Food Issue - Homebrew how-to
An illustrated guide to at-home beermaking with local brewer Shawn Bainbridge
Shawn Bainbridge made his first awkward homebrewing attempts as a Georgia Tech student in 2009. Now, the 26-year-old Inman Park resident and electrical engineer makes beer on the regular with Final Gravity Craftbrewers. Wrecking Bar's Bob Sandage founded the group in 2005 and today Bainbridge is the club's president.
Rather than diving in without experience, Bainbridge recommends aspiring homebrewers visit their local shop to make sure they're getting the right ingredients and equipment, including an extract kit with steeping grains and a homebrewing book to guide them through the process. He cut his teeth on John J. Palmer's How to Brew.
"This is the bible. You can literally read the first chapter and get started. If you really want to get crazy, he's got chapters for yeast, fermentation. Then, after this book, you can read whole books on those topics," he says.
Bainbridge also insists that newbie homebrewers put an emphasis on cleaning and sanitization — and knowing the difference between the two. But most of all, he emphasizes fun. Making beer should be as fun as drinking it.
Here, Bainbridge walks us through homebrewing's six easy steps.
1. Heat 2-3 gallons of water to 150-155 degrees Fahrenheit. Steep grains in a nylon mesh bag for one hour.
When you're steeping grains, you can add some complexity to the beer. If you're doing an IPA, you can add certain grains like Carapils Malt that increase body, mouthfeel, sweetness, and improve head retention.
2. Heat water used to steep grains to boiling, turn off stove, stir in malt extract. Base malts add most of your flavor and gravity. Each has its own distinct flavor.
3. Turn heat source back up to 150-155 degrees Fahrenheit, add bittering hops, and boil for 60 minutes while watching for boil-overs. Add flavoring hops with 30 minutes left, Whirlfloc (aka Irish moss) with 15 minutes left, and aroma hops with five minutes left.
Hops added at the beginning of the boil contribute to the beer's bitterness. They dissolve over time. Later in the boil, you're dealing with more of a flavor/aroma component. Whirlfloc binds with proteins so that they get heavy, and physically drop down while you're fermenting (increasing the beer's clarity). It's not essential, but most people want their beer pretty clear, especially when they're starting out.
4. Quickly cool the mixture, called the wort, with an ice bath.
You want to cool the wort as fast as possible, because you get this thing called the cold break, which is the rapid cooling process that coagulates proteins. Yeast are usually stressed above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and may even die. They can also contribute off-flavors if temperature fluctuation occurs. You want to cool it down to around 68 degrees, which is an umbrella temperature for most ale yeasts. After sanitizing the fermentation vessel, add about 2 gallons of water (or whatever your kit recipe calls for).
5. Put the wort in a fermentation vessel, take a gravity reading, add yeast, put vessel in a cool, dark place until ready.
After your wort is cool, siphon it into the sanitized fermentation vessel, and, depending on your recipe's design, top it off with water to achieve a 5-gallon volume. Take another gravity reading, shake the vessel to provide oxygen for the yeast, then add the yeast. Store the vessel in a cool (around 68 degrees Fahrenheit), dark place. You will know the beer is ready after you achieve the same gravity reading three days in a row. This can take a week to a week and a half.
6. Bottle the beer.
Take your delicious beer out of the vessel, put it into a cleaned, sanitized bucket with a spigot and bottling wand. Dissolve about 4 ounces of corn sugar into two cups of boiling water, cool, then add to the bucket and stir gently. Put the beer in the cleaned and sanitized bottles, cap it, and wait another week. As the yeast eats the sugar, it'll build pressure up with CO2. The CO2 then dissolves into the beer and makes it carbonated.
7. Drink the beer!