Monday, August 24, 2009

My Absence on my Blog

I know that I have not blogged since the beginning of the month, but I have entered into a period of time at work that draws a lot of attention from me and requires me to be a bit more focused. August is also the dog days of summer as the kids get ready to return back to school and my wife starts her classes up again for her Nursing degree. August also marked the last month for me before I started classes again, but since I graduated with my degree last spring I am not preparing for my return to the books this year! This is something that I am looking forward to as I will be able to spend more time blogging and interacting with tweeps on Twitter. I am also working on Networking and will be attending several Job Fairs this winter in hopes to start planning for my new future. A future away from my current employer who I have spent 8 years with. I will also begin preparing to write my first of a few Project Management Exams to obtain my associate credentials as a Project Manager and begin my journey into the field of Project Management.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Extract Brewing

So you have all the things that are needed to brew right? lets run down the checklist real quick before we start!

  • Purchased Brew Kit

  • Purchased 5 gallon stainless steel kettle

  • Purchased stirring paddle or spoon

  • Purchased Extract Beer Kit

Providing you have these four things you are actually ready to brew your first batch of beer.

I picked up my extract kit from my local homebrew supplier located in Waterford, MI called Hopmans Beer and Wine Supplies. Rick and Johnny run an awesome operation and provide an excellent service to homebrewers alike. The nice part about this shop is that they put their own kits together which helps guarantee the freshness of the products that are being sold to you. The contents of the kit always includes the extract ingredients and in some cases steeping grains, hops, yeast packet - either dry or in liquid form, and instructions for brewing. It is important to follow these directions as they provide the times of extract additions, hops additions and boiling times which are all crucial to the quality of the beer that you are producing.

The brew kettle that I have is able to handle up to 13 gallons of liquids, although for extract brewing this is a bit of an over kill and unnecessary I have this kettle as a part of my all grain brewing system, which is an advanced brewing process that will later be explained in this blog. I also have a propane burner that the kettle will be heated with, however you can brew an extract kit on a household stove.

So we have everything right? Very good its time to get started, the first thing we will do is open up our kit and take out the instructions that are included in your extract kit. You will also notice, depending on the kit, the kit will contain a can of liquid malt extract (LME) and maybe a bag of dry malt extract (DME), a more advanced extract kit may also contain a bag of grains with a mesh bag or what we call in the brewing realm a grain sock. Also its important to note that a brew kit may also contain both DME and LME in addition to grains. As you can immediately see the options are endless to choose from when selecting a kit. Kits that contain grains are referred to as partial mash kits but that is another blog posting altogether. For now we are only going to deal with DME and LME kits that do not contain grains.

Looking at the instructions that are given in your kit, it is imperative that we follow these to produce the quality of beer that the kit boast. The first thing that we will notice is the amount of water that is needed to be collected which will range between 5 and 6 gallons. Once water is gathered it is time to start heating, which can be done on a household stove or propane stove. I will be using a propane stove myself. We will be bringing our liquid up to a boil prior to adding any of the extracts. If your kit contains a can or jug of LME, this is a good opportunity to gather a small pot and start warming up the LME to make pouring into the boiling brew pot much easier as LME is simply a very thick syrup. Heating a syrup will make it flow out of the container much easier. It is best to do this on a household stove at a low setting, we do not want to boil the container.

Once the brew kettle is up to a boil we need to remove the heat source by turning off the propane or moving the kettle from one burner to another and add our LME and/or DME to the boiling pot, it is important to stir the mixture at the same time to avoid scorching on the bottle of the brew kettle, remember these are fermentable sugars and sugar and heat will burn, so it is important to stir the mixture together will adding your malt extracts. You will also notice that while adding the extracts the boiling kettle will lower in temperature and stop boiling. Once all of the extracts have been added and stirred in, it is time to turn the heat source back on and bring back up to a boil.

Once the brew kettle is back up to a rolling boil, we will now refer to the instruction again to locate the hop addition schedule. Hops are used to bitter your beer and bring balance to the sugars that you have added. The hop schedule can range from several options depending on the style of brew to adding hops at the start of the boil, middle of the boil or end of the boil or a combination of any of the times. Some beers may even use all three additions and it is also possible with higher bitter beers such as India Pale Ale or IPA's that the addition schedule may even be more intensive.

