Last week Sunday, after our day of beer festivities, we finally had time set aside to brew our beer! Brian and I packed up our equipment and ingredients and headed out to our parent's house. We picked their house to brew because of their second kitchen, gas stove, and the shelf space in their cool basement to put the beer to ferment.
We started with the lame part: cleaning all of the equipment. Pot, fermenting bucket (from our equipment kit), spoons, etc. We also had to sanitize all of the equipment that would be touching the beer after it was brewed; this is to prevent bacteria from contaminating the beer. Next, we filled up our pot and turned up the heat! We followed directions in the book How to Brew by John Palmer and the instructions included with the Plain American Ale kit from Midwest Supplies. Both were very similar, but had some variances; it's just different opinions on how to brew.
If you browse any homebrewing site, forum, blog, you'll hear that the best book to use is John Palmer's How to Brew. Palmer starts the book by explaining what you need to begin brewing and the basics to get your first batch of beer brewed. From there he expands on each area of the brewing process, explaining the "how"s and "why"s of brewing. Once you browse through it for the first time, you'll understand why people call it the "Brewer's Bible". What's even better is that Palmer offers the first edition of his book for FREE on his website!
Since this was our first homebrewing experience we decided to stick with a kit that just had malt extracts; no specialty malts/grains that require steeping and a longer brew time. While some think that only using malt extract to brew is taking a "shortcut", it's the best way for someone to start. Brewing with malt extract vs. partial grain vs. all-grain could be viewed like someone making spaghetti: using malt extract would constitute a person boiling some store-bought noodles and pouring a jar of Ragu over it while brewing with all-grain would constitute a person buying the tomatoes, herbs, and spices, cooking their own sauce, and making their own pasta. Both ways give you spaghetti, but one way is simpler while the other way makes it your own unique creation.
One problem we had during the brew process is that we never did get the water or the wort (as Palmer puts it, "Wort is what brewers call the sweet,
amber liquid extracted from malted barley that the yeast will later ferment into beer.") up to a full boil. From what Brian read on the Internet, this seems to be a common occurrence for homebrewers that use stovetops. This is why many use outdoor propane burners (such as this one) to get the wort up to the correct temperature. Next time we brew, Sean better be supplying his propane burner!
Once we finished brewing we cooled the wort in an ice bath and added the yeast. Cooling the wort to 80º F (and cooler) as fast as you can is important in order to minimize the risk of contamination. A side project we'll be doing is building our own "wort chiller". Wort chillers are used to speed up the cooling process. This is done by sticking the wort chiller into the wort and running cold water through the ~25' (or more) of metal piping. The heat transfers into the water and is expelled out the other end of the chiller and down the drain. Using a wort chiller can cool the wort in about 15 minutes!
Next we added the yeast to the wort, threw the wort into the fermenter, put the lid on, and brought it down to the basement. Once there, we filled the airlock up with vodka (the other two options are sanitizer solution or boiled water) and put the airlock on the lid. This is where we ran into our second problem. We learned the hard way that you want to attach the airlock to the lid BEFORE you put the lid on the bucket. When we pushed the airlock down it forced air out of the bucket and through the airlock. When the lid lifted back up slightly, it created suction which sucked some of the vodka into the bucket. Thankfully it was just vodka and not sanitizer; all the vodka is going to do is increase the ABV of the beer where sanitizer could kill some of the yeast. Either way, after a few minutes pressure built back up and the airlock started bubbling!
We left the fermenter alone for a week and came back this past Sunday with a 5 gallon glass carboy to transfer the beer into secondary fermentation. We ran into a few problems getting our siphon to start, despite my constant practicing the week before. Because of that we're either going to invest in an auto-siphon (which makes siphoning a lot easier) or perform primary fermentation of our next batch in our bottling bucket which has a spigot on the bottom (suggested here).
Next week we're going to take some gravity readings to see if fermentation has finished and then bottle our beer. Just a few more weeks until we can finally enjoy our malty creation!
TL;DR: We made beer.
List of equipment we purchased: