My First Homebrew - By Sahil Tanveer

It all started with the eternal search for the ultimate refresher. After a hard day's work, a cold beer is a craving that runs in every other person's heart. My friend always said to me that no matter how bad your day was the moment the first gulp of cold beer goes down your throat everything seems to be alright. For me, beer was everything from a poor man's drink while living in Panjim, to a connoisseur's choice while growing in Mumbai. Beer after beer over the years led me to an understandable position of judging the beer by taste, and to my surprise, every other brand that I tasted came down to almost the same after taste. I began to wonder where the taste actually ran away to. This was the time I started researching on it, like any other inquisitive beer-monger would. What I found was astounding and so tempting that I knew my taste buds would be in for a ride.

Enter Fresh Brews. Fresh Beer is the key to the most refreshing and most satisfying experience anyone could ask for after being laden by every other big brand brew. For those new to this side of the beer-world, there are a lot of styles of beers made in the world, like Lagers, Ales, Porters, Stouts, Weizens, Bocks, etc.,. The key to this is the freshness. Most of the commercial beers are usually Lagers with the exceptions of a few rare finds like the Foster's Ale or the Murphy Stout. Well for us Indians, the market is still pretty slim for commercially made Ales, apart from the fact that they are added with preservatives to make them last longer, which essentially defeats the purpose of a fresh brew. So make way for Tap Beer. The closest you can get to factory made fresh brew.

It all probably started with some guy wanting to make some beer himself at home like in the olden days. The Homebrewing has been going on since ages but, we found it now! Homebrewing is a hobby, a style, an art and the most economical way to taste your hard work after the hard work!
India has come a long way in homebrewing in a very short time. Lucky for me, I started homebrewing at a time when the ingredients are easily available in the country, the equipment is all easy to procure and the process is so elaborately explained by fellow brewers in India that making beer at home seems to be the easiest hobby with ultimate soul-satisfaction.

Being an Architect, making new and original things was embedded in my soul since the day I started school, and as I grew each day, I would always look for things which interested me and would try to tweak them into being my own versions. This is my story of how I found Homebrewing and the idea of making my own beer with my own tweaks and selections and twisting the flavour into outrageous and ingenious designs to get the right refresher that would quench the thirst of my soul.

Before I begin, I have to mention two people who inspired me as well as helped me with my first brew. Navin Mittal of Gateway Brewing Co., who helped me with sourcing some equipment and clearing my doubts about the process, and Sapan Maniyar of Pune Homebrewers (THIS BLOG!!), who helped me source the ingredients and also the one whose recipe played an important role in building my own recipe combined with the almighty book by John Palmer.

The major parts of the whole process for me were only two things, Research and Cleaning, the actual brewing part was a walk in the park. Starting with research, I went through every website and every book that there was about homebrewing. It goes without saying that 'How To Brew' by John Palmer is the definitive guide to making beer, but there are also quite a few homebrewing forums and blogs which were of a lot of help in terms of tweaking the process to make it easier. Sapan, in his blog gives us an Indianised version of the whole process and the equipment, which puts a lot of things in perspective for us, Indian Homebrewers. Before I even began collecting the equipment, there were days and days of reading and searching the web and then some more reading and of course, Youtube! Finally I had a sense of what I was going to do and how.

I started collecting all the equipment necessary for the brewing in my own town of Dharwad, Karnataka, which seems to be quite a 2-tier city in a few aspects. The other stuff which I couldn't get, mostly just the temperature controller, I ordered from Mumbai. Everything else was pretty much bought from the steel market, hardware store and a small little lab equipment store in midtown Dharwad.


