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Wort to your mama

I started brewing my next batch of beer today, because I really don’t have much of anything better to do.  It’s snowing steadily outside, I’ve burned myself out on organizing shit in my basement, and most of my upcoming sewing projects are just too complicated to get into now.  I needed a project that would take up the better part of the day and be a constructive use of my time.  Beer it is!

I’m doing a Russian Imperial Stout this time around.  Harsh will be gratified to hear about this, as he’s been intrigued ever since I mentioned wanting to brew an Imperial some two-and-a-half years ago.  I swear every time I mention brewing, he asks if I’ve gotten on that Imperial yet.  So now I can tell him, yeah,  I have.

At the time of writing this parargaph, the grain bag is steeping.  I do partial-mash style.  Much more customizeable than all-extract, much more user-friendly than all-grain, and probably the style of brewing I will do indefinitely.  All-grain would entail way fucking more work than it’s worth to me.  And too much equipment and bother.  Probably most homebrewers go with the partial mash technique because it’s the best bang for the buck, especially for somebody into it in a fairly casual way.  Basically, if you can follow a recipe, you can brew beer in this fashion, and it requires a minimum of specialized equipment.

Anyhow, I keep getting up, scrubbing my hands and agitating the grain bag, because I love the smell of this particular mixture of grains and want the kind of roasted nut and earthy flavor to be pretty prominent in the final brew.  I reckon the more of whatever it is in the grain that makes it smell (and presumably taste) that way gets infused into the water, the more likely the beer will basically taste that way when it’s done.  For anyone who cares, the grain mix is (3/4lb chocolate malt, 1lb crystal 90L, 10 oz black-roasted barley, 1/2lb victory malt, 1/2lb black patent, and 2 1/2lb 2-row)  We’re talking about basically 5lb of grains, which makes for one fat grain bag.  I think next time I will actually divide it up into two bags, so as to be a little more manageable. 

One time at Friz, I was explaining the steps of brewing beer to one of the guys, and described the grain bag as being like “a gigantic tea-bag” and all sorts of disgusting “teabagging” jokes ensued.  I can only imagine what the guys would say if they saw me agitating the grain bag just now.

Okay, I jut got back from removing the grain bag actually.  It’s in a colandar over the stock pot draining out for the moment.

Next up is going to be adding the malt extract (11lb Amber) and letting that and 3oz of Cluster hops cook at a rolling boil for an hour.  Well, after 45 minutes I have to add .5 oz of Centennial hops, then in another 10 minutes I’ll add an ounce of Mt. Hood hops and a capsule of yeast fuel.

Next comes one of the real pain-in-the-ass stages of brewing, cooling the wort.  Oh yeah, “wort” is the official and technical name of all that stuff-in-water that I will have been cooking up for about the last two hours.  What I’ll do is fill my kitchen sink with cold water and ice packs and stir the wort (which apparently you’re supposed to pronounce something like “wurt”).  It’s got to go from about 160F to 80F, ideally within 15-20 minutes, though in my experience, it NEVER goes that fast.  More like 1/2 hour, but whatever.  Nobody’s ever drank my beer and gone, “dang, that’s nasty as all hell, what did you do, slowly cool the wort?”

After it’s cooled to 80F, I’ll pour it into the primary fermenter, which is a fancy term for “bucket-with-a-snap-on-lid-modified-with-an-air-lock.”  At this point, I will also add cold water to the wort until the bucket contains 5.25 gallons of liquid. 

Theoretically, it is also at this point where I would check the specific gravity with a hydrometer.  Much like cooling the wort in under 20 minutes, this is another step which I have NEVER successfully completed.  The wort tends to be a bit foamy, so much so that you can’t really site along the level of the hydrometer floating in the liquid, because the line is obscured by wort-foam.  I’ve tried taking a test tube of the wort, which is basically more bother than it’s worth to me.  I follow the recipe, and the recipe says what the OSG (original specific gravity) should be.  I choose to believe the recipe.  One is meant to take another reading after fermenting is complete, but since I am never able to get a meaningful reading at the beginning of the brew, that second reading doesn’t do anybody much good. 

I choose to consider a brew ready to transfer to  the “secondary fermenter” (read “great-big-water-jug” after about a week and a half, give or take.   Dry hopping (putting in hops that aren’t getting cooked down) happens now, too.  In this case, another half ounce of Mt. Hood. I give heavier brews, like the one I am doing now a little longertime in both the primary and secondary fermenters.  Usually, the super-active fermentation period is only three or four days. 

I usually let my brew sit in the secondary fermenter and clarify for another week-and-a-half to two weeks.  It’s not as crucial to do something with it at this stage.  If you let it sit in the primary fermenter with a load of dormant yeast for too long, it will end up tasting kind of yeasty and probably weird.  Most of the yeast will have been left behind in the primary fermenter if you did things right.  At the point when you’re ready to bottle, you would take that second hydrometer reading.

Before I bottle beer, I siphon it back into the original (well-scrubbed and sanitized) bucket.  Before I transfer the beer from the carboy to the bucket, I get the priming sugar ready (usually you pour a packet of it into about a pint of hot water) and pour that into the bottom of the bucket.  The priming sugar is used by whatever is left of the yeast in the wort to carbonate the beer after it is bottled.

Bottling beer is another real pain-in-the-ass activity.  It involves a siphon apparatus that may or may not co-operate with you, a bottle-capping gizmo that may or may not co-operate with you, and an awful lot of damp stickiness.  It WILL trash your kitchen.  I’m not going to go real deeply into the annoyance of prepping bottles, or indeed the levels of obsessive compulsive cleaning and sanitizing that go into successful beer brewing, but I will state, on the record, that you have to be kind of crazy to do any of this, and real crazy to wholeheartedly enjoy it.

Brewing is actually one of those activities that is mostly a pain in the ass while you are doing it, but just rewarding enough that you do it again.

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