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Brewing Beer at Home
Old 08-31-2013, 05:05 PM   #1
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Brewing Beer at Home

Science Friday did a segment on home beer brewing and how to avoid some of the pitfalls. I know we have a few home brewers and am wondering what they think of the show and the advice for a potential novice.

Food Failures: Beer Home Brew
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Old 08-31-2013, 05:32 PM   #2
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I didn't catch the program, but I've been brewing beer since 1987. I'd be happy to advise anyone who needs help.

I know there are other very experienced brewers here as well.
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Old 08-31-2013, 05:37 PM   #3
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Just saw this last week, a story on Shaun Hill, a brewer in Vermont. The Wonderbrewer of Nowheresville by Kevin Koczwara Narratively - Narratively: Local stories, boldly told.
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Old 08-31-2013, 07:03 PM   #4
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Science Friday did a segment on home beer brewing and how to avoid some of the pitfalls. I know we have a few home brewers and am wondering what they think of the show and the advice for a potential novice.
I would say that segment did not do a very good job at setting out brewing for a novice. So I will take care of that right here an now

Step one is to find your local homebrewing club and go to a meeting or two, which they did mention, but didn't stress. I'd stress that because before you buy anything, you probably want to chat about and see various equipment choices. It doesn't have to be expensive. And you'll want to show up at someone's house on Saturday morning and sit there and wash stuff for them while they brew, hehe. Actually, you'll want to go to several "brew sessions" to see various equipment options. You'll only get a look at the "hot side" equipment on brew day, but if you ask, during some of the quiet points in the brew day, they might show you their bottling or kegging arrangement (how they "rack" or transfer the beer after fermentation).

The segment didn't talk about equipment at all, so, yeah, that's what a novice is up against. You want to brew 5 gallons at a time. Although you can do a "partial boil" by boiling, say, 2.5 gallons, then diluting it with 2.5 gallons, but I don't recommend that route. Just go with a large boil kettle (pot). You can buy a turkey frier (propane burner and an 8 or 9 gallon aluminum pot at WalMart in October/November for $50), a "weldless ball valve" (bargain fittings dot com), a copper coil immersion chiller (home brew store), a 6.5 gallon glass carboy (home brew store), a hydrometer (hbs), bottling bucket, bottles and caps (hbs). You'll need Oxyclean Free (grocery store) to clean and you'll need StarSan or Iodaphor sanitize (hbs). You might find an equipment starter kit at your home brew store that has a lot of that "cold side" (bottling) stuff in one package.

The segment started by saying how making beer starts with a process like making oatmeal. But most novice brewers start out with "dried malt extract", which bypasses that process. And you can make reall good beer with an extract kit. A little more expensive on ingredients, but less equipment required and much less time on your brew day. They talked about the brew in bag technique, which allows you to use the same equipment you use for extract brewing, but start out with grain instead of extract.

At least they said that it is easy to make beer! By the way "contamination" is a more acturate word than the word they used: "infection" (living things get infected and a batch of beer, although has living things floating around in it - yeast - itself is not a living thing). They talked about bacteria vs yeast, which is important. For a novice that wants to make a beer, yeast=good, bacteria=bad. They talked about sanitization, which is key, but just a few rules need to be followed. But they neglected to say that the sanitization only needs to be a big concern on "the cold side" (after the boil). The entire processs involves mashing, boiling, chilling (sanitation becomes important at this point), transferring to a fermentation vessel, "pitching" yeast, allowing fermentation to happen (yeast makes beer, you don't), transferring to bottling bucket, adding bottling sugar, transferring to bottles, waiting for the bottles to "carb up", drinking!

Just a word of warning about bottling in individual bottles. It's a pain and you'll probably end-up kegging if you stay into beer making. That means buying lots more equipment (kegs, CO2 tank, regulator, keggerator).

They talked about a kettle lacto beer, which is just a weird style that you probably don't need to even consider and shouldn't worry about. They didn't talk about something very basic and important: exposing the beer to air (oxygen) during fermentation and bottling is bad. In fact that's one of the biggest "food failures" that a novice brewer might make. Easy to prevent oxydation with the right equipment and technique, though.

