Last night I brewed my first extract beer. It was my third homebrew overall, the previous two been Coopers kits. The kits had turned out reasonably well, and very drinkable. But it was time to step it up, and hopefully go from drinkable to holy-crap-I-can’t-believe-I-made-this.
The recipe I chose was from blackbucketbrew.com, which is really well put together and easy to follow.
The equipment I needed to acquire to move up from regular kit brewing was as follows:
19 litre stock pot - I picked this for an amazing €18 up from from Living Island on Talbot St. as recommended by this thread on beoir.org. The thread was created back in 2009 and they’re still selling them :)
A large sieve - Also picked up very cheap at Living Island.
Thermometer - Again from Living Island, the stem on the one I got is only about 5 inches, but worked just fine.
A grain bag for steeping - I was unsure at first what would be best for this. I have some muslin hop bags but was worried they might not be big enough (they probably would have been). I searched ‘grain bag’ on homebrewwest.ie and nothing came up. I then searched ‘steeping bag’ and bad the choice between a ‘Young’s Large Nylon Straining Bag Coarse’, and the same in a “fine” variety. I was going to go with the coarse variety, but a quick Google showed some feedback that it let too much particles through. Fine it is then.
On top of these I also picked up:
5 x 5 litre bottles of water from Lidl (our tap water is good, but the bottled water was cheap so water quality was one less factor to risk).
2 bags of ice for cooling
That was about it, an order in to homebrewwest.ie to get the ingredients I needed and I was all set.
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The only things I did differently was to use Amarillo hops as the aroma instead of Cascade, as I already had a full pack of these, and Irish Moss instead of the Whirlflok tablet as homebrewwest don’t seem to stock these.
The recipe says to use Crystal 60L grains - homebrewwest specifies their grains in EBC. I used https://www.brewtoad.com/tools/color-converter to convert the 60 Lovibond to 158 EBC.
I put just over 10 litres of bottled water into the pot and added the Crystal Malt grains in the nylon bag. Some noise started coming from the pot as it gathered heat from the glass top stove, which was a bit disconcerting at first, but turned out to be nothing to worry about, the pot and stove performed like a champ.
I brought the water plus grains to 68°c as outlined by the recipe, then turned down the heat and started a timer for 30 minutes. The smell in the kitchen at this point is something that has to be experienced :)
Starting the boil
After removing the grains and doing a quick sparge with some boiled water from the kettle (didn’t seem needed, the bag was plenty big to allow the grains to soak really well in the water), I brought the mixture to a boil. I then removed it from the heat and added all the dry malt extract while stirring continuously.
I then moved back to the heat, and got the boil going again. This was a point where cross-referencing with howtobrew.com did pay off, as I used the advice of waiting for the hotbreak before adding the first hop addition. The hot break does come fast as promised, though simply moving the pot off the ring as soon as it happened was all it took to let the foam subside, before moving back to the heat to start the hour timer.
I then added the various hop additions using the disposable muslin bags, keeping the heat on full to keep the boil rolling throughout the duration of the hour.
howtobrew.com recommends rehydrating dried yeast for best results. I wasn’t too sure about this process, but wanted best results and it didn’t sound too complicated… luckily I bought two packs of yeast.
I boiled some water in the kettle and added it to a sterilised measuring jug. I then combined it with cool water to get it to the right temperature (~37°c), and sprinked in the yeast.
The first mistake I realised I made here was forgetting to sanitise the thermometer which I previously used to check the temperature of the steeping grains. Possibly not a deal breaker though I still didn’t like it. The second mistake I possibly made was adding a teaspoon of DME to proof it without boiling it in some water. Overall after about 30 mins the mixture seemed like it was bubbling a bit but not as much as the image on howtobrew. Not wanting to take any chances I grabbed my second pack of yeast and Googled again.
I came across the following infographic on http://mikesbrewreview.com/how-to-rehydrate-yeast/, which I followed for my second attempt. Unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend this either. Basically it just recommends to add the yeast to water at the correct temperature, wait 15 minutes, swirl, then wait another 15 minutes. Using this swirl method, my yeast seemed to become quite clumped, and I’ve just spent the evening worrying that fermentation wouldn’t kick off due to this reason.
In hindsight I think the following video from NorthernBrewerTV is the easiest to follow and what I will be using next time.
Once the boil was finished and yeast hydrated(mostly), it was time to cool the wort. For this I bought two bags of ice, though again hindsight I could have done with at least twice that. The ice melts surprisingly quickly along with the hot kettle in the sink. I ran water into the sink from the tap constantly, letting it drain out the overflow grid in the sink, a horrible waste of water. Overall this method combined with the ice, my wort was cooled to the right temperature (26°c) in 30 minutes.
Into the bucket
It was then time to transfer the wort to the fermentation bucket and top up with water to 21 litres. I used the large sieve to strain the hops and any ‘trub’ etc. This also had the benefit of aerating it well. I then topped up with the rest of my bottled water, and threw in the (clumpy) yeast.
Overall I felt my first extract brew went very well. The only real thing I wish I could have done better was the yeast hydration, though it’s bubbling away right now so hopefully it will finish out properly all the same. The original gravity (OG) was ~1.050.