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A second glance

With the boiler fixed (at least for now) it was time to see what damage had been done to my beer by the cold temperatures in the house. I took the lid off (with a slight hiss) and took a gravity measure with the sterilised hydrometer – it was 1018. This doesn’t seem much below the 1022 from 8 days ago (which was measured 5 days after the beer was started.) I gave the beer a stir with the stirrer (which I had also sterilised) for 10 or 15 seconds to get the yeast mixed back in, trying to stir firmly but without splashing and introducing oxygen. I took the following picture and then quickly replaced the lid.

Second Glance

I intend to measure the gravity again tomorrow and if it has not decreased, I will give the beer a longer stir to hopefully encourage the yeast to get back to work over the weekend.
Observations:

  • it is very difficult to sterilise a stirrer which is slightly larger than the size of a sink, and a hydrometer whose whole purpose is to partially stick out of the water
  • the beer had a few clumps what appeared to be dry brown powder floating on the top
  • the beer still had the very mild but pleasant smell of a light ale
  • the scum on the surface that was noticeable on the last inspection after 5 days has gone
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First inspection

FirstLook

I had intended to leave the container for at least 2 full weeks without opening it at all in order to stop air getting to the beer, but I was persuaded by Phil to open it up to take a look and a hydrometer reading (clearly its now his fault if there are any problems with the beer at all). As can be seen in the picture, it didn’t look very pleasant with a residue on the side and a bit of scum on the top, but it smelt fairly good, and I’m assured it looks as it should.

Hydrometer

Before taking the top off, I put the hydrometer I recently received (pictured) into the sink in an inch of hot water with a quarter tea spoon of sanitising powder for 10 minutes. I rinsed it with cold water, took the top off the bucket and placed the hydrometer gently into the beer. It dropped entirely under the beer, and then resurfaced and settled with the black line marking the ready to bottle level about a centremeter above the beer. The gravity measurement was 1.022, suggesting as expected after just 5 days that it still has some time to go.

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So, it was time to make my first jump into the world of home brewing. Despite some reading on the subject, some instructions that came with the beginners set, and some instructions on the Munton’s beer kit box, I still wasn’t especially confident, but I started out anyway.

All the equipment needed to be sterilised, so following the beginners instructions I rinsed the bucket, the lid and the stirrer and then filled the bucket with 5 teaspoons of steriliser powder and warm water from the hot tap and left it for 10 minutes. I also sterilized the jugs I intended to use, and even the can opener. I was rather nervous with regard to ensuring that all the equipment was clean given that every set of instructions or tips I had read stated that contamination of the beer was the number one cause of poor quality beer. After 10 minutes I rinsed all the items with lots of mains cold water, and the cleaning was done.

With a choice of sets of instructions to follow, I decided that it made most sense to follow the set that came with the kit itself. I placed the two cans of hopped malt extract in the sink in warm water, to soften the syrup. I filled the kettle and turned it on. After 5 minutes I opened the tins and poured the contents into the bucket, at which point the kettle had boiled. Using a Pyrex jug I measured out pints of boiling water, and poured them into the bucket. I discovered that my kettle perfectly held 3 pints without taking the dregs at the bottom. I stirred the mixture while waiting for the kettle to boil again. When it had, I poured the contents into the bucket, making up the required 6 pints. It turned out to be very easy to tell when the hops was fulled mixed in. The unmixed syrup sat stubbornly at the bottom of the mixture meaning that if an inspection of the stirrer revealed syrup coated on the end, it wasn’t all mixed in yet. I would say it took around 5 minutes of hard stirring.

Next it was time to add the cold water. The bucket was pre-marked with a fill level, stating 5 UK gallons or 23 litres. However, the maths in the instructions stated that adding 6 pints (3.5 litres) and then 29 pints (16.5 litres) would make 5 UK gallons, though this only added up to 20 litres not 23. I decided to fill to the marked level of 5 UK gallons or 23 litres as not only would this allow me to fill to the marked level rather than have to measure out 29 further pints of cold water, but also, if I were to add the wrong amount of water, I felt that a slightly weaker than intended beer ought to be pleasingly mild, where a too strong beer might not be so palatable. So, without any way to feed the sink tap straight into the bucket, I used two jugs to fill up the bucket. I did this as quickly as possible, which meant causing a great deal of splashing in the mixture. This was mostly out of practicality, wanting to get the job done as quickly as possible, though one guide I read had suggested that getting lots of air into the mixture at this point was a good thing. (we shall see…)

The next step required leaving the the mixture to stand until it had cooled to between 18 and 21 degrees C, but without a thermometer, I chose to leave it for around 5 minutes. Continuing to follow the instructions as closely as possible I “sprinkled” in the yeast. This seemed to be a mistake however, as the yeast sat on top of the foam that had formed, and it was then hard to get it to actually go into the mixture. It also formed into little globules of yeast, meaning I had to spend 5 minutes spotting these floating in the foam and breaking them down. Finally however, the yeast was all dissolved and looked something like this:

Mixed Beer

I then put the lid on the bucket, and carefully carried it to “brewery” (see previous blog post) where it will remain for 2 to 3 weeks. By then the hydrometer I have ordered should have arrived, which will allow me to test whether it is ready for bottling. This is the only time I am deliberately deferring from the instructions that came with the beer kit. The kit suggest leaving the mixture for 7 or 8 days, but Phil has suggested it has always taken closer to 3 weeks for his beers to be ready for bottling.

Brewery

Final Observations:

  • Despite my best efforts, it was clear that it is all but impossible to guarantee that there is no contamination of the beer. My hands constantly had to touch work surfaces, taps, the kettle, the stirrer etc. Small amounts of water from the outside of the tins and jugs would have made it into mixture. Hopefully these were all clean and all will be well.
  • The process was all over very quickly, even with my first timers mincing tendencies. Amazingly it might take longer to drink the beer than to make it (though there is still the bottling stage to come)
  • Having multiple sets of instructions was not helpful. I deliberately chose to follow just one set of instructions, but this did mean I didn’t use the water treatment tablet just before adding the yeast which I had otherwise intended to use. I also still have to decide whether to use the finings that came with the beginners kit, but which are not mentioned in the beer kit instructions.
  • My current expectations are not high for the beer. It feels like I am bound to have done something wrong first time round, but I look forward to being able to bottle the mixture in a few weeks, and giving it a quick taste then.

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