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Birth of a Beer...


The Commissioner
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BGO Ownership Group
Apr 11, 2009
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Greensboro, NC
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Marine Corps
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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....

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

beer 017.jpg

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. :)
I don't know what the standard is for 'really brewing', but yeah, I have been homebrewing for about 5 years. I actually got turned onto it by Raub at an ES tailgate. He'd made an extract wheat beer ('Dunkelweisen') and I took a sip from a bottle and said 'you MADE this?'. Next thing I know, he's hooking me up with all the info I needed to get started. I started with extract kits like him, but quickly moved on to all-grain, which I find truly cool (to make something delicious from water, grain, hops, and yeast and not much else).

I remember you got a dream job awhile back - I was envious. Honestly, if I had any guts I'd go out and get my real brewmaster credentials and try to open my own brew pub. That's kind of a fantasy of mine.

I know there are some really 'big' beers out there although I've not tried many of them. They usually call them 'barleywine' once they get up in the 15% and above alcohol range, and yeah, it's common for them to take a year minimum to be ready to drink. I have hung out on www.northernbrewer.com 's forums some especially early on when I was still worryinging about screwing up the process, but I'll check out the site you linked - thanks!
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This is way cool, Boone. Once I get back to DC and my townhouse, I want to give my own home-brew a try. Hopefully you can help me out once I get to that point.

Also, I third the love for vanilla porters, as well as bourbon porters. Delish!
I'll be glad to Lanky - it's like a religion really, when you find someone ripe for converting, you gotta step up :)
Don't mind at all brother :)

As much as I love beer, I rarely try a 'new' one, mostly just because I don't often find myself in places where they are readily available. May have to try out some of those though...
'only '18.2%'

Holy cow!
I am really starting to LOVE IPAs and have always loved browns and stouts. I would love to know what anyone else has.

If you love IPAs, you gotta try Dogfishhead's 90 Minute Imperial IPA. Its by far my favorite beer, so delicious.
I took a little homebrewing break for about 6-8 months. That vacation coincided with the site here getting hot and heavy and requiring a fair amount of work, as well as real work requiring a fair amount of work. Not to mention, I've shed 30 lbs over that same period and gotten back into shape.

About 6 weeks ago, I brewed my first batch in a long while. I did a British Bitter all-grain recipe. I jokingly named it 'Bitter Lesbian' because my wife saw the yeast starter jug on the counter (labeled 'LESB' for 'London Extra Special Bitter', the name of the yeast type I was using) and asked 'what's that jug with lesbian on it for?'. Bitter Lesbian was born. Not that there's anything wrong with it. I have more than a few lesbian friends, and none of them are bitter btw :)

I just kegged this stuff. Wow. I make some damn good beer. You'd pony up cash for this in a brewpub and not think twice about ordering 5 or 6 refills. I'm a living testament to the fact that making your own beer is not only easy, but you can really make some really amazing brews with nothing more than water, grain, hops, and yeast.

I even purchased a special glass to drink mine with. Wish I could share it via the interwebs.

That looks like some damn good stuff, sir!
Neat stuff Boone. I'd love to get into brewing, I'm a huge beer dork, but I don't have the time as it stands now. This thread now has me wishing I had an Old Rasputin cold rather than the hard cider I'm drinking for lack of better choices...
Raub tried to talk me into it as well, back when he was selling his gear. I should've taken him up on it:(

When the youngest son moves out, I'll have the room and will definitely bounce a kazillion questions off of you.

Have you ever kegged your homebrew?


If you like IPA's, the next time your in town, you should grab a sixer of Heavy Seas Loose Cannon. I think that they use something like 3lbs of hops per bbl.

I just tapped a keg of it a couple of weeks ago....
Stone just tapped their 2008 Imperial Russian Stout..excited to have that tonight..

today's special is our double dry hopped IPA...SO good.

and yesterday while I was at the brewery 2 guys were arguing (sort of) about beer leftovers "damnit we have 8 cases still" and so the one guy sees me and goes "give mike a case" Paulaner Original Munich..good German Lager..:)


You have the best benefits, ever!
Have you ever kegged your homebrew?

Yeah...I moved from bottling with regular bottles, to bottling with 20 oz 'Grolsch'-type bottles (much, much easier), to finally kegging in soda kegs. Just having to sanitize a single container is so much easier. The other nice thing is that you can 'force carb' your beer in 10 minutes and it's ready to drink vs. having to wait 10 days for bottled beer to carbonate. Just a lot easier. Only downside is I can't give it as gifts much anymore since it won't keep long once out of the keg.

Boone...have you ever branched out and tried making wine?

Nope, although the equipment is basically interchangeable. Northern Brewer sells lots of wine kits also. One of these days I'll give it a try. I'm not a big wine guy, but everyone else I know is :)
Sometimes, although rarely, I regret my decision to quit drinking. When the beer fad began, during year of working in a wine bar, and the smell of a glass of scotch every now and again, I miss a drink. This thread has my mouth watering. As I drink my morning coffee, Cheers! :pint:
Bottling a Rye beer tonight. Hoping it ends up as good as it smells...
Mike, I can say for sure that John "really brews." I've tasted some of his handiwork, and it is, quite simply, the elixir of the gods. :)
Curious how that comes out Bob - neither brewed nor, to my knowledge, ever tasted a rye beer. Sounds interesting! We drank a keg of 'Caribou Slobber', nice ale that's been sitting in my closet for months, during our beach trip. I am not brew-less. Guess I need to get busy!
Boone, I will be in the Asheville area on Friday through Wednesday; where can I purchase your lovely ales? :)

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