Brewing from a kit

Everyone says it’s easy. I hope it is. I feel like a bit of a fraud, like it’s cheating, which I guess it is to a certain extent, but I fully intend to go full grain/mash in time and I just want to start off with a kit, so as to remove a few of the variables from the equation while I perfect the other elements. You can still fuck up an extract brew in any number of ways – by not sanitising properly, contaminating the wort, fucking up the yeast, allowing the fermenter to get too hot, so if I can make a couple of decent efforts this way, I’ll feel more confident when it comes to ‘the real thing’.

Everyone* says that the darker and heavier you go (stouts, porters), the less chance there is of fucking it up. Or, if you prefer, with lighter beers like lagers and pilsners there is far less margin for error. The rationale, I guess, is that heaver, richer beers are better at hiding off-tastes and cloudiness than light, clear ales. So, Coopers Stout is my going to be my guinea pig.

*some people what I spoke to

Brew day duly arrives (I’ve been putting it off for some reason, I guess I’m still a little daunted, despite all the research I’ve been doing, and the two all-grain brews I’ve ‘observed’) and I crack open the tin of extract. It’s fucking revolting – thick black gooey sickly cloying stuff that screams ‘I’ll fuck up everything you spill me on’. I’ve painstakingly (over the previous HOUR) filtered 20L of tap water through a household filter jug. This certainly will NOT do, next time I’m going to Speight’s to get it out of their tap. I also get a starter going with my 11g of SafeAle US05 Dry Ale Yeast. Well, it’s just hydrating it (empty the sachet into a cup of boiled water, cooled to 35 deg) really, not a starter per se. I bring 8L of water to the boil on the stove, and pour in the contents of the can. It’s as viscous as motor oil, so it takes flippin ages. In goes 820g of white sugar (the tin says use 1Kg but I’ve decided to make just 18L, can’t remember why). Bring all back to the boil, give it a quick stir then whip it off the heat and run down to the basement and the waiting wort chiller.

I manage to bring the temperature down to approx 23 deg in a little over 15 mins. The wort chiller works pretty well, but the celciuses don’t begin to fall off really until I place the whole lot in a tub of cold water, so it’s cooled from the inside and out simultaneously. My thermometer is for candy making, so the graduations don’t go lower than 25 deg – below that is guesswork, really. Once the wort is cool enough, I pour it from a height (to aerate it) into the fermenter where another 11L of water is lying in wait. Then in goes the yeast mixture. Quick go with the hydrometer and on goes the lid.

SG comes out at 1.05 (which adjusts down to 1.0486 due to the temperature of the wort, 16 deg). This should give me at least 5.75% in the hand come bottling day. One last thing I do is wrap the fermenter in a polypropylene blanket for insulation’s sake. On the box of my heater mat, it warns against using it during the first 24hrs of fermentation, and although I’ve not read that anywhere else  (and I don’t actually know why), I follow the advice. No fermentation is visibly going on by the time I return to the basement 24hrs later so I flick the switch and the mat roars into life like a square of molten lava. Except it doesn’t as it can’t be burning more than a couple of Watts – I reckon it takes at least 12hrs to raise the temperature of the wort from 16 to 18 deg. Never mind, because 24hrs later the yeast has shown up to the party and there is a decent bit of bubbling going down.

A wise man once said, we don’t make beer, we just create the conditions in  which beer can happen

Wahaaaay! Beer is happening!


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