They didn't go into the logistics of fermentation of a lager (requires a cooling chamber) versus fermenting an ale (at just a low room temperature). If you want to ferment at warmer room temperatures, you can brew the saison style beer (using a saison yeast). Temperature control in fermentation is critical, so if you have a place that has a nice stable temperature, just find a yeast that likes that temperature, and that will determine what your first beer style will be!

They talked about bottle conditioning and exploding bottles as a failure, and that can happen if you don't know how much bottling sugar to use, but there are calculators you can use. Oh, buy a cheap little scale. Harbor Freight has 'em for like $12. That way, you can measure your bottling sugar to the gram and get it perfect. Not that it's really that critical, though. As they explained (not well, but explained), if you bottle too early there will be unconsumed sugars that will generate 'unexpected' CO2. Your bottling sugar calculation presumes that all the yeast-edible sugars are gone, but if you give the yeast the added bottling sugar plus the residual sugars, you can have more CO2 than the bottle can hold. But in the segment, they didn't connect the dots on the other (and I think more frequent) reason for bottle bombs: contamination. Say the beer is fully fermented at bottling time and you add the right amount of bottling sugar. But let's say you contaminate the batch in a crusty bottling bucket (bacteria gets in there, usually brettanomyces). Well, those guys go to work on sugars that yeast are unable to digest, and the pressure builds. So yeah, bottling too early and contamination are the bottle bomb "food failure" causes.

I know it was sort of a "random walk" through home brewing, but I think I did better than the radio segment to get reasonable coverage of the basics for someone considering the hobby.
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Old 08-31-2013, 09:29 PM   #5
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I would say that segment did not do a very good job at setting out brewing for a novice.
Agreed. It was semi-interesting, but it was all over the map. Not really much that a novice could absorb. Sanitation is important, but not much context in that podcast.

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So I will take care of that right here an now
As they say in any hobby - ask ten hobbyists and you'll get eleven different opinions!

Quote:
Step one is to find your local homebrewing club and go to a meeting or two, which they did mention, but didn't stress. I'd stress that because before you buy anything, you probably want to chat about and see various equipment choices. It doesn't have to be expensive. And you'll want to show up at someone's house on Saturday morning and sit there and wash stuff for them while they brew, hehe. Actually, you'll want to go to several "brew sessions" to see various equipment options. You'll only get a look at the "hot side" equipment on brew day, but if you ask, during some of the quiet points in the brew day, they might show you their bottling or kegging arrangement (how they "rack" or transfer the beer after fermentation).

Good advice, but again, you will get the opinion of that brewer. If he/she fly-sparges, then they will tell you that is the best way. If they batch-sparge, then that is the best way. And then you might run into a no-sparge aficionado. I'm a dunk-sparge fan, a rare breed indeed.


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The segment didn't talk about equipment at all, so, yeah, that's what a novice is up against. You want to brew 5 gallons at a time. Although you can do a "partial boil" by boiling, say, 2.5 gallons, then diluting it with 2.5 gallons, but I don't recommend that route.
OK, see my first comment about 11 different opinions.

I can give you technical reasons why a partial boil is inferior, but guess what - you can make some excellent beer that way. Good ingredients, good fermentation, and you can have great beer.


Quote:
The segment started by saying how making beer starts with a process like making oatmeal. But most novice brewers start out with "dried malt extract", which bypasses that process. And you can make real good beer with an extract kit. A little more expensive on ingredients, but less equipment required and much less time on your brew day. They talked about the brew in bag technique, which allows you to use the same equipment you use for extract brewing, but start out with grain instead of extract.
I've tasted (and made few) really good beers from extract. I go from malted grain now for the control and variety, but if you stick within certain guides, extract is more than fine.

Brew-in-a-bag is catching on, and makes a lot of sense. I kinda do a hybrid 'mash in a bag'.


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Just a word of warning about bottling in individual bottles. It's a pain and you'll probably end-up kegging if you stay into beer making. That means buying lots more equipment (kegs, CO2 tank, regulator, kegerator).
heh-heh- refer again to my 'eleven different opinions' comment!

Bottling has certain advantages (I've had over a dozen different types of beer available, just by sticking a few bottles in the fridge - not very many people have 12 kegs on tap) . And you'll need to bottle to enter a competition, so you might as well learn if you want to do that.


