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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Small Kit, MASSIVE Brewery...

So I've successfully produced beer from a kit and whilst the results weren't mind blowing, it was alcoholic and tasted like beer, so I was somewhat pleased with my first steps into the brewing world. However, I'm never going to make great beer without getting down to the nitty-gritty with grain and hops. I have a scientific mind and I like to know what all the ingredients are doing and how they interact to produce the finished product. I was itching to get going, but I knew I'd need to invest in some extra equipment. Purely for convenience everything was pointing me in the direction of Brupak's range of homebrew kits, specificially their modified cooler box mash tun and electric boilers. However, being limited on space in the house I did wonder where all this kit was going to live (as did the wife), shame there wasn't a kit out there that was a little more compact. That's when I stumbled upon a couple of blog articles over on broadfordbrewer talking about brew in a bag (BIAB), which brought my attention the "10 LITRE, ALL-GRAIN, STOVE-TOP, BREW KITS" by Massive Brewery

This kit included everything I would need (and more) to do a full grain brew, and all packaged in a 12x12" square box! Bloody perfect! The author of broadfordbrewer is the chap behind Northern Monk's first few beers (for the love of God you must try Strannik!), so with that kind of brewing calibre I felt confident that this was going to be a decent setup and proceeded to place my order. Essentially, what this kit does is allow you to mash and boil in the same vessel as all the ingredients are brewed in bags...simple! Also, as it's half the volume of my other kit, it allows for a quicker turn around, which is ideal for learning and experimental purposes.

It's arrived!
So with order submitted I set about constantly refreshing the Parcel Force tracking page, eagerly awaiting the delivery of my new kit. During this time I decided to refrain from shaving, in an attempt to grow a brewers beard and give myself a fighting chance with my first full grain brew. After much beard stroking my parcel arrived and everything was present and accounted for (check out Massive Brewery for a full list of what's included). The ingredients included in the kit were standard Maris Otter malt and Phoenix hops, a good dual purpose hop, which is perfect for a beginners brew. So with the kit in my possession I decided Sunday was to become my #brewday.

When the fateful day arrived I began preparation for the task ahead. With the aid of the handy spreadsheet put together by Steve at Massive Brewery, I inputted the supplied grain weight and it spat out my target volumes and strike temperatures, very useful for a newbie such as myself. So with a strike temp of 72°C advised, I set about filling up the stock pot with 7 litres of boiling water from the kettle and half a litre of cold water just to knock the temperature down a little. This took it to around 74°C, so a couple of stirs later and it was ready. I threw the grain into the two cotton sacks provided and submerged them in the water, giving the grains a good stir to make sure there were no dry lumps (more on that later!), I again checked the temperature. Steve's calculations were bang on, it was just shy of 65°C. With everything set, there was nothing else to do at this stage, I put the lid on the pot and set the cooker timer for 60 minutes.

We're mashin'
Whilst the mash was mashing, I set about weighing out my glorious hops. Unfortunately I only had a set of standard cheap kitchen scales which aren't particularly acurate for measuring low weights (note to self, buy digital scales). The dial pointed to around 30 grams marks, so I split the hops 16-14 and put them in the two supplied hop sacks ready for throwing into the wort later. With 10 minutes left on the clock I put the kettle on and starting filling up the FV with the recommended volume (6.25ltr at 80°C) of sparge water. Just as I reached the correct volume the cooker chimed and I pulled out my mashed sacks of soggy grain one-by-one, squeezing as much wort out as I could through a collander over the stock pot and then transfered them to the sparge water for another brief soak. At this point I put the hob on under the stock pot in an attempt to give the boil process a bit of a head start. The grain sacks both received another good stir and squeeze and the resultant wort was then poured into the stock pot for the boiling stage of the process. One thing I didn't anticipate was how long it would take this to get this bad boy up to a rolling boil! It tooks hours, and you know what they say about a watched pot? Eventually it started bubbling away and I could throw in my first batch of hops (the 16 gram bag).

Hip-hop, don't stop...
With another hour on the clock it was time to make sure the FV and any equipment I was going to use at the final stage were clean, so I filled up the tub with warm water, plenty of steriliser and threw in a sieve and a pair of metal tongues. This time I was a bit more relaxed about the whole sterilisation process.

The kitchen looked like a bomb site, so I thought I'd better do a bit of clearing up before the wife returned from her travels. I began by emptying my spent grain bags and it was then, like the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a big ball of dry grain tumbled out into the bin! Argh! I had stirred those grains like I had OCD, but I must have been just moving that lump around, hopefully it won't have too much effect on the final brew. Ahh well, this was always going to be a trial run and I've learnt a valuable lesson!

Five minutes from the end of the boiling process it was time to add the second batch of hops and slowly immerse the cooling coil (so not to stop the boil) so that it is sterilised before the chilling process begins. Having washed the coil earlier I figured it would a bit too cold to put directly into the stock pot, so I filled the sink up with hot water and left it bathing for five minutes beforehand. It's worth mentioning that if you do decide to go with one of these kits, make sure you work out how you're going to connect the chiller to your water supply. It comes supplied with a threaded connector, but with nowhere to attach it, I had to improvise. In the end I plumbed the inlet pipe to a gardening hose, fed through the kitchen window, which was connected to an outside tap! Doing this probably worked in my favour, as I managed to cool the wort down to 20°C in around 15 minutes! 

Brew my beauty!
With the wort now at the desired temperature I removed the hop sacks and placed them in the sieve over the FV and carefully poured the wort over the hops as so to extract any more flavour and to filter out sediment, which is easier said than done with an 11 litre pot full to the brim! Now all that was left was to pitch the yeast (Safale US-05), put the lid on and wait for the magic to happen. Two days in and fermentation appears to be ticking along nicely. 

So what useful lessons have I learnt during this exercise? Definitely on my next brewday I shall be making sure all that grain is separated and wet, probably with the aid of a fork rather than a big stirring spoon. To speed up the boiling stage I will split the wort between a couple of pans and merge them once boiling. Oh and also I will have a brand new set of digital scales to weigh out the hops properly. Bring it on!