My first post of 2016 was about my upcoming adventures with home brewing.  Needless to say I was excited about beginning my hands-on education in beer-making.  As it happened, I had to postpone my initial brewing day because my friend and mentor was ill.  It was disappointing to be sure, but we managed to get together last week to finally get down to business.

For my first batch, I went with a partial extract recipe, or one with a mixture of malt extract and grains.  I decided on a Porter, and picked up my ingredients from Dan’s Homebrewing and Supplies.  Although I’ve not done any other types of recipes yet, this seemed like a good way to understand what all grain brewing was like without requiring any special equipment.  We simply steeped our grains in a separate pot, and then used the ‘tea’ in our wort.  This helps to add body to the beer (something that can be lacking in extract-only beers) while also helping to make the beer taste ‘fresh’ as all-extract beers can often taste ‘stale’..

The whole process took about four and a half hours and was fairly straightforward.  We ran into no hiccups along the way, experienced no boil-overs, and were even able to cool the wort fairly easily given my small-ish sink.

There were two things that I realized that we were missing and that – in hindsight – we should’ve had to hand from the outset:  a thermometer and a hydrometer.

Homebrewing supplies

Fancy new equipment that was affordable and very important.

The thermometer is important mostly for determining that the wort is at the proper temperature to pitch the yeast.  As a result, we had to rely on an estimated temperature based on the feel of the cooling kettle.  In the past, my friend has gone by feel (not actually touching the wort of course!) and it has worked out just fine for him.  However, since boiling day I have gone and purchased a floating thermometer that I can use for future batches so I don’t have to rely on touch to determine a good pitching temperature.  That method felt too imprecise for me, and frankly I’m nervous enough about ruining a batch!  Pun intended, by the way.

Homebrewing primary fermenter

There’s beer in there!

The hydrometer is another tool that I now realize is important in the brewing process.  In the stage we did last week, we should have measured the specific gravity just before we pitched the yeast.  This measurement is compared to one made later once fermentation has slowed or appears to have stopped.  This helps determine whether it is time to bottle the beer or if fermentation should be left to continue for a while longer.  The hydrometer is also used to determine the volume of alcohol in the beer so it plays a number of important functions in the brewing process.  Since we didn’t take these measurements before we began, we won’t know for certain when we should bottle.  

Homebrewing fermenter airlock

Patience is what I’ve heard but I can’t help but fret, bubbles haven’t appeared yet.

Finally, I’m currently checking the fermenter every day, looking for bubbles to show up in the airlock that protrudes from the primary.  This airlock prevents contaminants from entering the fermenter and ruining the beer, and also helps you keep track of the progress of fermentation.  However, I’ve not noticed any bubbles coming from my airlock so I am worried that due to my lack of proper equipment I may have inadvertently ruined my first batch!  However, from what I’ve read, bubbles or lack thereof are not to be trusted.  Instead, I need to be patient and wait another week or two, at which point it should be time to start bottling where the beer can condition and carbonate for another 2-3 weeks.

I’ll admit to being nervous, but I’m trying to be patient.  It’s so cool to think that in a big white bucket in my laundry room I’m nurturing a delicious beverage that, fingers crossed, is happily fermenting away and will be ready to put into bottles in the next couple of weeks.  In the worst case scenario, it goes down the drain and I start again using my new tools!

Wish me luck.

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