Saturday, April 11, 2009

Brew day: Somethin' Else India Black Ale

Today we brewed our Somethin' Else India Black Ale which we'll be featuring at this year's Beerfly Alleyfight (the full back story is here). At previous Alleyfights, we've gotten lots of questions about the brewing process, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to document a full brewing day. Here it goes!

It all started around 11:15am when I added three gallons of charcoal-filtered water to our brew kettle and fired up the burner.

Once the water reached a temperature of around 118°F, I added the water to a cooler fitted with a drain manifold (called a mash tun) and mixed (mashed) the malted grains to the water.

The resulting mixture (called a mash) is then left to sit at 110°F for twenty minutes. This step isn't commonly done (in fact, it's the first time we've ever done a rest at 110°F) but this particular beer had three pounds of malted rye, and malted rye can become gummy. At 110°F, enzymes break down beta glucanase so that it's less gummy, which makes it easier to drain the sugary liquid (called wort) later on.

After the beta glucanase rest, we added another three gallons of water heated to 204°F, so that the resulting mash temperature was raised to 152°F. At this temperature, starches are converted into sugars which will subsequently be eaten by the yeast and turned into alcohol. We let the mash sit at this temperature for 45 minutes.

While the mash was resting, we heated up another three gallons which will be used to sparge. Sparging is basically like making coffee: you sprinkle water on top of the mash while draining the wort from the bottom of the mash. The water is heated to almost 200°F and then pumped up to a cooler which is above the mash tun (called a hot liquor tank). The hot liquor tank is above the mash tun so that gravity can draw the sparge water down into the mash tun.

(That's the mash tun under the Cubs blanket, and the brew kettle is in the foreground.)

At 12:55pm, the rest was complete, the starches converted to sugars, and it was time to sparge! I slowly drain the wort into a Pyrex measuring cup. Initially I pour the wort back into the mash tun, as the first ten minutes or so the grain has yet to form a filter bed so you get lots of floatie bits. After a little while, though, the grain compacts such that it filters all that crap out. At that point I start dumping the wort into the brew kettle.

Despite the beta-glucanase rest, I still had some issues with slow/inconsistent flow rates. Nonetheless, by 2:25pm we had collected roughly 6.5 gallons of wort and brought it to a boil. Now it's time to add the hops! While Miller Lite may brag that their beer is triple-hopped, this beer features a whopping FIVE hop additions:

The first hops were added at the beginning of the 60-minute boil. These hops add the bitterness to the beer. Later additions forty minutes and fifty minutes into the boil give the beer a piny and citrusy hop flavor, and a fourth addition at the end of the boil gives a nice hop aroma. The aroma will be accentuated in a couple weeks when I "dry-hop" the beer (which means adding hops to the keg after the beer has fermented). We used a combination of Simcoe, Chinook and Amarillo hops.

(In order to keep the hops from clogging the hoses and fittings, I add the hops in a nylon mesh bag.)

Once the beer is done boiling at 3:30pm, it's time to chill it down to around 70°F. You want to do this quickly as to avoid contamination, so I use a plate chiller. A plate chiller is a small heat exchanger with two inlets (one for the hot wort and one for a garden hose) and two outlets (one for the cooled wort and one for the hose water). A pump pushes the wort from the kettle to the chiller and the cooled wort is pumped out into a carboy (giant glass jug).

(It may look like chaos, but there's a method to my madness.)

In order to know how efficient your brewing technique was and how strong your beer will be, you want to take a gravity reading. Gravity measures the amount of sugar in the beer, and since most of the sugar is turned into alcohol, you can use your gravity readings before and after fermentation to calculate how much alcohol is in the beer. Our original gravity was 1.070; by comparison, the original gravity of Budweiser is 1.045 and the gravity of water is 1.000.

Once the carboy is filled and the gravity measured, it's time to add the yeast!

Of course, I wish the brew day was done at this point, but there's still a matter of cleaning up. Fortunately, my daughter Dorrie was willing to help:

I got done cleaning around 4:30pm. I would say five hours is about the average time for me to brew a five-gallon batch (it's a little longer with ten gallons). Now it's time to let the yeast do its job. My plan is to let it ferment for two weeks and then transfer to a keg, at which point I'll dry-hop. That'll give me another two weeks to dry-hop and one week to cold-condition and carbonate before it's time to serve up Somethin' Else to all those hungry and thirsty Beerfly Alleyfight attendees. Hope to see you there... cheers!

EDIT: I initially neglected to mention that our good friend Marta came over to help with the brew and snap some pictures as well. Since she used Leah's camera, I'm not sure which were hers, but I'm guessing at least one of the pics above was taken by Marta. Just want to give credit where credit is due.


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