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.



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.