Thursday, 2 January 2014

First Brew

While the kit sat under the Xmas tree I spent hours and hours pouring over webpages and forum posts about everything that can go wrong with your first beer (in fact when I was in the home brew shop the guy behind the counter said that I would probably screw up the first brew). I was determined that I would not make that mistake. Of course by then I had decided that my beer was not going to be a Munich Lager, so that raised the stakes in the screw up factor.

So Sanitisation is the number one problem. This was (hopefully) eliminated by another visit to the home brew shop to get a bottle of StarSan no-rinse sanatiser. I figured that if I cleaned all the kit equipment with the provided cleaners, then cleaned again with the StarSan I would mitigate against the potential for the beer to get an infection.

In addition to the StarSan I picked up a garden spray bottle, a roll of Chux style cloths and an box of rubber gloves from Mitre10. The idea was that the spray bottle could be used to spray StarSan into the tap after taking samples for hydrometer readings, the cloth for cleaning and the gloves to protect my delicate hands.

Second problem was the yeast that is supplied with the kit - the prevailing wisdom is to buy a new one. You get 5g of yeast with the kit, but when you buy yeast it come in 11.5g packets (I am using dry yeast here - not ready for liquid yeast, making starters etc) so that is at least double the amount of yeast! Another trip to the home brew shop and I had a packet of Safale US-05 yeast (and a hop sock, more on that later)

I didn't go with the advice of not using the beer enhancer (a mix of malt, hops and dextrose) and using another can of liquid malt extract-I was going to be making a lager, which is also against the recommendations of making a darker beer to hide any off flavors but I had other plans to hide the off flavors…

So brew day rolls around (after a particularly boozy Xmas day, it was not until the day after boxing day that I got around to brewing) and I opened the box and started going through all the equipment and fitting it together. The only trouble I encountered was that the sediment reducer what was supposed to fit into the back of the tap after it had been fitted into the keg didn’t. Will have to check at the Brew House as it looks like I would have to cut some of the plastic keg to have it fit - so I just left that part out.

Spent a long time carefully washing the keg and all the bits that would come in contact with the wort - first with the Copper Tun detergent, then with the Copper Tun no-rinse sanitiser and finally with the StarSan. I do wonder if that might have been overkill…

My cunning plan was to try and turn my Munich Lager into a facsimile of Garage Projects awesome La Calavera Catrina - a beer brewed with chilli, watermelon and rosewater. A beer so good that soon after trying it I went up the road (Garage Project brewery is only about a block from my house) and purchased a case of 750ml bottles for cellaring and have been buying in rigers from the cellar door ever since - I figured that eventually they would run out or take it off tap (a fear realised when I went to get some for New Years) so I better have a backup plan more than just the 12 bottles (actually 7 by now).

I figured I could add chilli to the wort, then rosewater and watermelon at bottling stage. The chilli would come from the 500gm bag of hot chilli flakes in my cupboard and the rose and watermelon flavor from syrups (which I hoped would also help with the secondary carbonation)

From totally arbitrary numbers I put 23g of chilli flakes into a hop sock and boiled for 10min in 1 litre of water. My thought were that I usually add about half a teaspoon of chilli when I am cooking, which must be about a gram, so 23g would be a gram a litre. Oh boy was I wrong.

I was smart enough to test it before I used it though - I extracted 1ml and mixed with 23ml water. I would have hated to have tried the undiluted chilli extract, it was much hotter than I had expected. In the end I only used 500mls of the chilli extract (making it about 1:46 dilution).

Basically the beer was made to the recipe on the can, with the addition of 500ml of the chilli extract. Only problem was that with the extra hot water, and the temperature of the water coming out of the tap (filtered by a carbon water jug) I couldn’t get the temperature of the wort down to 20deg. I had also rehydrated my yeast in water so that was busy bubbling away waiting to be pitched. I knew I was supposed to pitch after 15min of rehydration, but I also knew my wort was too hot. Panic.

I used some ice (which should have been boiled filtered water but wasn’t) and some cold water from the fridge (which was filtered) and got the wort to 26deg before pitching the yeast. It was still a bit hot, so I hope I didn’t do too much damage.
Screwed on the lid, inserted the hydrometer and put into the cupboard in the kitchen.

In all the excitement I forgot to take an initial hydrometer reading, so I won’t be able to calculate the alcohol percentage.

I guess I was expecting more. Yeast did eventually grow to form a bubbling cover over the brown liquid, but no huge krazen like I had been expecting.

After a few days I did remember about the specific gravity measurement and have taken a couple since then and it is dropping so something is happening.

It has been almost a week since the brew was put down and the tan coloured cap has gone off the beer. I have since hurt my shoulder in a squash accident so I can’t be tempted to do any bottling (which is a good thing because the recommendation is to leave for at least two weeks, then cool to fridge temperature for a couple of days before bottling)

I am already thinking about getting another full kit (as there is a cheap one with a crown capper, which I was going to get anyway) which would allow for a couple of brews on the go at once. I have also been looking on Trademe for a used fridge to turn into a temperature controlled fermentation container. Not to mention getting some electronics ordered so I can see the fermentation temperature via the internet.

I knew this brewing lark was going to be a bad idea…

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