It is important to pay attention to the brew pot at the times of adding the hops, this additions can cause a rapid boil which may lead to a boil over which can be the most aggravating thing to happen as the mess is horrible to clean up. The key to avoiding this is to keep stirring and even turning the heat down some to slow the boil during the chemical reaction of the hops and the your liquid which is now referred to as wort. Boiling the wort normally takes approximately 60 minutes and once completed it is important to cool the wort down to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

To cool your wort or un-fermented beer there are several options available to do this. The game plan is to cool it rapidly, ideally 5 degrees every 10 minutes. Two simple ways to do this is: number one a ice bath done in a bath tub. To do an ice bath place your brew kettle into a tub, fill with cold water and add ice and continue adding ice as the ice melts. It may be necessary to drain some of the water out of the tub during this process. Another simple way is to add ice directly to the brew kettle. To do this freeze between three and four Ziploc bags of ice, remove the ice from the bags and place directly into the boil kettle, this can only be done if you did not do a full batch boil, meaning instead of 5 to 6 gallons of water collected at the beginning, you collected between 8 and 10 gallons of water. My preferred method is using a device called a wort chiller, which is a coil wound copper or stainless steel tube that you connect to a cold water supply and run a drain tube from the other end. If you use a wort chiller, place the wort chiller into your brew pot in the final 10 minutes of your boiling process to sanitize the chiller.

While your wort is chilling, this is a good opportunity to sanitize your fermentation bucket that came with your brew kit. There are a number of sanitizers that can be used, I prefer to use what is called a one step sanitizer that does not require rinsing once sanitized. It is important that anything that touches your wort after the boil process is sanitized properly, this is probably the most important part of the brew process that must be followed. Anything not properly sanitized may introduce bacteria that can produce spoiled beer, or better known as skunky beer. So in short be sure that you sanitize the siphon hose, fermentation bucket and lid, along with the air lock and if your stir spoon if you end up using that again after the brewing process.

Once the wort is chilled, you can begin the transfer process or better known to racking to the fermentation bucket and then add the yeast that the kit contained. This yeast may be a dry packet or a liquid smack pack that needed to be smacked prior to brewing you beer. If the kit contained a smack pack, you may smack this pack up to 12 hours prior to brewing but it is not necessary. I would suggest however to certainly smack this pack just prior to brewing though. Once the yeast is added, also called pitching the yeast, place the lid on the fermentation bucket and firmly press down around the side ensuring that the lid is tightly sealed on the bucket. Take the air lock that came with the brew kit and fill it with water up to the water line indicator and place in the hole on the top of the fermentation bucket lid. This lid will have a rubber grommet that helps form a air tight seal around the airlock and lid. Place the bucket in a cool setting such a basement, but not directly on the basement floor and allow the beer to ferment between 7 and 14 days.

At the end of the fermentation process the air lock will show no sign of bubbles occurring and when you pull the lid off the bucket there should be no head foam resting on the beer itself. Its also a good idea to take a final gravity reading with a hydrometer, the reading should be at 1.010 or slightly below. This reading is a very good way of indicating that fermentation is complete, this reading is also important in determining the alcohol content if you do a beginning reading prior to racking your beer into the fermentation bucket. Once the fermentation is completed you may either opt to go directly to the bottling stage or choose to rack your beer into a carboy for a process known as secondary fermentation which will allow your beer to age to achieve better flavors and clarify. I always opt to rack the beer into secondary fermentation and allow the beer to rest for a period of no less than 4 weeks and sometimes longer.

After secondary fermentation is completed it is time for bottling or kegging of the beer, again another blog post will be created for bottling you beer or if you choose the simpler process of kegging.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Strange Happenings At Work

So last night I thought was going to be like most nights, a little stressful in trying to get what has to happen done and with very few customers coming in and out of the store! To my astonishment it was everything but that, however the stress was still there!

It wasn't even two minutes into my shift did I receive a call about a person dressed up in a Keebler Elf Cookie costume. As funny as this sounds, and it really was funny, it caused quite the commotion between the customers and staff that was in the store! The group came in, in what most likely was a dare and took pictures, but things turned bad as they started running around and harassing customers. At one point a number of reports had come in that the elf smacked about 7 ladies rear end. Finally after several minutes of alluding store management we finally caught up with the group and kicked them out of the store.

At the same time store security apprehended a group of children stealing condoms and candy bars! Very odd combination if you ask me and even the parents of each kid wanted to know what the heck the kids were thinking. The father of one of the kids had probably the funniest things to say to the kids while he was yelling at them, unfortunately this has been a G-rated blog and, well, I do not have any intentions on changing that, but use your mind and come up with some pretty drastic things to say to 12 and 13 year old boys, oh and one 11 year old girl.

Then just as we thought the excitement was over with we were stunned by a report that there was a customer out in our parking lot peeing in cars that have their windows down! I couldn't believe it when I first initially heard about it, so I didn't respond at first, but after my second phone call about it I had to investigate. Sure enough as we approached the vehicles that were involved you could clearly see liquid splatters on the windows and visible see seats inside the vehicle were drenched. As the investigation continues it turns out it was a drunken customer who obviously could not hold his bladder any longer after joy riding in our parking lot and rather coming inside. He opted to relieve himself in random vehicles that had their windows down. As a customer learned that his vehicle was one of them, I sympathetically stated that I am sure glad that I didn't have any of my windows down! From the facial reactions, I don't think the customer found what I stated very amusing. Eventually the police arrived and took over the complaints and went on the search for the random pisser.