Brewing beer is something I've been interested in since I started brewing kombucha but it was further compounded when my housemate brewed some Red Ale in the same way we'll get on to. To know something at least comparable to the minimum-viable commercial beers was possible.
I decided that, since it was summer I would set out to make an IPA.
The only real essential piece of equipment is a large bucket, ideally something that is plastic or metal but most importantly can be sealed air tight. I bought the kit off of the Wilkinson's website, a bucket, hydrometer, the kit itself. And a few other things from amazon & ebay (siphon hose, sanitiser).
The hydrometer is a non-essential but still important bit of kit which is essentially a calibrated float that measures the density of a liquid. It assumes a temperature and you can place the device in an amount of liquid, the point at which it floats at determines the level of sugar in the brew. Importantly it doesn't measure the amount of alcohol.
Sugar in beer comes from the initial additions of malt (or rarely, sugar). In this case the kit I bought was a Liquid Malt Extract kit. The contents of which were a pack of yeast, a pack of hops, and a can of LME. The lid to the kit was on tight and I had to use a knife to cut it off which punctured the hops packet but I vacuum sealed the pack and refrigerated it.
To augment the LME, crystallised malt extract is added ('spraymalt'). The one I used had hop extract in it also since I am making an IPA which is hop-heavy. I used 'light spraymalt, hopped'
The enemy of beer is bacteria (mostly) so sanitising everything well is important, there are plenty of options for no rinse sanitisers and they work best because they're not poisonous if you don't rinse them out...
The process I have written in my notebook for this beer goes like
- Soften can of LME in hot water for around 10 mins
- Sanitise all equipment that would come into contact with the beer. inc the outside of packages, scissors etc.
- Boil 3.5 litres of water
- Pour the softened can of LME into the fermenter bucket
- Then add water & 1kg spraymalt
- Stir to dissolve all LME and CME
- Top to the 23 litre line on the bucket
- Take opening gravity (Mine was 1.040°)
- Sprinkle yeast packet on top
This is the most labour intense part (apart from bottling maybe) finished. All you do after this is seal the bucket and leave it somewhere it wont be disturbed and at a temperature range the yeast says it works at (mine at 18-23C) I wrapped the fermenter in blankets and let it sit for 4 days.
After 4 days I added my hop pellets and checked the gravity again it read 1.014°, the yeast I was using is a low-attenuation yeast so the attenuation was already 64%. This is a measure of the total sugars converted. This can be used to judge if a beer is ready to bottle. I left the beer again for a few days and checked the gravity and it had not dropped which told me the remaining sugars were un-fermentable.
This attenuation seemed low but not so slow that it felt wrong to bottle so I decided to get around 35 glass bottles, dishwash, sanitise, and start bottling the beer.
Bottling takes the longest, labour wise. It wasn't so fun. Each bottle had to be filled slowly by siphon which took ages, then each bottle had about 1/2 a tsp of glucose sugar added and a cap put on w/ a bottle capper. The sugar has to be glucose (or dextrose, same thing) and not table sugar (sucrose) because it ferments cleanly. This adds carbonation to the beer, otherwise the beer tastes a bit off.
Next comes the actual hardest part. Bottle conditioning. You leave the bottles for 2 weeks at a minimum, in a cold dark place preferably. This allows the beer carbonate and also develop flavour, fermenting out the sweetness from the sugar you added.
I bottled some beer in smaller 330ml bottles to sample. After around five days the beer was somewhat unpleasantly sweet and a little flat, otherwise was drinkable but some overpowering bitterness. After 10 days the beer was pleasant with the bitterness from before gone and a stronger carbonation. It had taken on a fruity character but had not got much staying power on the palate perhaps due to the weaker hops or maybe because the alcohol content was low (~4%).
Ideally next I would like to try mashing with real grain, using the boil in the bag method to make a beer with grain blends would increase the quality of the beer. Also experimenting with different hop pellets, such as the popular citra hops.