Brewing alcohol is not hard, you have probably done it by mistake in the past with some left over food. That is not to say the process happening is not a complex one, or that a deeper understanding won’t help you make even better beer. But in this article I will set out the minimum you need to know to start brewing, which isn’t as much as you’d think.
This information will closely follow the instructions you get in our Brewing Bag kit and starter kits. The only difference is there you will find exact times but you are welcome to try and change these in your own experimentation.
Cleanliness is next to making a good beer. This may seem obvious but you can easily ruin a good brew with improper cleaning. Note: you are very unlikely to get an actual disease from a bad brew because of the alcohol, it is more likely just to spoil and maybe give you a tummy ache. Use a good disinfectant to clean your bucket, your other equipment will come into contact with boiling water which get rid of anything nasty but cleaning them with the disinfectant won’t do any harm. Most disinfectants you will also need to rinse off after.
You will now be about to use malt. These are barley grains that were tricked into starting to grow but then dried. This makes it easier to get at the insides, mainly the starch which is a big cluster of sugar. Too big for our yeast to effectively break down so we must give a helping hand.
The next is a process known as mashing. This involves taking your malt and soaking it in water. What temperature you steep it at varies depending on recipe but in general you do not want to go over 75 °C. Why? Because then you will kill the enzymes, small molecular structures that cause a chemical reaction. In this case the most important (but not only) process taking place is breaking down starch in the malt to small sugars. The temperature can change quickly and differ at certain points in the pot so keep a close eye on it. This creates a mixture called wort (pounced wert). In our kits we make the process easier with the muslin bag, instead of the grain being loose and you needing to sieve you can easily place in the bag and take it out like one big tea bag.
After this you begin the process simply known as boiling. Generally done for 60 minutes it has multiple purposes despite being very easy, you barely need to do anything but add ingredients at the correct times and make sure it doesn’t overflow. The first and most obvious is killing bacteria, as stated before it can spoil your brew so it is best to make sure it is all gone. The second is bringing out the bitterness of hops or other flavours from ingredients. What is technically happening involves alpha acids in hops but you don’t need to know that to throw some hops in a pot. Depending on if added earlier or later the hops will add more bitterness or aroma respectively. It is also now you add Irish moss to help stop protein build up.
Next is cooling. Stick the pot in a sink of water for around half an hour. Maybe change the water once or twice……..that’s about it really you are cooling liquid.
Finally you add your brew to a bucket, make sure it is under 30°C, then add your yeast. Like earlier, yeast breaks down if it is too hot. Seal with a lid and airlock. The lid stops anything getting in while the airlock allows gas created by the yeast (carbon dioxide) to escape.
So there you have it, the basics of brewing really is not complex. In later articles I will get into the complexities that are happening and how you can take advantage of them, but you can start brewing your own beer without learning much more.