Homebrewing Diary

10 September 2011. So … been awhile. Lots going on, beer-wise. I’ll let the photos tell most of the story, but Lisa and I did have a very successful run with our Belgian-style Saison. Not to mention adventures in brewing pale ale in the North Carolina summer. Up next for the Backyard Brewers – Oktoberfest!

Lisa checking the fermenters, sometime during Week 2 of fermentation

Saison (in glass) and Hybrid Pale Ale (in plastic) during secondary fermentation

Second Chance Saison - kegged and ready for the party!

Overachiever Pale Ale - before the explosion.

So … everything was going well. We announced a release-date party, kegged both beers, made a party menu – the whole shebang. And then, the Overachiever – erm, ahem – overachieved. Or, more accurately, the CO2 tank did. Either way, poor Lisa ended up with 5 gallons of pale ale on her kitchen floor the morning after we kegged & started carbonating it. The show went on, and we had a great Labor Day party with just the saison, and it was a big hit. So – success all around, and certainly no complaints from us, the brewers. Onwards to Oktoberfest!

 

11 August 2011. Ummm … what the hell is wrong with our beer????

Fermentation - day 4. WTF?!?

7th August 2011. Lisa rated that last batch 3 stars; me, 2.5. So, we figured, with the new school year rapidly (too rapidly) approaching, no time like now to start a new batch, and redeem ourselves of all the mistakes made the first time around.

As a matter of fact, we settled on 2 new batches to make, since we have 2 kegs to put ’em in. We decided to try out the latest brew supply store in town, Big Dan’s Brew Shed, to get our ingredients this time. We were overwhelmingly pleased with Big Dan himself, his know-how, and his fantastic way of not making us feel like idiots. Also, we apparently have earned his respect by being “chick brewers,” (apparently there aren’t many ’round these parts) and by admitting that we had done all-grain for our first batch, and with little to no background knowledge or experience (or books). We were able to pick up all the little things we didn’t think we needed last time (but really, we do), plus Dan was kind enough to tweak the ingredients called for recipes we’d brought with us, to help improve them.

So after we also picked up a few more things (camp stove & propane tank that didn’t actually work for what we needed, more copper tubing, etc), we headed back to Lisa’s to get started.

My car, now serving as the Homebrew Express

I should mention that, this time around, we’re also using some terrific equipment passed on to us by my uncle Paul, who lives here in town and has been a serious homebrewer himself for a long time. He very graciously gave us several buckets, a turkey fryer pot, and a glass carboy, all of which we very badly needed.Ā  Thanks, Paul, if you’re reading this!

Anyway, once we got back to Lisa’s, it was time for the most important steps in homebrewing: cleaning and sanitizing. They also happen to be everybody’s least favorite steps, but, as any chef will tell you, they’re not steps you can cut corners on. So, 2 hours later, we were cleaned & sanitized (and so was all of our equipment), and ready to brew.

The batch we started yesterday is a saison – known for being very crisp, refreshing, light-colored, citrus-y, and perfectly suited for summer. Ours, because of the ingredients we decided to go with (and Big Dan’s advice), is a Belgian-French hybrid saison.

It’s looking really good so far; although, of course, we did screw up something else this time. The recipe we used called for a pound of sugar, which not only did Dan encourage us to use, but to double. Well, we forgot it. We added some (about a cup) before boiling the wort, and we’re hoping for the best. Also, we still couldn’t find room to use all of the rinse water, but we’re pretty sure that’s because we don’t have enough buckets bigger than 5 gallons. So it won’t be perfect this time, either, and probably a good bit more yeast-y than it should be, but I can’t tell you how much easier the whole thing was, having done it with so much uncertainty last time! Amazing what a little experience and a little more studying can do for a brew. šŸ™‚

Here’s how our saison looked this time around. Our third batch, also ready to brew soon, is going to be a pale ale (another ingredients hybrid – mostly American Pale Ale, but a little bit English too).

Much more efficient sparging (rinsing) this time

Special "additions": the first round of hops pellets, crushed coriander seeds & black peppercorns, and lemon zest

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble ...

New wort chiller setup (secondary in ice bath)

Fermentation! Day 2

It's either really cloudy, or we somehow figured out how to make it look like the creamy head of Guinness. Hmm.

31 July 2011. The first batch was finally unveiled to friends last night. On first taste, I believe it was Brian (the birthday boy) who said, “it’s unique,” causing both Lisa and myself to wince a bit. Truth was, there were several issues that likely combined to make it less delicious than we’d hoped. First of all, we knew we’d made some mistakes in the mashing &

Your humble author, with the precious 1st batch keg.

sparging processes, that caused us to have a smaller yield. Second, because we had a smaller yield, we had a hard time getting the carbonation right, since we weren’t trying to carbonate a full 5 gallons. And finally, well, it was our first batch! All in all, though, it was actually pretty good once we cranked the PSI on the CO2 tank up for a while. It’s heady and heavy, with a lingering (though not unpleasant) aftertaste. The taste was certainly not perfect, but it was perfectly potable.

