to take photos.  Well, here they are. 
Isn't she pretty?  Of course, we couldn't just pour one.
I would have poured more, but we ran out of CO2.  I am getting the tank exchanged today.  Until then, we are unable to enjoy our homebrew. :-(

May 17, 2011

American Pale Ale May 7, 2011

Gary, Byron and I have decided that we are going to work on making the same recipe until we can get a consistent flavor and ABV, so we brewed the same American Pale Ale recipe as the April 16 batch.  In case you don't feel like looking back at that post, the recipe is as follows:

9 lbs. US 2-Row
10 oz Crystal 60L
10 oz Crystal 40L
10 oz Crystal Special B
1/2 lb Carapils
1/2 oz Goldings @ 60 minutes (the time refers to the amount of time left in the boil, not how long it has already boiled)
1 oz Cascade @ 15 minutes
1/2 oz Goldings - Dry Hop
1/2 oz Cascade - Dry Hop
1 Whirfloc Tablet (Irish Moss) @ 15 minutes
2 tsp Gelatin Finings at secondary rackover
4 gal Water @ 155 degrees for 90 minutes
90 minutes
Safale US-05 Dry Yeast from wort starter

We brewed on May 7 and racked the beer into the secondary on May 12.  It is still in the secondary and will probably be kegged around May 26.

The only change that we made was adding the Gelatin Finings when we racked the beer into the secondary.  We hope it will make this beer even clearer than the previous batch.

Our April batch had a starting gravity of 1.056
Our May batch had a starting gravity of 1.059, so there is going to be some variation in the alcohol content, but we won't know how much until we keg the beer.

I do like the color of this batch a bit more.  It looks richer.
 I will update if we make any changes.

American Pale Ale 4.16.11 Completion

Our APA stayed in the secondary fermenter for 14 days.  We kegged it on May 5.  After finding our finishing gravity of 1.002, we calculated that it is a whopping 7.3% ABV.  That's a hefty brew.
Here is Gary adjusting the pressure of the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) to "force-carbonate" the beer.  Basically, we connect the CO2 tank to the "out" valve of the keg (the out valve goes all the way to the bottom), then we force the CO2 in at 25-30 psi.  We will then pull the relief valve and relieve all of the pressure once or twice (this gets rid of any oxygen or O2 that may have gotten into the beer during the kegging process).  Then, we put the CO2 pressure onto the keg again and then shake it vigorously.  This forces the CO2 into the beer.  After this process, the beer will be carbonated in a few days.  This is much faster than other methods of carbonating beer.

As you can see, we have the CO2 connected to the keg, but the keg is not yet connected to the kegerator.  We put it in the kegerator and let it cool to drinking temperature and then connect it after a few days of forced carbonation.  The beer is now ready to drink and it is as tasty as it is potent. 

Now, the hard part is not drinking it all in one weekend (remember, homebrew draws a crowd).

April 26, 2011

American Pale Ale Continued

It didn't take as long as we thought for the yeast to slow down in our APA.  It was ready to roll!  The yeast settled down, so it was time to rack the beer over into the secondary fermenter.  We did this on Thursday, April 21.  Only 5 days in the primary this time, but as you can see in the photo below, it was time.
Again, the key to this step is sanitation.  We cleaned and sanitized the secondary carboy as well as the plastic tubing that will be used to siphon the beer as well as our hands.  Cleaning your hands is important and is a step many tend to forget.

We also have a cup to the side to catch the initial runoff of the tube before we insert it into the carboy.  Why wouldn't you just pour it in, you may ask.  Well, remember, air is BAD for beer.  The less oxygenated the beer, the better.  Pouring the beer would cause air bubbles.  Some bubbles are going to be unavoidable, but the fewer the better.  We placed the secondary on the floor in preparation for the siphoning since gravity is needed.

Here Gary and Byron are siphoning the beer into the secondary.  To do this, we filled our plastic tube with water and capped one end.  We placed the other end into the cup, released the cap on the bottom of the tubing and the pressure allowed the water to flow out and the beer to be sucked up the tube.  Once the water had run out of the tube, we inserted it into the secondary.  We used the cling wrap to cover both fermenters' openings around the tube to avoid as much air as possible.

