Beer is great. Out of everything I’ve made over the years, beer is the most diverse and enjoyable brew to do. Although the classic Bavarian beer laws state that there should only be 4 ingredients making up beer, there are infinite combinations of ingredients and many methods with which to employ them. Plus, there’s nothing stopping you from adding wacky stuff to create a uniquely delicious pint.
While I fully acknowledge that all grain beer brewing is the ideal way to go, I’m a busy guy and malt extract still makes a fine beer, with a much shorter brew day. Simply, malt extract is the concentrated liquid (LME) or dried (DME) product from mashing grains. Most of the tricky fiddly work has been done for you, leaving the the fun part for you to experiment with hops additions.
The complex flavours derived from grains is what gives beer its base character. When brewing with extract, we lose control of this character with only a very limited selection of malt extracts available. The way to bring this complexity back is through steeping grains. Any milled grain can be used at this step but the results may not be exactly as advertised when using them in a mash. Steeping grains are typically used to provide up to 20% of the fermentable sugars but I usually shoot for about 25g steeping grain per litre in my brews with good results. With the grain loosley filling a mesh bag, they are steeped in 70C water for 30 minutes before adding the water to the boil. I do this in a stock pot on the stove where my maximum volume is about 4 liters. Steeping grains have a remarkable effect on the colour, flavour and mouthfeel of the finished brew and I’d never brew without some.
Like many new brewers, I started with a standard 8L stock pot for my beer and it worked just fine. Most brewers prefer to do “full boil” brews but there is nothing wrong with using whatever volume you can. The main concern with topping up with water AFTER the boil is contamination but if your yeast is pitched appropriately, it will quickly out compete any unwanted bugs. Hops isomerization efficiency is another concern but again, we’re doing the best we can with the materials we have. I add water to about 60% of the maximum volume of the pot, get it up to a boil on the stove and then add 60% of my dry malt extract. Liquid malt extract works the same but I prefer dry as it is easier to store opened packages for future use. The boil must be watched very carefully as it is prone to boiling over and making a huge mess. The remainder of the malt is added in the last 15 minutes of the boil which reduces undesirable darkening of the beer from a long extract boil and helps with hops utilization.
Once the boil is complete, we need to get the wort down to yeast pitching temperature (about 21C). There are many commercially available chilling options including plate chillers, immersion chillers and counterflow chillers. These are all great with individual pros and cons but many new brewers start out with a simple cold water bath in the kitchen or laundry sink. Regardless of your method, the key is to bring the temperature down as quickly as possible while limiting the chances of contamination. As the wort approaches pitching temperature, it becomes susceptible to bacteria, fungus and yeast in the air (or from a stray sneeze) so it must be guarded carefully.
Before beginning chilling, your yeast should be rehydrated in warm (40C) water. Add the dry yeast to a small amount of water (about 50ml per gram of yeast) and mix it with a sanitized spoon. The yeast should sit for about 30 minutes before swirling and pouring it into your cooled wort. Liquid yeast and the preparation of yeast starter stocks is a whole other topic for another post. The yeast is simply poured into the wort and the waiting begins. The fermenting vessel should be covered but not sealed so gas can escape but nothing can get in to contaminate it.
Fermentation will take about 2 weeks and a variety of manipulations are possible during this time as your recipe and preference demands. Dry hopping, spice additions and secondary fermentation are a few options. Regardless of your methods, fermentation will be complete when bubbling is minimal and the specific gravity remains steady at around 1.000.
When getting started with brewing, most people bottle with a preference for swing-top bottles over “standard” bottles that need to be capped. I’ve enjoyed my fleet of Grolsch bottle for many years and expect to always have bottles ready to enjoy at home or on the road. Kegging is another option is beyond the scope of this article but is well worth the experience and investment. Most instructions suggest adding a small amount of sugar to each bottle before sealing it. Certainly this method works but I find it too labour intensive. I prefer to dissolve my conditioning sugar into a small volume of water and mix it into the beer after racking it to a bucket. Bottles are filled from this bucket and immediately sealed. Easy peasy.
From here we’re just a short time away from enjoying the fruits of our labour. About one week at room temperature allows the yeast to consume the sugar and produce carbonation. Transfer the bottles to the fridge (or not) for another week and the CO2 will be dissolved into the beer,
That’s it. It sounds like a lot of work but it’s a fun process and is of course very rewarding.