Introduction: English Best Bitter - All Grain Brewing for Beginners.
I started brewing about 5 years ago and after a lot of trying, experimenting and bad beer I have finally cracked good all grain brewing. So much so that I brewed 8 gallons for a friends wedding recently!
There are many instructions out there, but I thought I'd share my experiences. It is very easy to get it wrong and sometimes there are too many voices in the crowd for the important ones to cut through.
First off, all-grain brew is easy. With the right equipment it is easy to brew beer as good as that you buy in your local pub. However, the right equipment and procedure are extremely important and attempts to cut corners results in (very) bad beer. I have learnt this the hard way. So as tempting as it is, DON'T CUT CORNERS!
If you are completely new to brewing, I recommend to start with a kit. The kind that comes with a fermenting vessel, pressure barrel, beer extract (avoid larger, these without exception are terrible), hydrometer, spoon etc. This will be a good set-up and I still use a lot of my original kit in my all grain brewing. Once you have done a couple of extract brews and are a little more familiar come back to this instructable!
If you have done extract brewing and looking to move into all grain then read on...
The important change from extract brewing to all grain is the need to monitor and maintain temperatures over prolonged periods of time. This necessitates specialist equipment. Namely, a mash tun. These can be bought online and aren't always cheap. I recommend a converted ice box. It's the most cost effective option and just as good as the stainless steel options which cost twice the price (and more). After experimenting using my Brupaks polyptopylene as a mash tun it just doesn't work. You really need a dedicated tun.
Next you need a source of hot water. A lot of hot water. You will lose a lot of water, absorbed by your grain, evaporated off or just stuck at the bottom of you tun. Typically, you need about 9 gallons for 5 gallons of beer. You can buy dedicated boilers for both heating the water and boiling the wort. One can be used for both but it is easier to have one for each. This certainly isn't necessary when starting. One warning, electric elements can become covered in gunk when boiling the sweet wort and over heat, this causes them to cut out. For this reason I prefer to boil my wort over gas.
So buy yourself a tun and a boiling vessel and lets make some beer!
Step 1: Beer Recipe
At first play it safe. Either find a simple recipe online or buy one of the numerous all grain kits. Then move onto your own formulation. For this I can not recommend BeerSmith enough, and quite frankly don't even bother without it. It's well worth a purchase and makes beer formulation almost trivial.
The recipe we are going to use today is a simple low alcohol English bitter, abv ~3.8% (slightly lower than predicted from BeerSmith as my efficiency is about 68% and I collected 20lt... and before anyone comments, yes it's slightly too low for a true best bitter).
As all beers this has a base malt with small additions to add flavour, colour and head retention.
6lb Pale malt, Marris otter
1lb Crystal malt EBC = 120
8oz Torrified wheat malt
8oz Biscuit malt
For the hops I chose an old favorite English combination, East Kent Goldings and Fuggles.
1oz EK Goldings, alpha = 6.92%, 60min boil
0.5oz EK Goldings, alpha = 6.92%, 15min boil
0.5oz Fuggles, alpha = 6.4%, 15min boil
1oz Fuggles, alpha = 6.4%, 15 aroma steep
You can see the hops have different boil times, the first addition of EKG is to add bitterness. The length of the boil will remove any taste or aroma these might add, they just add bitterness. Flavour and aroma is added by late additions of both EKG and Fuggles for the last 15min and an aroma steep of more Fuggles. The bitterness is imparted by the alpha acid content of the hops and the length of boil. The longer the boil the more alpha acids are dissolved. The overall beer bitterness is calculated in units of IBU which is different for each style. For a best bitter we want something in the range of 25-40 IBU, this should be about 34 IBU. All calculated in BeerSmith*!
When beginning this isn't always given the weight it should. The yeast is responsible for a large part of the beer flavour (some say up to 30% of the flavour!) and as a result it is important to use a good one. I am a fan of White Labs but Wyeast is also good. These are liquid live yeasts sourced from breweries around the world. With a little googling the brewery from where the yeasts are sourced can be found. They are expensive but by carefully collecting some at the end of a fermentation they can be reused more than once. They are DEFINITELY worth the money. Here I chose to use the yeast from one of my favourite breweries, Fullers, WLP002 English Ale.
CRS liquid and DLS powder (for water treatment)
Irish moss for clearing
*I have no personal gain in you buying BeerSmith, it's just amazingly useful when trying to create a beer recipe!
Step 2: Water Prep
So I use water straight out of the tap, I don't have a great water supply but off flavours will largely boil off. However, for brewing English ale we want to "Burtonise" our water. This means getting it close to the water of Burton-on-Trent. There are many complicated discussions on full water treatment but the simplest is using a combination of CRS and DLS and it works great.
Water treatment is completely dependant on your water supply but by contacting you water authority they will provide you all the info you need.
Water treatment is complicated and often not as necessary as some will suggest. I wont go into the calculation here as if its your first time just ignore water treatment. It's complicated and there are more important concerns with you first brew. The good news is once you have done the calculation it's the same every time (assuming the same type of beer). For my water I need 10ml CRS which is poured into the boiler. Maybe a topic of a future Instructable...
I then heat the water. To properly mash the grains, which is when the carbohydrates are converted to fermentable and non-fermentable sugars, they need to be close to 66C. Since they are starting at room temperature the water needs to be heated to 76-77C.
Step 3: Mashing the Grains
Ok so to prep the mash tun, I pour in a couple of kettle fulls of boiling water. This is to warm the whole thing up otherwise we'll lose a lot of heat when adding the grains and hot water.
