The Relaxed Brewer
A quick and dirty guide to a relaxed brew-day
For my first blog entry, I've chosen a subject that's near and dear to my heart; a relaxed brew-day. I've designed (by necessity) a brew schedule that allows for a happy and contented household that doesn't incur the stress of a high maintenance, fully hands on brew day. None of this is based on new brewing techniques, most have been around a lot longer than I've been brewing. And the kicker; the equipment is fairly basic and economical but the beer can be as good as any beer brewed on the most expensive systems available.
There are a few gotchas however:
Some people enjoy the whole process of brewing (as do I) and have a frequent 8 hours to devote to the process (which I do not very often I'm afraid).
Safety is paramount; brewing systems and children do not mix and an unattended pot of hot mash or boiling wort has a tendency to bite you on the ass. If you cannot contain the risks - do not leave your brew system unattended.
The process is not as efficient as a typical 3 vessel system - you may need to add an extra half kilo of malt to compensate
Not suitable for large batches (10KG+ of grain)
You'll need the following:
A brew kettle. Preferably with a ball valve installed. 36L will do for a 19L batch size, 40L for 23L, and 50L for a 30L batch. Your mileage may vary depending on amount of hops used, length and vigour of the boil, intended ABV, phase of the moon, etc. etc.
A bag. Yes, I prefer to use Brew In A Bag methods when brewing at home. You'll typically need a bag large enough that your entire pot could fit inside. The best material for making this bag is Swiss Viole available for Spotlight or other haberdashery stores. Any fine, man-made curtain material should suffice.
A heat source. Minimum would be a 3 ring, low pressure burner (available from Mitre 10, Bunnings and most Home Brew Supply shops) which is good for up to a 40L pot. Anything bigger, you'll need either a 4 ring burner, a high-pressure burner, or an electric element, 2KW or bigger.
Cooling. Easiest and simplest way of cooling your wort after the boil is a copper immersion chiller with water from the garden hose circulating through it. An alternative would be to fill a 23L HDPE Jerry Can with the wort post-boil. This will sterilise the HDPE container and keep the contents from infection until it cools sufficiently to pitch the next day - Google 'no-chill brewing' for more information.
Other bits and pieces. You'll need a thermometer, stirring spoon, hydrometer, fermenter, and a recipe. A large jug, bucket, pair of marigold gloves, and large funnel are handy. You'll need some insulation for the mash tun; I use a duvet but a sleeping bag would serve just as well. Plus the recipe; grain, hops, yeast, water, finings, yeast nutrient.
I'll illustrate the process with pics of an actual brew-day - a 23L batch of an Irish Dry Stout in a 40L system brewed on the 15th November
Heat strike water
7.30pm - Brew day started with 30 Litres of water added to the 40 Litre pot and heated to 71'C. I've sped up this process by using 60'C water from our domestic supply.
7.50pm - As soon as 71'C is achieved, turn off the heat, apply the bag, and mash in the grains, stirring continuously. Lid the pot and insulate. The mash temperature should be in the vicinity of 66'C. You can easily correct this temp by a degree or two by adding a jug of cold tap water or boiling water if necessary.
9.00 pm - Mash out occurs after an hour or so; I take the bag of grain out and put it in the funnel (a large upturned aluminium lightshade) so that I catch the drips in a bucket.
9.10 - This is actually more of a rinse than a sparge. Boil an electric kettle with 1.5L of water and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Pour on top of the grain. Using your gloves, squeeze as much juice out of the grain as you can. Add the extra runnings to the boil.
9.25 - The wort is brought to the boil and a vigourous rolling boil is maintained for 60 or 90 minutes depending on the recipe. This is where a bit of experience will tell you when your system is likely to boil over, if at all. Some tips to reduce the risk would be to keep oxidisation of the wort to a minimum and to add a couple pellets of hops before the boil begins.
Add hops, finings and yeast nutrient as per the recipe. Also put the immersion chiller in the boil with 15 minutes to go to sanitise it.
10.45 - At the end of the boil, turn off the heat and start cooling immediately. It is important to stir the wort during the cooling process. Cool down to 25'C
11.00 - Try to aerate the cooled wort as you transfer it in to the fermenter. Yeast needs lots of Oxygen in order to reproduce. If you're using dry yeast, sprinkle on top and store.
11.10 - Please use the spent grain sensibly; it makes great chicken feed or compost material. Clean up shouldn't take too long as there's only one pot.
For the record, here's the recipe I used: 3.2KG (64%) Gladfield Ale Malt, 1.2KG (24%) Flaked Barley, 0.6KG (12%) Roast Barley, 70g EKG 5.8% AA at 60 minutes, WLP004 Irish Ale yeast, 1g each of Koppaflok and yeast nutrient at 15 minutes, 3 tsp Baking Soda in the mash. I ended up with 23L of 1.046 wort which equates to about 74% efficiency but I did tip all the cold break and hop trub into the fermenter.
So the entire brew day took 4 hours but I wasn't present for large portions of it. In fact I was actively brewing for about an hour and a half. During the mash I put the children to bed and went to the petrol station to fill a gas bottle. During the boil, I watched an episode of Elementary and an episode of Big Bang Theory (both excellent), and I wrote some of this post.
The more I brew, the more relaxed I am about the process, and the better the outcome has tasted.