What’s Brewing?

In answer to the title, beer, actually. At the beginning of this month I acquired by first beer brewing kit as a gift from my fiancé Annie. We picked it up from the Wine & Hop Shop in Madison while we were visiting her sister. There are a number of places also in the Chicago area, but most are not quite as close as I’d like. In the future, I’ll likely get supplies from the Brew & Grow in Chicago, which someone else recommended to me.I started with malt extract kit for a California golden ale, prepping the ingredients per the instructions that came with the kit. It was pretty easy starting from this stage since you don’t have to do the extraction of the sugars from the grain yourself, which mean that only one boil was really necessary to get the wort ready. An aside for this portion of the prep process: get a pot that’s large enough. When they say you need a 3-gallon pot minimum, that really is the bare minimum, get a larger one. I had no troubles with boil-overs, but if I hadn’t kept a close eye on it, I’m quite sure my stove would have been covered with hot sticky wort, and would have reduced the strength or yield of the batch.Getting the temperatures right at different stages was made fairly easy by using a digital thermometer (thermistor attached to a Fluke meter). I’ll post some details about hacking the miniPOV into a digital binary-display thermometer for the fermentation phase, shortly.I did the primary fermentation in an ale pail (haha), if you do the same and therefore can’t see what’s going on inside, don’t worry if it takes a bit for air to start bubbling through the airlock.  It took a number of hours for mine to get started fermenting and then went pretty fast for a day or two (air bubbling out every several seconds).  Racking the beer into the secondary fermentation vessel, a glass carboy, was also fairly painless.  I would recommend getting an auto-siphon or racking cane to get the siphon started.  They’re very cheap, and though this stage isn’t too hard, it’ll keep your beer a bit cleaner than doing a mouth siphon.  On that subject heard from a number of people that are horrified by the prospect of mouth siphoning, and also from a number of people who guiltily admitted that they did it themselves.  I’d have to guess that the concerns there are perhaps a little overblown, but still you don’t want all the happy microbes in your mouth colonizing your beer.  You certainly don’t want any liquid you’re going to be conditioning and later bottling getting in contact with your mouth.Now on to bottling.  Use your dishwasher to sanitize the bottles.  Its damned easy.  Just put some one step or whatever sanitizer/cleaner you use in the spot for detergent (I wouldn’t use a detergent on them though), and run a cycle. Also, get a bottle filler or bottling wand and a clamp. They are cheap and make filling more more consistent and easy with less spillage.  I spilled at least a bottle or two worth of beer on the door of the dishwasher (which happens to be a great spot to bottle since when you close the door, all your spilled beer will slosh into the dishwasher and not on your floor).  Many thanks to Seth for the dishwasher recommendation.All that said, while I was paranoid along the way about whether or not I’d ruined the batch, it seems to have turned out fairly well.  It’s quite a nice golden ale, and tastes similar to what you might expect from a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  In addition to the above recommendations, I would suggest getting a kit with multiple fermentation containers.  Even if you don’t plan on doing multiple-stage fermentation it makes it much easier to mix in the extra sugar for carbonation in the bottles.  Who in their right mind wants to add a measured amount of sugar to 4-dozen bottles or deal with not sucking up sediment while bottling.The following wiki is also useful for explaining different aspects of the brewing process:  Home Brewing Wiki.

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