Sunday, January 22, 2012

Beer! Part 3 - Racking

There is some debate as to what we're up to with this stage of the process. After a week in your primary fermenter, most of the fermentation of your brew will be done (in fact, you can drink it all now if you like, which is pretty much what beer was all about back in Viking times). Being more sophisticated and calm, however, we want to let the brew develop its full potential, and that's really what this step is all about.

The basic idea is to get your brew out of the primary fermenter and into a nice clean container. This transfer will leave behind all the gunky goo and dormant yeast that occurred during the first phase of fermentation, and will allow your concotion to age gracefully for a few weeks without the danger of decomposing goo messing-up all of your nice flavours. Fermentation will continue for sure (which is why this is sometimes called secondary fermentation), but the real goal here is to get the flavours to mingle and get to know one another. (You know how lasagne and spaghetti sauce are always better the next day? This is the same principle. Let's call it the Lasagne Principle and have it done at that.) It also allows the remainder of the yeast and other particles to settle out, clarifying your beer in the process.

On the equipment front you'll need some flexible siphon hose, an inflexible tube that I'll call a carboy cane since it looks like a candy cane (stuck in the glass carboy in the photo), a carboy, an air lock and bung to seal your carboy when it's full, and a week-old batch of beer in a primary fermenter ready to go. The measuring cup is a good idea too, since it gives you somewhere to put your air lock until you're ready to use it.

Now, getting your brew from one container to another in a sanitary way is quite a trick. In the middle ages they skipped this whole step and just drank it now, so there's no advice to be had there. Nowadays, we have to use a siphon hose to do the transfer. Siphoning should be a whole branch of physics unto itself. Charlie devotes a whole appendix to the process. There are only two things you really need to know however: 1) liquid in a hose will always move from high to low no matter how many twists and turns there are on the way, and 2) no matter how much you know about it, physical reality will confound your knowledge and drive you crazy.

Ok, with that in mind, let's get started.

The first thing you need to do is sterilise a glass carboy. As you know, I'm a 3 gallon man, so here's my 3 gallon carboy with a gallon of water/Diversol ready to kill all the nasties in sight. As with the primary fermenter, I just swish this around now and then, wait for unspecified periods of time, and then rinse.

Key to the whole rinsing proceedure is this nifty piece of brass hardware. It's a little thingy (official term) that you screw on to your faucet (I had to look that up -- I thought it had a "w" but it's because of Charlie's Angels -- different Charlie -- and that poster -- may she rest in peace). If you have some kind of modern faucet in your basement, you're screwed and should change it as soon as possible.

Anyway, this thing lets you shoot water stright up into the air (or your bottle or carboy) when you push down the attached lever. It's brilliant, and it's indispensable! Once your carboy is sterile, rinse it with your brass doohickey several times to get all the chemicals out of there.

You also need to sterilise your air lock and bung. I sterilise a measuring cup at the same time, rinse it, then put the sterilised and rinsed air lock and bung in there so they are ready to go when I need them.

The air lock is a twisty tube with two water chambers in it. It keeps air from flowing into your carboy, but it allows CO2 to escape as the pressure builds up. It's brilliant! Just fill it so the water in the two chambers is at or below the "max" line, and you're all set.

Then, do your mise-en-place. Followers of this blog should have a good idea what mise-en-place is all about. It's a French term that essentially means "get all your shit together before you start anything." In this case it means getting your primary fermenter up on a table, having your sterile carboy ready on the floor nearby, having your air lock sterile and ready, having an extra bucket on hand, and having a wee glass available to sample your brew. This picture has some extraneous stuff associated with bottling (because I was doing a Grand Slam of brewing, racking, and bottling all in one day so I could post it here), but it gives you a general idea of how prepped you need to be -- don't freak-out, I'm sure you can overcome any oversight, however the more prepared you are the better, but in the end, remember "Relax...!"

