For my second attempt at home brewing, I decided to try an American Brown Ale. Instead of using a beer kit like last time, I used a combination of malt extract and specialty grains. I also invested in some equipment to make the process a little easier. What follows is a step-by-step description of the process.

I got the recipe from Charlie Papzian’s The Complete Joy of Home Brewing. It called for 5-6 lbs. of amber malt extract, 1/4 lb. of chocolate malt, 1/4 lb. of black patent malt, 3-4 ozs. of brewing hops, and 1/2 – 1 oz. of finishing hops. It was more economical for me to buy a 7 lb. jar of extract than two 3.3 lb. cans. I thought the extra malt would increase the alcohol content but that didn’t turn out to be true. I bought two 2 oz. packages of Cascade hops pellets and used one and a half packages for brewing and the remaining half package for finishing. I decided to add my own little twist to the recipe during the bottling but I’ll get to that later.

Grain bag

After cleaning my equipment, I put it in a dilute bleach solution to sanitize it. (I have since learned that the One Step cleaner that I use for cleaning also sanitizes so I will not be using bleach any more. I hate the smell.) While everything was soaking, I put 2 gallons of water on to boil. I put my grains, which I had cracked using the grinder at my local beer store, in a grain bag and put it in the water. Just before the water began to boil, I removed the grain bag. Once the water was boiling, I added the malt extract, which I had put in warm water to soften it, and the hops pellets.

Adding malt extract

The wort is supposed to boil for 30 minutes to an hour. While it was boiling, I removed the equipment from the bleach and rinsed to remove the bleach smell. After about 35 minutes, I turned off the heat and added the rest of the hops. I needed to rehydrate my yeast so I boiled 1 1/2 cups of water for a few minutes, then transferred it to a sanitized measuring cup and covered it with foil. The water has to cool to 100-105° F before the yeast is added. If it is too hot, it can kill the yeast.

Sparging

While that was cooling, I removed as much of the hops from the wort as I could (called sparging) with a sanitized stainer. I filled my carboy with a couple of gallons of cold water and started transferring the wort to the carboy by pouring it through the strainer to remove the hops that was left. By this time the water for the yeast had cooled sufficiently so I added the yeast and covered it again.

Pitching yeast

I filled the carboy up with more cool water but it was still over 78° so I had to wait for it to cool some more. I extracted some of the wort with a turkey baster and took a specific gravity reading of 1.040, which was exactly where it was supposed to be. Once the wort had cooled to 78° and the yeast had cooled to about the same temperature, I pitched the yeast.

Blow-off tube

Papzian recommends using a blow-off tube during primary fermentation to remove some of the kraeusen, which is a frothy head that the yeast creates. This is supposed to make the beer less bitter, which sounds good to me, so I attached a tube and submerged the other end in a water-filled container. During the first several days of fermentation, the yeast was extremely active and a lot of kraeusen was expelled through the tube. Once the fermentation had died down, I replaced the tube with an air lock. At this point, I probably should have transferred the beer to a secondary fermenter but I only had one carboy available.

Hoppy crust

After a week of fermentation, it was time to bottle. To sterilize the bottles, which had already been cleaned, I ran them through the dishwasher without any soap. Meanwhile, I transferred the beer from the carboy to a 5 gallon bucket into which I had drilled a hole and added a spigot. There was a lot of hops caked around the mouth of the carboy for some reason. I did my best not to disturb it with the racking cane. I took another specific gravity reading and it was 1.022, which is much lower than I expected. If my calculation is correct, the beer is 2.4% alcohol by volume.

Bottling

To add a little twist to my brown ale, I had decided to use blackstrap molasses as my priming sugar. I thought this might lend a kind of smoky flavor to the beer. Papzian warned against using more than a cup of molasses as a primer but since blackstrap has only 2/3 of the sugar of light molasses, I used 1 1/3 cups. I dissolved it in some boiling water then poured it in the bucket as the beer was transferring. While the beer was transferring, I boiled some caps to sanitize them. I filled 50 bottles and capped them using a hand-held capper.

Capping

After another week, it was time to taste my creation. The first thing I noticed was there was a lot of carbonation. In fact, if the beer isn’t chilled first, it will foam out of the bottle as soon as the cap was removed. I should have heeded Papazian’s advice and not used so much molasses. It is quite cloudy and has a deep brown color. As far as the taste goes, it’s hard to get past the over-carbonation. It is much too hoppy for my taste and I can’t detect the molasses at all. The are perhaps notes of coffee and biscuit but there is a distinct metallic aftertaste that is not at all pleasant. It goes away after a few sips but it does not make a good first impression. I have no clue what caused the metallic taste. Feel free to school me in the comments.

Brown Ale

I hope that my brown ale improves with age as my stout did. I’m rather disappointed in the results overall. I recently met some guys who brew using all grains instead of malt extract. I may try that for my next batch as it gives you more control over the final product but maybe I should stick with extracts until I get the technique down. I would love to get some advice via the comments or email me at joel [at] beerutopia.com.