For many, the coming of spring is marked by the blossoming of tulips and daffodils and the chirping of birds. While all of that is great and all, you can tell spring is coming at my house by the smell of roasted barley and the bottling of a nice Irish stout!
This will be the third spring that I will be brewing this particular stout and while it's not a terribly complicated grain bill, the finished beer's flavor profile is bursting with notes of coffee, dates and bacon. Throw in the fact that this brew rings in at a low ABV and is extremely drinkable and you have yourself a much tastier alternative than the green beer specials at your local swill hole this St. Patty's Day.
Step 1: Ingredients & Equipment
6 lbs. Maris Otter
2 lbs. Flaked Barley
12 oz. Roasted Barley
4 oz. Franco-Belges Kiln Coffee
1.5 oz. Cluster (60 min)
Irish Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP004 or Wyeast 1084)
- Hot liquor tank and/or mash tun and/or boil kettle (basically one or more 5+ gallon pots)
- Carboy or food grade 5-6 gallon bucket
- Hydrometer or refractometer
- Large funnel
- Long-handled spoon
- Hop bag (optional)
- Plate or immersion chiller, or an ice/snow bath
- Heat source
- Air lock (for carboy or bucket)
Though I feel as though I shouldn't need to mention this, here it goes:
Fire = hot, burn, ouch
Boiling water = hot, burn, ouch
Steam = hot, burn, ouch
I've had a steam burn before (not from this) and they royally suck, so be careful around hot things and open any lids away from your face. Also, since you should be having a homebrew with every homebrewing project (it is the golden rule), the warning about drinking and driving and/or operating heavy machinery also applies so don't be that guy/gal/cat and ruin someone's life.
Photos and brewing assistance by my wonderful wife, Sara.
Step 2: Heating the Strike Water
The water you choose for your brew is critical, while some of us may be blessed by tap water that puts Evian to shame, most of us (me included) have some chlorinated concoction of mineralized fluid that we can only use to shower and !@#$ in. I chose to use store brand bottled spring water because filtered and distilled water remove a lot of the ions needed by the enzymes in the barley. If you do use tap water, I recommend to boil it for 5-15 minutes before letting it cool to strike temperature. This will serve both to remove chlorine and fluoride from your water as well as minimize hotspots in your hot liquor tank (pot). I have read about some new additives to water, such as chloramine, that do not boil off... you may want to research this if you end up using tap water.
Using 3 gallons of strike water should give you a good grist to water ratio. Certain situations will necessitate a different volume so I've included the strike temperature for three different volumes with the grain temperature at 70°F. There are plenty of strike water calculators and grist:water calculators out there on the interweb though... use as needed.
3 gallons: 165.5°F
4 gallons: 162.3°F
5 gallons: 160.5°F
We're aiming for a final mash-in temperature of 153°F.
Step 3: Mashing
Now that you've warmed your water to strike temperature it's time to make oatmeal...err...wort; the super tasty sugar water that will be the sustenance for the yeast.
Depending on your setup you may mash right in your hot liquor tank (the pot from the previous step) or transfer to a mash tun like mine. Separate mash tuns are great because they allow you a more seamless transition between steps however they take up a lot of room which isn't great for apartment dwellers.
The goal is to mash, meaning having the water and grain mixed together, for one hour at a constant temperature of 153°F. There are a variety of ways to do this depending upon your setup. I simply insulated my mash tun with blankets and leave it undisturbed for 30 minutes, stir, then let sit for the remaining time. Others recirculate the wort onto the grain bed to aid in clarification and filtering out the solids. There are as many ways as there are brewers, find one that works for you.
This recipe also lends itself well to the brew in a bag method (BIAB), I encourage you to take a look since it's an excellent way to brew especially in tight kitchens or apartments.
Step 4: Sparging
Once you have about 15 minutes left on your mash, heat up a gallon of water for your sparge water. There are several ways to sparge as well, with their own nuances depending upon setups and if you decide to mash-out or not (raise the temperature of your mash to 170°F to inactivate enzymes and aid in sugar recovery). Here I did a simple batch sparge after draining the wort from the mash without doing a mash-out. Your sparge water should be around 170°F as well to avoid extracting harsh tannins from your mash.
Simply close your valve after draining the wort and dump the sparge water in. Mix and drain once more. You can do this as many times as you want to recover as much sugar as you can since batch sparging is fairly inefficient. You will eventually run into the law of diminishing returns, that and you can only boil off so much liquid to get to your 5 gallon target volume.
Step 5: The Boil
Ah, let us celebrate the laws of thermodynamics and increase some enthalpy (i.e. boil the wort). You may think, "hey, I know how to boil water", but there are a few things you want to keep in mind:
1) You may bring the wort to almost boiling in your boil kettle while covered, but you better uncover it before hitting 212°F
2) While a "watch pot never boils", an unwatched pot always boils over
3) Wait to add the hops until after hot break
4) Try not to have more than two-thirds of your boil kettle full
Say what? Hate rules? Viva Anarchy? Suit yourself, but these are to make sure your beer tastes good and makes volume (#1), doesn't cause you a hot sticky mess (#2), contribute to a hot sticky mess (#3), and further contribute to a hot sticky mess (#4, see a trend here?).
