The Maiden Voyage
August 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
Today marks a momentous occasion for Bunny Hops Brewery: the initiation of our first batch of homebrew beer! Yes, I know, it’s kind of silly that I registered and started our social media (Twitter, weblog) before brewing a single batch of beer, but hey, I was ridiculously excited. Scratch that: I am ridiculously excited.
This first batch may turn out to be a complete disaster, but a rough start is a start nonetheless. Even the most notorious and famous of ships had to leave dry dock for the first time at some point. This recipe was slightly complicated by the fact that I wanted to brew a half-batch (so that several early batches can be made in relatively quick succession without having to slog through bottle after bottle of suboptimal beer) and that the homebrew store owner somehow convinced me to start with a mixed recipe (steeped mashed grains and malt extract instead of just malt extract). Future early batches will likely be all malt extract to see how much I can optimize the flavor while having fun experimenting with additives (spices, fruit, wood chips, wait, did I just say wood chips? That was the First Brew Matey’s idea.); presumably, this will speed up the initial brewing process as well.
This first recipe is an American wheat beer styled after German Hefeweizens (likely the first beer I ever tasted), but it is a heavily modified recipe that probably won’t taste anything like a Hefeweizen but hopefully will still taste like beer. To honor the founding of Bunny Hops Brewery and its maiden voyage, this first batch of beer is named Maiden Voyage.
Without further ado, here is the photo log of today’s adventure!
First, I flipped open Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and William Moore’s Home Beermaking to the appropriate sections alongside the (modified) recipe provided by the homebrewing store. I pulled the airlocked hop pellets and yeast out of cold storage to allow them to warm to room temperature.
I decided to use the bottling bucket as a primary fermenter. I do not yet know in coming weeks when I will be able to undergo the bottling process for bottle conditioning, so I figured I could let the wort (beer primordial juice) ferment for a few days in this bucket before racking (transferring) it to the secondary fermenter, a plastic carboy (like the big plastic water jugs you see loaded onto office water machines). This bucket is pretty handy because of the built-in spigot which will allow me to transfer the wort to the carboy and subsequently to individual bottles without additional uses of the siphon.
This is our enamelized brewing pot. It normally serves as a canning pot for the First Brew Matey, but its large volume and thin walls made it an excellent candidate for wort boiling and cooling. She looked up online whether enamel pots would be suitable for brewing, and someone else asked “So my wife has an enamel pot that she uses for canning. Can I use this for brewing beer?” Apparently, the consensus answer was “Yes.” Fortunately, we also have a gas stove: the brewpot is sitting on the hottest burner which has a slight ignition delay, so when it does ignite it basically approximates Hades throwing a hissy fit.
I poured the mashed (crushed) honey wheat grains bestowed upon me by the homebrew store into a giant muslin bag. I tied the trailing end to a chopstick so that it would be easier to pull out after steeping like the biggest tea bag in the world. Papazian’s book recommended steeping during the temperature elevation process while the store’s instructions recommended steeping at exactly 155 degrees for 15 minutes. I chose a compromise: I started steeping at about 140 degrees and continued raising the temperature until it hit 155 degrees, then left it until 15 minutes of steeping was complete. The bag was then removed and tossed aside with a vengeance.
Perhaps the one useful innovation or modification to the brewing process that I added was to place the cooking thermometer in a covered container of sanitizer (Star San – odorless and tasteless, kind of like iocane powder) next to the stove. Especially during this first attempt at homebrewing, I was obsessively checking the temperature of the wort at various stages of the process, so this allowed for quick access to the thermometer (instead of fishing into the larger sanitation bucket) and maintenance of sanitation. This bottle appears again later.
I am not sure if this is necessary or if it even worked, but I used a sterilized plastic tray (actually, an unused lid for a storage bin) as a “sterile field” on which to place various measuring vessels, again in order to maintain sanitation as much as possible.
I whipped up a 5 gallon solution of sanitizer (Star San) in the bottling bucket/primary fermenter, then scrubbed the top border (above the solution) and the lid with sanitizer before transferring the solution into the carboy/secondary fermenter.
After letting the sanitizer sit in the carboy for a while, I siphoned it into the spare bucket which has assumed the role of sanitation vessel. Here, the Auto Siphon was very useful: I can’t imagine transferring these liquids in a cleanly manner (both with respect to keeping the wort sterile and avoiding excess spillage on the deck) without this device.
This is further proof that beer is the drink of champion bunnies. My olfactory senses were met with quite a surprise when I first opened the Styrian Golding hop pellet airlocked packet. Here, the kitchen scale and sanitized ceramic measuring cups did the trick. To the brewpot!
I threw in the malt extract, mixed it in off the burner, then brought it back rapidly to a boil before throwing in the hop pellets. The wort at this point offered a strong, wheaty and hoppy aroma.
I debated whether or not to run to the homebrewing store to pick up a wort chiller, but I decided for the time being to try chilling the old fashioned way: with cold water running from the sink and a generous dose of ice packs and ice cubes. I figured that the half volume (2.5 gallons) for this batch and the thin walls of the pot might also help speed the process of cooling. Altogether, it took just under 30 minutes to cool the wort from 200 degrees to 77 degrees. If it does end up being that the extra time being exposed to oxidation actually does produced significant off-flavors, I will likely invest in one, particularly if we start brewing larger 5 gallon batches.
Despite stirring the wort from time to time while cooling, I do not think I was able to achieve the fabled “sediment cone” that facilitates that racking of the wort without also transferring the trub (the sediment of various ingredients). I don’t think I would have been able to visualize the cone anyways due to the thickness and opacity of the wort (in particular, using the mashed grains did introduce more tiny particulate sediment than I expected. Next time, I should avoid emptying the entire bag of grains, powder and all, into the muslin bag.). This part was a little tricky due to the gimpy nature of the sieve (one bracket is melted away), but again use of the Auto Siphon made things a lot easier.
Success! Well, at least the specific gravity of this wort fits within the “starting beer” section. However, I left the hydrometer instructions in the measuring flash when I poured in the beer (fail). Oh darn; I guess I will have to air dry it and make the kitchen smell like beer.
At this point, I had already reconstituted the dry ale yeast in 1 cup of 95 degree water. I mixed it into the wort with the sanitized stirring spoon.
And now, to sleep: at least, this Brew Captain can sleep while the ale yeast does its work. I brought the fermenter down below decks where the temperatures are averaging 73-76 degrees. There are some stowaways in the form of nasty biting spiders, however, so I decided to cover the fermenter with the plastic bag that the carboy arrived in. I used the racking cane attached to the siphoning hose that came with the fermenter as a blow-off hose which ends in the small plastic, covered container filled with previously boiled water (again, to minimize any chance of contamination). And lo and behold, after a few hours: bubbles! The ale yeast is getting to work, and now I can sleep, perchance dream of ales to come.
Date of brewing: 8.27.12
Volume: 2.5 gallons
Honey wheat mashed grains – steep for 15 minutes while raising the temp to boiling (around 155 degrees for most of this time), then remove the muslin bag of grains
3 lbs dark malt extract – remove wort from heat, mix in till smooth, then return to heat
0.5 oz Styrian Golding hop pellets – boil for 60 minutes
0.5 oz Liberty hop pellets – add during last 15 minutes
0.25 tsps Irish Moss – add during last 15 minutes
1 pack Safale S-33 dry ale yeast
Pitch temperature: 77 degrees
Starting specific gravity: 1.047
Average observed fermentation temperature: 73-76 degrees