More Beer

I’m making beer now just to move these ingredients out of my cupboard. It’s getting out of hand in there. The real culprit is the twelve pounds of grain I bought last weekend, but I don’t have a pot big enough to handle it yet. There’s an 8 gallon stockpot with my name on it somewhere between China and here, but since it hasn’t arrived yet I’m sticking with extract recipes I can brew in three gallon batches and then dilute.


Of course, when I start working with five or six gallons at a time, I’ll really have no hope of lifting anything by myself. This time, at least, I was smart enough to stop filling at the three gallon mark and was able to schlep water around like the independent woman I am.


The recipe du jour was Cincinnati Pale Ale, the recommended starter beer in John Palmer’s How to Brew. First I dumped in 2.5 pounds of amber dry malt extract (DME to the pros). For whatever reason it didn’t sink into the water as spectacularly as last time, and I was very disappointed. But the show went on.


I mixed in the DME and turned the stove on full blast. As it was heating, I ran a hot bath for 3.3 pounds of amber liquid malt extract (LME). Why 3.3 pounds? Because that’s what the recipe says, and that’s the amount I’ve found it sold in by two separate brands, now. I suspect a conspiracy.

Once it was warmish, I added it to the wort and heated it up to a boil.


Before the boil started, I had to do some high math. The recipe called for 6 AAUs of bittering hops. The recommendation was 12% Nugget. I bought myself some Nugget, but they were 14%. This means they’re just a tad bitterer than the recommended. For my last batch I fudged the amounts, but I thought I’d do it right this time. To calculate how much hop to use, you’re supposed to divide the target AAUs (in this case 6) by the AA percentage of the stuff you’ve bought (in this case 14). This came out to 0.42 oz of 14% hops (as opposed to 0.5 oz if it had been 12%). Perfect.

Here’s the thing. A difference of 0.08 oz is scarcely a difference at all. I should know because I weighed it out. I started with 0.5, then picked the hop pellets off the scale one at a time until it went down to 0.45. Then I kept picking them off until I hit 0.4. My scale doesn’t have the precision for 0.42, it turns out. So I threw a few pellets back on top of 0.4 and called it even.


I added the Nugget hops at the start of the boil. With some time to kill until the next hop addition, I decided to check in on my long-neglected wines. The pear wine from A Sudden Windfall seemed more or less ready, so I took advantage of the already-mixed sanitizer and set to work bottling it. In the end I got twelve bottles of something that tastes a little like pear and a lot like ethanol. The recipe says to let it age in the bottles now for a year – we’ll see if that happens.

I got so caught up in my bottling that I lost track of time and forgot to measure out my carefully calculated 0.9 oz of Cascade hops. At the 45 minute mark, I panicked and just threw the whole 1 oz packet in. So much for math.


I cooled the wort down and pressured Ben into helping me aerate it. The mouth of this carboy was big enough to fit my funnel, so we had a much easier time getting the wort into it. I was a fool, though, and put the extra water in first. This got the wort and foam a little closer to the top than intended. A lot closer, in fact. There were some casualties. I will not do the water first again, and I’m not sure what compelled me to do it this time.


With most of the wort in the carboy, I added my hydrated yeast. I cleaned up the floor and got the hired help to move it into the closet with last weekend’s specimen. That one seems to be doing well – the krausen (pro term for big foamy mass of yeast and gunk on top) has more or less fallen. According to the recipe, I should be bottling it any day now. Maybe I will.


Or maybe I’ll just keep accumulating carboys until my closet is no longer my own.


Too Much Beer

No one in my house likes beer. But for some reason I’m producing gallon upon gallon of the stuff. I made a pilgrimage to the brew supply shop across town, the same place Ben and I got the pile of Merlot grapes. The owner was very friendly, though he did set me to work milling my own grain.


I’ve been reading How to Brew by John Palmer. Its Amazon reviews are filled with nothing but praise. It’s also available (and nicely searchable) online in its first edition form. I discovered this after I’d  bought the paperback and (horribly searchable) Kindle versions. Oh well. It has a nice broad recipe section for any basic type of beer you might want to make with both all-grain and extract options. I bought enough grain to sink a ship, but for my first foray I attempted an amber ale made with a mix of liquid malt extract and dry malt extract.

The recipe called for three kinds of hops: 1/2 oz Centennial at 10%AA, 1 oz Mt. Hood at 7%AA, and 1 oz of Willamette at 5%AA. AA stand for alpha acids, the little guys that make hops so bitter. The shop had Centennial at 10.7%, Mt. Hood at 5.7%, and Willamette at 6%. The owner was of the opinion that the numbers were close enough I could just follow the recipe as-is. That was fine by me.


I was looking to make five gallons of beer, which meant beginning with six gallons of water. I filled up my six gallon carboy and learned two things. First of all, at five foot two and with atrophied noodles for arms, I’m not well equipped for moving huge volumes of water. Thankfully I live with large men who lift things for fun. Once the water started making its way into the pot, however, I learned the second thing. My canner, the volume of which I’d always thought of as infinite, can only comfortably hold three gallons of liquid.



I put the rest of the water aside for later and set to work on the half that made it into the pot. With the water still cold, I dumped in four pounds of amber dry malt extract. I should have stirred to combine. I really should have. But watching the clumps of malt succumb to the water was fascinating.


The water flowed across it along the paths of least resistance and it went down in chunks.


Those clumps turned into a thousand slimy little dumplings that were a real pain to dissolve. The initial sinking was very cool to see, though, and I’d do it again!


I turned the stove on and heated the wort. In the meantime I sat the liquid malt extract in a hot water bath to make it less viscous. Once the water was hot-ish, I poured the extract in. It tasted like a strange union of molasses and pet food. Like a fine dessert in Tudor England.


It took longer than I anticipated to bring the wort to a boil, but we got there. At the start of the boil I added the Centennial hops. After half an hour the Mt. Hood hops went in, and then the Willamette at 45 minutes. I’m looking forward to doing some experiments with hop varieties and timings in the future.


Once the boil was finished, I cooled it in an ice bath that just barely fit in the kitchen sink. When it hit 75F, I coerced Ben into aerating it for me. He poured the wort back and forth between the pot and a bucket from as high a level as seemed safe.


I could probably have managed the three gallons on my own, but this way went a whole lot faster. He also proved indispensable for the next step – pouring the wort into the carboy through a precariously balanced set of funnels. I have no pictures of it because it was all hands on deck to keep the wort off the floor.


Once the wort was transferred, I added my rehydrated yeast and the rest of the water. Disregarding all that foam from the aeration, it comes up roughly to the five gallon mark.


In the end we got the thing muscled into the closet, where it will be living for the next ten days or so. It’s so unwieldy, and its resting time so much shorter than that of the mead (which is STILL fermenting!) that it seemed easier all round to keep it upstairs. I’ve put a big cardboard box over it to keep it out of the light.


Now all that’s left is to wait, bottle, and make some friends who’ll drink it.