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I’m thinking about it. This could be dangerous.

 

My father has been brewing his own beer for about 15 years and pretty consistently makes great stuff - mostly IPA-style, and the occasional porter. I'm sure he'd be happy to teach you the basics if you don't mind a trip to the hinterlands.

It was actually his beer that got me thinking about this. Before having it, the home brew that I tasted was uniformly tasteless and blah. His was really exceptional, especially that dark beer. But his IPA was pretty grand too.

 

ETA: Oh and by "worth it," I didn't mean financially. I just meant is the time and effort worth it.

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When I brought the $ into it, I meant for you to consider what you could buy commercially for the same amount of value you'd be expending on doing it yourself. Assuming $70 in time costs and $30 in ingredients costs for a batch that yields 2 cases of beer, you could buy some quite good commercial products for $100. If, on the other hand, you like the process so much you'd do it for free and account for it as leisure time spent, rather than leisure time lost, and you start with grain rather than extract, you could make some spectacular beers for next to nothing.

 

Important considerations if you're going to try it so as to avoid off flavors and other homebrew enjoyment killers:

 

0) SANITIZE EVERYTHING. Use bleach or iodine solution to make sure nothing you don't want in there gets in there.

1) The more of the batch that gets boiled, the better. If you're going to make 5 gallons, use at least a 4 gallon pot to do your boil in. With a 4 gallon pot, you will end up boiling at least half of the wort.

2) Temperature control while you're fermenting really helps a lot. You want to keep it someplace with a constant ambient temp of about 68 or less.

3) Get the yeast really fired up and rearing to go. Make sure there's plenty of oxygen beaten into the wort for them to use while fermenting. Make sure you add enough yeast, and don't add them until the wort is down to the low 70s.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Okay, I just attempted my first batch of beer, an amber ale from John Palmer's book, How to Brew. Overall, things went very well. It doesn't hurt that I make my own stock (which is a very similar process) and have a very good local home brew supply to get me properly set up.

 

A couple of basic mistakes:

  • Sanitized too early; half my sink was tied up with stuff soaking in sanitizing solution hours before I needed it.
  • Wore a favorite pair of shorts while sanitizing. At this point I can either tie-dye them or relegate them to yardwork. The bleached out dots are kinda cool, though. Maybe these will become my "beer shorts."
  • Forgot to have the brewing supply place crush my grain. Oy. This is a major PITA. I ended up nearly wrecking my favorite French rolling pin trying to crush 2lbs of malted barley. I ended up with more "cracked" grain than crushed.
  • Dumped 8lbs of ice into my wort just before re-reading the section of Palmer's book that deals with hot-side aeration and why lots of splashing is a bad thing. Doh!
Other than that, things went remarkably well. As of this morning I have bubbles in the airlock :D and a light aroma of gingerbread. The whole process yesterday took a little more than 4 hours, but I think I'll be more efficient next time, if for no other reason that familiarity with the equipment.

 

Chad

 

Chris (or other home brewers) what do you think of this recipe?

American Amber Ale

3.3lbs light LME in boil

3.3lbs light LME about 10min. before finishing the boil

2lbs crystal 60 malt steeped 30min.

 

.5oz Centennial hops for 60min.

1oz Mt. Hood hops for 30min.

1oz Willamette hops for 15min.

 

Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale: theoretically 10 days @ 65f, more likely 7-10 days @ 72-75f

 

Target OG 1.055 for 5 gallons

Measured OG 1.050 to 1.052

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[*]Dumped 8lbs of ice into my wort just before re-reading the section of Palmer's book that deals with hot-side aeration and why lots of splashing is a bad thing. Doh!

From what I recall, you don't want to stir/aerate the wort before cooling because you want the proteins to settle out. Also, unless your ice source is pure, you risk contamination dumping ice into the wort. After you cool the wort, it will aerate when you funnel it into the carboy and add water.

 

I've never heard of adding extract in stages. I'm not sure what the benefit would be.

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[*]Dumped 8lbs of ice into my wort just before re-reading the section of Palmer's book that deals with hot-side aeration and why lots of splashing is a bad thing. Doh!

From what I recall, you don't want to stir/aerate the wort before cooling because you want the proteins to settle out. Also, unless your ice source is pure, you risk contamination dumping ice into the wort. After you cool the wort, it will aerate when you funnel it into the carboy and add water.

 

I've never heard of adding extract in stages. I'm not sure what the benefit would be.

 

The ice came from my ice maker, which is fed by a heavy duty in-line filter. It should be okay, but I may have to rethink the way I cool the wort down.

