We’re very excited to bring you the first installment of our homebrewing column, written by John Kleinchester, well-known blogger and beer photographer over at beertography.com. It will be written in the style of a homebrewer’s journal. We hope you enjoy!
On a recent Sunday evening in July when it was almost too late to do so, I decided to brew an American Wheat beer I cleverly dubbed, “Summer Heat American Wheat.” This would be the second time I’ve brewed this batch, with the first rendition picking up some admirable scores at a local competition. This time I was hoping to have the beer ready before summer faded into autumn, but alas I was brewing it a mere two weeks earlier than the 2011 incarnation. Seasonal timing with brewing is hard, and takes quite a bit of planning in advance.
I kicked off the night by activating a “smack pack” of Wyeast 1010. You literally have to smack the pack hard to break open the capsule containing liquid nutrient which mixes with the yeast slurry inside. It takes about 4-5 hours to swell and be ready to be pitched into a fresh batch of wort, so it’s always good to do as your first order of brewing business.
I’m an all-grain brewer and in the interest of freshness, I like to grind my own grain. This is a fairly simple process of using a drill and a malt mill, but I often find myself forgetting to charge the drill beforehand. The water I had measured out to heat while grinding the grain gets entirely too hot while I’m frantically attempting to recharge the drill and I have no choice but to simply stir and wait for it to cool down. I crack open a can of Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale. This helps.
After a while, the grain is milled, water temperature is correct and I’m on my way. I miss my target mash temperature by about 3 degrees, which I chalk up to the perils of stovetop brewing. Charlie Papazian’s infamous motto comes to mind: “Relax, don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” So I do. A Belgian dubbel that at first I didn’t like but now has started to show signs of greatness with a bit of age.
I mash for an hour before vorlaufing three times to ensure that the wort runs clear before starting the lauter into the kettle. About two hours have passed by the time all of the wort has flowed into the kettle. I relax, savor my beer and patiently wait for signs of a boil. When it finally comes, I add one ounce of Willamette pellet hops which signifies the start of an hour-long boil. (If you want to speed up your brew day, this is a good time to clean up your spent grain and anything else you may have dirtied in the process.)
With 15 minutes remaining in the boil, I slide the wort chiller into the hot liquid. This is important because you want to sterilize it well before you turn off your flame. I also use a pre-chiller, which is essentially a smaller wort chiller that sits in an ice bath, as my faucet temperature can be a bit lukewarm, especially in summer. Once the 60 minutes are up, I turn on the faucet and the cooling process begins. I cool the wort to around 75 degrees to ensure it’s within the optimal temperature to add the yeast as they tend to get stressed out when it’s too warm and can produce off flavors.
Next I transfer the wort into my fermenter, trying to splash it as much as possible to allow it to mix with oxygen, of which yeast is a big fan. Before finishing the transfer, I siphon a little bit off to taste and take a gravity reading from. Luckily, I’ve hit my target gravity of 1.049 dead on and it tastes pretty good. Satisfied, I close up the fermenter and move it into a chest freezer that I’ve converted into a fermentation chamber. I set the temperature to a cool 62 degrees which is where it will sit for about two weeks until it’s ready. That reminds me, I should check on it now. There is nothing more rewarding in the world when the first taste of a beer you yourself fermented tastes (gasp) good.