Once you get your uncovered boil kettle up to a nice rolling boil and all the foam on top has subsided (that's your hot break, respect it and kill your heat if it looks like it's about to jump ship), it's time to toss in your hops and start your boil timer for 1 hour. Here I'm using a hop bag, which I recommend when using hop pellets. Whole leaf hops, hop plugs, hop extracts and free-floating hop pellets may also be used depending on your setup. Just remember hop bags are only recommended for a few ounces of hops or less.
Step 6: Flameout
Besides being an incredibly campy tagline from the Human Torch in silver age Fantastic Four comics, flameout also refers to the end of your boil. Here you're going to want to hook up your plate chiller and remove your hop bag letting it drain into the wort. If you're using an immersion chiller make sure you throw that in a few minutes before flameout. If you're going au naturale and using the abundance of snow dumped upon us in the Northeast and Midwest, drain your hop bag, replace your lid and sally forth.
By this point (preferably during the boil or before) you'll have already sanitized your plate chiller, lines and carboy.
Flameout may not seem like a real step, but while you're hooking all your stuff up and marveling at the fact that you haven't made a mess yet (that will change shortly, it always does) you are allowing some of the solids in your wort to settle out. From this point on you want to try to rouse those settled solids as little as possible so no stirring and if you need to move the kettle, do it gently.
Step 7: Chilling the Wort
Getting your wort to pitch temperature (between 60°F and 70°F) in as little time as possible is critical for good beer.
At this step we get to see whether or not we have a future in plumbing by whether or not the cooling water gets from faucet to drain and the wort gets from kettle to carboy without spilling. I do not have a future in plumbing so I'm inevitably mopping up one or the other, but the idea is to cool your boiling hot wort to a temperature the yeast can handle.
Once you get to the bottom of the kettle you'll see those settled solids, try not to let those get through the lines, they may not impact the taste of your brew too much but they will clog your plate chiller!
Once the kettle is drained and the water turned off it's time to take the gravity of your wort. Gravity measures the amount of dissolved solids in your wort in relation to pure water and gives you an idea how much sugar you have to ferment. We are targeting a gravity of 1.040, this is your target original gravity (O.G.). When you take this first reading you will be obtaining a specific gravity (S.G.) at your initial volume (V1), you can adjust it down by adding more water following the ubiquitous concentration/volume formula to your final volume (V2):
(S.G.) (V1) = (O.G.) (V2)
I had an S.G. of 1.048 at 4 gallons, so I have to add 0.8 gallons of water to the carboy. This is where it comes in handy to put graduations (lines) on the side of your carboy to help you determine the volume. Just remember, when doing the formula you want to use the concentration of dissolved solids, so it would be 0.048 in this case as opposed to 1.048.
Step 8: Pitching the Yeast
Drum roll please...
It's the last step of the night, adding the yeast. This recipe is small enough you can use one smack pack or vial to pitch enough yeast for a healthy fermentation. I used refrigerated rinsed yeast from a previous brew so I opted for a 800 ml starter to get things going. I poured the yeast right into the carboy using the funnel followed by a portion of that 0.80 gallons of water I needed from the previous step to help wash things down.
Once the yeast were pitched I got my exercise for the night by shaking the capped carboy vigorously for 5 minutes to ensure enough dissolved oxygen in the wort. This is important for healthy yeast cells and tasty beer, so don't skimp.
Step 9: Fermentation and Carbonation
Allow your brew to ferment at around 68°F for as long as it takes to obtain 3 identical consecutive daily readings (typically 2 weeks). This correlates to the action in your bubbler, but don't use that as your only indication. Here you see I used a blowoff tube during the first few days until high krausen (the point at which that foamy stuff on top is at its fullest). I also use an old tee shirt because my carboys hate to be immodest (okay, actually the sunlight kills yeast). Consistent fermentation temperature is crucial, so pay attention to the temperature of your carboy, especially in the first few days.
Once fermentation is over you can carbonate your beer how you see fit. Plug your readings into a carbonation calculator and see how much CO2 you need to add if kegging or corn sugar if bottle conditioning. We're aiming for 2.0 to 2.3 vols of CO2 (2.0 is more traditional but 2.3 is more contemporary), 3.5 oz. of dissolved (in boiling water) corn sugar in your bottling bucket should put you there. The pressure of CO2 when kegging will depend on what temp you're carbing at.
Finally, after a few days of keg conditioning or a few weeks of bottle conditioning you're ready to enjoy. Pour a pint and marvel at your brewing prowess, isn't spring delicious!?