 

The two stage addition of extracts has a couple of purposes, as I understand it. You get better hop utilization with a lower gravity boil and you don't risk over caramelizing the wort and making the beer darker than you intended. Unlike brewing with all grains, extracts have already had most or all of their proteins coagulated, so you don't have to boil the extract to get the proteins to settle out. The boil is for the hops and to pasteurize the extract.

 

Should be interesting. I'm already planning my next batch.

 

Chad

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Hmmm... 2 lbs of crystal will tend toward a sweeter beer, and the Mt. Hoods are a more subtle hop, so all that maltiness is going to come forward. And the Willamettes at the end will give it an earthy quality. You're not going to get much hop character from the the Centennials, which is a shame, since I think they would add something nice with their grapefruity/resiny character.

 

You'll have to report back on whether this bitter/sweet balance is what you like, or whether it needs some tweaking.

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Interesting. Eight days into fermentation and I finally popped the top on the bucket to take a hydrometer reading. I'm at 1.020, so it looks like it'll have to ferment a full 10 to 14 days. I thought the fermentation might go faster just because the house has been a bit warmer than the 65f called for in the recipe. We hit a cool spell, which was very nice, and the house was 70-73f for the first five days of fermentation. It warmed up again and the house was running 77f so I moved the fermentation bucket to the fridge in the garage. Turned down to its lowest setting, the fridge cycles between 62f and 65f, which probably slowed things down a bit.

 

It tasted great, even murky and uncarbonated. It was also hoppier than I expected. Given the reading I've been doing I expected (as Chris pointed out) a fuller, maltier flavor but the hops pretty much dominated. It will be interested to see how this beer develops. I'm eager to get it into the secondary and get on to my second batch, a partial mash cream ale. Woohoo!

 

Chad

 

ETA: Chris, do you think the fact that I forgot to have the grains crushed is affecting the flavor balance?

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Nope. The homemade crushed crystal won't affect much of anything. That's the nature of crystal malts-- they're already transformed from starch to sugar, so the very soluble sugars in them (which have been caramelized a little) will dissolve very well when you steep them. A fine crush won't help much there.

 

As to the hop predominance, your beer is young. In a few weeks it will balance out, then trend maltier over time.

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I actually had a Budweiser last night for the first time in a very long time. I had purchased a six pack for some dinner guests and there was one left. It looked lonely there in the fridge. "Stewed goat rectum" may have been a bit harsh. It wasn't awful, just bland.

 

Just checked the gravity of my amber ale. It's at 1.018 and pretty darn tasty. I'm going to let it go until the weekend and then rack it into a carboy for clearing for a couple of weeks. I'm hoping it'll finish out about 1.012. The bitterness I experienced when I checked it two days ago is completely gone. I wonder if I just got a big gulp of yeast cap that threw my perception of the beer off.

 

When this one goes in the carboy I'm going to do a partial mash cream ale. That should be interesting.

 

Chad

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  • 3 weeks later...
How's the project progressing, Chad?

 

Pretty darn well. I brewed batch #2, the cream ale, on 10/12. The partial mash went well, though the process was frustrating. Mashing with a sparge bag in a cooler with no spigot is a pain in the ass. Which is why when I brewed batch #3 I went all grain with a converted cooler mash tun and 8 gallon kettle. Doing all grain was a lot more interesting than even the partial mash. I did an all grain version of the extract & steeped grain Amber that I did as batch #1 so I can compare the two.

 

So: Apex Amber v1.0 was bottled 10/25 after 2 weeks in secondary, the cream ale was racked to a secondary on the same day, and batch #3, Apex Amber v2.0, was brewed on 10/26. I've already got my grains and yeast for batch #4, a clone of Hobgoblin strong ale.

 

The only downside so far is that I'm afraid the cream ale might be a little bland. It's pretty low on IBUs and the hydrometer sample I tasted today was boring. I've added a little fresh ginger and dry hopped with a half ounce of Saaz to see if I can perk it up as it conditions. I'll probably bottle it with a little extra priming sugar (5oz) to see if I can get a stronger carbonation bite, too.

 

All in all, I'm having a great time. I'm already planning batches 5 and 6. Those should be interesting. I'm going to follow the old technique of making a big beer from the first runnings of the mash and a small beer from the sparges. In order to get the volumes I'm looking for, I'll actually do two mashes back to back, using the first running from both to create a ~1.080 Old Ale for long aging and the 2nd/3rd runnings from both to make a 1.038-1.040 Mild or Ordinary Bitter. I'll keep you posted.

 

Chad

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