Sunday, April 22, 2012

Getting Started: Steeping Grains

Now that you have brewed your first beer. It is time to introduce a few new concepts. The first of these is going to be using real grains and not just malt extract in your beer. Before I go through what you are going to do today I want to talk a little bit about grains, and barley in particular.

Barley has been used for brewing beer for time untold. It lends itself to use in brewing because it contains a high amount of starch and enzymes with an appropriate level of proteins. Other grains, like wheat, contain a larger amount of protein which will become sticky in the mash. The high level of protein in wheat makes it more suited for use in baking bread where the sticky proteins help hold it together. Items like corn contain a high level off starch (think high fructose corn syrup) but lack the enzymes that are needed during mashing.

Now that I have mentioned enzymes a couple of times I better explain what I am talking about. Enzymes work as organic catalysts. They take a reaction that would not be energetically favorable and help it to occur more readily. In this case the reaction we are interested in is the breakdown of starch. Starch is a compound made up of sugars. Plants (like barley, wheat, and corn) store energy in the form of starch. When we eat a plant our bodies take that starch, break it down into sugars, and use those sugar for energy. In brewing we want to take starch and break it down into sugar which we can then turn into alcohol. In order to break down the starch we need to activate a specific enzyme called alpha amylase. This enzyme will break down the starches in the barley into sugars for brewing. Here comes the complicated part, alpha amylase is not normally active in the barley, otherwise barley would never be able to store up energy as starch. As a brewer it is your job to active the alpha amylase allowing it to go to work. Brewers activate this enzyme by placing the barley in hot water (150 F). This creates a sort of barley tea in which the enzyme converts the starches in the grain into sugar. Creating this barley tea is known as "mashing", and is a topic for another day.

Now that I have thoroughly bored you, lets get to the heart of what you will be doing today. You will be using crushed barley grains to add additional body and color to your beer. I will be providing a recipe for you to brew an amber ale, (but you could follow the directions for a brewing kit that includes steeping grains). The idea is that you can use some grain to steep like tea in your brew, this will activate some of the enzymes to covert some of the starch in these grains to sugar. It will also extract color from the grains to give you a nice looking beer.

Here is what you will need for today....

  1. Your brewing equipment
  2. 7 pounds of pale liquid malt extract
  3. 1/2 pound of crystal 90 malt (crush it before you leave the LHS unless you bought it pre-crushed)
  4. 1/3 pound of Special "B" malt (also crushed)
  5. A muslin bag for your grains
  6. 1 oz of Pearle hops
  7. 1 oz of Nugget hops
  8. 1 oz of Saaz Hops
  9. 1 package of Safale US-05 yeast (or another form of dry yeast)

Crushed Special "B"

Once again, before you start brewing make sure that you have at least 5 hours set aside. The brew day will be very similar to the last time except we will be adding hops at several times points today and steeping grains to start. If you are wondering why we are adding hops at multiple steps today just wait, that is what I will be talking about next.

  1. Add 2.5 gallons of water to your brewing pot, warm to water to 150-160 F and place your crushed grains into the muslin bag. Place the muslin bag into the pot and set the timer for 30 minutes. (this is steeping the grains)
  2. After a half hour has passed remove the muslin bag and bring the wort to a boil
  3. Add 1/3 oz Pearle Hops, 1/2 oz Nugget Hops and set timer for 60 minutes
  4. Add 1 oz Saaz with 15 minutes remaining on the timer
  5. Clean your fermentation equipment
  6. Now all you need to do is cool the beer and place it in the fermentation vessel just like last time. Make sure that you wait to add the yeast until it is cool and that you aerate the beer so that your yeast will grow. From here on out everything is exactly the same as it was last time as far a bottling and carbonating the beer.

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