Yes, at long last we’ve stepped through the various ways of making alcohol and have made it to the hardest to make. Beer. Over the next couple of installments, I’ll be going a bit more in depth on the ingredients used to make beer, but let’s get started with the equipment you’ll need to make a simple extract batch.
To begin with, the first thing we’ll need is a brew kettle. Unlike most other types of fermentation, beer requires being brought up to a boil for a time in order to sterilize it, use the alpha acids in the hops, and to help get a clear beer. Any kettle can work for a brew kettle, as long as it’s large. Most will also have a spigot put into them to allow you to get your wort (unfermented sweet barley water) into a fermentor more easily. Now, most beer recipes for homebrewing are written for a 5 gallon batch, that means if you want to do what’s called a full boil (the full volume of beer is boiled at once), you’ll need at least an 8.5 gallon kettle. Why the extra 3.5 gallons? Well, first you really don’t want a kettle full of boiling liquid full to the brim. Second, you’ll be boiling off water as you get the wort up to a boil, and during the time it’s boiling.
Then, you’ll need a wort chiller. While wort chillers are technically optional, you’d be hard pressed to find someone telling you they aren’t a worthy investment. You can make your own fairly easily as long as you have access to copper (or stainless steel) tubing, a way to bend it, and a way to get hose attachments on to it. Wort chillers are used to bring that boiling pot of wort down to a temperature where it’s safer to move it between vessels, and bring it down to a temperature where you can pitch your yeast.
But Nephilium, I’ve got this 4 gallon pot, and SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) has said that I can just put an ice bath in the tub to chill my beer. If you can’t do the full boil, you’ll be doing what’s called a partial boil. This means you’ll be boiling a partial amount of your total volume, then topping it off with water. Since the top off water doesn’t have to be boiling it will help with the cooling process. In general, if your tap water is safe to drink, you can just add it directly in for the top off, although that has a risk of infection. If you want to be safer, boil the water once, let it cool, and put it into a sanitized fermentor a day or so before.
Finally, we’ll talk about the two different basic types of malt extract. You can buy it either in a liquid form (LME) or in a dry form (DME). The liquid form will have the consistency of syrup, is slightly easier to mix into hot water, but will spoil faster and is harder to do measurements of. The dry form will have the consistency of powdered sugar, which means it’ll very easily coat things with a sticky mess, but can be kept around much longer as long as it’s kept in an air tight package and away from humidity.
So let’s go with a recipe. This is for a basic Saison, a style that is more descriptive than prescriptive. It is a traditional style brewed in France and Belgium at the time of the harvest, and was used to pay workers in the fields. I’d recommend following the recipe as written once, but then you can adjust it by adding rose hips and lavender, tart cherries, currants, peach juice, or whatever you would like.
Base Saison: 90 minute boil; Final volume 5 gallons
2 lb. Wheat Dry Malt Extract
3 lb. Pilsen Dry Malt Extract
3 lb. Extra Light Dry Malt Extract
2 oz. Saaz hops
1 package Saison yeast (make sure it’s not a bacterial blend), I’ve had great results with the White Labs WLP565.
~7.25 gallons water (your amount may differ based on different boil off amounts)
Note: If you can’t find DME, you can substitute LME for it, just up the amounts by about 10%.
Prepare all of your ingredients, you’ll be separating the hops into two amounts 1.5 oz and .5 oz. Get your water up to a boil, then we’ll be adding the malt extract. Turn off the heat, add in the extract and stir. Then stir some more. Make sure the extract is mixed into the water. Get the water back up to a boil, and once it starts boiling put in 1.5 oz of the Saaz hops, and start your timer. 70 minutes into the boil (20 minutes before you turn off the heat) add in the last .5 oz of hops, and your wort chiller (but don’t start the water flow, we want to sanitize it). When your timer runs out, turn off the heat, and turn on the water flow for your wort chiller. You’ll need to move the wort chiller around every once in a while to help chill it down. It’ll take 20-30 minutes at least to chill your wort. If you want to pull a sample to check your gravity, it should be at about 1.060. At that point, move it to your fermentor and pitch your yeast. Let it ferment for 3-4 weeks, as the Saison yeasts can take some time to finish off, and the beer should finish up at around 1.005 (or lower). Saison yeasts are fairly heat tolerant, so you don’t need to worry so much about fermentation temperatures, but just keep the beer stable. After it completes fermenting (remember, 2 checks at least three days apart with the same gravity reading) bottle it, let it condition, and enjoy it.