Image 1.(Measuring jug, funnel, stirrer, alcohol thermometer, hydrometer)


Image 2.(20L water dispenser for fermentation)


Image 3.(Stainless steel Brewpot)


Image 4.(Commercial Ice for Ice Bath)

While I was buying all the equipment from the local market I had called Sapan for the ingredients, who was kind enough to respond immediately. But the Ingredients depended on the Ale I was making, which called for more research and opinions from both Navin and Sapan. Finally deciding on a Pale Ale, I asked Sapan for the ingredients to make an Aurora Pale Ale, which is nicely described on his blog, Punehomebrewers. I did do a bit of tweaking to the recipe by referring to John Palmer's version of an American Pale Ale and BYO website's version of an Aurora Hop Ale. Finally my Ingredients arrived by courier, of which the transport charges were exorbitant and we decided to use a better way to transport the ingredients next time around.


Image 5.(Malted Barley)


Image 6.(Aurora Hops)


Image 7.(American Ale Yeast)

I had finally collected everything I needed for Brew-day. Now it was time for the second most important and time consuming step, Cleaning and Sanitizing. When I was at a Brewpub in Mumbai, they told me that 75% of brewing was only cleansing and sanitizing, I thought to myself, "eh". When I was at the bridge was when I realised how long and rickety it was! I started by washing everything with detergent and then sanitizing everything with a Sodium Hypo chloride solution (Bleach). After all the cleaning was done and the equipment neatly stacked as you saw in the pictures, by the way I did not include pictures of me going at it with the detergent, the brewing was ready to be done.

The brewpot was filled with about 8L of water from the filter and a separate pot with another 3L was put on the burners to be brought to a boil. We all have to account for boil-off, which means we calculate what amount of water becomes vapour while you boil away for about 90 mins total and add that extra amount to balance your final brew. The smaller pot with 3L would boil-off about a litre and 2L have to be cooled and added to the fermentation bottle to bring the whole beer up to about 8L also accounting for the boil-off in the brewpot. Finally brewing began with the brewpot brought to boiling point at which time we add the malted barley and the bittering hops.


Image 8.(Adding the malted barley)

I always kept in mind that the Ale I was making was ultra hopped, which means it’s a bitter tasting beer with strong hop aroma and taste. I made three additions of Aurora hops to the brew at 60min for bittering, at 15min for taste and at 5min for aroma. The smell was extraordinary, reminiscent of all the Ales I had tasted in the various breweries, and I knew I was on my way. The important thing now was to stir the wort and always keep an eye on it to prevent it from boiling over. Wort is what it’s called before the yeast magically turns it into beer!


Image 9.(Stirring the wort)

Timed it for 60mins and then the brewing was over. While I did this my mother helped me prepare the ice bath simultaneously. (Yes, my mom, another beer fanatic! :chuckles:)


Image 10.(Ice bath)

The wort has to be instantly cooled from 100 deg to about 20 deg Centigrade, so as to prevent any bacteria in the air to have time to ruin my freshly made wonder-drink. Keeping the wort covered at all times is essential as you have no idea what stuff is hanging around on your kitchen ceiling waiting to fall into your creation and spoil your hard work.
While the wort cools, which takes about 20 minutes to an hour depending on the placement and the amount of ice used, I made the yeast starter by adding the yeast to a little bit of water and adding just a bit of table sugar to make sure the yeast is alive and kicking.


Image 11.(Yeast starter)

The wort had cooled down to about 20 deg C and it was time to pour it into the fermentation carbuoy. Here I did what a lot of homebrewers suggested on different blogs; aerate it well by splashing it while you pour it in. This is the only time we do this on purpose and remember not to aerate it or shake or disturb it while it is fermenting.


Image 12.(Pouring the Wort into carbuoy)


Image 13.(Pouring the Wort into carbuoy)


Image 14.(Pitching the Yeast in the wort)

After the cooled wort is poured into the fermentation carbuoy, I poured the Yeast starter I had made earlier and picked up the plastic carbuoy and gave it a few twirls to mix it in, splashing it just a little and not too much. Then the cap was fixed with an air-lock I bought at the lab store and a little bit of sanitizing solution was poured into the air-lock to prevent from air going into the carbuoy while the wort fermented. Then it was put in the refrigerator to which I had already connected the ON/OFF temperature controller and set the temperature at 20 deg C.