Once your place is all mised, you have to sterilise and charge your siphon hose. I can't provide a whole lot of advice here, since it's basically a nightmare. My approach is to bottle one batch and rack another on the same day, which makes the whole sterilising-of-the-hose thing easier (see the next post). However, now and then I don't have a bottling operation on the go. On those days, my technique is to fill a big steel bowl with sterilising solution, soak the flexible end of the hose in the bowl while washing down the carboy cane on the outside. Once the outside of the hose and cane are clean, I rinse them.

Then, I charge the hose with water -- this invloves filling the hose with water. To do this, I make a couple of loops in the flexible end so I can hold it in one hand. Then I put the cane end over a bucket, and put the opening of the flexible end under a running tap. If you're lucky, water will start flowing through the tubes and into your bucket. If you're unlucky (50% of the time in my experience) you have a bubble somewhere and have to drain your tubes and try again. Anyway, once your tubes are charged, you are the King of Suction and can do anything you want! What you want to do now is put your thumb over the flexible end to seal the water charge in your tubes, then put the cane end of your carboy cane in the steriliser solution and the flexible end near your bucket on the floor. Then you take your thumb off the flexible end and your steriliser solution should flow through your tubes. Seal the flexible end once the tube is full of steriliser and just chill for a few minutes to make sure the inside of the tubes is sterile. Rinse the cane end that was in the steel bowl, then start running clean water through the tubes by putting the cane end over your bucket and the flexible end under the running faucet. See how long this takes to explain in words?! No wonder Charlie has a whole Appendix on it!! Anyway, after a few rinses your tubes should be clean. Charge them again with cold water and plug the flexible end with you thumb. Use Kung-Fu grip, because you don't want to have to re-charge. Trust me.

Head over to your mise-en-place place with your Kung-Fu grip and charged siphon tubes and get ready to rumble!

Open your primary fermenter. Eeew!

Put the cane end of your siphon in there ...

...(Kung-Fu grip still in tact).

Then get the flexible end over a bucket on the floor and let your thumb go! The water in the tubes should start pulling the beer down through it.

Once the water is out and you're running pure beer, plug the end with your thumb again, head over to your little glass, and pour out a wee sample of your batch!

Then stop the flow with your thumb again, move the flexible end into your carboy, and let 'er rip! Keep the end close to the bottom of the carboy to avoid too much splashing.

It's a good idea to tilt the primary fermenter a little so you get as much brew as possible into your carboy.

Once your brilliant elixer is moved over, stop the flow in the tubes (that little white clamp helps at this point). Remove the siphon from the carboy, and add your air lock. You should see an instant reaction in the air lock -- the yeast is still active and will start pushing air through the twisty curves right away.

This can now bubble away for a few weeks or months. It's good to keep the carboy out of the light, so I plunk it into the box it came in. I usually decide to bottle once it is clear that nothing is going through the air lock anymore. SOME people use a hygrometer to make this decision, but that's not my speed. I just wait and wing it.

Anyway, you did it! Rinse your primary fermenter and hoses to get all the gunk out of them, and treat yourself to a beer! You totally earned it!!

Next step: bottling!

BEER! Part 2 - The Wort

Wort is the sugary tea that gets fermented into beer, and cooking-up a batch is the first step in the brewing process.

Before you do anything, however, open a beer (ideally a homebrew -- yes, I made that!). This is a crucial first step. Beer can sense fear, and will go all wonky if you stress it out, so relax, play some tunes, and get into the brew-zone. (Plus, you're going to need the empties!) As Charlie says throughout his homebrewing bible "Relax! Don't worry! Have a homebrew!"

If you are embarking on this quest before it is acceptable to have a beer in your household, please keep the following poster in mind. Loosely translated, it says no beer will be served before 4 o'clock. Put one of these over your kitchen clock an you're in business! (My kids sent me this postcard while they were visiting family in Germany -- aren't they great kids?!)

