So, You Want to Homebrew? Part I, The Beginning

The Modern Prometheus

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The final product

Being able to produce a truly tasty beer from scratch, all by yourself, in the comfort of your own home (garage) borders on a magical ability once thought only to exist in the mythologies of early civilization.

I am here today to bestow upon you a gift. But just as early man looked upon the flame and the wheel, so should you approach this wonderful bounty with caution. For with this gift I entrust in you a sacred commandment…Thou shall not allow thoust’s homebrew to suck.

This month, I’ll be brewing a fresh batch of beer; a belgian witbier (for more info on this style, read my previous article). Since it’s  been a few months since I last brewed, I figured what better way to refresh my skills than to document my labors to share the complete journey with you, our readers.

At the very least, this two part article series  should help you realize what exactly it is you’re in for when it comes to the practice—nay, the art, of all-grain homebrewing.

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Step 1: Purchase Materials

I can only give you the info, my apprentices. You must go forth and buy the crap you need yourself. For starters, I would recommend a batch size of about 5 gallons (19 litres). This will provide you with the equivalent of around 50 beers (it sounds like a lot but you will wonder where it all went, believe me). Go out and get your hands on 2 large stock pots, a glass carboy, a digital probe thermometer, a large mixing spoon, and some sort of large, well-insulated container that can filter liquid from grain.

The events that occur on your day of brewing are as follows: Mashing, Sparging, Boiling, Cooling, and Pitching. Bottling or kegging will come later. This first instalment of the series will focus on mashing and sparging.

Aside from the equipment needed, you will also need to gather your ingredients. Each recipe will vary but at the core of each one  there will be 3 main ingredients: malted grain, hops (pelletized or whole), and yeast. I’d suggest opting for a liquid yeast culture smack pack—Wyeast seems to have a great selection, and I’ve never run into a bad pack.

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An Insulated Vessel

Mashing: Once you have your hands on some malted grain (make sure it’s been freshly crushed and not milled too finely), you’ll need an insulated vessel. I recommend a plastic jug cooler, large enough to hold your crushed grain as well as the strike water. Strike water is the heated water that will be used to extract the precious sugars and hidden flavours from the grain. A good rule of thumb is 1.2 liters per pound of grain. You will find mashing much easier if you’re able to fit your cooler with a spigot and some sort of method for filtering the liquid from the grain. Using a large stock pot (19 liters or more), get that water up to 75.5C (168F) and stir it into your grain. Let that hot porridgey mix of grain and water steep for 60min.

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Good enough to eat?

Sparging: By this point, the plain, boring water you used has been infused with sugary goodness. Enzymes in the grain have been activated by the hot water and cleaved the long starch molecules into small, fermentable sugars. What you have is no longer water; it is now aptly dubbed wort (rhyming with squirt). This liquid can be slowly drained from the mash tun and set aside. Go ahead, give it a little taste! If it’s crazy sweet, you are doing well young apprentice. Keep on going.

In order to rinse as much sugars off the grain as possible, more heated water (1.4 liters per pound of grain at 75.5C) is added to the grain after some of the wort has been run off. This is the sparge water. It will be much warmer than the remaining wort in the grain bed and should pull out even more sugar without watering down your wort too much. You can add the sparge water to the mash tun in batches (batch sparging) or you can drain out the wort from the bottom of the grain bed as you slowly add the sparge water to the top (fly sparging). Either way, at the end of the process you should have a large quantity of filtered-out wort, hopefully around 25 litres worth. Though you are tempted (I can see it in your eyes), this beer is not ready for full-on consumption yet. You’ll want to give it some hop flavor, and one cannot forget the alcohol. You need to get some alcohol in there.

At this point, you should have a rough idea as to how the sugars locked inside grain can be coaxed out it’s shell by mashing, to make the base of our beer precursor. In Part II we’ll delve into detail about boiling, hops additions, cooling, and pitching yeast. Stay tuned.
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Interested in all things brew, but don’t know where to start? Read more of Aaron’s insight into the beer world, here. 

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