Wednesday, 8 June 2016

How to brew your very first beer!

With our recent house sit I've found myself brewing beer again. Now beer isn't quite travel related, but making your own beer is a very Aussie thing to do. Most blokes have had an attempt at it, or at least know someone who has. Those that keep making beer, realise how simple it really is to make, and don't mind that bit of cash they save from no longer needing to visit the bottle'o on a Friday arvo.

For me it all started in 2012, one of my best mates bought me a homebrew kit for my birthday. It seemed a bit daunting at first, but once I got into it I was shocked how easy it truly was. The kit I had was the Coopers DIY beer kit, and you should be able to find these in Big W. This kit is great as it comes with everything you need to get started. If you can't find a kit with everything you need straight up, you should be able to gather the items from a brew shop or online. If you've never made your own beer before but keen to give it a go, I'll share with you all the basics to create your first beer!



WHAT YOU'LL NEED:

Basically you need a brewing vessel or some sort of container to ferment your beer, this is where all the action takes place. The action I speak of is yeast chomping up all the sugars it can find, whilst pissing out alcohol and farting out carbon dioxide. It's incredibly important to keep your beer safe from anything floating around in the air, but as this gas is created, it will need to escape the container. This can be achieved through a variety of ways, from using an S tube, a special collar or a blow off tube. 

You'll need a wort made up, this is the mash of goodies that is going to transform into everything you love about beer. Feel free to source all the things in a wort from scratch if you desire, but for $10-$15 you'll be able to duck into the local shops and grab a brewing can. There are so many different varieties from heaps of different brands. Coopers, Tooheys and even home brands can be found in most grocery stores, whilst the local brew shops will have even more to choose from. Fancier cans may cost you a little a bit extra. My go to brew would have to be dark ale, but let your taste buds direct you to the brew you want to make.

Next you'll need a hydrometer, this allows you to check the gravity (relative density) of your brew during the fermentation process and eventually figure out your beer's alcohol content. All you need to do is subtract the original gravity (before fermentation) from the final gravity (when it's not fermenting any more) than divide that number by 7.46 and you'll know the percentage of your beer. We'll add another 0.5 on top for the extra little fermentation that will occur in the bottle. If you don't like maths and this paragraph seems confusing, forget about it for now. This is only required if you want to know your alcohol percentage. As long as the gravity at the end remains the same over a 24 hour period you should be right. To keep it simple, your alcohol percentage will be: (OG - FG) / 7.46 + .05 = %

Next you are going to need some bottles, a way to seal those bottles and some sugar. The DIY kit comes with plastic bottles, which are all well and good, but I prefer glass bottles and cider bottles are my number 1 choice. Bottle caps are easy enough to find at Woolies or Coles, as is sugar. I use the carbonation drops over sugar as I find they make the process a bit quicker and less sticky. A good bottle capper will be needed if you are using crown seals.

Most importantly is cleaning gear. The most effort and time you'll spend brewing beer will be through cleaning everything. A variety of substances can be used to clean your bottles and brewing vessel, just don't go using bleach or dishwashing detergent! Metabite Sulphate works pretty well and is easy enough to find, usually with brewing needs at Big W or even Coles and Woolworths.
 

THE BREWING PROCESS:

Firstly you need to make sure your brewing vessel is nice and clean and set up in the location you want it to brew. I've never worried about temperature too much, but I do try to keep it out of direct sunlight. If the weather is hotter your beer may brew quicker, whilst colder temperatures may go a bit slower. There are many opinions on temperature, but I try and brew with the season, sticking with many stouts and ales for the winter, and enjoying lagers and cervesas during the summer.

Now you need to add your wort into your brewing vessel with a few litres of hot water, mix it all up with a large clean plastic mixing spoon, then add some sugar. I've had Germans couch surfing with us in the past, give me a complete look of horror when preparing a beer and adding sugar to the wort. See they actually have a law in Germnay where it is illegal to add sugar to beer. In Australia we can add whatever we damn well please, and white sugar happens to be the cheapest and quickest way to make beer! If white sugar disgusts you too, feel free to use malt instead. Malt will cost a bit more and take a bit longer to ferment but many prefer it. I don't mind using it myself sometimes, you can also purchase malt mixes which brew pretty nicely too. I like to use around 1.5 - 2kg of sugars/malt/mixes to about 23 litres as this creates a nice flavour at around 5% alcohol.

Once your sugar is all stirred in nicely it is time to top up the water. 23 litres is a good go to point, but if you are using less sugar or want a stronger flavour feel free to use less. The same goes for adding more water for a lighter flavour and strength. 23 litres usually rewards me with around 60 stubbies give or take. Yep, 60 stubbies. So once you are set up around $20-30 gives you almost 3 cartons of beer. Now you are starting to understand!

After the water is added it is time to whip out the hydrometer and measure the original gravity. Record that number if you want to know the alcohol percentage later. Now sprinkle brewing yeast (this usually comes with brew cans, but you can also purchase different varieties from brewing shops) over the top and let your mix ferment!  

Over the first few days you will notice the brew is bubbling quite a bit and foam may be gathering on top, this lets you know that the yeast is busy doing its job! No need to interfere, let the yeast keep working for you. After around 5 or so days it will seem like the activity has died off quite a bit. If you think the fermentation process is complete, measure the gravity, then check it again a day later. If the gravity has not changed, your baby is ready to bottle!

After they have been cleaned you want your bottles primed with a little sugar (about a teaspoon for a stubby, 2 for a largie) before bottling as this will allow for a little extra fermentation and give the beer some fizz. It's important not to use too much sugar, and to be sure your beer is 100% ready to bottle, otherwise you'll be destined to hear the terrifying noise of beer bottles exploding when you least expect it. Once the bottles are filled, cap them and shelve them. They are going to need a bit of time to mature! Maturation time is debatable as well. You'll probably be tonguing to get into your first brew as soon as possible, but I would recommend giving it at least a week before enjoying the fruits of your labour. It is also wise to label your beer, you don't want to accidentally crack a bottle of that experimental 12% super brew at lunch time! I use the circle stickers you can find in stationary stores, scribble the brew, bottle date and % then slap it onto the lid.

Congratulations, you now know all there is to make your very first beer! Give it a crack and let me know how you go!