We didn’t end up with a contaminated or otherwise ruined batch, we didn’t have to waste much of anything – basically, all the things I was really worried about over the last 2 weeks were handily put to rest, and we’re ready to move on to our 2nd batch. I think we’ve settled on making a Weizen/Weissbier, possibly with some orange. We’ve collected more, better equipment, not to mention experience, so I think it will be delicious!

29 July 2011. It’s kegging day!!

A brief photo-essay:

Lisa fits the taps onto the keg

Siphoning

Me, rolling the keg (end of the carbonation process)

Our "mascot," Remus, with the keg as it cools on ice

The first glass! Still kinda warm. We're impatient. It's stronger than we anticipated, but still pretty drinkable, even at this early stage.

Our final keg setup for the night.

Tonight, Lisa’s hosting a big birthday dinner for our friend Brian (who’s going to be an accomplice on our next batch), and we’ll unveil the first batch. Last night it still was really strong, but still drinkable. We’re hoping it mellows out a bit (we added a little water and re-carbonated after that first taste) today.

Plans and provisions are already underway for our second batch! We’re thinking Hefeweizen? Maybe pale ale? Stay tuned!

27 July 2011. Is it me, or is it just friggin’ impossible to get a CO2 tank filled in this town??? It has been a frustrating day for your intrepid homebrewers, friends. But we persevere. Lisa, I’m certain, will solve our CO2 dilemma without problem or incident tomorrow while I’m at work. It’s just a bit stressful, this being our first batch and everything, and being so goddamn eager to try it, and hopefully to get our friends to try it. On a much more amusing note, we’ve gone full-tilt as homebrewing nerds and bought 2 books on homebrewing today. The first, Complete Joy of Home Brewing (Papazian, 3rd ed.), was actually recommended by a friend back when we first started about doing homebrewing, and I scoffed, thinking we would not need to venture that far into beer-nerd territory. But you can’t deny who you are, folks, and Lisa and I are nothing if not nerdy. The second book we found on the shelf and thought it was, at least, better than calling ourselves Dummies and buying that *other* book.

How nerdy am I? I’ve already got stuff tabbed and highlighted.Ā Ā Ā Ā  … sigh …

24 July 2011. First of all, the update:

Day 7 (IPA, 22 July 2011)

During the last week, I’ve been drawn to reading as much about homebrewing as my brain can possibly contain. True, perhaps I should have done all this reading before we launched our first batch, which is now entering secondary fermentation (we hope). But better late than never, no?

The first thing I’ve been researching is recipes. While we have faith in our firstborn batch of homebrew, we’re also really excited about getting the next one going. We now have 2 5-gallon kegs, so as soon as we can get our hands on another fermenter and possibly another CO2 tank, we’ll be well on our way to running a microbrewery from Lisa’s back porch. šŸ™‚ We’re thinking the next one should be an amber or a pale ale.

Secondly, I’ve been checking out homebrewing software. Since I don’t particularly want to take my laptop along with the rest of our beermaking equipment everytime I go to Lisa’s back porch on brew day or kegging day, I primarily looked for iPhone/iPod apps. I went ahead and spent the $8 on the iBrewMaster app. So far it’s awesome – my favorite feature is the scheduling. There’s also a ton of recipes within the app, so between that and the long list of bookmarked pages on my web browser, we should be able to find our next one easily. I also got the Brewpedia app for $0.99, just so I can look up all the vocabulary I don’t remember. šŸ˜‰

CO2 tank, keg, and equipment

So we’re heading into our final week of fermenting this first batch of beer. We have all the tubing, taps, kegs, and tanks we need. Lisa and I are doing the first taste test on Friday (technically the end of our 2 weeks’ fermentation). Either way, we’ll be celebrating with a little porch party on Saturday and hopefully serving up our IPA! So exciting!

16 July 2011. Fermentation has launched itself! Huzzah!

Aha! Fermentation! (day 2, IPA)

15 July 2011. Today is brew day. Finally!
Lisa and I went to the hardware store to get the last pieces of equipment we needed – the components of our DIY wort chiller. In case you’re wondering if we even considered taking the easy way out of this one, let me assure you that we did. It turned out, however, that the easy way out – the already-made, homebrew shop supplied wort chiller, made of the same exact materials – would set us back another $120. Having already bought ingredients and other equipment, but not even the keg or CO2 tank yet (another $100 – $150), it made much more sense to go to the hardware store and build the damn thing ourselves. So we did.

Once we got back to Lisa’s back porch, gone back to the hardware store and Target for a few more things, it was finally time to get started. Immediately we realized we were doing this the hard way (no cheap way out of this one, though) by not having a single, giant, restaurant-sized stock pot in which to boil the 5+ quarts of water and instead using several, smaller, normal-sized pots. But we persevered! We were as careful as parents of a newborn as we measured temperatures, sanitized everything, and de-chlorinated our water. We cooked the grain, used our new brewers’ German vocabulary (that’s not a cooler; that’s a mash tun!). We waited 45 minutes for the mash to cook.

