Back to Basics: Boilin' 101

So last week, we talked about all things mashing and how integral it is toward making great beer – even more so when you are in R&D mode as a brewery in-planning. This week, we hold our last class  and talk all things mashin’. Sound fun? GRASSLANDS’ CLASS IS IN SESSION…AGAIN – You back there! Wake up!

Okay, I promise...no more of those shenanigans. Let's get to it.

So by now, you've got your mash together and you're holding a temperature of 153º for 60 minutes for your future award winner Big Coffin Hunter IPA (yeah, I'm a Dark Tower junkie). Now it's time for the boil. Let's walk through it!

The boil, is actually one of the more fun parts of the brewing process, in my opinion. It's simple - heat up the wort (sugar water) you've collected from your mash tun to a boil - adding in hops here & there. Your typical boil lasts around 60 minutes. Longer boils (90 - 120) are for specific styles like Imperial IPAs, Imperial Stouts, Barleywines, etc. On average, the typical boil length is 60 minutes. Keep in mind, this is all according to the recipe you've created or the one you've found online that's a sure winner. Now you need to add in hops to balance out the malt sweetness. Otherwise you'll have an overly sweet beer. No fun. (Unless you like that kind of thing)

Early on in the boil, you need to add in a bittering hop (think about it in terms of the malt bill we discussed - you need a base - same thing goes for hops). Bittering hops are typically those with a higher Alpha Acid percentage (AAUs - or bittering units). These range anywhere from 2% to 18-20%. The higher the AAU %, the more bitterness it'll impart in your beer. Also, the longer that hop is in the boil, the more those bittering units will be absorbed in your beer. There are a ton of recipe/process calculators on the intertubes, so I'd definitely suggest dabbling with them before throwing in a pound of bittering hops at the very beginning of your boil because you love IPAs. Like we've said before, practice makes perfect! We use Brew Toad, but definitely sample around and see what you like. None of 'em are perfect, but it's definitely helpful in training yourself up on the brewing process.

After the bittering phase of the boil, you approach the mid-boil where hop flavor and aroma begin to play a factor. Usually, the AAU percentage of these hops is lower than the bittering hop. Flavor and aroma continuously play a factor all the way toward the end of the boil. The later you add in your hops, the more aroma you'll impart. As such, these hops are not in the boil for very long, so the percentage of bitterness extracted isn't as much as your early additions. Make sense?

Okay, so you got all the hops you wanted to use in your beer and you're finishing up your boil. Now what? Now it's time to rapidly chill the wort as fast as you possibly can by whatever means. On our pilot system, we utilize an immersion wort chiller with a whirlpool. Essentially, It's a 1/2" copper coiled pipe (50 feet) that goes directly into the kettle (at about 15 minutes left in the boil) and once the boil is finished, tap water is run through one end and out the other - basically acting as a heat exchanger inside your kettle. The whirlpool functionality is through a pump system. The theory is that moving liquid chills faster than still liquid. I'm able to go from 212º to yeast pitching temps (65-75) in around 20-30 minutes. I'd love to do it faster, but it's what I've got to work with. Keep this in mind, the faster you cool your beer, the less time it's exposed to potential bacteria.

If you take anything away from this article it should be this: As soon as your beer drops below 160º - anything that touches it NEEDS TO BE SANITIZED!!! Bacteria will mess your beer up in a heartbeat. I know, it's happened to me. That's why I try to consume after I'm done brewing, as opposed to before or during. I need to follow my own advice more often :D

Now you're down to room temperature, right? Time to begin Fermentation! Simply pitch your yeast (using sanitized equipment, of course) and oxygenate it (either by shaking the crap out of your fermenter or infusing pure O2 into your beer.  Healthy yeast are happy yeast. Happy yeast need oxygen to get the party going.

Once you're done with that, do your absolute best to control the external temperature of the fermenter over the next few days. Yeast are most susceptible to external temperature during the first few days of a fermentation period - so stick to your recipe's guidelines (ales typically range from 60-75º and lagers typically 40-55º). Homebrewers typically do this by keeping the fermenter in a cool, dark place that doesn't experience drastic highs or lows in temperature shifts. We use a ridiculously large chest freezer that has a temperature control system. Works great. Craigslist is yo' friend!

Let the beer ferment for the next few weeks (or however your recipe suggests), keeping the temperature as steady as possible. And that's pretty much it! We'll save bottling/kegging for another time, but really the majority of your labor is finished for the time being - sit back, relax and enjoy a home/craft brew! ...after you've cleaned up, of course! One of the best lines I've ever heard regarding brewing your own beer is this:

If you like cleaning, you'll love brewing beer!

Whew! Hell of a course, eh? Ready to brew your own now? Git on it and have a blast! It's totally fun and it'll take over your life - but you'll have excellent beer to show for it, especially if you practice :)

With that, we'll leave you to it for now. We'll start up an advanced course offering sometime in the future, but you've got the ammo now - time to use it! Have an awesome weekend, my dear readers, because you most definitely deserve it!

Prost!