Ok, now you need a recipe. As noted before, Charlie's book is pretty much all you will ever need. He has a chart in there listing 36 different styles that run the gamut from pale ales to lagers, marzens to weissbiers, pilsners to stouts, porters to lambics, bocks to bitters, ... you get the picture. And, there is a sample recipe for each one! Unless you go uber-brewer, you'll never need anything else to stay happy in this hobby for a very long time.

Most of Charlie's recipes are for 5 gallon batches. I prefer to brew 3 gallons at a time, so I have a handy little notebook where I keep detailed and tidy notes on the conversion of Charlie's measures to the amounts I need in my smaller batches. All you have to do is multiply eveything by 3/5, and remember that there are 28 grams in an ounce (rounding up to 30 makes the math easier if your doing it in your head), 16 ounces in a pound, 2.2 pounds in a kilogram, 454 grams in a pound, and 250 mililitres in a cup. These will help you swap measurement systems to make conversions easier. For example, most of his recipes say you need 1 oz. of hops at some point -- 3/5 of an ounce is impossible to measure, but if you convert it to 17 grams, you're in business! (As you can probably guess, you need a scale.)

The ingredients for a basic batch of beer are malt extracts (the picture shows both syrup and dried), grains (these add extra flavour, so I recommend you do a batch that calls for grains), hops (I use pelletized hops -- they're just regular hops that have been run through a hammer mill to make little pellets. Pelletized hops are easier to store and handle and retain their freshness for longer than fresh hops), and yeast. Be sure to buy two packs of yeast so you have a back-up if the first package should poop-out for some reason (it happened to me once in the last 13 batches, so it is not common, but you don't want to be tempted to throw bread yeast in there to save your batch!) On the equipment front, you need a stock pot, a spoon, and a fine mesh metal strainer.

You'll also need a 5 gallon bucket in which to do the first round of fermentation. A typical beer kit will have one of these buckets, a lid, a glass carboy, an air-lock, and various siphon hoses and other doohickeys that you may or may not need. The essential bits are the bucket, lid, carboy, airlock, and siphon hose.

Step 2 (step one was opening your beer) is to get your primary fermenter ready. Charlie's book (at least the version I have) advocates a single stage fermentation directly in a carboy. This is the (ok, one of the) only thing in the book I don't follow. To do single stage fermentation, you need to attach a blow-off hose to your carboy and cross your fingers that the whole thing doesn't get clogged and blow up all over the place. Personally, this sounds like a recipe for disaster, so I much prefer two stage fermentation where you let the brew go nuts in the less constricted environment of a bucket, then transfer it to a carboy later to mellow out and finish the process. Your call.

ANYWAY, to go two-stage you need to get your fermenter ready by sterilising it. I use Diversol, which is a pink powder that you mix with water (1 teaspoon per litre). I pour three litres of water into my bucket (it's handy to have a 1 litre measuring cup for all this), and add a tablespoon of Diversol (I chose this amount because I only have a tablespoon in the laundry room). I carefully swirl the mix around the bucket so it touches every surface, let it bucket sit around for a bit, and then swirl again.

At the same time, I pour a little out onto the lid, and let that sit there for a while too. (How long? No idea. There is no time on any of the instructions I have. I usually give each step a couple of minutes.) Sanitation is crucial to the process if you want a quality brew. There are freaky bacteria and yeast floating around all over the place, some of which will mess-up your beer if they get in there. You don't have to be insane about it, but take your time and do your sanitation properly. As Charlie says with almost annoying frequency, "Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew!"

Once I think my lid and bucket are sterile, I rinse them them. The lid is easy, but the bucket is a little trickier. I tilt the thing to the side and turn it so that tap water can run down the walls (you are going to use a lot of water) while I rotate the bucket. Once the walls are rinsed, I dump out the water and rinse it again. After 3 or 4 rinses all the chemicals should be gone.

