Tips for Brewing Your Own Beer: Let's Talk Wild Yeasts & A Whole Lotta Patience

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brewing

Brewing beer is an act of patience and precision. Having gone through the process myself I realize just how many careless mistakes I could have made. That being said, I caution you to take this task seriously, and be prepared to invest some time to perfecting your craft. After all, the payoff is an exquisite elixir that can elevate not only your state of mind but your personal self worth. Fresh hops. Photo courtesy of Irene van der Meijs via ShutterstockWithout proper preparation and attention to detail, the outcome of your brew could easily be in jeopardy. Time and temperature are imperative to success; likewise the sanitation of all materials before and during the process is crucial.

According to an article in Popular Mechanics:

“The primary foes of new brewers are wild yeasts and bacteria,” says Chris Cohen, founder and president of the San Francisco Home Brewers Guild. “You can do everything else perfectly during your brew day, but if your sanitation practices are poor, you’ll likely end up with a beer that’s been fermented by something other than brewer’s yeast. The result is typically a bad beer that can be sour, over-attenuated, and can have phenolic flavors.”

Sanitizing Your Tools

Brewing is a multi-stage process, and each stage in the process is just as important as the last. You start with preparation, gathering ingredients and implements that will be utilized to craft your brew. Once you have collected all of your items you are ready to sanitize all instruments as well as the environment. There are several sanitizing solutions available, but you will have to experiment and find the one you prefer.

Some require that you rinse thoroughly after sanitation, and others do not. Most experts agree it is safer to rinse all sanitizers off your equipment prior to brewing.

In my research, I came across several different sources that all had the same general listing of supplies, and all of them have an important purpose. First off, you will need a fermenter, which is a sealed container that will not allow air and bacteria to contaminate your brew. According to most sources, glass fermenters are superior to plastic. You will need a large brew kettle, possibly two. The kettle should be large enough to hold the batch size you want to make. Most people have standard batch sizes, usually 1-5 gallons at a time.

brewing

Photo courtesy of Kirill Z via Shutterstock

Essential Equipment

The other items on the list are more standard and should be considered for the batch. You will need a stirring spoon or ladle, and tongs to handle items that are hot. You will need a strainer to filter out the mash, and a funnel for siphoning your batch into a fermenter. You will also need a thermometer to maintain a consistent temperature during brewing, and a hydrometer to measure the brew density before and after fermentation.

Bottling equipment is up to the brewer. You will need a dry, dark place to store the beer while it ferments for approximately 2-4 weeks, depending on the style of beer.

Creating The Wort

The purpose of brewing is to create viable wort.

“The wort (unfermented beer) must be boiled before fermenting to kill unwanted organisms, settle proteins that can cause bitterness, and release the flavors and bittering compounds of the hops or brewing spices,” according to Seven Bridges Coop, an organic brewery and purveyor of brewing ingredients.

You start with your mash, which is your specific mixture of grains and hops, to create the aromatic sugary wort. At this point, one should realize that the combinations for beer or malt are endless, and will take some time in order to find one that works for you. Several recipes are available online as well as premixed recipes for your consumption.

The proportions will vary with each recipe, but be extremely cautious with time, temperature, and all measurements. Similar to your recipes in baking a cake, attention to detail is vital to your success.

According to representatives from Northern Brewer Supply Company:

“Specialty grains are steeped as you would a tea bag in hot water. Add grains to your muslin bag, soaking in the heating water for about twenty minutes or until the temperature of the water reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not steep the grains in water over 170 degrees, as this will result in a bitter flavor.”

The Importance Of Time & Temperature

Painstaking as it may seem, time is critical to your success. During the brewing process, you will more than likely need to keep a running timer; something that has a distinct tone, and is easily programmable for working on the fly.

While you prepare your wort you will need to be careful to manage your temperature. The process of preparing your wort will not take more than an hour. In this stage you are steeping the mash in order to release the sugars into the warm water.

brewing

Photo courtesy of Aleksandra Pikalova via Shutterstock

In terms of temperature, 170°F is about as hot as you will need to go. There is a chemical reaction in the wort that starts to breakdown its sugars, which are critical to the fermentation stage. The brew will become sour, or bitter, and even flat if the sugars start to breakdown before the fermentation process.

Magical Fermentation

As you begin the cooking process, it is important to be mindful of the instruments you use, and where you place them. The tools and implements that you use will need to stay relatively sterile for the duration of the brewing process; otherwise you are liable to contaminate the brew. The bacteria will start to counteract the yeast and once again interrupt the fermentation stage. I cannot stress this enough. All the magic happens during fermentation. If you jeopardize this you might as well just drink the wort right out of the pot.

The yeast, which you will need before setting your brew in a fermenter, reacts with the sugar to create the alcohol in the beer. This is a critical stage in the process, remember to keep it clean. Sanitize anything and everything that will come in contact with the beer itself. This is referred to as “pitching the yeast.” Once you have siphoned your beer into a fermenter you will need to add the yeast to the batch. The yeast will interact with the sugars and produce the alcohol content of your beer. When the yeast is first introduced to the wort it is important to help activate the yeast. With warm water and a vigorous shake you will be set.

The end result is still weeks away. As you go through the process keep in mind that there is plenty of time to contemplate your next attempt. Once you have reaped the fruit of your labor the feeling of making something will be the best reward, other than the beer you have made.

Have you ever brewed your own beer? What tips do you have? Please share in the comments below.

CONTRIBUTED By Miguel Peña Peña, a schoolteacher & novice brewer — living in San Antonio, Texas.

Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.
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