A rather timely addition to the blog too, considering the recent announcement of the winner of the Homebrew Challenge was announced a few days ago, in the guise of Graham Nelson's Vienna IPA. This is going to be realised through full production by Thornbridge and be in Waitrose by October apparently. Full details are here: [http://siba.co.uk/2014/08/the-great-british-home-brew-challenge-2014-winner-is-announced/]. I will be looking to get my hands on this promptly!
Back to business... full contact details are given at the bottom of the article, but feel free to fire over any questions on the comments section below.
Without further ado, I’ll let Paul’s words take the front….
In my last post I talked about winemaking, and finished with the line that the next blog would be about beer making and why you shouldn’t do it. That needs some explaining really. The wine that I described making isn’t really wine, not in the traditional sense. It was a fruit based drink with the same alcohol content as wine. I realise it sounds like I’m splitting hairs but the reason why I make this distinction will become apparent shortly. Nevertheless, as far as the UK goes, I described wine making and it is pretty easy. If you can make soup you can make wine, and that’s the rub – beer making is different. It is complicated, requires some specialised equipment, and takes a large proportion of a day to do. Of course, if you were to make wine the proper way, from grapes and using natural yeasts, it is just as complicated and time consuming. You don’t however, and hence some beer makers look down on wine as being easier and therefore inferior.
Firstly let’s go through the steps that are required to make a beer from its component parts, known as “all grain” brewing. This procedure is common whether you are in a shed or producing thousands of gallons a year, as anyone who has done a brewery tour will recognise. There is a fair amount of jargon involved but I’ll try to keep things simple.
1) Mashing; this is where you take the malted barley for your beer and soak it in water (liquor) at around 70°C for a period of time, usually 1 ½ hours.
2) Sparging; after drawing off the water that you’ve soaked the grain in, rinse the grain with more water
3) Boiling; take the mashing and sparging water (now called wort) and boil for 1 ½ hours. Add hops at beginning and end of boil depending on recipe
4) At end of boil cool the wort to room temperature, either with some kind of heat exchanger or by leaving overnight, transfer to a fermentation vessel and add (pitch) yeast
5) Leave until fermentation is complete then transfer to either barrel or bottles
There are a few parts I’ve missed out but these are the basics. In total steps 1 – 4 take around 6 hours (plus overnight if needed), fermentation is 5 – 10 days and conditioning before drinking can be 1 week to 1 month depending on if you use a barrel or bottles. There are variations and shortcuts that can be taken but these are reasonable ballpark figures.
Each step needs its own equipment (see the picture at the top of the article for a typical set up), which you can buy or make yourself. There is a strong tradition in the latter but everything you need can be bought ready-made if you have the cash. You’ll need as a minimum a water boiler, mashing vessel or “tun” and a fermenter. This will mean that you’ll have to juggle things around a bit between making the hot water for mashing & sparging and boiling the wort, but it can be done. Things get easier with 2 boilers, but more expensive. A favourite of homebrewers is to take a 40 litre picnic cooler and add both a kettle element and ball-valve tap, but it still costs.
There are however alternatives. The “brew in a bag” or BIAB system, is a relatively new innovation developed in Australia that cuts out a lot of the equipment. In brief you heat your water to mashing temperature in a boiler then cut the heat, line the boiler with a fine mesh bag and add the grain. Once the time is up just hook the bag out and go to the boiling step. If you want things simpler you can also cut out the grain altogether and just use “malt extract” as either a powder or a syrup, and again start at the boiling step. Finally there are beer kits where it is all done for you, and the time taken from start to fermentation is half an hour and all you really need is a fermentation bucket and some method of storing the beer once made.
So why do it the long way?
Well, if you get it right it can be the best beer you’ve ever tasted. It will certainly be the cheapest in terms of ingredient cost, and it will be the quickest despite the length of your brew day. All-grain ferments faster and is ready to drink about a week afterwards if barrelled, while kit beer usually needs a month and has a reputation for a slight after-taste even then. Also there is the satisfaction of having made your own beer from the bare ingredients, surely on a par with hunting and gathering!
Places you can buy the things you need:
- The Art of Brewing (http://www.art-of-brewing.co.uk/); excellent general supplier with free shipping on orders over £49.
- The Malt Miller (http://www.themaltmiller.co.uk/); formerly exactly as the name suggests but now expanded into a full range of products. I’ve met the owner Rob is he’s an absolutely top bloke, happy to help and give advice.
- Wilkinsons (http://www.wilko.com/); basic equipment and kits, either on the high street, depending on the store, or online. Good prices.
- The Home Brew Shop (http://www.the-home-brew-shop.co.uk/index.html); similar range to Art of Brewing and Malt Miller, they also run half day courses in how to do AG brewing at a reasonable price but you have to get to Aldershot for it.
Sources of information:
- Jim’s Beer Kit; fantastic resource and great forum http://www.jimsbeerkit.co.uk/index.htm
- How to make your own brewery: http://www.instructables.com/id/Build-Your-Own-Brewery-for-Under-100-STEP-1-/
Thanks for reading!