Brew Day Walkthrough – Getting into the Christmas Spirit


I mentioned yesterday that I planned to brew a Christmas beer. In a shocking turn of events, I followed through on that threat promise, and spent this afternoon brewing up Christmas Carroll. I also managed to snap a few pictures with my camera along the way so I thought this would be a good excuse to do a brew day walkthrough.

Christmas Carroll -  Books (12.2.13)

Recommended Reading

So let’s start at the very beginning: how to brew… or more accurately: How To Brew by John Palmer. Some people swear by Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, which I admittedly haven’t read, but I can’t think of anything lacking from Palmer’s book except maybe for a chapter on how to crop your Adidas out of a photo. The other book on the table is Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer’s Brewing Classic Styles. Christmas Carroll is derived from a recipe for a Christmas Ale in this book, which is derived from an Old Ale recipe earlier in the book. The one thing I don’t like about this book is that all the recipes are in extract form; which is only a nit for me because I’m an all-grain brewer. When I plug the conversions provided in the book into my brewing software (BrewToad), the gravity and IBU ratings don’t match up. I’ve been adjusting down to meet the predicted gravity in the past two batches and they both came in well under the target OG. But that’s an investigation for another time. Long story short: find a good book and use it as your bible.

Christmas Carroll - Grains (12.2.13)

Ingredients: Malts

The first thing I do with any trip to my local homebrew store (LHBS) is to visit the grain room and start gathering up my malts (and have a few handfuls for a snack). This recipe called for UK Pale Malt as the base malt. However, I found the Lovibond rating (color) to be lower than I wanted, and the flavor was not as biscuity/nutty as I liked, so I substituted in 2 lbs of Maris Otter (which you can see on the bag on the left). The far right bag is 8 lbs of UK Pale Malt, and the center bag is 0.75 lbs of Crystal 80L, which gives a nice caramel/toffee flavor and adds some color; and 10 oz of Black Patent Malt. The recipe called for 0.5 lbs (8 oz) of BPM, but the Lovibond recommend was 525L. My local only had 500L, so I increased the amount slightly in order to get the color I wanted. As a bonus, Reilly – AHB’s Chief Executive in charge of Brewing Operations and dog – loves eating the spent grain as treats. I sprinkled a little on her dinner tonight.

Christmas Carroll - Hops (12.2.13)

Ingredients: Hops

The recipe called for 1 oz of Horizon hops at 60 minutes in the boil. However, the predicted International Bitterness Units (IBUs) were 45 based on an Alpha Acid (AA) level of 13. These Horizon hops only had 11.2 AA’s, so I added 0.5 oz of US Golding, which I had left-over from Winter Sun. A brief chemistry lesson on hops: when hops are added to the boil, the temperature isomerizes the alpha acids, creating the characteristic bitterness. The longer the hops stay in the boiling wort, the more bitterness (and less flavor/aroma) is extracted. That is why hops added at the beginning of a boil are called the “Bittering Addition” and hops added at the end of the boil are either the “Flavor Addition” or the “Aroma Addition,” depending on timing. Since this Christmas Ale is not going to be a hoppy beer – Sorry, Carroll – these hops were both added as part of the Bittering Addition in order to off-set the sweetness of the malt.

Christmas Carroll -  Spices (12.2.13)

Ingredients: Super Secret Spices

One of the characteristics of a Christmas Ale is its spices. The recipe recommended a rather modest addition of allspice, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. I doubled the recommended dosage for each of those and added ground cloves as well. I also added a bit of Pumpkin Pie spice. Brewing Classic Styles took its spice additions from the Pumpkin Ale recipe, so I decided to borrow from my own pumpkin recipe and add the Pumpkin Pie spice. I’m glad I added all the extra spices, but more about that later.

Ingredients: Yeast

Ingredients: Yeast

There’s a saying that goes “Brewers make wort; yeast makes beer.” I say that’s bullshit. The yeast would stay in these little packets if I didn’t liberate them, so I’m taking credit here. I opted for the 1028 London Ale yeast from WYeast; it was one of recommended styles. I went with two smack packs because this is a bigger beer (target Alcohol By Volume (ABV) of 9%), and I wanted to make sure it fermented cleanly. A quick yeast chemistry lesson: yeast are very fickle, fragile creatures. If you don’t keep them at the right temperature, or if you don’t have enough of them for the job (making beer), they get stressed. Stressed yeast through off-flavors and aromas into your beer. Think of them as disgruntled employees. Alcohol – at certain levels – is also toxic to yeast, which becomes another problem. Since this is a high alcohol beer, I pitched the two packets to make sure there was enough yeast to ferment all the sugar without getting stressed.

Christmas Carroll - Mash Tun (12.2.13)

Step One: Mashing In

The first step (after cleaning everything, buying all the ingredients, and heating the strike water) is “mashing in.” This is where I take the grains I bought and mix them with hot water in the “mash tun” aka that red cooler you see in the picture. The idea here is to get the water/grain combination – known as the “mash” – up to a certain temperature. In the case of this recipe, that temperature is 152*F. This is done by figuring out how hot to heat your “strike water” – the water you mix with the grains – based on the amount (and temperature) of the grains to reach that target. In my case, I heated 5.85 gallons to 168*F to mix with 19.2 lbs of grains at 65*F. Don’t worry, I used a handy spreadsheet and BrewToad to do any/all the math. After that it is just a matter of stirring the grains to make sure they don’t stick together in “dough balls” or clumps. The consistency will end up something like oatmeal.