This particular recipe called for dryhopping.  Dry hopping is simply adding hops to the beer after it has been boiled to add a burst of bitterness and/or aroma.  Hops added during the boil release alpha acids that add the bitterness that is needed to offset the sweet maltiness of the beer.  Just as adding basil to a cooking pot yields flavor, but not nearly as much flavor as adding it fresh on top after the cooking is complete, adding hops after the boil provides that bright hoppy flavor.  Pictured here are 1/2 ounce of Goldings and 1/2 ounce of Cascade (both we used during the brew as well to keep the flavors consistent).

This is what the beer looks like as it enters the secondary.  You will notice that Byron put the siphoning tube all the way down onto the bottom.  Again, that is to keep from aerating the beer.  Bubbles = bad.  Isn't it a pretty color?

As the primary gets close to the bottom, we tilt it to get the remaining liquid out of it, but leave the adjuncts on the bottom behind.  Remember, we are trying to add clarity to our beer which is why we are racking it into a secondary fermenter.  Here, Gary and Byron get the last of the liquid that is useable as Daphne and Kirk observe.  We never seem to be alone when the beer process is as work.  We love it!
Now that we have gotten all of the liquid into the secondary, we add our hops and then cap the fermenter again with an airlock and set it in a dark place that is at an even temperature to ferment some more.  Any wonder the last time we made this it was 6.5% ABV?

Here is the finished (well, racked-over to the secondary) product.  The beer will need to sit some more for at least a week.  See all of the gunk in the bottom of the primary?  That is what we wanted out of our beer and the reason we racked it.

I will post more as time comes.  We will be adding some Gelatin Finings (another clarifier) to the beer a few days before we keg it, which will probably be some time this weekend.

April 19, 2011

American Pale Ale April 16, 2011

As I mentioned in my previous post, we brewed on Saturday, April 16, 2011.  We used an archived recipe that we brewed originally on October 3, 2009.  To date, this has been my favorite homebrew that we have brewed since we started brewing again in '09.  I rated this at a 4.5 (I have yet to give any homebrew of ours a 5-star rating, just because I can always find a slight flaw) and Gary and Byron each gave it a 4 (I think it was a little stronger than they were anticipating and it went to their heads).

American Pale Ale recipe:
9 lbs US 2-Row
10 oz Crystal 60L
10 oz Crystal 40L
10 oz Crystal Special B
1/2 lb Carapils
Hops and Adjuncts:
1/2 oz Goldings @ 60 mins.
1 oz Cascade @ 15 mins.
1 Whirfloc Tablet (Irish Moss) @ 15 mins.
1/2 oz Goldings - to be dryhopped when racking to secondary
1/2 oz Cascade - to be dryhopped when racking to secondary
2 1/2 tsp Gelatin Finings - to be added 2 days before kegging
Mash 4 gal Water @ 152F 90 mins.
Boil 90 mins.
Safale US-05 Dry Yeast from starter with wort

What does all of that mean, you may ask.  Well, this is an all-grain batch of brew that should mimic an American Pale Ale.  The first time we made this we ended with an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 6.5%.  Now that's a heady brew!

I'll go through the basic steps as well as the equipment.  Firstly, you will need a large kettle or mash tun to "mash" your grains.  A mash simply extracts the sugars from the grains and leaves the starches behind.
This is what our mash tun, which we also use as a brew kettle looks like:

It is basically a 15-gallon keg that has been converted into a kettle.  Our local homebrew store sold us everything you will see except the propane tank.

Yes, we brewed in our garage.  We were expecting some bad weather.  Note how nice it is outside in this photo.  More on that later.

