My first brew day.

This past Sunday I brewed my first batch of home brewed beer. We videoed the entire process so check back in later this week for that but I thought I would give you a short rundown of what all occurred.

Started with a Brewer’s Best ingredients kit called “Vienna Lager”. Now a lager is a more difficult beer to brew due to the fact that you have to lager it. This process involves lower temperatures required for the fermentation as well as leaving the beer to ferment for a longer period of time.

This posed two problems for me:

  1. I live in Arizona, it’s summer.  I would have to invest in a seperate fridge with accurate temperature control in order to get lower temperatures.  The fermenting takes place at 53-59 degrees and the lagering takes place at 35-42 degrees.
  2. I have family coming in for the 4th of July and I am hoping to serve them some delicious home brewed beer.  Fermenting at the lower temperature takes 2 weeks, lagering takes 3-4 weeks and then add 2 weeks for bottle conditioning.  That puts us at 7 to 8 weeks out, which puts at July 15th at the earliest.

So talking to my LHBS they suggested I make it as an Ale.

At this point I am quickly explaining to them that this is my FIRST TIME BREWING and messing with a recipe to turn it from a lager to an ale is probably beyond my skill.  But guess what… I was wrong.

Turns out that to turn a lager into an ale all I had to do was switch out the yeast.  Heck, I knew yeast was vital for brewing but who knew it could wield this kind of awesome power?  Apparently the brewmasters at my LHBS did.  They gave me a packet of Nottingham Ale Yeast and sent me on my way with Kit and Yeast in tow.

I decided to video tape this brew day since it was my first, so I brewed in my kitchen…. on an electric stove… which I would come to somewhat regret.

I got all my equipment together, cleaned everything, sanitized that which needed sanitizing and started to brew.

I put 2 and half gallons of clean, filtered, store purchased water into my 5 gallon stainless steel brew pot and brought the water up to 160 degrees.  I added my specialty grains that I had put into a muslin bag and steeped for 20 minutes.

MISTAKE NUMBER 1: At some point I let my water get to about 180 degrees.  Instructions clearly state “Pay careful attention not to let your steeping water exceed 170°F which leeches tannins into the wort.”  Uh-Oh!  I don’t know what tannins are but they sound BAD.

From Wikipedia: A tannin (also known as vegetable tannin, natural organic tannins or sometimes tannoid, i.e. a type of biomolecule, as opposed to modern synthetic tannin) is an astringent, bitter plant polyphenolic compound that binds to and precipitates proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids.

So that doesn’t sound good. Reading a bit further about tannins it’s what they tan cow hide with to make leather…. so is my beer going to taste like old leather? Yum?

I wanted to call my LHBS to get their advice but it was still early so I just went ahead with the brew. I took the grains out and turned the fire off, then I added the LME, DME and corn-sugar supplied in the kit to the wort. Then I put the heat on full on the electric range.

MISTAKE NUMBER 2: I had read so many things about the brew process that I think I just got information overload. I was supposed to have taken the specialty grains out and then brought the wort up to a rolling boil THEN turned off the heat and add the malt extracts and sugar, and THEN brought the thing back up to a rolling boil again.

So I didn’t bring it up to a boil before adding the malts. Is my beer ruined? Well, it’s not beer at this point so… Is my wort ruined? Time for a phone call.

I wonder how many panicked phone calls my LHBS gets a week…. just out of idle curiosity.   Well I wasn’t panicked… I was concerned.  So a few minutes later, my LHBS having talked me down off the ledge, I was assured that mistake number 2 was no big deal and that mistake number 1 probably wasn’t either.  Relieved I returned to my brew pot to wait for the boil.

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That series of dashes above represents about an hour and ten minutes…. of waiting…. for the ELECTRIC STOVE to bring 2.5 gallons of liquid to a boil.  A “Rolling Boil”.   My electric range, from here on called the CBFW, is one of those flat top jobs.  I knew this presented a slight problem from the outset but I thought I had overcome it with a flat bottomed brew pot.  I was told that this would be needed and so that is what I got.




