A mash in action

Start by heating your water up

And, of course, weighing out the correct amount of malt. It is always a good idea to boil your water for half an hour to rid it of any chlorine treatment. As this process softens water (if you live in a temporary hard water area such as southern England) you will need to harden it up again. Bitter beer definitely benefits from being made with hard water! Simply add a spoonful of gypsum (calcium sulfate) to the water. Don't worry about adding too much - any excess just won't dissolve.

Now allow the hot water to cool to 70 degrees Celsius (158F)

Doing the mash

Add the grain to the water. Note: it is highly recommended that you use a propriety grain-bag for this: it keeps the grain off the heating element. Temperature control is vital at this point. Although a strike temperature of 70 degrees Celsius (158F) is acceptable the temperature at which the mash takes place must be no higher than 65C (150F).

Knowing when to finish

Here you follow the mash using the iodine test. Iodine reacts with starch to produce an intensely blue/black colour. At the start of the mash the cereal grains are nearly all starch. As the mash progresses, the starch is gradually converted into maltose (our fermentable sugar). When the conversion is complete, the grain will show no sign of blue/blackness.

Run the sweet wort into a 5 gallon (UK) vessel. Sparge the spent grain with a couple of kettles of boiling water. Now return the combined liquid back to the mash tun (take great care - it's hot and heavy!). Now - proceed to the next stage. 

Bittering the wort

This is a very important stage - but you can now relax! The temperature critical phase is over! Put a couple of spoonfuls of Irish moss directly into the wort, then immerse a clean grain bag into it. Add the hops and bring to the boil. Keep the boil rolling for at least an hour. This coagulates any proteins present. Dissolved proteins can cause your finished beer to be hazy. Also, and more importantly, boiling causes the essential isomerisation proccess whereby humulone is converted to iso-humulone.

After boiling, run the hopped wort into a 5 gallon (UK) fermenting bin. Sparge the spent hops with 1 kettle of boiling water. Collect all the liquid. Now cool it to room temperature.

Fermentation

First, find out the potential strength of your beer. A hydrometer is used for this. Before using the hydrometer, it is important to ensure the wort has cooled to 20 degrees Celsius (68F). whilst not critical, this temperature is recommended as this is the temperature at which most hydrometers are calibrated. Certainly, you want to avoid pitching the yeast if the temperature is higher than 30 degrees C (86F). Such high temperature will damage the yeast - and may even cause it not to work at all!

Note: the wort is stirred vigorously before using the hydrometer. This is to ensure the temperature is even and that a small amount of oxygen is allowed to dissolve in the wort. This helps the yeast to get going. Sterilise ALL spoons and hydrometers before using them!

The bitter shown here has an O.G. of 1050. This will be a beautiful full flavoured and full-bodied beer! Now sprinkle the yeast on the surface - and wait! Visible signs of fermentation should be apparent after 24 hours.

 

Continuing the fermentation

After a couple of days in the bucket, removal of the lid will present this glorious sight to your eyes! The fermentation will be extremely healthy - and you know that the sugar (maltose) is being converted to alcohol! It is worth noting here that, even though the fermentation vessel is an "open" one, there is a layer of carbon dioxide gas covering the fermenting liquid. You will get a shock if you put your nose near it - try if you dare! This layer of gas shuts off the oxygen supply - so the yeast is forced into it's anaerobic respiration mode - thus ensuring alcohol will be produced.

When this vigorous stage is over, it is time to transfer the liquor into a 5 gallon (UK) demijohn fitted with an airlock.

The clearing stage

When the initial fermentation has subsided the beer is ready to transfer into a storage vessel called a demijohn. Since we are making large quantities, these vessels are correspondingly large (5 gallon UK - or 6.25 gallon US). Take care! These are heavy! The beer is first skimmed in the open bucket - this removes much of the detritus from the surface. Next, you rack (siphon) the liquid into a clean sterilised 5 gallon demijohn. Use a solution of sodium metabisulfite for this (1 or 2 teaspoons per pint of water). Don't forget to sterilise the siphon tube too!

Allow the solids in the beer to settle - this generally takes place naturally in about 4 weeks. If you are in a hurry, you can clear the beer with isinglass. Check with the stockists on the "Links" page.

Dry hopping

This is optional - but I always do it! The addition of a handful of dry hops adds a beautiful aroma to your finished pint! Use Goldings hops - they really are hard to beat. However, the use of any hop is to be recommended if you have a particular favourite. Dry hopping certainly improves your beer!

As an additional precaution, cover the demijohn with aluminium foil (or at least store the vessel in a dark place). Beer can be spoilt by a process known as "light strike". This is caused by a photochemical reaction - and the wavelengths responsible occur in the visible spectrum. Light strike imparts a sort of "prematurely aged" taste to the beer. This is the reason why most beers are bottled in brown glass. Note, green glass might look nice, but it is totally useless in protecting the beer!

Clearing - settling out

Although one really ought to leave the beer at least a month, the photograph shows the beer after just one week. Note how the turgidity has been reduced by a considerable amount. This beer is not ready yet - but it's on the way! After another three weeks or so it will be ready for bottling. Note also the yeast layer on the bottom - this is where the suspended solids eventually end up...

The layer of dry hops is clearly visible on the surface.

Final clearing

The bitter shown in the previous picture was at the 1 week stage; the same bitter after another 4 weeks is crystal clear. Unfortunately, you can’t really tell from the 5 gallon demijohn shown, because some yeast has settled out on the side of this rather large vessel. Not wanting to dislodge it too much, I took a gallon out to show you.

Just to show you...

 Look at the clarity now! Also, beside it, is a pint in a green glass bottle. Green glass is useless for protecting the beer from “light strike”, so I’m definitely covering this one in aluminium foil until I drink it!

Bottling the beer

I like to bottle my beers. Some people use plastic 5 gallon dispensers – often fitted with a pressure valve into which you can introduce carbon dioxide gas from a small cylinder. Homebrew stockists will sell these. Look on the “Links” page. Whatever you choose, the vessel needs to be primed with a small amount of sugar. For bottles, this is around ¾ teaspoon. For the plastic keg it is two ounces.

The purpose of the sugar is simply to provide the carbon dioxide gas that gives the beer its sparkle. Residual yeast, carried over when filling, works on the sugar to produce carbon dioxide gas which dissolves in the beer. This gas is released when the beer is served. If you don’t draw too much from the keg, it will recover. However, if you’re having a party and want to drain the thing, then you’ll definitely need the assistance of extra CO2 from a cylinder. Do NOT simply let air in – beer can be ruined by this!

When you rack (siphon) the beer into the bottles, it is a good idea to put some sort of filter over the end of the siphon tube. This prevents hop petals getting into your bottles or keg. I use steel wool (either wired on or tied on with string). Just use it once – you don’t want to have rusty filters near your beer!

Capping the bottles

Use a crown-corker for this. The machine is lever operated and it rolls or crimps the crown cork to the bottle. The machine levers against the glass ridge.  As you press down, pressure is applied evenly and the stopper is crimped very efficiently making a perfect seal.

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