Beer! (pt. 2)

So, a week-and-change ago Kr* and I picked up some basic homebrewing stuff and started a batch of English brown ale. Since this is our first ever beermaking attempt, we purchased a ready-made ingredient kit with all the stuff pre-selected and measured into labeled baggies, idiot-proofing the process as much as possible. This Sunday we cracked the fermenter open and bottled the (almost) finished product. It has to sit in the bottles a few more weeks to carbonate and condition, and then we can drink it! Naturally, we documented the entire process ;-)

[Beermaking photo album with descriptions]

Clear your calendars for about a month from now; our yield was about 45 bottles and we’re going to need help consuming it…

Notes: There was a bit of a scare when we added the yeast, sealed up the fermenter and watched as nothing happened for a good few days. We thought we royally screwed something up. While I was down there checking on it at about the 3rd day, I noticed a faint beery smell on one side of the bucket. When I ran a wet finger around the airlock seal (it easily passed visual inspection) to check for bubbles/leaks, this completed the seal and the airlock suddenly started bubbling furiously (“furiously” being one big bubble every 2-3 seconds). Everything was fine, we just couldn’t see it.

Another bit of weirdness is that we got a very low initial specific gravity reading. This is an important measurement to determine when fermentation has stopped and how much alcohol is in your brew. According to the kit we used, the starting gravity should have been within the range 1.040 ~ 1.048; our initial reading was a lowly 1.034. Final gravity was measured at 1.012, the top end of the recipe’s specified range. If taken as accurate, this would mean our beer has 2.9 ~ 3.1% alcohol, which is far lower than expected (according to the recipe it should be 4.0 ~ 5.0% ABV). It’s likely that the initial measurement is way off due to not stirring up the mixture after adding cold water to the hot, slightly viscous wort before the measurement, so the top layer we measured may have been uncharacteristically watery. (This internets sez: In a malt extract beer when less than 5 gallons is boiled , the problem usually stems from not adequately mixing the top-up cold water with the wort. Typical results will be very low (or very high) hydrometer readings. Cold water and hot wort are a little like oil and water, and must be vigorously mixed for at least a minute to blend the hot sugars into the cold water.) We’d heard somewhere that agitation/aeration = bad, so we held off any mixing until it was absolutely necessary – a slow gentle stir when adding the yeast, which was after the IG measurement.

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