At first glance, beer brewing can look like an intimidating hobby. There are copious amounts of water to be dealt with, pounds worth of ingredients and specific times to add your malts and hops to attain certain characteristics to your beer.
However when you break it down, it’s no more difficult than simmering a soup. You gather and prepare the ingredients (mis en place if you will), determine boiling periods and control your heat. The biggest difference of course is the fermentation process which is the time when yeasts break down the sugars in your wert so you get that wonderful ethanol.
The ladies of bitches brew are happy to walk you through our first venture in brewing a Pale Ale. Our style isn’t a traditional English style (dry and hoppy) or even American style (dry and even hoppier). We’re making our Pale Ale Brooklyn style. And I’ll be able to tell you a far more detailed description of what that tastes like once our brew is bottled and ready for consumption.
Since our brothers at Bierkraft have been avid homebrewers for years, we’re lucky enough to have a Sabco System at our disposal.
The dedicated brewers equipment.
As you can see, there are three major tanks that run, rather counter-intuitively, from right to left for the brewing process. I’ll go into far more detail about what happens at each kettle shortly. For now, just notice that the first tank is the Hot Liquor Tank, the second is the Mash Tank and the last is the Kettle Boil. All the tanks are connected with various pipes, levers and thermometers that allow for easy transfer and temperature readings of the wert and water.
Now I realize that there’s a very good a chance you might not have the space for such an elaborate set up. Do not let that stop you from brewing your own beer. There are multiple beer brewing set ups that are available that can be adjusted to each space. Brooklyn Brew Shop even has kits that claim to take up only one square foot of space.
For our set up, since we’re working on a recipe to make 10 gallons of Pale Ale, one of the first things we did was immediately light the burner under the Hot Liquor Tank, since it takes close to an hour to bring 12 gallons of water to a boil. (You didn’t read that wrong. We start with 12 gallons to account for evaporation, spills, mishaps, etc…)
Now for our American style Pale Ale, we gathered our ingredients and determined an exact recipe with the help of BeerSmith.com. For a detailed description of our ingredients and procedures, click here.
For the Pale Ale, we’re using 336 ounces (21 pounds) of Pale Malt and 48 ounces (3 pounds) of Honey Malt.
Ground Honey Malt
We ground down the malts, taking care that the husks of the malted barley kernels weren’t pulverized completely into a flour. This is to ensure that the malt is easily filtered out when it comes time to separate it from the wert.
The next step is to disinfect the pipelines connecting the tanks together by flushing them out with the hot water (170 degrees F) that’s been heating in the Hot Liquor Tank. This ensures that bacteria and other undesirables won’t end up in the beer.
Once the lines are flush, we fill the Mash Tank with about 7 gallons of water and mixed in all of the ground up malt. This forms the mash which is then maintained at a temperature between 150 and 155 degrees Fahrenheit for about one hour. When you brew your own batch, you can even taste it periodically. It tastes like warm sweet cereal. If you continue tasting it, you’ll notice that it gets sweeter and sweeter as the malts release their sugars.
As you might have noticed by now, brewing involves a good deal of down time, which means there’s plenty of time to busy work like clean, or taste beer. Which ever you prefer. Also, while the malt is in the masher, we refilled the Hot Liquor tank so that we had extra hot liquid for the sparging process.
After about an hour has passed and the mash processes has allowed the malt to release it’s sugars, it’s now time to separate the sugar filled liquid from the malt husks. That means the liquid gets pumped from the Mash Tank to the Kettle Boil. (There are all sorts of hydraulics and motors involved during this process that I won’t bore you with at the moment).
Once the majority of the liquid is in the Kettle Boil, you continue to get as much of the sugars out of the mash as possible by spargeing. This mean you gently wash the mash with more hot water from the Hot Liquor tank to get out as much of the sugars as possible. Eventually this adds up to about 12 and a half gallons in the Kettle Boil tank, which is now being heated up to a breaking boil.
And now for the fun part: Hopping it up.
First round of hops getting sprinkled into the Kettle Boil.
Once the liquid is boiling, we toss in the first hops that were Galena and Horizon so that they could boil for the full 60 minutes. These hops are boiled primarily so for their bitter characteristics. After a 30 minutes Mt. Hood was added, which we also used primarily for its bitter characteristics. For the last 15 minutes we added Fuggles for its floral characteristics and than Liberty for the very last 5 minutes for that extra floral kick.
Finally, we transfer the hot wert through a counter flow heat exchanger into a Cornelius Keg.
The ingenious part of the counter flow heat exchanger is that while the hot wert is pumped down into the Cornelius keg, cold water is pumped up from the bottom of the exchange to the top so that the wert immediately gets cooled from 200 degrees F to about 70 degrees F.
While the wert is filling the Cornelius kegs, we take the opportunity to taste our wert, which would now be used as yeast food for the next two weeks. And it tasted, well, it tasted awful. It was like a sweet but bitter tea without the complexity of alcohol or carbonation. There’s a reason why we don’t just drink the wert.
And while we were at it, we measured the original gravity, which was 1.062, a touch lower than the predicted original gravity, which was 1.068. According to our Bierkraft brothers, this means our beer might have a lower alcohol content and more of a bitter kick, but only time will tell.
Yeast from Six Point Craft Ales
Once the wert was cooled and safely in the Cornelius kegs, we pitched in about a cup of yeast, courtesy of Six Point Craft Ales. (According to our brewing buddys, they practically give their yeast away because they grow so much of it).
In the future, bitches brew plans on culturing our own yeasts for their various flavors, but for now, we’re happy to use a source from a local brewery.
Once the yeast is in the Cornelius keg and settled, we attach a blow out valve attached to a tube, which is submerged in water. This allows the gases the yeasts produce while fermenting to escape and prevents air from entering the keg.
And now we wait for about two weeks.
Check in soon for our future steps into the world of brewing.
For now though, our beer recommendation for this post is Southern Tier’s Pin & Matt’s Pale Ale. Good balance. Good body. And it makes New York breweries proud.