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They talked about a kettle lacto beer, which is just a weird style that you probably don't need to even consider and shouldn't worry about. ...
Yes, they went into the deep-dive stuff w/o covering the basics, a real mish-mash. Heck, the only lacto/brett-beer I've done was a brew-club barrel-aged collaboration. Not territory for the beginner.

About equipment - some in the club are into fully automated, computer controlled set ups. Some are old school. I'm kinda new-school, but from a minimalist view. I've worked out ways to brew with the barest bones of equipment. Chillers? Heck, we don't need no stinkin' chillers! I 'no-chill', which eliminates some equipment, and improves sanitation. I brew in the kitchen, 'mash-in-a-bag- in a couple buckets, ferment in a bucket. Nothing is expensive.

I feel like a heretic, but we had steak and sweet corn tonight, and my favorite beverage with that meal is my own recipe for a dark-rye (based on Founder's Dark Rye Ale). But I finished my last bottle last month, so a nice Cabernet was a distant second.

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Old 08-31-2013, 09:44 PM   #6
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Our local news station did a feature on this guy back a couple months ago. Keep meaning to get out there. About 30 minutes from my house.
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Old 08-31-2013, 11:00 PM   #7
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Our local news station did a feature on this guy back a couple months ago. Keep meaning to get out there. About 30 minutes from my house.
What are you waiting for?

If you are a beer aficionado, it sure sounds worth the 30 minutes. Interesting read.

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Old 08-31-2013, 11:18 PM   #8
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Thanks for posting. Great article - I need to visit Hill Farmstead someday. Any brewery that surpasses Three Floyds on a list must brew some great beer.

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Science Friday did a segment on home beer brewing and how to avoid some of the pitfalls. I know we have a few home brewers and am wondering what they think of the show and the advice for a potential novice. Food Failures: Beer Home Brew
Great podcast. Great to hear sanitation being mentioned several times as a key to making good beer. And fermentation temps. I'm up to 56 five gallon batches since 2010, and only have had a couple of bad batches. Most likely due to too high fermentation temp for the yeast strain. All I do now is concentrate on sanitation and proper yeast selection, and the beer turns out fine. Even the last couple of batches where I used raw wheat straight from the farm down the street. There's a lot of helpful info on the Internet that can help anyone brew good beer.
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Old 09-01-2013, 06:34 AM   #9
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Cool story. I've been to the Alchemist brewery (mentioned in the article) and they make great beer, so I can only imagine how good his must be.

Will surely check them out in my next visit to Burlington to see the fam up there.

How'd the hop harvest go, Sengsational? Looked like a good time.
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Old 09-01-2013, 01:07 PM   #10
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It's been a long time since my home brewing days but I always found this book by Charlie Papazian to be helpful.

The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third Edition: Charlie Papazian: 9780060531058: Amazon.com: Books
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Old 09-01-2013, 05:21 PM   #11
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Cool story. I've been to the Alchemist brewery (mentioned in the article) and they make great beer, so I can only imagine how good his must be.

Will surely check them out in my next visit to Burlington to see the fam up there.

How'd the hop harvest go, Sengsational? Looked like a good time.
I was there when the bines were planted, but didn't go for the harvest. But quite a few cones for a first year, from what I understand, though. Much better than the one plant I have in my yard which produced no cones at all!
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Old 09-01-2013, 06:34 PM   #12
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Just a word of warning about bottling in individual bottles. It's a pain and you'll probably end-up kegging if you stay into beer making. That means buying lots more equipment (kegs, CO2 tank, regulator, kegerator).
heh-heh- refer again to my 'eleven different opinions' comment!