Image 15.(Putting the carbuoy in the fridge)


Image 16.(Wort and Yeast in the fermentation carbuoy)


Image 17.(Air-lock on the cap)

Now it was time to forget about it, I mean really forget about it. For impatient people, like me, the fermentation process which took about 3 weeks was the hardest, so I took the easiest approach by not thinking about it. I used the longer fermentation period to let the yeast completely settle down as I wanted to use the same carbuoy for bottling as well as it came with a tap not nearly as close to the bottom which allowed me to easily let the yeast layer settle below the tap. While the Yeast worked their magic I went through a whole new ordeal trying to find the right bottles for my beer locally. After a lot of hassles with glass bottles not being available and an arrogant bottle dealer from Hubli wasting my precious time, I finally found a guy who makes plastic bottles for soda manufacturers. This pet bottle, as you will see in the pictures ahead, came in 330ml and break away seal caps, which was perfect for my purpose. I bought the bottles and again as you guessed, cleaned and sanitised them just before bottling. After 3 weeks of fermentation, my flat beer was ready to be bottle conditioned for the final carbonation needed to make the fizz in the beer. At this point i made a quick check on the specific gravity of the beer and determined what amount of estimated alcohol was in it. I needed that to make sure I got the recipe right. This is where I over shot the beer and made it a little too strong, but as I was on a bit of a learning curve, that was absolutely fine and the beer came out to taste nearly perfect. On the day of the bottling, I made a sugar solution for priming, poured the solution directly into the fermented wort and shook it slightly to mix and let all the yeast settle down again for 20 mins.


Image 18.(Priming solution added)

After the yeast particles settled down, I started bottling slowly without splashing it into the plastic bottles and one by one my pints of Ale started assembling on the counter.


Image 19.(Bottles of Ale)

The Ale filled bottles were then taken back to the fridge and left there for bottle conditioning for another week. This is the time the fizz develops in the beer, depending on the amount of sugar present in the bottle.


Image 20.(Bottle conditioning)

Since I have this need to be perfect to the last detail, I designed the label that would come on the bottles, printed them out on sticker paper and then labelled each bottle with the Aurora Pale Ale stamp just before refrigerating them at 6 to 7 deg C to be consumed after 4 to 5 hrs.


Image 21.(Label printouts)


Image 22.(Labelled Bottle)


Image 23.(Homebrew Only)


Image 24.(Bottles kept for chilling)

Chilled Aurora Pale Ale, fresh, handcrafted beer, ready to drink. I had my refreshing first homebrew and to tell you the truth, even I didn't expect it to come out so good. The taste was perfect, the bitterness was desired and although the aroma was less but was pleasant enough. The slightly high alcohol content gave a zing to the little pint but the drinking pleasure was awesome.


Image 25.(Homebrew opening)


Image 26.(Drinking the brew)


After this successful attempt, I still have a lot of things I learnt and I plan to improvise on my next batch, like the wort chiller which I made out of copper pipe and the 2 step fermentation process and most importantly the recipe which I shall twist, turn and experiment with to get finer tasting and more interesting beers which say more about me and my style. As I plan to make a Weizen and a Blonde Ale for my next batches to come I shall definitely keep updating.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Sahil,

    Your post is very informative.

    Regards,
    Arun

    ReplyDelete
  2. hi sahil how much alcohol content is their in your beer, how to make a beer mild or strong

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pradeep,

      The alcohol content in Sahil's beer is around 7% which is high.
      We generally recommend alcohol percentage around 5% for new hombrewers.

      Alcohol percent is decided by the amount of sugars present in the wort. Original and final gravity of the beer.
      For higher alcohol content, use more malt / malt extract, for lower alcohol content use less malt / malt extract for the same volume of beer.

      Delete

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