Thursday, August 13, 2009

Adventures in Cooking: What the Hefe?

I've been brewing beer from time since I came back from my internship in Germany. I've gone from humble brewing beer in a house we were renting in college to uh... humble brewing in a smaller apartment. Anyhow, a new batch has been long overdue so I decided to brew a German Hefeweizen for the summer.

Naturally, as I type this Washington is having an unseasonably rainy August. Well, you can't win them all.

Many friends have asked me about brewing, assuming that it is very interesting. They don't believe me when I assure them that it is not, so here is a new episode of Adventures in Cooking, which may beat out Ramen for "most pictures of boiling water."

The Ingredients
Here are the ingredients; as I'm in a small one-bedroom apartment I stick to extract brewing instead of buying the bulky and expensive equipment for going all-grain. I expect someone will snidely remark that it's not that bulky and doesn't have to be that expensive, but my kitchen is small. Also, shut up.

This session's beer
Now, in other sessions my drinking a beer while cooking could be classified as irresponsible or a number of other unkind words. However, this episode of Adventures in Cooking is about making beer, and any brewer worth his or her uh, brew, will tell you that it is essential that you drink a beer while you brew. This session's beer was Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale from Southern Tier brewing. I don't know about extraordinary, but it was good.

Getting ready to steep the grains
The first step is to steep the grains. This involves bringing about two and a half gallons of water to 150 degrees (F) and making some tasty looking grain tea.

Cleaning our supplies
It takes a little while for the water to get this hot, and since a watched pot never boils, I figure it's a good idea to start sanitizing the carboy. The carboy is a 6.5 gallon container where the wort (the not-ready-yet beer) will live while the yeast party like it's 1999. Sanitizing the carboy involves first cleaning it the old fashion way (soap and water), and then pouring a solution called StarSan in and filling it with water. This ensures that no one else is invited to the yeast's party.

The steeping grain
Here is the milled grain. It's grain, I can't come up with something amusing to say about it.

Tea time
The grain goes in a cheesecloth sock, giving one the largest tea bag in the history of man (possibly hyperbole).

Steeping the grain
And when the water is the right temperature, the grain bag gets tossed in and steeps for 20 minutes or so. When this is done, the grain bag is removed and its time to mix in the remaining malt extracts!

Mixed and ready to boil
Now this is starting to look like beer. A sweet, not alcoholic, flat, and probably not all that tasty beer. But beer. Yeah. The next step is to bring this mixture to a boil, stirring to avoid overflow (I failed). The brew will then boil for an hour. In brewing terms, this is known as "the boil."

This rabbit-food looking stuff is pelletized hops. Normally hops come in leaves, but even professional brewers use the pelletized stuff a lot since it's much more compact and you get more bang for your pellet.

Hops in the boil
The hops go into a cheesecloth bag just like the grains and get to hang out in the boil for different times depending on your recipe. In this recipe, most of them went in right away and the next batch went in 40 minutes into the boil. Typically this is so that the earlier hops can provide bitterness to the beer while the later hops provide more aroma than anything else.

Cooling the wort
Now we have the wort; the un-fermented beer product. Unfortunately, this substance is way too hot for yeast to perform their magic in, so it needs to be (somewhat) quickly cooled. The quickness is to ensure that other wild yeast don't show up before the yeast that we like get to do their job. In this case, I dump a whole bunch of ice in my sink and run cold water around the really, really hot pot.

There are devices called immersion chillers, and I actually own one, but I feel like it negatively impacts the taste of the beer. It's basically a big copper coil that you can submerge in the wort and run cold water through.

First Siphon!
Once the hot wort has cooled down to something manageable, it needs to be siphoned into the carboy. The first time I brewed I had to do this the hard way (sucking on the tube), but now I have a super awesome racking cane so all I do is pump to get things started.

Ready to go!
Once the wort is in the carboy, the yeast is added and the airlock put on the carboy. Now comes the waiting game; the wort gets to ferment initially for 7-10 days.

As the beer ferments, a healthy head of foam will start to form on the wort, sediment will form on the bottom, and during the stronger parts of fermentation the airlock will bubble a lot and hopefully you're a light sleeper if you're like me and keep your carboy in your bedroom closet.

I was taught that the right time to rack the beer to secondary is when the head of foam dies down. Once this happens the brew is siphoned to a smaller 5 gallon carboy. This filters the brew away from the sediment of dead yeast that have formed on the bottom of the carboy from primary fermentation and then allows it to ferment a little more for another week or so.

When the beer is done in secondary it's time to keg; I didn't bother photographing this as it's not too different from the other siphoning photos. The keg is cleaned and sanitized in the same manner as the carboys and the beer is poured directly in. Once that's done, it's capped, put in the fridge, and 13lbs of CO2 applied. After another week or so, it's time to start drinking!


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