The process of brewing is pretty much the same whether your producing 40 pints or 40,000 pints. Here I’ll describe the bits of kit and processes involved in making beer at home.
The first stage of any brew is to soak your masted barley (slightly crushed) in hot water for an hour. It’s a bit like soaking a massive malty tea bag in hot water. The vessel this happens in is the “Mash Tun”.
It’s important to get the temperature just right (65 degrees) and to keep it pretty constant throughout, so I use a slightly modified cool box, a 25 litre one bought in Tescos!
Next you need to get the sweet sticky liquid (“wort”) out of the mash tun. I have a little tap in the bottom of my cool box and after the hour’s mash I drain off the wort. First you recirculate the wort – it helps to make it clearer – gently sprinkling the wort on top of the grains and collecting it again out the bottom. You then continue to poor hot water through the malt. I use a watering can with a nice rose! The idea is to get all the nice sweet malty goodness out the grains – but to do it carefully so you don’t release various impurities.
You should now have 25 litres or so of malty liquid. The next stage is to put it all in a boiler and boil it up for an hour or so with the next important ingredient, the hops. Depending on the beer you’re brewing you will add hops at different times during this hour. The hops towards the beginning add bitterness and the ones added at the end give you delicate aromas. The aromatic oils from the hops at the beginning get boiled off. The boil is the bit where the house really starts to smell like a brewery. Think malteasers + a sauna.
The next step is to cool down your wort from 100 degrees to 20 degrees as quickly as possible. A heat exchanger would be ideal but I just put the wort into the fermenting vessel and stick the whole thing in a cold bath. Not ideal but it works.
Once the wort is 20 degrees the yeast can be added (I use dried yeast) and the whole thing is sealed up – apart from a air lock to allow CO2 to escape – and moved into the bathroom cupboard. It then spends 5 days or so bubbling away in the cupboard.
After the bubbling stops it’s time to bottle the beer. Like every other stage of brewing a huge amount of time is spent cleaning. The bottles need to be sterilised thoroughly which takes ages. At this stage the beer is totally flat. You also need to add a bit of extra sugar to the beer before it goes into the bottle. The fermentation continues inside the bottle and the CO2, rather than excaping is forced into the beer, making it fizzy. The more “priming sugar” you add the fizzier your beer – but if you add too much then you risk exploding beer bottles! Fortunately not something I’ve experienced.
The most important bit. After 3 weeks or so conditioning in the bottle it’s time to drink.