Step one was to get the mash water to the proper temperature for the mash.  We calculated the amount of water that we would need based on the number of pounds of grain in the recipe.  The formula is # pounds of grain X 1.4  / 4 = # gallons of water.  To heat the mash water we used a propane burner (shown above) and a floating thermometer (shown below).  Once our water was to the desired temperature (155 degrees F), we added our grains.
As you can see, we have the thermometer in the "mash" to ensure that we keep a constant temperature.  After we added the grains came a wait period of 90 minutes while the grains steeped in the water.  Mash times will vary and the usual mash time is 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, Gary (that's what we'll call the hubby) was working on sanitizing the equipment that we would need for later and making sure we had enough water in case the power went out.  Note we had the TV tuned to The Weather Channel for updates.

During the last 30 minutes of the mash (seen on the left), we heated the "sparge" water to a temperature of 175 degrees F. 

Sparging is a the process of extracting the Wort (sweet liquid that is unfermented beer) from the grains slowly so that you do not disturb the grain bed.  Here Gary has put the heated sparge water in the white bucket with a lid to keep the temperature, then has a small hose slowly dripping the sparge water into the grains.  Our friend "Byron" is putting the tube on the spout at the bottom of the mash tun so that the wort will drain slowly into a vessel.  This process usually yields about 6 gallons of wort.  The wort will boil down to a little less than 5 gallons in the next phase, so you need to have enough to allow for the boil-off.

Before putting the sparge in our pot to transfer back to the brew kettle, Gary "recycled" some back into the mash and also filled a jar to start our yeast.  When using a dry yeast, you need to activate it by adding it to a sugary liquid.  We used to use dextrose and water, but found that the wort worked just as well and was free.  We like free. 
After this, Gary refrigerated the wort until it was a little cooler because adding yeast to hot liquid kills it, then added the yeast.  More on the yeast in a bit.

This is what the wort looks like as it is extracted from the mash.  It tastes wonderful, like the inside of a malted milk ball.  Yum!

Still sparging.  This takes time.  Don't rush it!  Notice how dark it has gotten?

Meanwhile, the yeast has started to work (notice that radar?).

Finally finished sparging.  I wish I could get the aroma into the picture.  My garage smelled fantastic!

These are the spent grains.  We've gotten all of their sugar, so we're going to dump them and clean out the kettle for the brew.

The brew has just started to boil.  We will keep it at a rolling boil for 90 minutes. 

Look at that yeast!  It's ready to go!

The power started flickering and we look out to find it's hailing outside.  For the record, this our second hailstorm during a brew.  At least we were indoors this time!
As I told you before, friends follow the brew.  A few friends always show up while we're brewing.  Dwight Evan (far left) was there for the duration and Daphne (seated behind Jasper, who is standing), Tyler, Mason and Joseph came in during the mash and stayed for the party.
We added the hops at the specified times and put the wort chiller, which is a coil of copper tubing that you run cold water through in order to cool the wort quickly, in to help to ensure it was sanitized by the boil.

The wort chiller is in and connected to a water hose to chill the wort so that we can transer it into the 6 gallon carboy to ferment.
Before putting the wort in the carboy, we took a sample to test it's gravity with a hydrometer.  In order to find out the alcohol content of your beer, you need a starting gravity (SG) reading and a finishing gravity (FG) reading.  Once you have these  readings you can calculate the alcohol content (ABV) using the following formula: SG - FG x 1.347 = ABV.  Our SG on this beer was 1.056.
We then transferred the wort into the sanitized carboy using a sanitized tube, funnel and strainer.  If the strainer gets clogged druing the transfer, use a sanitized spoon to stir until the liquid comes through.
After checking the wort temperature again to ensure it was 65-75 degrees, we pitched the yeast and capped the fermenter with a water-filled airlock and rubber stopper.  The airlock is vital to beer brewing since the two biggest enemies of good beer are air and light.  Remember that the next time you drink a beer that comes in a clear bottle.  The darker the bottle, the better the beer.
The party grew when our friend Trey arrived and decided beer pong was in order.

We put the beer in an interior closet so that it will stay at a constant temperature and covered it to ensure no light would reach it.  Yes, that is a t-shirt that we used to keep it dark. 
We checked on it on Sunday to make sure that it was fermenting and this is what we saw.  It's working!  We will keep an eye on it for the next few days and probably rack it into the secondary fermenter this weekend or early next week.

