Educating Students in the 21st Century
Adventures in Homebrewing Part 2
This post is part 2 of our recent homebrewing adventures. You can view part 1 here.|
Now that we finally had everything together to brew our Belgian tripel, we took in the instructions that came with our recipe kit. Sadly, they weren't written that well for beginners like us and it took several times through to begin making sense of them. With all of those re-reads, we still made one significant mistake that I will get to later.
The first step of the process was fairly simple. We put two and a half gallons of water in our new pot and put it on the stove. The instructions really focused on temperature in different phases so we clipped our digital thermometer on the side. This was hugely helpful as it allowed us to easily monitor the temperature throughout the entire process. While the water's temperature was rising toward 170 degrees, we took the small amount of dry grains that our kit came with and put them in the provided cloth pouch as instructed. These dry grains were to be steeped in the water as the temperature rose from 170 degrees to boiling. We clipped the pouch to the side to achieve this.
Once it came to a boil, we removed the pouch and set it in a bowl to the side. It was at this point that most of the other ingredients were to be added to the mix. We poured in the malt extract, candi sugar, and both little bags of hop pellets while stirring. The hops smelled amazing as we opened them up. This was definitely one of the highlights of the entire process. As they were poured in Heather asked me, "Are you sure both are supposed to go in at this point?" I sure was! I read the instructions like twelve times!
After adding all those ingredients the wort was supposed to be left on a steady boil for an hour. We had some time to kill, so what did I do? Read the instructions again of course. Oh no! Under the instruction to add all of the ingredients and boil for an hour were two bullet points I didn't process before. One bag of hops was supposed to be added at the beginning of the boil. The other was supposed to be added when only five minutes were left in the hour. Why were the instructions worded so poorly? I was very frustrated. It was particularly annoying that they didn't explain why these were supposed to be added at separate times.
Afterward, with the help of my sister Kelly, we discovered that there are actually three different times you can add hops to a wort boil. When added in the beginning they are used for bittering. When added at or around the 50 minute point they are used for flavor. When added at the very end of the boil they are used for aroma. So apparently our beer won't have much hop flavor or aroma, but I guess that's OK. It isn't really that important to the style is it? I'm fairly certain if the kit instructions would have explained why they were to be added at different times it would have jumped out at me more when I read them.
Once the boil was complete, the next step was to rapidly cool the wort. The instructions suggested using an ice bath but we opted to use the snow filled, 20 degree freezer known as our back deck. Our thermometer was pretty handy at this point as we were able to use the magnets on the back of the reader to stick it right to the lid, making it perfectly readable from inside.
The cooling process took a long time. It wasn't sufficiently cool until about an hour later, and that included a few trips out to move it to an unmelted area of snow. I'm not sure if that constitutes rapid but we did the best we could. We may invest in a fancy wort chiller if we brew again, especially if it's in the summer. It's a coiled piece of copper tubing that is dunked right into the wort. Cold water is then circulated through it to cool everything down.
While the wort was chilling we mixed the sterilization solution in our sink and used it to clean the equipment that would be used next, specifically our fermentation bucket, its lid, our air lock, and our hydrometer.
When the wort was finally cold enough, we carried it back into the house and poured it into the fermentation bucket. The next step was to add additional water to the bucket until the total volume reached five gallons. This was easy thanks to some handy markings on the side of the bucket. We used a flashlight to make them easily show through to the inside.
Using the hydrometer to take our initial gravity measurement was a bit stressful. Most instructions say to get a sample of your wort in a tall, clear, glass container. We didn't have one that would be suitable so we opted to do it right inside the bucket. This still gave us a pretty good reading once we got it in a place where there wasn't any froth. The reading we received was 1.065. The wort at this point was 78 degrees so the reading needs to be adjusted for that. Based on the little pamphlet that came with our kit, this meant that our beer had a potential ABV of 9.1%.
The last step before sealing our bucket away for fermentation was to add our yeast. Now the yeast pack we got was pretty cool. It's known as a Wyeast Smack Pack. Inside the sealed package you can feel an inner pouch. You push that pouch to the corner of the package and give it a good smack between your hands. This breaks the inner pouch while keeping the outer pouch sealed. I did this early in the morning on the day we were going to brew. With the package inside released, if the yeast is healthy it will then begin to activate. This causes the entire pouch to balloon up. It's a cool feature that puts your mind at ease because you know the yeast going into the beer is good. As it was seemingly ready to burst, we cut the corner off and poured it in.
In a momentous moment we sealed the lid on top of the bucket, added water to our air lock, and I firmly pushed it into the sealed hole in the lid. I pushed it so hard that the rubber grommet around the hole pushed through and plunked into the wort inside. UGH!
As I pried the lid off I was repeating, "please say it floats, please say it floats." Sadly, it did not float. Now, the wort is dark enough that there was no way we would ever see it down there. As I was freaking out, Heather used some quick thinking and sterilized our long grilling spatula. I then put this down in the wort, slid it along the bottom and up the side of the bucket, and amazingly that little grommet was sitting on it. Crisis averted!
We put everything back together and carried the bucket over to the corner of our kitchen. There it would sit for one to two weeks as primary fermentation occurred. After that, the beer would need to be transferred to our glass carboy for secondary fermentation. You can view part 3 of our homebrewing adventures here.