I bottled my third batch of beer last Sunday, and brewed my fourth batch of beer on Wednesday.
The third batch was a smoked porter, the kit for which I obtained from The Winemaker's Shop. As with the previous two batches, my friend Andy helped me brew. We made a few small changes in our brewing process for this one. Most notably, we elected to use distilled water, rather than tap water, when boiling the wort. This likely won't have a very big effect on the flavor, and was mostly done from a "why not?" attitude. The other major change to our process was the addition of a digital thermometer. For the prior two batches, we'd been winging it with respect to temperature as we cooled the wort before pitching the yeast. The first time, we cooled it too much, and the yeast took longer to ferment the beer. The second time we simply got lucky. For the porter, though, we carefully monitored the wort as we chilled it, and made sure that we didn't pitch the yeast until we were within the 70-75 degree range.
The bottling process was tedious, as usual, but working on it with a partner makes the whole thing much smoother, and far more entertaining. Andy and I laughed and giggled almost the whole time. I can't imagine bottling alone.
On Wednesday I brewed my fourth batch of beer, the Northern Brewer Single Hopped Best Bitters. Brewing the SHB2 was not particularly different from any of the other brews I've done. The big difference is that the kit included dry malt extract, rather than liquid. This was my first experience with DME. I found it to be slightly easier to deal with than LME, and plan to look for more DME kits in the future. (I'm not interested in stepping up to all-grain brewing yet, thanks.)
This batch is specifically intended to be kegged, rather than bottled. My sister and dad pitched in and got me a keg, CO2 canister, regulator, and associated hoses and couplings, so that I can enter the wonderful world of kegged beer. I wanted to brew this batch as quickly as possible so that it would be ready for consumption in time for the upcoming Habari Party.
My buddy Chris came over to lend moral support as I brewed the SHB2. He's a homebrewer himself, and has only ever kegged his beer. I picked his brain about his kegging and carbonation strategies, and learned a few good tricks: connect the CO2 to the beer out line to force carbonate faster: the beer out line goes down to the bottom keg, forcing the CO2 to rise up through the entire volume of beer. When carbonation is complete, remove the CO2 line from the beer out line and connect it to the gas in line as normal to maintain pressure. Neat!
I shared with Chris the secret of my wort chiller, which is nothing more than 50' of coiled copper tubing, some reinforced plastic hose, and a coupler to connect the hose to my shower head. One can spend a pretty penny on a commercial wort chiller, which will no doubt look nicer; but my D-I-Y chiller costs less and is every bit as functional. When my boil is done, I move the brewpot to my bathroom, connect it to the shower, and run cold water through it. It dumps directly into the bathtub. It takes about 30 minutes to bring the wort temperature down to a range suitable for pitching yeast (I'm usually impatient at this step, and pitch the yeast when the wort is still a wee bit hot.) The next time I brew, though, I'm going to immerse the brewpot into a cooler filled with ice water, and then use the wort chiller, in an effort to cool the wort as quickly as possible.
It's always an interesting experience to talk process with other homebrewers. The focus of our various interests are all over the map. Tom homebrews, and he seems to take particular interest in the science of brewing. He takes meticulous notes, and works to minimize variations in his process, so that he can have a repeatable, reproducible brew should he strike upon a recipe that he really enjoys. He's also moving more toward all-grain brewing because he enjoys the process much more. I'm far less interested in the science, and not overly concerned about reproducible recipes. I'm in this purely for the result: beer! I enjoy drinking beer, and it's fun for me to know that I created the beer I'm drinking. As Chris watched me brew, he declared that I was way more "loosey goosey" with my process than he was (particularly when I declared "Yeah, that looks like a boil to me. Toss in the hops!") Ironically enough, Chris admits that he's loosey goosey when it comes to carbonating his beer: the gauge on his CO2 regulator was broken when it arrived, so he's always just guessed at how much pressure to use. "That's too much, that's too little" he said, as he pantomimed fiddling with a dial.
Adam recently pointed me toward The Scioto, Olentangy and Darby Zymurgists. I may try to get involved with them, but I worry that they'll be overly focused on process, and science, and the fun I get from homebrewing will be absent.
My porter will be ready to drink on Sunday, August 29. My SHB2 should be ready to drink on Friday, September 11. If you'd like to taste the former, let me know. If you'd like to partake of the latter, keep an eye on the Habari Party details.