That's the process for our April APA.  We hope it will taste as good, if not better than it did when we brewed it back in '09.  I will post updates when we rack it into the secondary, keg it and finally enjoy it.

Who am I?

Before I jump right in, let me tell you a little about myself.  My husband and I are in our mid-thirties, live on the east coast of the United States and have been brewing beer off and on for over a decade.  We started years ago, took a (too) long hiatus when life got in the way, then started brewing again in 2009 with a close friend.  The hubby, friend and I got together to start brewing again and, since we already had most of our equipment, all it took was finding a recipe, purchasing the ingredients and actually doing it.    We agreed that we were going to do it in March and finally did it on May 30, 2009.  Yes, it takes a while to get things done when work and weather are not working with you.  We started with a porter that turned out pretty well and encouraged us to continue on our quest.  I will post recipes and ratings for those brewed back then in another post later.  Well, as often happens, we ran into too many obligations and horrible weather and didn't brew from October 2010 until April 16, 2011.

We do not consider ourselves to be anything more than amateurs.  We have created our own recipes, but have also used many that we have found on the web or in books.  I decided while we were driving to the beer store to get our ingredients this past weekend that I was going to start a blog.  I figured there are probably many other homebrewers out there who, like us, enjoy brewing and enjoying their brews and may find some insight from us, or may share theirs to our benefit. 

I will post pictures, but please know that any names that may be mentioned in my blog have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. 

A few things someone who is just starting out should know.

  1. Don't expect to drink your beer the day you brew it.  Good beer takes time, so make sure you have at least a few 12-packs of your favorite beer to get you through the brew and fermenting time, more if you're lagering. 
  2. Brewing beer is not illegal.  You should always check your local laws, but as long as you don't brew more than is allotted for your household, you can brew legally.  In our state, we can brew up to 500 gallons per person in the household per year.  This means we can legally brew 1,000 gallons of beer per year.  We have never even come close to that number.  If we brewed a batch every week of the year, we would still only brew 260 gallons.  So brew away!
  3. Sanitation is KEY!  Let me repeat that: Sanitation is KEY!  It is a necessity.  If you don't take the time to sanitize, you're wasting your time.  Your beer will always taste "skunky" and it will discourage you from continuing to brew.
  4. Brewing beer takes time.  Yes, I know I said that earlier, but I'm referring to the actual process.  If you're brewing, plan for it to take at least 2 hours and up to 8 if you're brewing all-grain batches as we are.  Plan a day for brewing so you're not rushing around at the end and forget important steps. 
  5. This is probably the most important thing to remember:  Don't stress out about it!  Relax and have a homebrew.  This advice was first brought to my attention by Charlie Papazian in his book The Homebrewer's Companion.  Brewing is a lot of hurry-up-then-wait.  Be sure to have some beer, some friends and/or a good book to keep you occupied during the wait cycles.
  6. Get fresh ingredients.  Google your local homebrew supply store, then go see them.  No, don't call or email them.  Go see them.  Ask them questions.  They should have a good knowledge of beer brewing and they should be able to tell you where they purchase their ingredients and how long they have had them in stock.  Grains should be stored properly in a dry place and yeasts and hops should be refrigerated.  If they don't meet up to your standards, find another homebrew store.  Our local homebrew store is owned by a husband and wife and they are fantastic.  They can tell you the chemistry of beer (something I won't bore you with in my blog-much).
  7. Have a partner to brew with you.  It never hurts to have another eye to watch the brew and to help with the setup and cleanup.  Besides, it more fun with a friend or two.
  8. Be prepared to have many more friends.  Homebrew draws people as you would never imagine.  I will post more on this later.  Also be prepared for your friends who drink Bud Light or other flavorless brews to not like your beer - at first.  We have converted almost all of our friends to enjoying good beer.  One told me that I ruined Miller Lite for them.  Good!

Welcome to my blog!  I hope that we can learn a lot from one another.