After much research and preparation and a little improvisation, I finally brewed my first batch of beer. I made some mistakes but I learned a lot. I apologize for the lack of photos but I was so intent on doing everything correctly that I forgot to take pics of the process. Here’s the blow-by-blow from start to finish.
Cleanliness is next to godliness
I know from my research that cleanliness is essential for a successful brew. I started by cleaning the fermenters and equipment with the 1 Step cleanser I bought. Following the sanitizing instructions that came with the Cooper’s Stout beer kit, I put a half cup of bleach in each fermenter and filled them with cool water. I then put the hydrometer, thermometer, air locks, and a small measuring cup that I would use for the yeast into one of the fermenters.
While everything soaked for 30 minutes, I put the can of concentrate in a sink full of hot water to soften it. The concentrate has the consistency of molasses so warming it makes it easier to pour out of the can. When the 30 minutes was almost over, I put 1/2 gallon of water in a stainless steel pot on the stove. By the time it started to boil, I was almost finished rinsing everything with warm water to remove the bleach.
Like baking a cake…
I stirred 2 pounds of sugar into the boiling water to dissolve it and opened the Cooper’s concentrate can. Can openers can be really nasty and caked with bacteria that you don’t want in your beer. However, my can opener doesn’t pierce the can, it pinches the lip so there are no sharp edges. It doesn’t ever come in contact with the contents of the can, I think. In hindsight, I should have sanitized it just to be safe. I then stirred the concentrate into the water. I did not sanitize the plastic spoon because the boiling water would kill any contaminants.
Next I poured the wort (concentrate, sugar, and water) equally into my two fermenters. I was a little concerned about splitting the wort equally but it came up to the 1/2 gallon mark on the fermenters so I’m reasonably sure the two fermenters had almost exactly the same amount.
Once the wort is in the fermenter, it is vulnerable to contamination so you must work quickly to finish the process and seal the fermenter. I added water to each fermenter to bring it up to the 2.5 gallon mark and took a temperature reading. The wort should be between 70° and 80° F when the yeast is added. I needed to know the current temperture to know whether to add more warm or cold water. One fermentor was at 85° and the other was around 70°. I added some ice to the warm one and just water to the other. While stirring the wort to distribute the ice and water to get an accurate temperature reading, I realized that I should have sanitized the spoon because the upper part of the handle never touched the boiling water but was now touching the wort. Too late now. Once I had filled fermenters to the 3 gallon mark, they were are 75° and 70°.
Houston, we have a problem
At this point I was supposed to use the hydrometer to get a specific gravity (SG) reading. SG is kind of like the density of the liquid. You use SG to determine the level of alcohol and to know when the fermentation is complete. There was a problem, however. A big problem. The hydrometer is shaped like an arrow. It floats in the wort with the arrowhead below the surface and has a scale on the shaft of the arrow. (I took a photo of the hydrometer in a clear vase with water so you can see how it works. Click the thumbnail for a larger view.) It floats higher or lower in the wort depending on the SG which you determine by reading the the number on the scale that extends above the liquid. Because I had only 3 gallons in each fermenter, the hydrometer rested on the bottom instead of floating freely. This means I had no way to measure the SG. I didn’t have time to worry about it as I needed to get the fermenters sealed but it means I won’t be able to use SG to calculate alcohol content or know when the fermentation is complete.
Adding the yeast
The yeast that comes with the beer kit is in a small foil packet and is labeled 7 grams. I needed to divide the yeast equally between the two fermenters. Grams is a weight measurement and I really needed a volume measurement, like teaspoons. I considered pouring the yeast onto a plate and “eyeballing” it into 2 equal parts, but that would have risked contamination. Instead I used a little clear measuring cup that several different measurements marked on it. I cut open the yeast packet (I should have sanitized the scissors), poured the yeast into the measuring cup and chose the measurement that worked best, in this case it was CC’s.
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to stir the yeast in or just leave it floating on the top. A quick search on the Internet didn’t reveal any instructions other than “add yeast.” I decided that if I was supposed to stir, the instructions would have said so. Also, ale (I’m brewing a stout) is top fermenting so I would think that the yeast is supposed to float on top. I sealed the fermenters and inserted the air locks.
It’s all over but the waiting
The beer is supposed to ferment for 4 to 6 days at 70° – 80° F. The colder the temperature, the longer the fermentation takes. Since my house stays at about 70°, I’m guessing the fermentation will take around 6 days. You know fermentation is complete when the specific gravity remains constant for 2 days. Since the fermenters are not deep enough to use my hydrometer, I’m going to have to figure something else out. Hopefully I can find a hydrometer that can be used in shallower liquids of some other way to measure SG.
After I cleaned up my mess in the kitchen, I poured a Black Butte Porter with a much greater appreciation for the work that goes into creating a finely crafted beer.