When making beer at home, you usually find a good recipe for a known beer style (a great resource for these is at BeerSmith) and you get ingredients to match and try and replicate this. There is a slight problem with those recipes, however: it never actually comes out the same. There are too many variables when home brewing, so I prefer to instead go for guidelines on what needs to happen and some general ratios to be used.
This method of home brewing, let’s call it intuitive brewing, looks at some ratios that work best and then works on tweaking them. I found that this method lets me brew beers the way I like and allows me to explore different aspects of the ingredients and the process rather than just repeating a recipe.
In my couple of years of brewing beer, I found a few “golden rules” that work well with my beers and are a good foundation for many of the beers I make. Also, there is the simple process that should be followed to keep it all in place. So first I want to break down the process a little, but for that I want to start at the end:
- Beer is made by allowing a specific yeast (ale/lager yeast) to “eat” the fermentable sugars that are present in a malted liquid.
- The malted liquid (called a wort) is high in sugars that have gone through a boil of a mashed liquid to allow the proteins in the liquid to break.
- The mashed liquid is made by mashing (or “soaking,” in a specific temperature range of 64°-69°c) grains such as barley, wheat etc.
- The grains are specially developed grains that are higher in sugars and are being kilned (roasted very fast) to achieve a specific flavour, colour and protein composition.
- To create the unique bitterness and aroma of beer, hops can be added at any point from the mash onwards. Hops also help in preserving the beer.
Now that we have gone over the process from the end back, we can look at the different kinds of home brewing processes and where they fit in with the above:
- All grain brewing – A process that mashes the grains in several stages aiming for the highest control over the beer making process. After the mashing, brewing is done as usual.
- BIAB (Brew In A Bag) – A one stage mashing process that is done in one pot. This process allows for less control over the mashing but simplifies the process. After the mashing, brewing is done as usual.
- Extract – extract can come in a liquid form (LME) or dry form (spraymalt) and offers a “ready made” mash. Brewing with extract usually starts straight from the wort phase.
Personally I do not do All Grain brewing due to the lack of space, time and interest (for now), so I focus mainly on BIAB and the occasional extract.
To make it simple, here are my few guidelines for mashing in a BIAB process:
- A ratio of 1.5kg of grain to 4 litres of water makes 3 liters of malted water with 1070-1080 gravity
- The key is to keep the temperature under 68°c
- Start with 30 minutes of low heat, heat to 68°c and let cool again for 30-60 minutes
- Let the bag drain over the boiling pot and try and squeeze as much out as possible
After the mash is the boil, here I will also note a few tricks I have for extract:
- If the gravity from the mash is too low, add sugars at the very start of the boil
- Reach a boil as quickly as possible
- Avoid boil-overs by constant stirring and finding the right heat level on your stove top
- For LME – 1 can of extract+4 cans of water yields a gravity level of 1030-1040, add sugars for higher levels
- Extract can be boiled for 15 minutes only
- Cool down the wort to under 27°c as fast as you can using an ice bath
- Test gravity levels at the end of each stage to adjust
A tip about yeast: I like to activate my yeast while the boiling is underway, giving them 1-2 hours to wake up, activate and multiply. This leads to a faster fermentation (not sure the difference yet) but it has worked for me so far! To do so just add the yeast into a bowl with the same amount of sugars (to give them some fuel) and about 500ml of water in the yeast’s optimal temperature (see the packet).
Those are my main guidelines for my home brewing. Not that this all you need to do to home brewing well, but at least it gives some guidelines on to how to approach some of the processes. Beyond those you must keep things clean at all times and bottle properly.
Have a great home brewing experience.