Then I fill up the bucket with cold water. Your wort will be about 5 litres or so depending on the size of your stock pot, so try and fill your bucket so that it will reach the total volume of your recipe once the wort is poured in there (i.e. fill it to 3 gallons minus 5 litres -- I love being a mixed-unit Canadian -- if you're brewing a 3 gallon batch and have a 5 litre kettle). It's handy to get a Sharpie and mark all these volumes on the outside of your bucket to make life easier.

Get the bucket in the kitchen. (Holy crap! All we've done is fill the bucket with water, and we're already at 50 pages!)

Ok, the next thing to do is get your grains ready. This is what malted barley looks like before the mashing process. The malted seeds are toasted to varying levels to add nice flavours and colours to your brew. Weigh out your grains according to the recipe (or your custom calculations). Then get ready to crush them.

If you recall in the previous post, I said that a seed is like an egg. If you want to get the good stuff out, you have to crack the shell. I used to do this with a rolling pin on a cutting board, but that is SUPER messy and annoying. A mortar and pestle does a great job! Use a grain mill if you have one. Just don't grind them up too fine -- you don't want to create a pile of powder, you just want to crack the seed coats so some water can get it there.

Now get ready to BREW!!!

Fill your chosen kettle with water, leaving several inches of space (the malts will boost the volume, and you DO NOT want to try and get water out of the kettle later, whereas it is very easy to add more if you don't have enough).

Put the cold water on the stove and dump your crushed grains in there.

Crank the heat to high and wait until it starts to boil. This process slowly heats the grains and extracts the colour and flavour without boiling the seeds. Boiling would be bad because the extended high heat would start to extract other nasties from the seed coats like tannins that would make your brew astringent. A gentle and gradual increase in heat is what you want here.

Once the water is at the point of boiling, TURN OFF THE HEAT. This is key (and I haven't seen anyone else say this). Why? Because a) you have to get all those seeds out of there, and working over a bubbling cauldron is no fun (unless you happen to be in Macbeth), and b) you're going to put your malts in there soon and you definitely do not want to be dealing with high heat then.

Use your fine mesh metal strainer to scoop out the seeds. Dump them in a big bowl, and save the bowl because there will be more gunk to scoop-out later. When you think you've got them all out, stir the pot until you get a whirlpool and scoop again -- you should get a bunch more. Try and get them all out so you don't end up with the tannin problem discussed above (but of course, "Relax. Don't worry..." you know).

Now it's malt time! If  you use a syrup, pour that in. Having the heat off at this point is crucial, because the syrup will sink straight to the bottom of your pot. If the heat is on, there is every chance the thick goo will stick down there and start burning. This will RUIN your brew, so having the heat off right now is a good idea. (Personally, I think it's a GENIUS idea.) It's also a good idea to stir while you're doing this to get the syrup dissolved and distributed in the wort.

If you use dried extracts, just pour them in. They will gradually sink and dissolve, but again no heat and a good stir are good ideas here. (As you can see, I pour from a bowl. Don't try and pour dry malt directly from the bag -- it will get all gummed up, will fall out in big, splashy clumps, and will generally make you miserable.)

Now. Focus. This is the danger zone. (But "Relax..."). For the next hour, you'll be boiling a pot full of hot sugar. There are a bunch of proteins and other good things in the pot that have a tendancy to seal the surface. If this happens, you're in for a BOIL OVER, which is the messiest, biggest bummer associated with brewing. So avoid it! (Remember this now!) A boil over happens when the steam bubbles can't break the surface, so instead they LIFT the surface and pull up all the underlying liquid at the same time. And by up, I mean up and right out of the pot and all over your stove, floor, and hot element. So it's up to you to watch the pot, stir it now an then, lift it off the burner if the foam starts to rise, and modulate the heat to maintain a gentle, open boil. If, for some reason, you have to leave the kitchen, get the pot off the heat and give it a stir, and get back in there as soon as you can. I find liquid malt extracts are less likely to boil over, but it's always a risk so be prepared!

Once the malt is dissolved you can get the heat back on and add your bittering hops. There are three basic times to add hops to your wort. The first hops go in right at the start and they make the beer bitter (all of the flavour and aroma from the hops will boil off over the course of an hour). Flavour hops go in around mid-boil, since those compounds are more volatile than the bitter elements, but not so volatile as the aromatic compounds. Aroma hops go in during the last two minutes of the boil, after which the wort is immediately dumped into the cold water in your fermenter (aren't you glad it's sitting there ready to go?) to keep the aromas from boiling away.

All this to say, you should measure-out each of your hops additions so they are ready to go at the appointed time (the stove timer is a great thing to use, by the way).

Once your hour of fun in the kitchen is almost up, it's time to strain the wort again. The gunky organic residue from the hops will decompose in your brew, so you have to filter them out as well as you can. You will be pouring your wort through a seive into the fermenter, but it will clog up if you hit it with the whole mass of hops at once, so it's a good idea to get most of them out of there now. Note that you should do this BEFORE you add the aroma hops, since there will be no time to spare once those go in (let them get removed while you pour into the fermenter).

As with the grains, just stir and scoop and repeat until you have most of the gunk removed. Your seive will clog up, but if you jiggle it and tilt it, you should be able to drain it ok. Whack it upside down on your grain bowl, and go back for more until you are bored and figure you've removed most of the gunk.

Once you're done with removing the hops residues, leave the seive in the pot so it can sterilise. You have to pour your beer through it on the way to the fermenter, so you want it as pristine (bacterially speaking) as possible.

Then set your timer for two minutes and add the aroma hops (if your recipe calls for them) and get ready to SPARGE!!

Sparging is the process of pouring your wort through a seive to remove all the organic debris that your don't want in your fermenter. We've already done much of the sparging by removing the grains, the flavour hops, and the bitterness hops. This last bit of sparging will remove the aroma hops and any of the other stuff you missed the first times around.

Get your seive out of the pot and balance it on your fermenting bucket.

Use your leg to hold it in place if you don't have a helper. Pour the hot wort through the seive and into your fermenter. You WILL make a mess, no matter how hard you try not to. Oven mitts are handy here, so is a steady hand and a gentle pour.

Once you've sparged, get the seive out of there, pop the lid on (don't snap it down, just cover the bucket), and take the brew to wherever you plan to let it rest for the next week. Some sources recommend stirring at this point, but I don't bother and just let the wort mingle with the water for the next 6 hours while I wait for it to cool down enough for the yeast.

(Now, some people will extract some of the liquid and measure the specific gravity at this point so they can get an idea of the potential alcohol content of their final beer. I find the whole specific gravity thing a big pain in the butt and so I avoid it entirely -- I have only done it with one batch of beer, and then only patially. It is useful if you're in a big hurry and want to bottle as soon as possible, but I usually let my batches mellow out for several weeks and so have never found this whole thing all that necessary. Your call.)

Once the wort has cooled (you could sterilise a thermometer and keep checking, but I find that a pain so I just wait for 6 hours or so) you pitch the yeast! All you do is open the yeast packet, open your fermenter, and sprinkle the yeast on the surface of the brew. Cover the fermenter again (again, don't snap the lid on -- the CO2 needs to get out of there) and let it rest for a week.

It's a good idea to check in the morning to ensure your yeast has taken. The brew should be all bubbly and foamy by the next day. If it isn't, pitch another package of yeast (aren't you glad you got two?). Check again the next day, and if it still isn't bubbly, change brew supply stores. Once you know the yeast is working, leave it alone for a week -- resist the urge to peek, since every time you open the fermenter, you're giving nasty bacteria and wild yeasts the chance to get in there and run wild with your creation!

Next up, secondary fermentation! (Having fun? I am!)