My Brew Process
Here’s an overview of my all grain brewing process. It’s intended to show non-brewers or extract brewers how a batch of all grain beer is made. You can click on any images to get a better look at them.
The batch I made today is an English Pale Ale, the style being a Special Bitter. Contrary to the name, English Bitters are usually not very bitter but are malty and often have a slight caramel taste. My batch size is 5 gallons, although I have the capability to do 10 gallon batches. Here’s the recipe for my brew: Larry’s Pride Special Bitter
Usually the day before brew I add my strike water (water that will be heated and mixed with grains during the ‘mashing’ process) to my 15 gal brew kettle. I used filtered tap water for my beers, and usually add a small amount of calcium choride (2 grams) and epsom salt (2.5 grams) to the strike water since the local tap water here is very soft and lacking in calcium and magnesium, which are important minerals used by enzymes during mashing and yeast during fermentation. I also add 1/2 tsp 5.2 stabilizer to my water to help balance the water ph during the mash. For this brew I also added 1 gram of Calcium Carbonate (Chalk). I’ll also measure out my sparge water (used to rinse the grains with after the mash process is finished) in a 5 gal water jug I got from Lowes, so all my water will be filtered and ready to go on brew day.
Today I started my brew day at 6 am, since it’s supposed to be 97 degrees and I wanted to finish before it got too hot. I fired up the burner under my kettle to heat up the strike water, and while the water heats up I run the extension cord and hose out to my shed and measure out my hops for the recipe. Heating the water usually takes around 20 minutes so it gives you time to set things up for the brew session. When the water is close to the strike temp (about 8 – 10 degrees above the mash temp for your recipe) I start recirculating the water thru my water cooler mash/lauter tun (MLT) and back to the kettle. This heats up the MLT so that it does not lose as much heat during the mash. Here’s what the setup looks like during recirculation:
When the thermometer on the MLT is about 9 degrees above what my mash temperature is for the recipe and I have 1.25 quarts of water in the MLT for every pound of grain in the recipe, I stop the recirculation and get ready to add the grains. Here’s what 9lbs of grain looks like:
To start the mash process I cut open the bag and add the grains to the hot water in the MLT and stir everything for a few minutes to eliminate any clumps. If I am at the correct temp (156 for this recipe) I can now put the top on the MLT and let the enzymes in the grains go to work breaking down starches into sugars. These enzymes require certain temps to work correctly – they will break down the sugars into more easily fermentable pieces at cooler temps (149) than at wamer temps (158). For this recipe I want some maltiness left over after fermentation so I am mashing at the warmer end of the range (the yeast I’m using (WLP007) is quite aggressive so I don’t want it to ferment out too dry). Here’s what the grain mixed with the strike water looks like at the beginning of the mash:
After 45-60 minutes, the enzymes will have completely converted the starches in to sugars, and the process of extracting the sugary wort (wort is what beer is called before yeast is added) from the grains can begin. To help clear any bits of grain from the wort I use my pump to recirculate wort thru the MLT for about 5 minutes, allowing the grain bed to filter the wort. During the mash I heated my sparge water in the kettle and then pumped it to the hot liquor tank (HLT) on the shelf up above.
Now that the mash is complete and the wort is clear I can start slowly draining the wort from the MLT into the boil kettle, while at the same time slowly draining hot water from the HLT into the MLT. The hot water will pull out the sugars from the grains as it flows thru to the kettle. Here’s how my setup looks during the sparge (known as fly sparging):
To keep the grains from flowing into the kettle, a strainer known as a false bottom sits on the bottom of the MLT. It keeps the grain in the MLT but lets the wort flow thru. This is what a false bottom looks like – I just bought this from Alternative Beverage in Charlotte to replace my DIY manifold I built in an earlier post. The manifold worked OK, but the false bottom works better:
Here’s a picture of the wort as it slowly fills the kettle:
This is what the grain looks like after the mash and after the sugars have been extracted during the sparge:
When I’ve captured approximately 6.5 gal of wort into the kettle I bring it to a boil and start adding hops at different boil times per the recipe. Hops added at the beginning of the boil are known as bittering hops because most of the flavor and aroma are boiled off leaving only the hoppy bitterness. Hops added at the end of the boil are flavor and aroma hops, and if you add hops after fermentation it’s known as dry hopping. Here’s my brew during the boil:
After a 1 hour boil it’s time to cool the wort. About 10 minutes before the boil is completed I’ll add in my wort chiller into the kettle so that it is sanitized by the boiling wort. The wort chiller is a coil of either stainless steel or copper – it’s connected to a garden hose and cool water is run thru it so that it pulls the heat from the wort.
Kettle with wort chiller in it.
When the wort cools to the mid-60’s it is ready to drain into the fermenter. Getting the wort this cool is a challenge in the South in the summer, since tap water can be in the 80’s. So after cooling to around 100 I’ll use a small pump to pump ice water from my HLT thru the wort chiller to cool the wort lower. If I can’t get it into the 60’s I’ll drain it to the fermenter and put it in the fermentation fridge for a couple hours to cool it the rest of the way before adding yeast. If yeast is added while the wort is too warm you end up with off flavors in your beer.
Draining into the fermenter:
Here’s the fresh wort in the fermentation fridge with the yeast starter sitting behind it. While it cools I use an S type airlock with a water /Starsan mix in it to allow air to suck back into the fermentor (a vacuum is created when the wort cools).
Once it cools to 64 I’ll add the yeast, and aerate with pure oxygen for 1 minute. It’s now officially beer, but it won’t be ready to drink for a few weeks. The yeast will multiply for about a day and then start to eat the sugars while releasing alcohol and CO2. Temperature control is very important during this time. If it’s too cold it won’t ferment completely and if it’s too warm it will develop off flavors. When fermentation slows down I’ll bring the temp up into the low 70’s to help the yeast finish fermentation and clean up some of the off flavors that will get created during the fermentation process. I’ll also use a hydrometer to test the gravity before and after fermentation. As sugars are converted to alcohol by the yeast, the gravity will drop. The gravity readings will allow me to calculate the final alcohol percentage and tell me when fermentation is completed.
English Bitters ferment and clean up pretty quickly, so I should be able to keg and start drinking this batch in about 2 weeks from today if all goes well.
That’s all for now!
Edit: Here’s how the Special Bitter looks during fermentation: