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Out of the Closet Home Brewer

Michael Marsh
Posted: September 18, 2007

(continued from page 1)

The wort cooling in the sink
With the sanitation complete, I was ready for the first big step: the boil. I brought 2.5 gallons of spring water to a boil in a lobster pot and added 3.3 pounds of dark malt extract, stirring it continuously until the extract dissolved. I then added 1 pound of Muntor's crushed crystal two-row dried barley malt and 1.5 ounces of Cascade hops pellets. Boiling these ingredients gives the beer its bitterness, flavor and aroma, and allows their proteins to coagulate so they can be strained off later. In brewing terms, this liquid is called the wort.

After boiling the wort for 40 minutes -- stirring it often to avoid scorching -- it was time to add the finishing hops. (The first hops addition is referred to as bittering hops.) I used 1.5 ounces of Fuggles hops pellets. While most of the alpha acids of the bittering hops are boiled off, adding finishing hops late in the boil increases the beer's hop flavor and aroma. At this point, I let the wort boil for 20 more minutes.

With the boil complete, the next step was cooling the wort before adding it to the fermenter. I wanted it 80 degrees and I wanted to do it as quickly as possible to avoid any bacteria from tainting it. To expedite things, I placed the pot in my kitchen sink and filled it with ice and water.

In the meantime, I prepared the most important ingredient: the yeast. Yeast is critical to the fermentation and what it does, in short, is metabolize the sugars that are extracted from the grains during the boil, turning them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. I used dry top-fermenting yeast, used to make ale (as opposed to bottom-fermenting yeast used to make lager) and rehydrated it in one cup of warm, pre-boiled water in a sanitized Mason jar for 15 minutes. I then proofed the yeast to make sure it was alive by adding one teaspoon of honey.

With the wort sufficiently cooled by the ice bath (I used a sanitized thermometer to make sure it was 80 degrees), I added it to the fermenter, which contained 2.5 gallons of pre-boiled spring water added prior to the boil, using a sanitized metal strainer. After letting it settle for 20 minutes, I added the yeast, sealed the fermenter and plugged it with an airlock.

Now it was time to wait and hope that all this work would result in a half way decent beer. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much, but I was feeling more comfortable in my beer apron and in my beer brewing ability.

The Waiting

There are differing opinions about how long the wort should remain in the fermenter. Some say let it rest one week before transferring it to a secondary fermenter, which is called racking. (Racking reduces sediment and allows for a more complete fermentation as it leaves the inactive yeast behind and invigorates the active yeast.) Others say two weeks. Others yet say don't transfer it at all, especially if you're a first time brewer, as the chances of infecting your beer with bacteria is high. Call me a wussy, but I chose the latter.

I let the fermenter sit for exactly three weeks in a shaded area and for the most part kept its temperature between the recommended 70 and 75 degrees. It was the beginning of June, however, so I was naturally worried that the beer might spoil. Temperatures in my apartment rose to 80 degrees on a few occasions, but only for short periods.

As the bottling day approached, one thing occurred to me. I hadn't been saving any bottles. For approximately five gallons of beer I needed 48 bottles. One person suggested going down to the local redemption center. Instead, I bought two cases and challenged myself to systematically drink them. As much as I was enjoying my new identity as a homebrewing beer geek, it was time to re-embrace the beer drinker in me.

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