- Apr 11, 2009
- Reaction score
- Greensboro, NC
Posted this awhile back on our other site and thought there might be a few here interested in homebrewing. I've taken a little break from the batch described below, but am going to brew 2 batches this weekend, a brown ale with some chocolate overtones and a british bitter.
As anyone who knows me or who's read my blog knows, I'm an avid homebrewer.
Due to work challenges, it's been 3-4 months since I made beer, in fact, the last batch I made, I gave away to a friend who was having a large party. So this weekend, unburdened by work or other obligations, decided it was time to brew one of my favorites, Bourbon Barrel Vanilla Porter. This is a very dark, sweet, delicious beer. Some might call it a 'chick beer'. Me? I just call it amazing. It's so good that every time I make it, it's a challenge to keep a significant part of it for myself as friends demand their tribute. You take a really solid Porter recipe. While the beer base itself ferments, you take a pint or so of Maker's Mark Bourbon, scrape about 5 fresh vanilla beans into it, add some charred oak cubes, and let sit for 2 or 3 weeks. About 2 weeks before the Porter's ready to be kegged or bottled, you add the bourbon/vanilla/oak mixture.
The result? Amazingness.
For those of you unfamiliar with homebrewing, I thought you might enjoy a little pictorial synopsis. I don't want to minimize the 'science' involved, but I won't dwell on some of the technical stuff. I believe beer-making is more art than science It's a little bit more complicated than I may convey, but not a lot more, and the 'science' involved is easy to learn. So without further ado....
Step one in this recipe is toasting a small portion of the grain bill. The toastiness of just a pound or so of grain adds a 'baked bread' flavor and smell to the final product.
Next, after heating a calculated volume of water (in this case 5 gallons) to a precise temperature, the grain bill is added to the 'mashtun' (as you'll find out, beermakers have a language steeped in tradition and all their own). In this case, it's a big ol' grain bill totalling 17 lbs of grain, and my 'mashtun' is nothing more than a 10 gallon coleman cooler outfitted with a screen at the bottom and a spigot. There are lots of 'mashtun' types available all over the internet. The water temp has to be fairly precise, as the chemical activity of the mash is very temperature-dependent. Different temps = different beer styles. You also have to take into account how much the cool of the mashtun itself and the temperature of the grain will drop your water temperature. Luckily, there are easy internet tools to help make those calculations simple.
Now we add our properly heated water and stir up the 'mash'. The lid goes on and we wait patiently for at least 60 minutes while chemistry does it's beautiful thing.
After our hour is up, we begin the process of 'vorlaufing'. To vorlauf is to gently drain the beer from the mashtun into a container, and pour it continuously back into the mashtun. The grain bed acts as a giant filter to strain out the larger particles from what's going to become your beer. You keep pouring the 'wort' (your virgin beer) into the mashtun until what's draining is relatively clear without particles. Then it's ready to begin draining the wort into your brewpot.
Once you have cleared your wort and begin draining the wort into your brewpot, it's time to 'sparge'. Sparging is the process of rinsing the grains as the wort drains. You rinse the grains with water that's (again) in a precise temperature range (generally 165 - 175 degrees) in order to stop all enzymatic activity. It kinds of 'freezes' all activity within the wort. I have a little contraption with spinning arms that rinses the grains with another 4 gallons or so of hot water from another Coleman cooler. You drain and rinse simultaneously until about 7 gallons or so of 'wort' is produced. Since this is a Porter, my wort came out very dark. If I were making a lager, it might look almost like water or lemonade, just depends on the style and the grainbill.
Now my brewpot, filled with wort, goes on a turkey frying burner (or some other type of propane cooker) and is heated to boiling. Once it's boiling, recipes usually call for the addition of bittering hops. A discussion of hops would be an entire thread, but they are relatives of the marijuana family, and that may account for the obsession I have with smelling them prior to tossing a handfull of green pellets into the boiling wort. They smell amazing, and have antibiotic qualities, one of the reasons they put a huge amount of hops in an 'IPA' (that helped beer survive the trip from England to India in the old days).
Wort is generally vigorously boiled for at least 60 minutes. One of the rules of beer is that it's critical once the boil is done to cool it quickly and get your yeast into the wort. I've never had a contaminated beer, but if you don't get your yeast into cooled wort quickly, it's possible for wild yeasts or other bacteria to start growing. So 20 minutes before my wort boil is done, I put my copper-coiled wort chiller into the boiling wort. That sanitizes it completely.
10 or 15 minutes before the boil is over, I put another ounce or so of hops into the wort. These are called aromatic hops, because it primarily impacts the smell of the finished beer, an important element. You can also add irish moss or other 'clarifying agents' to make your beer more visually attractive.
At the end of the boil, a garden hose connected to the wort chiller is turned on, and over about 30 minutes, the wort is rapidly cooled. Once cool, the beer is poured into a sanitized funnel into the primary fermenter called a carboy (this one is glass, my preference, but you can also use plastic versions). Active beer yeast (a key ingredient as there are many types for many styles of beer) is then added to the mix.
Finally, a one-way valve is placed into the carboy. The beer then takes a dark nap for 1-2 weeks (I use my bedroom closet - and yes, the wife really loves this!). During the first 24 hours, the beer will begin to ferment vigorously (and when I say 'vigorously', think boiling water). In fact, it'll likely be so vigorous that I'll have to insert a 'blowoff tube' to keep the whole thing from exploding into a gigantic beer mess. In a week or two, obvious fermentation stops and it's time to transfer the beer to a new, sanitized 'secondary' for final fermentation. This step leaves a lot of the junk called trub (hops, grains, yeast, etc..) behind and makes the beer a lot cleaner and ready for bottling/kegging. The secondary stage is where the magic will happen with this brew, because it's there that I'll add a wonderful mixture of vanilla, bourbon, and oak to complete the final taste of the beer.
Hope you enjoyed my little tour of homebrewing.
I'll be glad to share the final product - you'll just need to get in touch with me for a sample.