Friday, June 27, 2014

Brewing in a Bag? My BIAB Setup

To novices or people who have never brewed before and read my first two posts, and/or watched the AHA videos I linked to; those both detailed extract brewing. Essentially a malt house converts malted grain (mashes) into fermentable sugars (wort), and either reduces the wort to a syrup (liquid malt extract) or dehydrates it to powdered form (dry malt extract).

With homebrewing you can be as involved in it as you like. For many brewers having the mash done at a factory shortens the brew day, and reduces the amount of equipment you need to buy. The trade off with using extracts is a loss of control, reduced options, and increased ingredient costs.

Most of the grain bill in a beer is base malt. Imagine if you were making tomato sauce at home, your base malt would be the tomatoes. As the hobby grows more and more base malts are available in extract form, but there are even more malts out there that aren't there yet. Also the exact temperature grain is mashed at has a huge impact on the body and fermentability of the wort. Mashing at higher temperatures gives you a more full bodied beer, but at a small expense of less fermentable sugars. Mashing at lower temperatures gives you a lighter-bodied, drier finishing beer because you have more fermentable sugars. With all-grain that's something you the brewer can control.

The easiest way to mash your base malts without investing in lots of extra equipment is brew-in-a-bag (BIAB). What you do is heat up water; I do it right on my stove top. Then you put your grains in a fine mesh bag, put the bag in your heated water, secure the bag to the kettle (binder clips work great), put in a thermometer to make sure the temperature is holding. Once the mash is done you pull the bag out, let it drain into the kettle, I use a metal strainer with a big handle, and then you boil as you would with any batch.

On my stovetop I usually only do 1-2 gallon all-grain batches with this method. For 5 gallon batches I'll typically do a BIAB mash, and add a little extract during boil which is called a partial-mash. I use the BeerSmith app on my iPad to calculate how much water to use, what to heat it up to, what temperature I need to mash at, and use the built-in timer.

For my first brew day post I will be doing a 2 gallon, all-grain BIAB batch this weekend!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Making better extract beer

One of the best resources for homebrewers, especially newbies is the website and message boards on HomebrewTalk.com. You can find me on there under the name of our brewery BleacherBrewing. They have a massive database of recipes, boards dedicated to any beer or brewing topic imaginable, and lots of users who are experienced brewers willing to offer their advice. Chances are if you were to look at the most recent threads a good portion are newbies introducing themselves or asking questions.

When we started and were either brewing all extract batches, or extract with some specialty grains, our beers were good, but seemed darker, sweeter, and not as hoppy as I had hoped. One thread I found in particular on HomebrewTalk solved a lot of those problems by offering 10 tips on making better extract beers. Some of the steps we were doing already, and in a post for another day I'll touch on number ten. The big changes I made were larger boils and late extract additions.

If you're brewing on your stove top a full volume boil for a standard 5 gallon batch probably isn't practical. You still want to boil as much of the wort as possible. On my electric range I can boil around 3.5 gallons. Before starting the boil I'll add 1/3 to 1/2 of the extract, and add the rest with about 10 minutes left in the boil. If I'm doing a partial mash batch, I'll use the wort from the mash for the boil and add the extract at the end. The combination of the larger boil volume and thinner wort will lessen kettle caramelization that extracts can be prone to. It will also enable you to get more flavor and bitterness from your hops.

Try some or all of these tips in your next extract batch. Let me know how it works out or if you have any other tips in the comments.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Skol!

Welcome to my new blog! Brewing your own beer at home is an amazing hobby. It is unique in that you can get as involved in it as you would like, or your time and budget allows. You will never have a fresher beer than a beer you brew yourself. Cracking open your first homebrew is a moment you will remember forever. You will be amazed that you made something like that yourself, and your friends and family will be even more so.

Sharing your homebrew with family, friends and new friends is rewarding in and of itself. I passed out bombers to several co-workers, and one went so far as to even give me a hug. I also scored points with my boss, which is never a bad thing either. The holidays are also easy. If somebody gave you an amazing, hand-crafted homemade beer, wouldn't you be thrilled?

Many homebrewers get their start with a simple and easy kit like Mr. Beer. Everything you need to get started is included, and you will be able to make fine beers at home.

Plenty of folks are perfectly content with making kits with this kind of setup. However, if you want to go beyond the refills that are available with kits like Mr. Beer, or even experiment with your own recipes, you will need a more flexible setup. Every homebrewing website and local shop will have kits for the beginner. The closest homebrew supply shop to us in the North Shore is Beer & Wine Hobby in Wouburn. They're located about five minutes off Route 128, so it's an easy ride if you avoid rush hour.

I got my start with this kit. I had a feeling we would outgrow a Mr. Beer type setup in a hurry. My girlfriend loves to cook and come up with new food recipes all the time. After brewing the beer that came with the kit, we started tinkering right away. There are literally tons of recipe kits you can buy that will work with a starter kit like this if you're not ready to make that leap. I know plenty of brewers who are happy to stick with proven recipe kits. Like I said, you can be as involved as you want with this hobby.

I won't bore everyone with step-by-step instructions on how to brew beer. Whatever starter kit you buy will come with instructions. There are also classes you can take and online videos you can watch. The American Homebrewers Association has a series of excellent videos that walk you through the process to brew your first extract batch.

After buying my first starter kit a couple years ago, I wouldn't say I let homebrewing take over my life, but some people might! As the "Would-be Brewmaster" I'm not claiming to be an expert. To paraphrase HHH and Stephanie McMahon I'm probably a "B+" brewer at best. More of my beers have been good than bad. Some, I feel, are genuinely excellent, while a few gushed like the volcano we all made for our elementary school science fair.

As we go, I'll be chronicling what's brewing, offering tips from my experience, and, if there are any experts out there who have advice for me, I'd love to hear that, too. Since homebrewing and the craft beer movement go hand-in-hand, I'm sure we'll touch on that too without infringing on The Beer Nut's turf.

Cheers!

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