18 October 2010

The Zymurgist: Part 1

Among his many other talents, the Sailor is a brewmaster. He has been making homebrew for the better part of a decade and is pretty knowledgeable about zymurgy, the branch of chemistry related to fermentation.

Two years ago, the Sailor introduced me to the art of beer-making when we brewed a clone of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It was ready to drink just as winter arrived. We called it Snowday Pale Ale in honor those much-loved days off from school or work, treasured free time spent doing whatever your heart desired. 

Little did I know beforehand, that the Sailor's way of brewing is no "Mr. Beer"operation. It's the real deal-- lots of steps and quite the process for someone who has little patience (i.e. Me). It's all worth in the end though...

As we prepared to brew this year, the Sailor took a few days to examine recipes online for the beer I wanted to make, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale-- described on the Sierra Nevada website as robust and rich, perfect for a festive gathering or a quiet evening at home.

Although the recipe for celebration wasn't easy to find, the Sailor performed a few calculations based on the information on the Sierra site and a handy online tool at Make-A-Beer-At-Home.

alcohol content 6.8% by volumebittering hops Chinook
beginning gravity 16.0 Platofinishing hops Cascade & Centennial
ending gravity 4.0 Platodry hopping Cascade & Centennial
bitterness units 65malts Two-row Pale & English Caramel
yeast Top-fermenting Ale Yeast

The Sailor already has a lot of the requisite beer-making supplies, including the brewer's handbook, fermenting bucket, airlock, stopper, hydrometer, thermometer, sanitizer, a giant mizing pot and long-handled mixing spoons.

But we needed to go to the homebrew shop to gather fresh ingredients -- filtered water, malt extract, yeast, hops, and grains for the Celebration Ale.

A few tips for selecting ingredients:
Use filtered water-- but not distilled (no minerals)-- to avoid any funky tastes like chlorine. Water is the primary ingredient, so if you're going to use tap water, make sure it tastes good.

The grains contain the starch that converts to sugar so the yeast have something to ferment. Beer, by definition, contains at least 50% barley. Add specialty grains for flavor.

Hops inhibit spoilage, give the beer flavor (bitterness to balance out sweetness) and aroma.  They also help keep the "head" or ensure the beer is frothy when it's poured.

Yeast obviously starts the fermentation process and determines what kind of beer you're going to make. The ale yeast hangs out at the top of the fermenting jug, while lager yeast lands on the bottom.

Here are the steps that we followed in making our pseudo-Celebration Ale (soon-to-be renamed something original):

1.) Add water to brew pot. Bag grains together and add to the water. Steep the bag of grains as you would a tea bag. Rinse the grain bag and remove it after about 30 minutes. Boil the grain-infused water.

2)  Once the water comes to a boil, add the malt extract. Stir constantly and avoid letting the malt extract stick to the pot and burn. Do not cover the pot and be careful of boil overs unless you want to clean up a giant, sticky mess. This is called the wort.

3) Bring the wort to a boil. Add hops. This is called the 60 minute boil. Stir occasionally. Add other quantitites of hops as required, according to the time. The total boiling time is typically about an hour.

4) Make sure that everything is sanitized, including the fermenting bucket, lid, stopper, thermometers and anything else that comes into contact with the wort.

NOTE:  **Cleanliness is next to godliness. The key to making a good beer is sanitize, sanitize, sanitize! Fermentation is the controlled growing and feeding of yeast, and unwanted bacteria and other micro-organisms can spoil your batch of beer. To prevent contamination, make sure that the fermenting bucket, lid, airlock, thermometer and anything else that comes in contact with the wort are sanitized.

 Prepare to cool the wort by filling a sink with cold water and ice.

5) After the wort has boiled for an hour, remove it from the heat and place the pot in the icebath in the sink for 20 minutes. Don't add cold water or ice directly to the brew mixture.

6) Transfer the wort from the brew pot into the fermenting bucket. You may have to strain the wort in a sanitized strainer to remove any remaining grains or hops. Add cold water to the wort in the fermenting bucket until there are five gallons in the fermenting bucket.

7)  When the wort and water have cooled to about 75 degrees, take a hydrometer reading to measure the specific gravity and alcohol content of the beer. Write this number (the original gravity) down in a log book or on your recipe.

8)   Stir the wort with a sanitized spoon to introduce oxygen and introduce the yeast. Put on the lid. Fill the airlock halfway with water and snap onto the lid.

9) Put the bucket in a cool, dark place between 65-70 degrees. You will see signs of fermentation within 24 hours, when the water in the airlock bubbles with the release of CO2.

10) Leave the brew for 7-10 days to ferment before transferring to a carboy.

"I'm going to buy a boat...I'm going to do a little traveling, and I'm going to be drinking beer!"
- John Welsh, NYC bus driver who won $30 million in the lottery

Stay tuned for updates on bottling and aging!

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