I have to start off with an apology. I’ve been trying to keep a schedule of posting every two weeks. But I just checked the website and found my last entry was not posted but was in as a draft. I’m posting this now and will resume my regular every other Tuesday schedule next week.
My last post was about my plans to brew a beer based on a recipe I found in a book from 1815. I’ll let you know how the brew day turned out. I had a couple friends over to help with brewing and sampling some other beers.
I had said that I was shooting for an alcohol content of 5.56% based on what I had seen in another old book. However, when I read that book a bit closer it said that the 5.56% was based on what so-and-so said and he was wrong. It didn’t give what the author thought the right number was, so I decided to stick with the wrong number.
In my earlier post I had developed a recipe based on brewing 2.5 gallons. I made some adjustments to the recipe based on comments from a friend and some further research. I also decided to brew 5 gallons. Here’s the recipe that was brewed:
5.00 lbs. Muntons Pale Ale Malt
3.75 lbs. Maris Otter Pale Malt
0.80 lbs. Caramel / Crystal 40L
0.70 lbs. CaraVienne
0.25 lbs. Caramel / Crystal 60L
2 ounces East Kent Goldings
5.6 grams freshly grated ginger
1.4 grams ground cinnamon
2 tsp. calcium
2 tsp. gypsum
1 Whirlfloc tablet
Wyeast yeast nutrient
Danstar Nottingham Ale Yeast
I was using a brewing method known as BIAB or brew in a bag. The first step is to heat the water up. When it gets hot enough we put the grains in a bag that had been put in the kettle. Think of it like steeping tea.
The heat converts the grains into sugars that the yeast can eat. When the yeast eats the sugar, it gives off alcohol as a byproduct. But, that’s jumping ahead to the fermentation process. Let’s go back to the grains steeping. The temperature is held at 148 degrees for an hour.
At that point the grains are removed, and the remaining liquid is brought to a boil. When the liquid began to boil the hops, ginger and cinnamon were added. The liquid, which at this point is called wort, is boiled for an hour.
After the boil is done, the wort needs to be cooled before yeast can be added. When it is cooled enough the yeast is put in. That’s when the wort becomes beer. It’s also when the yeast starts eating up all the sugar and converting it to alcohol.
In order to figure out the final alcohol content of the beer, you need to know how much sugar the yeast ate up. Brewers measure the sugar content of the beer before the yeast starts it’s work and then again afterwards. This measurement of the sugar in the water is knows as a gravity reading. The original gravity (before the yeast gets to work) and the final gravity (after the yeast has finished) are used to figure out how much sugar the yeast has eaten. And from that comes the calculation of the alcohol content.
We took a reading just before pitching the yeast into the wort. If we had brewed everything perfectly the reading should have been 1.057 according to the recipe. Our reading was 1.042. Much lower than expected. That would mean the beer will have a lower alcohol content. To me that’s not the end of the world; it might make a great lawnmower beer. The kind you want to drink after a hot afternoon of mowing the lawn.
But, I still need to understand why the gravity reading was low. Otherwise, I’ll end up repeating my mistakes. What happened? Partially it’s due to miscalculating the amount of water. We ended up with 5.5 gallons. By my calculation, that would have lower the gravity to 1.052. So, there is still something else wrong. My friend remembered that when we were looking at the grain, he had mentioned that it looked like it hadn’t been milled very well. So, that could cause the lower gravity if the grains weren’t crushed well they would not convert into sugars as expected. He also suggested the solution. Next time I buy grains at the local homebrew supply store, I should mill them twice.
The book from 1815 recommended a cool fermentation. So, we split the beer into two carboys. I can fit these into a pair of coolers I have. I kept them in the coolers and alternated ice packs to keep the temperatures low. I soon had a nice vigorous fermentation going as you can see from the video.
Soon, I’ll be able to bottle the beer and a few weeks after that I’ll be able to enjoy drinking a bottle.
[Update – Since, I wrote that the beer was bottled, and a final gravity reading was done. It was 1.002. This was lower than I expected. Meaning there are less sugars in the beer, so it will be dryer and not sweet. The alcohol content calculates to 5.3%]
My interest in homebrewing began after I bid on a silent auction item to see how homebrewing was done. I’ve donated the same thing to a silent auction fundraiser for the youth at my church. On the afternoon of May 20, I’ll be showing a group of people how to homebrew by brewing up a batch of beer. There are some spaces still available, if you’re interested contact me.
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Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.