Friday, February 6, 2009

First All-Grain Beer

We started our first all-grain beer 2 weeks ago. Previously, we always used malt syrup to make our beer, because we didn't have a container big enough to do our own mash (where you extract that sugar from barley itself). Then we found this old keg, and converted it into a 15-gallon mash pot.

With all-grain beer, you do all of the processing yourself, and start with completely unprocessed ingredients (we used unprocessed hops for this batch as well). It's also cheaper but about $10 a 5-gallon batch. It's ALSO a heck of a lot more complicated. We started making this batch around 6pm, and finished around 1:30 AM (well, Tristan finished. I was asleep by then.) Coaxing the sugars out of the barley is a long process of raising the mash to various temperatures designed to break down different components of the grain. We did this part of the process in a cooler, adding the amount of hot water specified by the recipe to bring the entire mash to a particular temperature. We found it didn't work as expected, and the temperature was constantly lower than we wanted it to be. Maybe it's due to the altitude, or maybe the recipe was no good. Regardless, we somehow got the sugars out of the barley anyway, and things were just fine in the end.

After the temperature-adjustment waltz, we had to strain the mash into the keg for an hour-long boil (this part is the same as making beer the easier way). Straining the liquid out of the cooler proved extremely difficult. We used a clean metal scouring sponge cupped around the cooler drain to keep the barley from escaping, but this quickly clogged, and any attempt to readjust resulted in the sponge slipping and the keg filling with barley. We got it after a few tries, but we're going to have to find a better system for this part of the process.

At this point, I went to bed, and I assume Tristan put that pot on the boil, added the hops, and waited an hour. Then we let the wort cool overnight, and in the morning transferred it to a bucket and pitched the yeast. We did the primary fermentation in a bucket instead of a carboy because, according to the recipe, there will be half a gallon of sediment left at the end, and thus you start out with 5.5 gallons of wort--too much for the carboy.

We'll keep you posted on this batch as it progresses. The primary fermentation (pictured) is just finished and we are going to rack the beer into a carboy tomorrow. It smells delish, but no idea how it tastes yet. It should be a busy weekend for beer, as we have one batch that needs bottling and one that needs racking, and we may get a new batch of beer or cider underway.

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