FULL MASH BREWING PROCESS – A FEW HINTS AND TIPS
The brewing process may vary slightly according to the equipment used, the style of beer being made and the quantity of beer you are making. Within our group we all do things slightly differently. Some have integrated equipment such as the Grainfather, others use the insulated picnic basket as a mash tun while others get good results from ‘brew in a bag’. When things go wrong, the cause could be any one of a number of factors. It is important to keep good records of each stage of the process to help you identify potential issues. However, there are a few broad principles that are worth following in order to produce a good home made beer.
Mixing – The strike temperature of your water should be about 10°C above your target mashing temperature (i.e. 75-76°C). Use about 2 litres of water/kg of grain which should give a porridge like consistency. It is probably best to add the grain progressively to the water, mixing thoroughly as you go although we are a bit divided on this one.
Initially run off some liquor gently and return it to the top of the grain bed until this run-off liquor is reasonably clear. Using a sparge arm to give a fine even spray is best although they are a bit expensive. Use hot treated water (about 80°C) with a steady flow regulated by the sparge and run off tap. Keep the water level just above grain level and try not to disturb the filter bed.
Keep checking the gravity of the run-off and when it gets down to 1.010, stop running off. Don’t tilt the mash tun to get the dregs out. If you need more water for the boil, just add treated water.
You need a vigorous open rolling boil for at least 60 and normally 90 minutes with Irish Moss or Protofloc added 15 minutes before the end of the boil to aid clarity. For strong beers where you want some caramelisation, you might want to boil for 2 hours.
Strain the beer through the hop bed carefully. It is best not to rinse the hops with water as this may bring down unwanted debris and dilute your beer.
Cool as quickly as possible – a cooling spiral is best for this. Alternative approaches include placing in a sink of iced water or adding (sterilised) freezer blocks. Once down to somewhere near room temperature, check the gravity. If higher than required, dilute with cool treated water. If on the low side, a little sugar may be added, but not too much (4 oz/gallon maximum), or else you could boil off some more liquid to increase the gravity.
Most of us use a good quality dried beer yeast such as Gervin Ale, Danstar Nottingham Ale or the Mangrove Jack range of speciality yeasts available. In general you get what you pay for - don’t use bakers yeast! Liquid yeasts are anther option, but are more expensive and require careful handling.
Ideally, prepare a yeast starter in advance using malt extract and pitch the yeast as soon as the wort is cool enough (15°C. for lager and 24°C for ales). With modern dried yeasts you can often get away with just sprinkling the yeast onto the wort. Optimum fermentation temperature is 15-20 °C, a bit colder for lager. We tend not to make beer in the height of summer for this reason (well up until the last couple of years anyway). Some of us use temperature- controlled fridges, but obviously you need the space. In cold weather, you may need to put the beer somewhere a bit warmer for a day or so until it gets started. Pat off the head and remove deposits from the side after about 24 hours.
We usually rack off from the fermentation bucket into demijohns or another container after about 5 days checking the gravity. Leave for about a further 2 weeks to settle and complete fermentation. Final gravity should normally be just under a quarter of the initial gravity (e.g. starting gravity 1048, finishing gravity 1010 is about right).
Here it depends on your preferred storage method – bottle, natural keg or pressurised keg. Most of us prefer real ale. For conditioning, use ½ tsp. of sugar per pint of beer. Some of us just use the yeast left in the beer, others use finings to remove those yeast cells and then add a small amount of fresh yeast. Lager yeast is often used for this as it ferments at lower temperatures.
It is best to store at room temperature for a few days to make sure conditioning fermentation starts. After that, store in a cool dark place.
If stored in bottle, there should be sufficient conditioning after about 3 weeks. However, most beers are best stored a while longer if you can be patient. As a general rule, the stronger the beer, the longer it lasts. A barley wine often needs at least 2-3 years to mature. If you should leave a beer for a long time before drinking it may have become a bit lively. It is best to open it over the sink and decant into a jug.