Step Two: Sacc. Rest

Step Two: Sacc. Rest

Step Two is the “Sacc. Rest” (hehe), short for Saccharification Rest, or (as I call it) the “Sugar Rest.” The reason you get the mash up to a certain temperature when Mashing In is to keep it at that temperature for about an hour. This is the Saccharification Rest. During the Sacc. Rest the water converts the starches in the grains to sugars. This basically creates a sugary oatmeal mix. Depending on the temperature, more or less sugars will be converted. These are the sugars that will ultimately 1. give the beer its flavor and 2. be converted into alcohol by the yeast.

Steps Three and Four: Vorlauf and Lautering

Steps Three and Four: Vorlauf and Lautering

Step Three is called “Vorlaufing.” So after you’ve rested your mash and you’ve got this oatmeal thing in your tun, you want to drain out the liquid sugar-water (aka wort), but leave behind all the solid grains. If you simply open up the spigot and drain the liquid out two things can happen: 1. you jam up your sparge as all the solid tries to get through and 2. you get a very cloudy liquid with lots of tiny grain-bits floating in it. Vorlaufing is done to eliminate those two things. The process is simple, you open the spigot to drain the liquid, verrrrry sloooooowly and collect it into a pitcher. The wort you collect will be pretty cloudy, but that’s okay. You then slowly pour the wort back into the mash tun. What this does is it lets the grains settle and it causes the grains to act as a filter. You Vorlauf a few times and the wort gradually becomes clearer.

Step Four is done post-Vorlaufing, and it is called “Lautering,” because brewers need a fancy word for “draining.” You drain the liquid wort from the oatmeal mix through the same process as Vorlaufing. Going slow will reduce the chances of a stuck sparge (drain) and will allow the grains to filter out any tiny grain-bits, leaving you with a nice clear(ish) wort.

Step Five: First and Second Runnings

Step Five: First and Second Runnings

Once you’ve drained out your wort, you have what is called the “first runnings.” You’ll notice that it will be less than what you hope to end with as a final volume of beer. What gives? In order to get your volume up, you’ll need to heat up more water, add it to the mash, Vorlauf again, and then get your “second runnings” aka Step Five. The first runnings is the concentrated wort, the strong stuff. The second runnings is all the sugar that is left in the grain-bed after the Sacc. Rest, and trust me there’s plenty of it. For illustrative purposes, I took a side-by-side picture of samples from the first and second runnings. Notice how the first runnings (left) is much darker than the second? That’s because its more concentrated. Once you’ve got your first and second runnings, you combine them (pictured below) and then you start the boil.

Combined First and Second Runnings

Combined First and Second Runnings

For me I like to combine my samples because this will give me an idea of what the finished beer will taste like (kinda). Pour your first and second runnings into your brew kettle and start your boil (Step Six). This recipe calls for a 90-minute boil. Most recipes only take 60-minutes.

Step Five and Six: Boiling and Fining

Step Six and Seven: Boiling and Fining

Once the boil gets going, there’s not too much to do except make sure it doesn’t boil over. Once my boil got started, I set my timer for 90 minutes. At the 60 minute mark, I added the hops. Then I did a whole lot of nothing until the 15 minute mark (Step Seven), when I added Irish Moss (the brown-green stuff) and yeast nutrient (the yellow-white stuff) to the boil. The Irish Moss is a type of seaweed that causes certain proteins to clump together; the effect makes the beer less hazy. It is purely optional and for cosmetic purposes. The yeast nutrient gets dissolved into the wort and gives the yeast a little extra snack come fermentation time. I also add my Immersion Chiller with 15 minutes left in the boil. The boiling wort will sanitize the chiller (assuming you cleaned it), and it can stay in there until it is time to chill.

NOTE: Watch out for the plastic tubing on your chiller or – like me – you could find it melting against the red hot side of your boil kettle. Oops. Luckily the beer never touches the tubing, so it wasn’t anything a little duct tape didn’t fix.

Step Eight for this beer was to add the spices with 1 minute left in the boil. This would be when you add aroma hops in a traditional, hoppier recipe.

Step Nine: Chillin'

Step Nine: Chillin’

Once you’ve got the boil done, it’s time to chill the wort (Step Nine). Since it was above-freezing today, I took the kettle outside and hooked up my Immersion Chiller to the hose. The cold water running through the copper coils chills the wort down and the warm waste water goes into one of my buckets for cleaning. Depending on the temperature of the wort/water/air this can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. This took me a little more than 15 minutes today. God love ya, Winter.

Winter Sun. Fermenting.

Winter Sun. Fermenting.

Step Ten is to “rack” (siphon. Again with these terms…) the beer from the kettle and into a cleaned and sanitized fermentation vessel. Above is Winter Sun in a glass carboy. Christmas Carroll got racked into a white plastic bucket. Both vessels essentially do the same job, but the carboy gives you an easier view into what’s going on (you can see the yeast “krausen” at the top in the photo). Once your wort is into a bucket or carboy, you pitch your yeast, give it a quick shake, stick in an airlock and… wait.

In about a week (give or take, depending on yeast strain, temperature, etc) the beer will be finished fermenting and it will be ready to – in this case – bottle. But that’s a post for a different day.

I hope you enjoyed this overview of my brew day. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I’ll be happy to answer all of them. 

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