Beds and Herts Home Beermakers

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.


PREPARATION

Equipment - Stainless Steel is the ideal material for use during the process as it is easy to clean and sterilise.    Glass is also good once there are no hot liquids involved.  We all probably have to use plastic at some stage, but make sure that it is good standard food grade plastic and don’t be afraid to replace anything that becomes scratched or tainted.

Cleaning – your equipment needs to be clean, but be careful about using chlorine based substances.  Caustic soda is good for heavy duty cleaning, but use sparingly and not on metal containers.  Percarbonate cleaners are the best for both plastic and metal containers.  It is best to finish up by rinsing well with hot water and using sodium metabisulphite solution or a no rinse steriliser to sterilise.

Water Treatment - It is important to remove chlorine and in most areas some of the hardness.  If you have a built in filter tap this gives you a good start. Alternative measures are to boil your water the day before, normally for 30 minutes and let the water stand overnight in a closed container before carefully racking off leaving the cloudy sediment behind.  Other options are the use of a CRS (Carbonate Reducing Solution) and Campden tablets to remove chlorine.  Other treatment may be necessary depending upon the hardness of your water and the style of beer being made, Gypsum, Epsom Salts and Potassium Chloride (lo salt) being the most commonly used additives.

Malt – Should ideally be cracked just before mashing.  If you buy it ready crushed, then use it quickly and preferably use the whole bag once opened, particularly for pale malt.  Cracked malt absorbs water if left exposed to air and this will affect the quality of your beer.  Don’t crack the malt too finely.  This can lead to a stuck sparge or other problems.


MASHING

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.

Mash temperature/time – Mash temperature for most beers should be around 65-67°C.  If you have a ph Meter, then test for ph once the mash has been thoroughly mixed.  If you have got your water treatment right this should be just over 5.0.  Keep the mash tun in a warm place, particularly in winter to maintain the temperature.  The first half hour is critical for temperature, after that it is less important.   Add further hot treated water if necessary.  Mash for 1 - 2 hours.  Mashing for much longer can result in thin beer or the extraction of excess tannins, although for stronger beers, up to 3 hours might be considered.


SPARGING

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.


BOILING

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.

Hops - Hops will keep a long time if kept in the freezer (this can lead to domestic disputes!).  If the hops don’t seem fresh though, discard them as old stale hops will ruin your beer.  A good proportion of the bittering hops should be added near the start of the boil.  Some of us add hops at various stages later in the boil for flavouring.   For aroma, add further hops either just before at the end of the boil or even 10 minutes after boiling stops when the wort has cooled slightly.  Dry hopping after fermentation brings a slight risk of infection, but some brewers swear by it as a means of improving the aroma of your beer.  Some of our group prefer to use hop pellets - easier to store but can be messy to handle - you probably need a good size hop spider.


STRAINING AND COOLING

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.


FERMENTATION

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).


CONDITIONING AND STORAGE

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.  


DRINKING

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.


ENJOY!

If you have any problems or queries, try our faults and troubleshooting page or contact us via the forum.