Steeped Grains

It’s beer time again.

My last two batches have been attempts at all-grain without the right equipment. I was trying to Brew in a Bag, which is a legitimate technique, but only if you understand how it works. I didn’t, and wound up diluting my wort and supplementing with leftover dry malt extract to get the sugar content back up. This time I did basically the same thing.

But I did it deliberately. 

So it’s fine.


For my recipe I’m following a completely unvetted concoction from the American Homebrewers Association, because I’ve lost control of my life. And because the real recipes are behind a paywall.

It’s a steeped grain recipe, which means you soak a small amount of specialty malted grains in hot water for flavor and color, then you make up for the missing sugar with malt extract.

To start I measured out my specialty malts by weight.


Here we have 8 oz of 20L crystal malt, 4 oz of 80L crystal malt, 4 oz of CaraVienne malt, and 5 oz of wheat malt, stored attractively in fruitcake bowls of Christmases past.


Up until now I’ve been buying grain from the local brew supply store and milling it on site. This leads to a couple of problems, though. For one, I can only use the grains available in the store. For two, I have to mill it all at once, seriously reducing the shelf life of any grain I have leftover. It’s possible to buy milled grain online, but that only solves the first problem. To make things easier on myself, I invested in a grain mill.

I hope to one day be as rugged as the man on the box.


This was my mill’s maiden voyage, and unfortunately it showed. The whole thing had a metallic, oily smell. Upon reading the directions, I learned you’re supposed to give it a good scrubbing first.


So into the sink we went. Only a minor detour.


With my mill fresh and clean, I got it all assembled (in the living room, where the table was thin enough for the clamp).


And I got to milling.


With a nylon sac in a bowl underneath, I ground all my specialty grains into what was probably too fine a powder for what I was doing.


But what are you gonna do? Next time I’ll try to set it to a coarser grind.


I tied off my bag and submerged it in 2 gallons of water at 160F for half an hour. Once the time was up, I squeezed the bag dry and set it aside.


I added 6 pounds of light LME to make up the fermentable sugars the grains couldn’t supply, and I set the whole thing boiling.


For my hops I used Nugget, Cascade, and Nelson Sauvin, a fancy guy all the way from New Zealand that’s supposed to have a well-defined, citrusy quality. My Cascade hops weren’t quite the recommended AA, so I had to do some serious math on the fly.


After an hour of boiling I took the wort off the stove and aerated it by sloshing it back and forth between two pots. The real glory of working with specialty grains is that you can start with a small amount of liquid and dilute later. This meant I could pick it up and fling it around the kitchen all by myself.


With my wort aerated, I pitched the yeast and filled the carboy up to the 5 gallon mark with water. I like to think that this method adds some much needed extra aeration.


After that I sealed it up and left the yeast to do their thing. By the next morning the fermentation was off to a good start. Nine days later I dry hopped with more Cascade and Nelson Sauvin.


I plan on bottling as soon as I can get my act together. I just hope the recent heat hasn’t been doing anything untoward in there.



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.