Creating Wort – Part 1

Malted Barley

As one of the 4 primary ingredients in beer, barley is obviously very important.  But what is it?

Barley is the seed of the barley plant and it looks a lot like wheat.  Barley is mostly harvested in the U.S. and in Europe.  There are dozens of varieties of barley, and each one has unique flavor characteristics for beer.  A typical beer recipe can use one or several different strains of barley.

Malting barley is a critical step for the production of beer.  Malting barley is the process of allowing the seeds to germinate for a few days, and then drying then to stop the germination process.  The result is a kernel of grain that contains starches, sugars, and enzymes used during the mash process to create wort.

Milled BarleyMost home brewers buy their malted barley from a home brew supply store.  It is typically purchased by the pound and different malted barley grains are all added together in a single purchase.  Next, the home brewer will use a mill to crush (well, really crack) the grains to expose the kernels.  The end result looks like the picture on the left.

 

Malted Barley

 

The most common malted barley used in many recipes is called 2-row.  It has been dry roasted for the most minimum of time and appears light yellow in color.  Malted barley that has been dry roasted at a higher temperature or for a longer time will appear darker in color, or even begin to crystalize.  Mixing portions of these heavier roasted barley will product a darer colored beer, such as an amber or event a stout.  Here’s a diagram showing different malted barley grains.

Mashing – Creating the Wort

Witbier MashThe ‘mashing’ process is a critical step in making beer.  It is the process we use to use enzymes to convert starches into fermentable sugars.  This is done by steeping the milled malted barley grains in hot water (around 152 degrees) for 1 hour.  Temperature and time are both important in this process. Mash at too high or low of a temperature, and you will get the wrong types of sugars in your wort mixture.  Mash for too little time and you won’t convert enough starches to sugars.  Mashing ends up looking a lot like making oatmeal.  Here’s a picture of someone mashing in a lot of wheat with his barley to make a Wit Bier.

I happen to use a method called RIMS during my mash.  RIMS stands for Recirculating Infusion Mash System.  The RIMS process involves using a pump to drain wort out of the mash tun and pump it back to the top of the vessel.  Additionally, during this process, additional heat is infused into the system to account for heat loss while the liquid wort is leaving the mash tun and travelling through the pump and hoses.

An alternative method is called HERMS:  Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System.  In a HERMS system, the liquid wort is pumped through a coil that is immersed in hot water to regain the heat lost through the re circulation system.

Most home brewers complete their mash by using a simple rest solution. This can be done in an igloo cooler (or some other insulated container) to hold the malted barley grains in a hot water solution for the duration of the mash.

In the next blog post, we’ll complete our discussion of creating wort by examining the lautering and sparging process.

How to Make Beer – An Introduction

When I tell people that I’m a home brewer, the first question most people ask is:  How do you make beer?  Well, that’s the purpose of this blog post.  Let’s get started.

There are 2 ways for home brewers like myself to make beer:  1) extract method, or 2) all grain method.  I’m going to describe the all grain method before I discuss the extract method.

Beer is typically made with only 4 ingredients:

  • water
  • barley
  • hops
  • yeast

The basic process is as follows

  1. Heat the water to 165 degrees
  2. Stir in the malted barley grains
  3. Hold the temperature at 152 degrees for 1 hour
  4. Drain the liquid (wort) into a different kettle
  5. Rinse the grains with more hot water, drain
  6. Boil the liquid and add hops over the course of 60 minutes
  7. Cool the liquid down
  8. Add yeast
  9. Wait 2-3 weeks

The all grain brewing process requires 3 vessels for different aspects of the brew cycle.  You’l need at least 1 vessel to heat water (commonly called a Hot Liquor Tank or HLT). You’ll also need at least 1 vessel to mash the grains (commonly called a Mash Tun). Finally, you’ll need a container to boil your wort (for sanitation and hop addition).  Lastly, you’ll need some method of cooling your wort down before you add your yeast.

The purpose of soaking the malted grains in hot water is to product wort.  The hot water soak converts the starches in the grain kernels into fermentable sugars.

Extract brewing, on the other hand, requires much less equipment because a lot of the work has already been done for you.  Malt extract, whether dry or liquid, is highly condensed wort.  All you need to do is add water, boil it, and add hops.  You’ll notice that once you have wort, the process is pretty much the same for extract as it is for all grain.

The basic process for extract brewing is:

  1. Heat some water
  2. Add your extract
  3. Bring it to a boil and add hops over the course of 60 minutes
  4. Cool the liquid down
  5. Add yeast
  6. Wait 2-3 weeks.

Extract brewing is a much simpler process, with less waste (there are no grains that require disposal), requires less equipment.  However, you don’t have much control over important details of the brew.  The all grain process allows you to have fine control over the type of malts you use, resulting in more complex and flavorful beers than you can get with extracts.  Now, this isn’t to suggest that you can’t make a great extract beer.  A lot of home brewers start brewing extract beers, but then move on to using the all-grain method.

Here’s a handy comparison of extract vs. all grain:

Extract All Grain
Equipment Only 1 pot required Requires 2-3 pots
Cost Slightly higher cost per batch Slightly lower cost per batch
Results Moderate quality, very consistent Higher quality, more control over final product

In our next episode, we’ll talk about the equipment needed for all grain brewing.

Brewday – Kolsch

Me, standing with my brew rig
Me, standing with my brew rig

My friend Tony and I brewed again.  The recipe for today is a Kolsch.  Kolsch is a light, dry beer, very light in color, and a minuscule amount of hops.  Originally brewed in Koln, Germany, it is also well known in Cologne.  I am intending this to be my ‘spring’ beer and it should be ready for consumption by April.

This was the 3rd brew on my new brewing system. Today, we were able to hit all of our numbers. It takes a little bit of time to get used to the equipment.  I do feel that the banjo burners I bought were a little overkill, as small changes in output result in big changes in kettle temperatures.  But, with just a little care, we can avoid any boil-overs.

My target for O.G. was 1.0.54 and we hit 1.0.52.  Not bad.  I’m hoping to finish around 1.0.13/14 and I should have a beer around 5.1% ABV.

My Brew Rig

8 years ago my friend J.P. invited me to brew with him. That started me on the journey to becoming a home brewer.  For the past several years, we’d use J.P.’s equipment to brew all kinds of beers.  This fall, I decided to branch out on my own and purchase my own equipment.

I knew that I wanted a single-tier system and I decided to get a 10 gallon system.  (J.P. has a 20 gallon system, but I thought that might be a bit too unwieldy.)  After researching kettles, I settled on the Bru-Gear line of kettles.  They all come with a thermometer and a ball valve, and they use tri-clamp fittings, something that I knew would be good to have on a personal system.

My budget did not allow me to buy a brew table, but I had some really nice caster wheels and some leftover lumber.  I built a brew cart, stained and sealed it, and ended up with a very nice brew cart for just a few bucks.

I had an existing burner, but I needed 2 more, so I purchased some Bayou Classic KAB4 Banjo burners with built-in stands.  Since I was using a single-tier system, I knew I’d need a pump, so I bought a Chugger in-line SS head pump. I also bought a Duda Diesel 20 plate wort chiller.  I can’t say enough about the plate chiller.  That is an exceptional piece of equipment.

I also purchased 20 feet of high temperature silicon hose, and a lot of cam/groove stainless steel fittings.

Here’s the finished product.

Damon's 10-gallon brew rig
Damon’s 10-gallon brew rig