And then … we kinda screwed up.

As we rinsed and drained the mash, we realized we weren’t getting the right consistency & color. So, if anything, our grain didn’t quite get rinsed well enough. We don’t really know what that’s going to do to the beer. But – lesson learned: buy a turkey fryer. It’s faster, it has the huge pot you need, and you won’t overheat your kitchen, either. Anyway, The results of the lauter tun went back into the several smaller pots and were boiled & reduced. Since we’re making an IPA, Lisa took great pains to time the hops additions correctly.

Meanwhile, we built our wort chiller. Sounds gross, but it’s actually pretty neat how it works. This is a couple steps away from rinsing & boiling, so forgive me for writing this slightly out of sequence, but you eventually have to cool the

Our amazing feat of mechanical engineering: our wort chiller

beer down before you put it in the fermenter and add the yeast. Thing is, you have to do that pretty quickly, or you risk contaminating the beer (at this stage it’s called wort) with some bacteria, and/or over-oxidation (yep – your beer might taste rusty). The quickest way to cool it is with a wort chiller. You run cold water from a garden hose through a coil of copper tubing and out another, vinyl tube. The water going in is cold, so it chills the liquid wort, and then the copper c0nducts the heat out as warm water that comes out of the vinyl tube on the other end. Now, at this point, we’d built a really goddamn solid wort chiller – no leaks, flowed perfectly. But, we soon realized after putting it in the now-boiled-and-hopped wort, what we’d built was not terribly efficient, and at this stage, you need efficiency.

So, another lesson learned: We must build another wort chiller with wider copper tubing, to move more cold water through more quickly. Also – this is gonna be way easier when it’s not July in North Carolina. Reeeaaalllly tough to get cold water from the outdoor faucet this time of year. Lisa also read that using a double chiller – putting one copper coil in ice water and then connect that to the new wort chiller in the beer – could work really well. In the end, tonight, we just made an ice bath for the bucket and did the best we could.

With our wort finally chilled under 80 degrees Fahrenheit, we transferred it to our fermenter – in our case, an emptied & sanitized office water cooler jug. We added the yeast, sealed it up (we used vodka in the airlock – another hopefully-helpful internet tidbit), and put it under Lisa’s kitchen table. Here’s hoping the homebrew gods take it from here!

All our photos are on my Google photos: Homebrewing 2011

____________________________________________________________________

BACKSTORY.

“Let’s brew our own beer!!!”

How many homebrewers have gotten started with that simple, not-so-humble declaration, I wonder. For my best friend Lisa and I, it was no different.

“How hard can it be, right?!?”

An even-less-humble question. But again, how else do people decide to do this? We’re clever people. We can do this.

And so we went to a class at our local homebrew supply shop, and learned most of what we needed to know (that we hadn’t already read about or watched YouTube videos about – like I said, we’re clever people, and by “clever” I mean “nerdy.”). We got a recipe and bought equipment & ingredients. And then we stalled for a while.

And then we quit stalling and finally got to work one Friday afternoon in July.

What this page is all about is a journal of our adventure as first-time homebrewers. It is, of course, for your entertainment, and our entertainment, but I also hope it’s helpful in some small way to anyone else hoping to attempt homebrewing. It’s the latest culinary adventure for The Petite Cuisine (although we’re not using the real Tiny Kitchen – we’re using Lisa’s kitchen šŸ˜‰ ), so wish us luck and I’ll keep you posted!

View the full Homebrewing 2011 photo album


6 responses to “Homebrewing Diary

  • Dan

    Re: What the hell is wrong with our beeer?!?!?

    Looks like a lot of trub (kettle sludge) made it’s way to the fermentor and that can coat the yeast and slow or even stop your fermentation. Also, the krausen looks low/weak. If that’s the saison, try moving it to a warmer place and swirl it up really good in the moving process. That yeast strain is really finicky, even lazy…
    Call the shop or email anytime if you have questions.

    Dan

    • kpeeples

      Thanks, Dan! We moved it outside for the afternoon. That photo is from earlier this past week, too, so it didn’t look any better up until today. We may be paying you a visit at the shop tomorrow!

  • Lisa Mortenson

    Just taste-tested again after the beer had more time to carbonate and good news! It actually tastes pretty damn good! My current description would be “if Guinness made a pale ale, this is what it would taste like.”

  • Lisa Mortenson

    Love it! Hopefully this batch will be delicious… at the very least next time will be more efficient!

  • Dinner & A Movie « Mon Petite Cuisine

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  • Sl Ross

    It’ll be hard to go back to store-bought beer after you taste this (and, yes, vodka in the air-lock works). Can’t wait to hear about your progress…a friend and I did several batches before he moved to Knoxville and they all turned out well. It also gave us time for some great conversations and quality time together, just because of the sheer amount of time brewing a batch takes. That’s priceless. We would love to open a small microbrewery one day…but we’ve got other obligations in our lives before we can think about that.

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