Or at least it didn’t to any extent that I saw.  About 30 minutes in I started seeing a little action. That type of action that says “hey I am ready to boil… get ready”, and so I was ready… for 20 more minutes.  You know how they say a “watched pot never boils”?  I am pretty certain that if everyone on the planet put this pot completely out of their mind it STILL wouldn’t have boiled.  Wasn’t the pots fault thought… it the damn CBFW range that I was using.

I finally discovered that if I moved the pot off center of the red ring of “heat” the side that came into contact with the ring started to boil vigorously.  So it was a combination of the CBFW and the pot I had purchased.

FUTURE TIP: I am going to invest in an out door propane burner, the kind the “I’m gonna deep fry me a turkey!” idiots who end up killing themselves each year get.  But instead of messing around with flammable, possibly exploding oil.. I am going to use it to brew beer on.

So I finally get the boil going after a bit of experimentation, I never see the kind of “rolling boil” that I would really like, but it’s close enough.  I add the bittering hops start the clock and proceed with my 60 minute boil.  The hops hitting the wort make it smell like beer for the first time.  The smell of beer makes me relax and not worry so much about the rest of the brew day.

About 50 minutes into the brew I rehydrate my yeast, following the directions on the packet.  It’s a small packet and the instructions are in 3 different languages.  So the instructions aren’t all that … lets say… verbose?  They don’t go into great detail and involve pictures and numbers.  I hope I got it right.

At 55 minutes I add the finishing, or aroma hops and boil for another 5 minutes.  I then take it directly to my sink that I have prepared a ice bath in.  I put the pot in the ice bath and wait for the temp to come down to 170 degrees.  I then transfer the wort to my fermentation bucket that I have previously cleaned and sanitized.  After the wort is in the fermentor I pour in 3.5 gallons more of the water I purchased at the store. This water has been in the refrigerator for the past day and helps cool the wort further.  I pore it into the bucket from about shoulder height with the bucket sitting on the ground.  This aerates the wort at the same time as it cools it.  I am told that the yeast will need that oxygen in order to do their job.

This aeration also causes about 3 inches of foam, which is a bit of a problem for me as I am supposed to take the temperature of the wort to make sure it is safe to pitch the yeast.  I have a floating thermometer which quickly becomes lost in the foam.  When I pull the thermometer out it is covered in foam and by the time I have wiped it off … the temperature has changed.  I feel like one of the Three Stooges at this point.  I finally get the temp after a few tries and then I have to take a reading with my Hydrometer.  Same problem.  You are supposed to float the hydrometer in the wort and see how high it rides… but if I float it in my wort I won’t be able to read it because it will be covered in foam.

So I quickly sterilize a cup and pull some wort out of the bucket, put the wort in the holder that the hydrometer came in and float it there.  So I got my reading eventually but if it wasn’t for my research over the past month I wouldn’t have remembered this little trick.

After all the readings I pitched my yeast, stirred the beer (yes I said beer, once you add the yeast to the wort the wort becomes BEER) and sealed my fermentor.  I put the airlock in the top of the fermentor which allows air to get out but not in and put it in my closet to do it’s thing.

I checked on it yesterday and the little airlock is bubbling away which indicates the yeast is working at it’s job and all I have to do is wait now…. and regulate the temp of the fermentor to the best of my ability.

Well, that was my first brew day.  I’ll post up the video once I get it edited down to something that is watchable so check back in a few days and it should be up.  Next step on this batch of beer is bottling.  I can’t wait.


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How To Brew

This has to be the number one recommended book for those who wish to learn to make their own home brewed beer. I picked it up and it has a wealth of knowledge in it. I highly recommend it.

Last time I checked Amazon was selling it for only $10.49 which is a lot less then what I got it for.

What’s Brewing

On Deck: Dunkelweizen & English Brown Ale
Fermenter: Empty
Bottled: Vienna Lager (As an Ale)
On Tap: Summer Ale

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