Bottling has certain advantages (I've had over a dozen different types of beer available, just by sticking a few bottles in the fridge - not very many people have 12 kegs on tap) . And you'll need to bottle to enter a competition, so you might as well learn if you want to do that.
Not to put the rest of the folks on this board to sleep with brewing talk, but yes, depending on how you consume it, bottling can be ok. I bottle "big beers" in 12 oz bottles. Generally, though I "keg" and "bottle" at the same time (wash and sanitize only 3 big bottles, put 4.8 gallons into the big bottles). I can drink from them as if they were kegs (which they really are, since they last many months in the fridge). But I must say, I can't fit twelve of these bad-boys in the fridge at once or the DW would have no room for food!
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Old 09-01-2013, 06:38 PM   #13
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I was there when the vines were planted, but didn't go for the harvest. But quite a few cones for a first year, from what I understand, though. Much better than the one plant I have in my yard which produced no cones at all!
My wife and I have about 7 different varieties of hops growing in our yard, and about 4 of them (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Hellertau) are loaded with hops this year. I checked them today, and it will be hop harvesting time very soon around here.......later this week or next week at the latest. I actually hope they can hold until next week, as I'm too busy picking fruit right now (for wine-making) to start harvesting hops right now!
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Old 09-01-2013, 11:33 PM   #14
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I did not see the segment, but I have been a home brewer for about 20-25 years. Whatever you want to know just ask. Proper sanitation techniques and having the right good equipment is important. Start out with extract brewing with added body and flavor by supplementing the pre boil water with dunking specialty grains like Chrystal malt in 165 degree water for 15-20 mins in a mesh bag, then boil and add your extract. Add hops in stages for more complexity.

When you make good extract batches you can learn to lauter and sparge malt and make your own wart. (Aka all grain brewing)

If I could give one key piece of advice to anyone wanting to do this seriously and often, buy a used 5 gallon soda keg and learn to co2 condition your entire batch in the soda keg. Skip bottle filling and learn to keg everything. Much time and effort saved. You will also need a co2 tank and gas regulator.
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Old 09-01-2013, 11:34 PM   #15
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It's been a long time since my home brewing days but I always found this book by Charlie Papazian to be helpful.

The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third Edition: Charlie Papazian: 9780060531058: Amazon.com: Books
This is absolutely "the book" to learn from. I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie in Cleveland and got my copy signed by the father of American Homebrewing.
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Old 09-01-2013, 11:51 PM   #16
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I did not see the segment, but I have been a home brewer for about 20-25 years. Whatever you want to know just ask. Proper sanitation techniques and having the right good equipment is important. Start out with extract brewing with added body and flavor by supplementing the pre boil water with dunking specialty grains like Chrystal malt in 165 degree water for 15-20 mins in a mesh bag, then boil and add your extract. Add hops in stages for more complexity.

When you make good extract batches you can learn to lauter and sparge malt and make your own wart. (Aka all grain brewing)

If I could give one key piece of advice to anyone wanting to do this seriously and often, buy a used 5 gallon soda keg and learn to co2 condition your entire batch in the soda keg. Skip bottle filling and learn to keg everything. Much time and effort saved. You will also need a co2 tank and gas regulator.
+1.

Where would I be without my corny kegs? I should have put my entire savings into the things in 1999 at 10 bucks a pop, though. Would have far outperformed any index you care to name.
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Old 09-02-2013, 08:39 AM   #17
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+1.

Where would I be without my corny kegs? I should have put my entire savings into the things in 1999 at 10 bucks a pop, though. Would have far outperformed any index you care to name.
Perhaps, but you wouldn't have been diversified if you had done that!
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Old 09-02-2013, 08:51 AM   #18
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Where would I be without my corny kegs? I should have put my entire savings into the things in 1999 at 10 bucks a pop, though. Would have far outperformed any index you care to name.
I love it! Ah, but will you have to report capitcal gains when you sell 'em? Don't tell me...you plan to brew until the end, hehe. Then your heirs will get the step-up.

I'm surprised there are so many brewers on here. Maybe it's the "stickin' it to the man" idea of drinking awesome beer without paying the sin taxes on it.
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Old 09-02-2013, 09:14 AM   #19
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My wife and I have about 7 different varieties of hops growing in our yard, and about 4 of them (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Hellertau) are loaded with hops this year. I checked them today, and it will be hop harvesting time very soon around here.......later this week or next week at the latest. I actually hope they can hold until next week, as I'm too busy picking fruit right now (for wine-making) to start harvesting hops right now!
Hmmm never thought of that. Wonder what hops would grow in Fl?
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Old 09-02-2013, 09:38 AM   #20
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Hmmm never thought of that. Wonder what hops would grow in Fl?
They do grow there, but not quite as well as farther north (longer days up north in the summer). Plant them where they'll get the first ray in the morning and the last ray in the evening. I'm not which varieties do well with less time in the sun, you'd need to research that. But I think Cascade and Centennial are poplular ones to grow in the south.
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