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This project is part of a long-term plan to become more self-sufficient. Brewing one's own beer is a critical part of any plan that pretends to have self-sufficiency as a goal.
We are starting with so-called “beer kits” which are 1.8kg tin cans filled with malt and hops concentrate. These kits are easily found in large Canadian grocery stores and I purchased 2 kits the last time I visited Vancouver. It is almost impossible to find these kits in Switzerland, so I will be soon forced to start to make barley malt from scratch.
In addition to the beer kit, we use the following tools:
The hydrometer merits a bit of explanation. It is used to measure the density of the wort (malt+water mixture) at the start of fermentation and at the end. By subtracting the difference in density, we know how much wort has been transformed into alcohol. To get an accurate measurement, the hydrometer must float freely in the wort, so the level of the wort in the fermentation vessel must be deep, or a small sample of wort can be put in a graduated cylinder. This hydrometer was sold for CDN$11 and packaged in a clear plastic cylinder that was reasonably usable. Another trick is to spin the hydrometer in the wort before measuring or air bubbles on the glass will result in a false reading.
90% of the work of brewing beer from a kit is cleaning the equipment and the bottles. The cleaning is in 2 steps. The first step is to clean away dirt and stains as much as possible with soap and warm water (and scrubbing, if necessary). The second step is to sterilize all working surfaces by soaking in a weak bleach (eau de Javel) solution, 4ml per liter of water, for at least 20 minutes.
While one is waiting for the sterilization to finish, re-reading the fine manual is a good use of time.
Here is the beer kit that we are using for this experiment. My father who has been doing this for the last 15 years recommended it and it is reasonably cheap at CDN$12 each, but impossible to find in Europe. There is a list of URLs for beer kits at the bottom of this page, but I think that we will soon be switching to home-made malt.
Note for next time: do NOT forget to bring a proper can-opener!!!
The malt in this beer kit already has hops added to it. It pours as slow as molasses and the can needs to be rinsed with hot water to get it all into the vessel. Note for next time: bring oven mits!!!
The yeast works best around room temperature, so the wort is made by mixing boiling hot water and cool tap water in the right proportions and measuring with one's finger before adding the contents of the packet of dried brewers' yeast. If I remember correctly, we had 3 litres of boiling water and 10 litres of tap water at about 10°C. Note for next time: bring a thermometer!!!
At this point we screwed up. I wanted to make a malt-only beer and did not add white sugar and water. The result was that the level of wort in the vessel was too low and the hydrometer was resting on the bottom. I did not think about using the plastic cylinder that the hydrometer was packed in until the day after (2012-08-08), so the starting density that I measured was probably too low since one full day of fermentation had already passed. The measured specific gravity was 1.022, but I suspect that the real starting specific gravity was more like 1.027 since the wort seemed pretty active already. Note for next time: get a proper graduated cylinder, at least 30 cm tall!!!
The fermentation vessel that we borrowed from Michael is really nice. It has a close-fitting top with a screw-down retaining ring and a red plastic top that has been retro-fitted with an airlock (CDN$3).
The beer was bottled 2012-09-04 and at that point had a specific gravity of 1.010. This is an excessive time to wait since fermentation was probably complete after only 2 weeks. According to the table that came with the hydrometer, that corresponds to (3.6-1.3)=2.3% alcohol. Pretty weak.
9 1.5 litre PET bottles were rinsed, sterilised with bleach solution, rinsed again, primed with 2 teaspoons of white sugar, and filled by siphoning from the fermentation vessel through a 1cm-diameter silicone tube, about 1.5 metres long. The last 2 bottles were particularly turbid with yeast that got remixed in the beer. Here again we screwed up by allowing the end of the tube to rest among the yeast at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. Note for next time: during the last week of fermentation, elevate one edge of the vessel so that yeast concentrates in a corner. Either that, or get a carboy and do at least one decanting.
The upper contents of 2 PET bottles were decanted into 6 “beugel” bottles with resealable ceramic caps (washed and sterlised in the usual manner). The bottles were primed with 3 teaspoonfuls of white sugar dissolved in hot water. The rest of the beer was “unofficially” tasted and found to be yeasty and a somewhat weak.
“Official” tasting date. Only the beugel bottles were consumed after chilling in the freezer for 1.5 hours. The result was a reasonably clear darker-than-blond beer and an optimal level of carbonisation. 3 PET bottles were set on their sides to cool in the fridge.
Decanted the contents of 3 1.5 litre PET bottles into beugel bottles using the usual 1/2 teaspoon of sugar (dissolved in a little hot water) per bottle as primer.
For some reason, the beer seems to have improved! And I don't think it just a question of getting used to it. Aging helps maybe…
The object of this experiment was to brew a more potent beer by adding common granulated white sugar. This time I used:
Sprinkling the yeast on top of the frothy wort was a mistake. Afterwards there were a number of yeast clumps that needed to be broken up manually. Next time I am going to dissolve the yeast in a bit of warm water beforehand.
The hydrometer read 1.058 which corresponds to an absolute maximum possible alcohol final content of about 7.5%. We shall see…
Bubbling stopped. The hydrometer read 1.012 which corresponds to about 1.5% alcohol, thus the content at this point is about 7.5% - 1.5% = 6.0%. The beer is distinctly sweet, so there is still some fermentation left to go.
I did not really plan to let another week pass before bottling, but perhaps it was a good thing. The hydrometer now reads 1.002, so I assume that fermentation really must be complete. Specific gravity of 1.002 corresponds to about 0.2% alcohol, thus the alcohol content of the batch (before priming) is about 7.5% - 0.2% = 7.3%. The entire batch (instead of each bottle individually) was primed with a mixture of about 400g sugar with gelatin (normally used for making jam) dissolved in 1 litre of boiling water. The primer was evenly poured over the top of the batch without further mixing in order to avoid stirring up the yeast at the bottom. Final bottled volume was about 18.5 litres, so there was a fair amount of spillage, perhaps 3 litres.
http://www.brewferm.be/en/experts.htm Instruction pour kits avancé brewferm
Swiss online shop:
http://www.beersmith.com/recipes.htm repice from brewsmith website
Special thanks to: