I received a Mr. Beer extract brewing kit for Christmas a few years back. I, like many others before me, followed the instructions from start to finish, waited the three weeks, and was mildly disappointed. Enough to want to know “why didn’t this turn out like the rushing waterfalls of golden malt and savory hop aroma that I had spent the last few weeks dreaming I could make?” I started replacing my starter equipment with all-grain brewing supplies, and fell head over heels in love with home brewing.
I’ll be the first to tell you home brewing isn’t interesting to everyone. When it comes to casual discussion during the beer brewing season, I find most people staring off into space when I am telling them about what I am up to. You might find home brewing interesting if:
- You like producing your own homemade products.
- You enjoy chemistry.
- You like beer.
Photo courtesy of High Gravity Homebrewing & Wine Making Supplies
I unpacked all my home brewing equipment for the first time in a while after enjoying a few coffee porters recently. Before, I had never been all that into the darker beers. Now I’m trying a new brown ale, porter, or even stout every other visit to the local beer store. With the weather changing I figured it would be a good time to slip in a brew day and try out a homemade coffee porter!
I knew that if I wanted a good coffee porter, I first needed a good coffee. Fortunately, we have a couple local roasters in our area. In the end, I went Turnstile’s Sumatra for its dark earth flavor. I felt it would be well complimented by my choice of hop, the Willamette, as well as the dark chocolate profile of my grain bill.
I researched porter recipes in the Beersmith app. Beersmith is a great resource to find or design recipes, process unit conversions, run calculations, or set timers for brew day. After ample research, I decided to keep my recipe simple as to not muddy up the grain profile with too many characteristics. After all I want it to taste like coffee!
- 9 lbs US Two Row malt
- 1 lbs Chocolate malt
- 0.75 lbs Crystal 40 malt
- 0.25 lbs Black malt
- 0.5 oz Nugget hops (@ 60 min)
- 1 oz total Willamette hops (0.5 oz @30 min, 0.5 oz @ 10 min)
- 4 oz Turnstile Sumatra coffee (whole bean)
- 2 11g Lallemand Danstar Windsor dry yeast packets
10/23/2016 Porter Brew Day:
Before staring any actual brewing, all of the equipment must be cleaned and sanitized. Because I keep my equipment in our attic while I’m not using it, I take a few extra precautions during this phase to make sure everything is well sanitized before brewing. First, I hand washed everything and rinse. I moved all the equipment that can tolerate being boiled (ie. glass and metal equipment) to the kettle to be boiled in water for 5-10 minutes. While those were boiling, I mixed up some no-rinse sanitizer (my new favorite is Star San). In the case of Star San, you use 1 oz per 5 gallons of water. This is a lot of sanitzer. I saved some after the brewing stage for future hydrometer reading stages and bottling day. Once everything had boiled, I filled a large bowl of sanitizer to keep my hand tools (like spoons, mash paddles, whisks, thermometers, etc.) submerged and sanitized while they are waiting to be used. For all the other equipment that doesn’t fit in the bowl, I used an empty spray bottle and filled with sanitizer. Once everything was sanitized, I started warming up some water!
I utilize a popular home brewing method called brew in a bag (BIAB). Brew in a bag is a cheap way to start all grain brewing without committing to buying large and expensive equipment like a mash tun or a laudering tun. The entire grain mashing process occurs within the bag inside your brew kettle.
To mash the grains, you will need to heat the strike water to about 165 F. Strike water refers to the water that the grains are then added to. Because the grains will absorb a certain amount of the heat once introduced to the water, you have to compensate for that loss of heat so that you will ultimately end up at your target mashing temperature. A standard temperature to target for mashing is about 153 F. More in-depth calculation can be done to modify the body of your beer, but on average 153 F is a good ball park temperature for a medium body beer. You also need to determine the ratio of water to grain. There are calculations out there you can use to tailor a specific ratio. I went with 1.5 qt water per 1 lbs of grain. For my 11 lbs of grain, I needed about 4.125 gallons of water. Once the calculated volume of water is heated to 165 F, it’s time to add the brewing bag and then the grains.
Slowly pour the grains into the bag, stirring to keep them from sticking together into dough balls. This part may require the help of a friend in order to get it done without losing too much heat. Once all the grain has been added, close up the kettle for mashing. To help hold in the heat, I used and old blanket of ours as insulation and wrapped the entire kettle. This made a big difference during the windy conditions we had. The grains will mash for about 1 hour. Keep an eye on your temperature to make sure you aren’t dipping below your target 153 F. towards the end of the hour, heat up 3 gallons of water to about 165 F for sparging the grains.
Sparging is simple the process of rinsing any remaining wort out of the grain bag. This will increase your efficiency and ultimately your original gravity. After the hour of mashing, I pulled the bag of grains out of the kettle and let it drain. Next I moved the bag to another pot with a makeshift false bottom in order to keep the bag up off the bottom of the kettle while I was sparging the bag. Slowly I poured water over the grain bag using a ladle. Once I had ran the 3 gallons of water through my grains to bring my total volume of liquids back up to 7 gallons, I moved into the boiling phase.
I cranked the burner back up, and kept a watch on my newly created wort. When it gets close to boiling, the wort will rise and potentially boil over. This is called a heat break, and it’s messy. To help avoid this, keep stirring the wort to reduce the bubbling on the surface and throttle back the temperature as the wort starts to foam up. Once the boil started, I reduced my temperature to maintain a rolling boil and started the timer for one hour. Then it’s time to add the first hop addition.
The first hop addition is typically for bittering, and later hop additions are added for flavor and aroma. You’ll notice it the recipe that there are minutes associated with each hop addition. At 60 minutes left (the start of the boil), I added 0.5 oz of Nugget hops. Then at 30 and 10 minutes left, I added 0.5 oz of Willamette hops. I put my hop additions in muslin bags to help filter out the hops particles when I’m done. After adding the hops, be sure to keep an eye on the edges of the kettle for any hop residue. Keep pushing all the hop matter back into the wort to help with get the full potential out of your hop additions.
Once the wort has completed the boil, it needs to be chilled back down as rapidly as possible. However since I wanted to steep some coffee in the wort prior to sending to the fermenter, I chilled the wort to 200 F and tossed the coffee in to steep for about 10 minutes. Once the coffee was done steeping, I took the whole kettle down to about 75 F to for the yeast to be pitched around 70 F. Since I hadn’t rehydrated the yeast by this point, I left myself a little wiggle room in the temperature to accommodate the time needed to rehydrate the yeast. Now is a good time to take a hydrometer sample for your original gravity (OG). Be sure your tools are sanitized as the wort is no longer boiling off micro organisms that would ultimately contaminate your beer! Once I got my sample, we transferred the wort from the kettle to the sanitized fermenter via an auto-siphon.
For this beer, I was thrown off by my local home brew store not having the yeast I originally wanted to use in stock. I wound up going with Lallemand Danstar Windsor Dry yeast. I wanted to use an English yeast to try and keep the porter in style. To rehydrate the yeast, I simply added the packet to about 100mL of 96 F degree water, covered with foil and let it sit for 15 minutes. After the time had past, I removed the foil and looked for bubbling which is a sign of healthy yeast activity. If your yeast is looking flat, you may have a dead pack of dry yeast. I always buy two packets of dry yeast when I use them for this reason. Worst case scenario you can always just pitch both packets for a higher cell count if you have a higher gravity beer. If all looks good, stir it up to get all the yeast particles up off the container and dump it into the fermenter.
Find a good place for your fermenter to rest for the next two to three weeks. This place should be dark and cool. On average it should stay between 65F-70F without interruption. Be sure to check the procedures recommended by the yeast company for fermentation conditions as some may vary. Myself, I use a converted mini fridge with a temperature control unit to keep my fermenter within 1 degree of the desired fermentation temperature. One of these is very easy to put together if you have the room for an extra fridge.
Upcoming Procedures, Expectations, & Hindsight
And that’s it for the next few weeks. Primary fermentation will take about 2-3 weeks, then I plan to secondary the beer for another 3-4 weeks for clarity and maybe even some additional coffee steeping depending on how the coffee aroma held throughout the fermentation process by that point. Then hopefully about 2-3 weeks before Christmas I’ll get it all bottled up and ready for the holiday season! I’m expecting my porter to be ~5-6% ABV judging by my 1.055 OG. Ultimately it will depend on how well I maintained the fermentation process. I will be sure to post more about the final product as it comes to fruition.
In the end, home brewing really is an expressive form of art that anyone is capable of achieving. From the Mr Beer brew your own beer kit all the way through to designing my own recipes for my BIAB all grain brewing system, I have learned so much about the community of people who make beer, and the vast ocean of particulars that brewers worry about to tweak their batches to be perfect for them. Ultimately everyone is happy with their own way of doing things. I found myself this time even feeling more comfortable and confident with my own system and recipe. I spent the first couple batches getting caught up in everyone stressing about all these different particulars that ultimately didn’t critically affect my beer. Words of advice, keep it simple, do what you want, and do it for the love of the craft.
If you have any questions about home brewing, please send us a comment or and email.