Adventures in flora, fauna, food, and the great unknown.

Brewers and patriots, part 2

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Although the beginning of our first brewing adventure (read about it here) certainly taught us a few things, what came after has been the true learning experience; it was at this point that we really started having questions not clarified in the (admittedly very basic) instructions included with the summer ale kit. Luckily, we had some other resources at our disposal (not the least of which was an actual human being who has brewed many a beer!), and although I was sure we’d pay some price for our mistakes—and that there were mistakes we made that we hadn’t even realized—I was still hopeful that they were minor enough that our summer ale would be more than just barely drinkable.

The first question arose when it appeared that the wort had stopped fermenting. It seemed quite early, but there were no longer active bubbles visible in the econo-lock, so we picked up some 22 oz. bottles in anticipation of the next step. However, a friend of Mike’s gave us a great tip that might well have saved our beer—push down gently on the bucket’s lid, and see if that causes the water level in the econo-lock to rise. Lo and behold, it did. What this means is that there was still activity going on in there (CO2 was still being produced), just not as much as there was previously. So, we continued to wait.

The second issue was heat. It’s summer here in Massachusetts, and although this place is certainly cooler than my previous one (hint: avoid third-floor attic apartments with only two windows; you will wilt), 80°F days outside meant ~73°F–75°F inside, and 75°F wort. Danger, Will Robinson! This time, I turned to the internet. Mike wasn’t home, and I wanted to do something sooner rather than later. I decided to try the wet T-shirt/fan method (look here for some great information on cooling techniques). That brought the temperature back down to 70°F by the morning—although it probably helped that the ambient temperature also went down overnight. In any case, it helped keep the wort at least a little bit cooler from then on out. We’ll definitely use this method again in the future.

The system I set up for helping keep the wort cool. Not the prettiest thing in the world, but it did the trick.

We finally got to the bottling stage on July 3, and I’m pleased to say that this portion of the process couldn’t be more simple: just transfer the almost-beer to another container, pour it out of the tap and into bottles, and cap. Then the bottles went back for another extended vacation in the closet. Let’s take a photo journey through the process, shall we?

Just after we opened the fermenter. It smelled, unsurprisingly, quite a bit like the bread dough I've been making recently, after about a week in the fridge—i.e., vaguely like sourdough.

The liquid is syphoned out of the fermenter before it's poured into bottles.

Waiting in this bucket during the transfer was some boiled sugar water. This gets stirred for a minute, and then pouring begins!

Using the capper was probably the most enjoyable part of the entire process. I can't explain why it was so fun, so you'll just have to try it yourself.

Various states of bottling. This is the second case. We filled just over two by the end of it.

At a fellow homebrewer's recommendation, we tried some of it at this stage. It tasted like a cross between really watered down beer and bland juice.

After two weeks of carbonation time, we had some friends over for the first tasting on July 17, and I think we were all quite pleased. It’s amazing how much those two weeks changed the taste. My initial opinion was that although it was good, there was still something lacking, but considering that this was our first attempt, I was still quite proud of it. The more I’ve had it, though, the more its grown on me, and I no longer think it tastes like it’s missing something (although, admittedly, it is a bit weak in terms of alcohol content).

And there was much rejoicing.

Mike dubbed this brew Tinúviale, which, for multiple reasons, I find charming (bonus points to anyone who gets the reference). We still have plenty of bottles left, and there’s another kit waiting in our pantry (an English brown ale) that we’ll be starting on this weekend, so there looks to be lots of good beer in our lives in the coming months.


Author: JD Doyle

Bookbinder, knitter, spinner, singer, runner, vegetarian, & sometime poet.

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