I would like to point out some novice brewer nomenclature: “the process” refers to opening a brewery. “The procedure” refers to the step-by-step brewing process.
Additionally, I believe the improvised nature of my brewing process will be apparent from the pictures. I apologize to the serious brewers among you. I am very happy to be among the few that can make beer commercially, and thus, I am very happy with my set-up. Sure, Soundbrew tells me to go big or go home. The forums tell me I am riding a bubble that is about to burst. That one guy called me a fascist book-burner after I poured him a beer. In fairness, I was wearing a shirt with Mao on it. Since I reside in Westport, I can just be glad I did not get punched in the face.
My point is that I am going to enjoy the wild ride, despite the naysayers and trivial bumps in the road.
Step 1) Make a plan, measure everything, take notes.
Multitasking is the key to any brewing process. In Serious Easts, an interview with Boulevard brewer Jeremy Danner yields this gem of advice, “It’s very similar to being a line cook in a restaurant that never closes”. Check out the article, it is a good read.
His advice is an excellent caparison: working on the line in a kitchen is extremely stressful. I believe it is one of the most stressful, non-life-or-death jobs out there. Instead of being knee-deep in flour and chopped jalapenos though, it will be barley and hops. This is were loving the ingredients will keep you sane.
After filling my kettle with water, firing the heating elements, and adding campden tablets, it is time to scoop the grain. Do you measure everything? You should, if you ever want to make the same batch again. Also, if you want to improve upon your brewing skills. Basically, there is no good reason not to measure and take notes. Do you need to fill out charts in your lab coat? Well, that is up to you. I think some can get too fanatical with their note-taking. To point: nobody starts out in brewing with master brew skills. It’s a learned process, filled with sand-traps and water hazards.
Keep your grains away from the brewery as much as possible. The grain dust contains lacto-baccillus. I can personally attest to this because I cultivated this lacto in my previous brew, Berliner Dunkelhop. It is definitely there!
Step 2) Crack that grain!
Does your mill resemble a small particle accelerator? Is it just a barley crusher, a drill, and a bucket? No matter, as long as you are not cranking that handle without a motor. I really enjoy the slow, laborious process of cracking grain.
Pro tip: keep your fittings tight, or that hopper will fall over.
Step 3) Combine hot liquor with grist.
Temperature is critical here. You must do the calculations beforehand so that your mash temperature stabilizes at the correct level. Since this is a creamy dark ale, I was shooting for 155*F.
Vigorous stirring is required to prevent formation of dough-balls. These benign sounding chunks will prevent your liquor from reaching all of the grist, lowering efficiency and lowering your chances of saying to your brew friends, “I got like 95% efficiency on my last batch.”
Step 4) Maintain temperature, prepare the sparge!
After a period of time the brewmaster deems worthy, the sweet liquor will be separated from the spent grain. Due to my relatively high strike temperature, an hour was enough to convert those pesky long-chain carbohydrates into fermentable and delicious glucose molecules. Mmmmm, glucose molecules…
Step 5) Conduct the lauter and sparge.
As hot liquor sprinkles over the top of the mash, it is slowly pumped into the copper (that is fancy English slang for boil kettle). Of course, it must be lautered, which means that the grain is prevented from going into the boil. This is achieved with a false bottom: a stainless steel plate with thousands of little holes in it. The sweet liquor is guided through this process slowly so that channeling does not occur. Raking the mash is a great idea, it also prevents channeling.
Channeling is when the liquid decides that the left part of the mash tun is more comfortable for it’s unique desire to flow downwards as fast as possible. This can produce over-extraction, tannic grain flavors that are not good eats.
Step 6) Boil the beer with hops, make sure your yeast is active for the pitch.
Boiling the beer with hops is pretty straightforward. Hops added at the beginning will add more bitterness. Added at the end, they will provide more flavor. Aroma is hard to come by in the boil process. I still add knockout hops in search of that elusive aroma, but have recently began dry-hopping all of my beers.
Are you looking for a malty beer? Add less hops! I now it sounds simple, but it is overlooked.
You must prepare your yeast starter a few days in advance. Ideally, you want a full krausen (foamy head). This ensures that the yeast is ready to eat all those sugars when it is pitched.
A smack-pack is not enough! Even for you 5 gallon brewers, preparing a yeast starter will dramatically improve your beers. Especially if you are making a lager.
Step 7) Chill that beer down, drain off trub, pitch yeast.
As you can see, sometimes you need to improvise to get your pump to work. My new chilling process is described in the previous post.
Is your beer 90 degrees? Do not pitch the yeast! Wait until proper pitching temperature.
Draining the trub will remove long-chain proteins from the cold break that can cause many problems: tannic flavors, decreased stability, and chill haze. Chill haze is actually a complicated problem that requires quite a few things to solve.
Step 8) Clean everything, drink a beer, admire your work.
Cleaning is the most important part of the process. By leaving any messes, you are setting yourself up for failure down the road. I glossed over a few things, like constantly sweeping and mopping the floor, cleaning all the walls and surfaces of the brewery, and cleaning and sanitizing everything the cold-side beer comes in contact with. The best advice I ever got from the best brewer I know, Jackie, co-owner of Bacchus & Barleycorn, was just a look he flashed me when I returned his not-quite-clean false bottom.
That look said it all. Have the highest expectations for cleanliness. There are no shortcuts. After all, brewopolis is just ancient Greek for janitor.