So here I am sulking Friday night, because the forecast is for a chilly and snowy day Saturday.  So, I decide to postpone brewing day till Sunday when it’s a bit more favourable outside, plus I’m feeling lazy and have a batch to bottle anyways.  An INDOOR activity!  So that’s what I do Saturday. For some, this will be the first post of mine you will have read (thanks for “liking” Burnstown Brewery on Facebook).  For those not interested in combing through my old posts, here’s how a brewing day typically goes.

Decide on a recipe… lately I’ve been bouncing between two of my favs. First one is a simple blonde ale that I’ve been tweaking and playing with somewhat with orange peels and coriander.  Got the idea from a German witbeer recipe I came across.  VERY tasty.  The other is an American IPA, which is very hoppy and more complex.  Sunday’s will be the blonde ale; no adjuncts, just plain goodness.

Grind yer grain! After measuring out my base malt and dark malt for a bit of colour, I use the contraption shown below to crush the barley grains.

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There’s 2 gnarled rollers that crush the grain to just the right size.  If it’s crushed too much, it’ll basically be flour, so the gap setting has to be just right.  What we’re looking for is the outer husk to be cracked open to expose the inner endosperm, which reacts with hot water.  More on that in a sec.

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A close-up of the crushed grain shows most of it to be intact; perfect for brewing!

Heat yer water. While I’m preparing my grain, a pot of water has been heating up outside.  It’s a full 8 gallons, so a propane burner is required, hence the need to brew outdoors!  Some dudes do this indoors with 240 volt elaborate systems with dedicated ventilation.  I’ll get to that when I run my own brewery…

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See that thermometer probe with the wire?  Temperature control is vitally important when making beer at this stage.  Too high or too low, and you don’t get the proper conversion of complex carbohydrates into the sugars that yeast will munch on to create carbon dioxide and – you guessed it – alcohol!  between 149 and 151 F is perfect…

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So, let’s add all that crushed grain…

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What’s in the Bag Dad?  You’ll notice the white nylon bag… the method of brewing I use is “BIAB”, or brew-in-a-bag.  It only requires one kettle.  Other methods use up to three, so being the skinflint I am, this method rather appeals to me!  Plus, it’s simpler.  There are minor adjustment to make to get the same efficiency as more elaborate set ups, but they’re minor compared to the convenience.  So, once all the grain is added, the “mash” as it’s called is left to steep for 90 minutes.  The temp needs to remain stable, so some insulation in the form of blankets, bath robes, and my winter jacket are used!

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Hang-em High!  Once 90 minutes is up, the grain is lifted out and left to hang to allow the wort (beer is fermented wort) to drain.  A little squeezing helps it along.  Doing so coaxes out about a gallon…

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I feel like Walter from “Breaking Bad” … 😉

Hot Break?  Okay, second stage: the “boil”.  This breaks down complex proteins into simple ones… not really sure of the chemistry here, but it creates what’s called a hot break.  It froths up, then subsides.  Then the clock counts down for 60 minutes.  At that point, bittering hops are added  to balance the sweetness of the malt.  At 45 minutes, I add a touch of Irish moss, which helps clarify the beer.

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Brewmeisters are hoppy people. For more complex recipes, such as the American IPA I mentioned earlier, hops are added at various times.  The later they’re introduced during the 60 minut boil, the more flavour and aroma they add, but less bittering.  Additionally, that style of beer is also “dry hopped” after fermentation is complete – which adds even more flavour.

So, once this boil is done, I leave it outside to cool off to 70 degrees, the perfect temp for adding yeast.  That’s after I’ve transferred the wort (…remember, it’s not beer yet) into a plastic fermenting bucket.

And that’s it. After 3 weeks, it gets bottled, which is when a little more sugar is added so the yeast that’s left can create a bit of carbonation.  All in all, brewing day takes a little over fifve and a half hours.  The results are far worth it, as I can fiddle with the recipes, PLUS the fact it’s dirt cheap beer that tastes better than most store bought!

So, is winter brewing that hard?  No.  The difference is the length of time it takes to chill the beer down – in summer, I use a chiller that requires running tap water from a hose, which is much faster – about 8 minutes!  Leaving the pot outside for a few hours while doing other things is no big deal.  As I’ve been told by the brewing club I belong to, “real men brew outside all winter.”  Works for me!  We’ll see what happens when it’s minus 25…

Cheers for beers!

Jim