Brew #4 – My First Malt Extract Brew!

So, as you may already know, for Brew #4 I decided to eschew the “just add water” style beer kits that I’ve used so far to give me a taste for brewing, and have a crack at a malt-extract recipe from my handy CAMRA book.

I don’t want to re-produce the recipe in full here as you should really go and buy the book if you’re interested, but for the purposes of this article it’s sufficient to say that I needed:

  • Two cans of pale malt extract
  • some crystal malt
  • four different types of hops (three for bittering and one for aroma)
  • some Irish moss.

As I’ve previously noted, it’s also quite important to remember to buy some yeast … in this instance I’ve used dried English ale yeast.

The basic brew steps were taken from John Palmer’s How To Brew and are described roughly below:

  1. Cleanse and sterilise everything (spoon, thermometer, measuring jug, fermenter etc)
  2. Bring 5 litres of water to a temperature of 70 C (+- 7 C)
  3. Put the crystal malt into a muslin bag and place in water, dipping occasionally like a big tea bag
  4. After 30 minutes, remove crystal malt tea bag (squeezing remaining drops out), pour in another 5 litres of water and stir in one can of pale malt extract
  5. Bring water to a boil, continuing to stir to ensure no malt extract sticks to the bottom of the pot
  6. While waiting for water to boil, rehydrate yeast (pour onto 35 C pre-boiled water in sterilised jug, wait 15 mins, stir gently, wait 15 mins, then pitch within next 30 mins)
  7. Wait for hot break to occur (excess of foam, potential boil overs and proteins bubbling around in liquid – remember at the last minute to add a couple of copper pennies to prevent boilovers) then add bittering hops
  8. Continue to boil and stir occasionally for 45 minutes, then add bittering hops for a further 15 mins
  9. 5 minutes from end of boil, add second can of pale malt extract, stir vigorously to prevent sticking and burning
  10. Fill sink with cold water and ice, transfer pot to sink. Stir wort gently to maximise the amount of liquid touching the cold sides and speed up cooling. Simultaneously run more cold water outside the pot to keep this cool, ensuring that none splashes into the pot. (Wort reached target temperature of approx. 25 C in under 30 mins.)
  11. Transfer entire wort (including hops and, erm, a couple of copper pennies!) to sterilised fermenter. Pour back and forth once more to increase oxygen content in wort.
  12. Violently add 11 further litres of water bringing liquid volume up to 20 litres total.
  13. CHECK OG USING HYDROMETER!!! (Woohoo – I remembered…!)
  14. Pitch yeast.
  15. Please fermenter in warm, dark cupboard and leave for two weeks.

So far so good, although there were a few notes from the brewing process which I’ll jot down here and which may or may not impact the final brew.

Timings

I bought a new 3 gallon pot for boiling the wort in which has a raised mound in the center and so only has direct contact with the stove top around the edges.

With a gas oven, this would not be an issue, but we have an electric hob, and the raised mound is almost the size of our largest hob ring, meaning that less direct heat is applied to the bottom of the pot. This in turn means that simple things like boiling water took a lot longer than expected, and the maximum boil temperature was just under 100 C.

This shouldn’t have any impact from a pasteurisation or sterilisation point of view, but it is worth noting. I felt (and admittedly I have no frame of reference) that the hot break was gentler than I was expecting – I certainly was never in danger of a boil over which is marked as a very real danger by John Palmer.

Lesson: To reduce boil times in future, I can either buy a new pot or straddle two hobs to ensure that more direct heat gets through to the wort.

Rehydrating Yeast

Partly because of the extended boil times, partly because of my unfamiliarity with the boil process, the yeast was fully rehydrated over an hour before pitching. I have no idea what impact this would have, although John Palmer does specify that “for best results” the yeast should be pitched within half an hour of rehydrating.

Amount of Yeast

As a secondary yeast related issue, the packet of yeast stated on it that 1g / litre should be used. As this was an 11g packet, and I was preparing 20 litres of beer, I felt I should have had a second packet of yeast.

Unfortunately, the site I bought the yeast from did not specify this and by the time I’d noticed I was halfway through the boil.

Despite this, the packet was still much larger than the usual kit packets of yeast, so I’m hoping for at least similar results to my previous brews.

Lesson: Leave rehydrating dried yeast until the hops go in, or use liquid yeast. I think next time round I’m going to go with option B to increase the amount of yeast strains available, and also to prevent the hassle of having to perform the rehydration process…

Copper Pennies

Although I scrubbed and sterilised a couple of copper pennies before I threw them into the boil pan, they still weren’t what I would call entirely clean looking.

As I poured the cooled wort from the pan into the fermented, I temporarily forgot about the pennies and was more focussed on aerating the wort as I poured it violently back and forth between the two containers.

It wasn’t until I’d pitched the yeast that I spotted one of the three pennies still sat in the boil pot. This means that two are still in with the wort.

Hopefully boiling them for an hour has sufficiently sterilised them that they won’t affect the taste of the beer…

Lesson: Find a way to remove the coppers before cooling the wort (?!) or leave them out of the brewing process entirely.

Watch out for drips…

Another environment specific issue this one, but probably worth mentioning in case anyone else has a similar problem: above our hob we have an extractor fan. Despite this being switched on during the boil, it seems that so much water was evaporated that at one point it was condensing on the extractor fan grill and dripping back into the boiling wort.

Although we keep the extractor fan relatively clean, it’s still been in place for a few years and I would not, for example, eat my dinner off it!

Again, only time will tell whether this has added any unexpected flavours into the brew. I’m reasonably confident that the boiling of the wort will have killed any bacteria (as is the point) but if any grease or dust was washed into the boil pot – well, we’ll see I suppose!

Lesson: Regularly sponge down the extractor fan grill to prevent droplets forming and dripping into the wort.

 

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