Once warm, I measure out the grains and pour them into the tun. Lastly I add 2 tablespoons of DLS. This is a white powdery stuff (skip if you are not performing any water treatment). Now we add the correct amount of water for our grains. The water-to-grain ratio is approximately 1.5lt per pound, meaning we need 12lt* of water for our 8lb of grain (sorry about the mix of imperial and metric!). This is important as too much and the mash will be thin and too hot, and too little and the mash will be thick and too cold. Thin mashes will not efficiently convert the sugars into fermentables. A thick, cold mash will convert too efficiently and all your sugar will ferment to a very dry high alcohol beer. We want somewhere in the middle, a nice mix of fermentable and non-fermentable sugars to give the right balance of sweet to bitter.
I use a measuring jug and pour into the grain. Once all the water is added I give it a good stir making sure to break up any dry pockets. Measuring the temperature it's a perfect 65-66C.
Close the lid and cover in towels. Leave this to mash for 90min.
*I made a stupid mistake in my conversion of units and used 13.5lt not 12lt. I think this is the reason for an efficiency of only 68%.
Step 4: Sparge - Washing Out All the Goodness From the Grains
Once the grains have been mashed we need to wash out all the sugary goodness from our grains. This is called sparging and there are various methods. I use the batch sparge which is the easiest and most straight forward. While the grains were mashing I refilled my boiler with 12lt of water and heated it all up to 90C.
Once the mash time is up pour half of this 90C water into your mash tun. The extra heat and water will stop the mashing. Leave this watery mix for 10min. After the time is up open the valve and collect the first run off into a jug as it will be very cloudy. After a while this will clear as the grain bed settles. As soon as it has cleared you can replace the jug with your boiler. Very carefully add this first run off back into the mash tun, making sure not to disturb the grains.
Once most of the water has run off, close the valve and add the rest of the water from the hot water tank. Wait 10min and repeat the process. You should now have about 5 gallons of wort*. Time to move outside...
*The amount of water needed for sparging is dependant on your own equipment and how much is lost at different stages and during the boil. You will get a feel for how much water you need to get the correct final amount of wort after a couple of brews. The first couple you might be a bit above or below the target.
Step 5: Boil
I use a gas burning normally used for roofing, a nice high power burner. It still takes about 10-15min to bring to a rolling boil. Once the mash is boiling its time to add our first hop addition, 1oz of EGK.
After 45min it's time for the second addition, 0.5oz EKG and 0.5oz Fuggles. Also add a teaspoon of irish moss. This is seaweed and helps clear the beer. I also throw in my wort chiller coil. A large copper coil. After the boil, cold water is passed through this coil and cools the wort to room temp in about 30min. These are really useful but not necessary and I had no problems leaving the wort to cool overnight. But its nice to have.
After 60min turn off the gas and return to the kitchen. Careful carrying 4 gallons of boiling wort! (1 gallon lost to evaporation.)
Step 6: Cooling, Specific Gravity and Yeast Pitching
Now the boil has finished I add the last hop addition, 1oz of Fuggles for 15min. After the time is up I turn on the cooling water and with a thermometer probe monitor the temperature until it reaches about 25C.
It is important now to comment on sterilisation. This can not be over emphasised. There is nothing worse then making a batch only for it to go off. I use a combination of two chemicals. To clean the worst grime I use VWP. This is a chlorine based agent and is very potent. The benefit of this is it will kill everything. The down side is it requires a thorough rinse, which if your not using boiled water can just reinfect your clean equipment. So once the worst grime is gone I rinse off the VWP and with a 1lt spray bottle (the type used for watering plants) cover the surface with a solution of Star San. This is an acid based steriliser, therefore it is important to ensure all VWP is removed or its alkalinity will neutralise the Star San. The great thing about Star San is it doesn't require rinsing, just spray the surface and the cooled wort can be poured in on top. Using this I have never had a infection problem.
So now with my cooled wort and a sterilised fermenter I can transfer the wort to the fermenter. But first we should measure the specific gravity of the beer. This is a measure of the amount of sugar in the liquid. I have both a hydrometer and refractometer. The refractometer is a cheap Chinese ebay purchase and is surprisingly accurate. Just put a drop of wort on the glass and hold it up to the light. Both the hydrometer and refractometer come out at about 1.038. Not too shabby, lower than predicted by BeerSmith but as commented earlier probably a result of stupidly using too much mashing water. Now the soon to be beer is poured into the fermenter and the yeast is pitched.
12 hours later and we have the beginning of a yeast layer on the top. Excellent. Fast forward and a thick foamy layer develops.
Step 7: Secondary Fermenting, Bottling and Kegging
After about a week the primary fermentation is complete. At this point there are various options. The first is bottling. This is a lot of work, requiring the sterilisation of ~40 bottles, priming with sugar (for the fizziness), filling and capping. Next is barrelling, this can be very simple, just prime with some sugar and pour in your beer. Leave it a few weeks to finish fermenting and drink away. I have had mixed results with the white plastic barrels, if you don't drink up quickly infection can easily make its way in through the plastic tap.
For those who want to invest a little more I couldn't recommend cornelius kegs enough. They are expensive but worth every penny. I also recommend either buying one converted for S30 gas or converting it yourself. The benefit of these kegs are: they are made of steel, robust, never leak and no secondary fermentation. They were originally designed for holding coke and pepsi in pubs so are professionally designed and are better then any homebrew alternative. If you want to get more professional they can easily be incorporated into a beer line with proper gas regulators and taps... I own 3.
I store the beer for about a month in a plastic barrel then once the beer is clean and lovely I transfer it into a corny. Inject some gas through the S30 connector and pour away.
The important thing is, however you dispense your beer, it must taste good. I have found the most reliable way of keeping it good is either bottling or corny kegs. Good luck and good drinking!