We’re right in the middle of taking apart the process of brewing and separating it into five steps: sanitation, mashing, boiling, fermentation and bottling. This is the third of five blogs about the process of brewing: boiling. Read about sanitation here and mashing here. I’ll talk about the things I do, the processes I follow, and the things I’ve learned since I began homebrewing in 1986. These tips and pointers will help steer you to a delicious bottle of homebrew.
So now the wort is in the boiling kettle or brew kettle. If there are steeping grains that are called for in the recipe, add them now. See below for more explanation on steeping grains. Let’s turn the heat back on and get it up to a good rolling boil. The boil will sanitize the wort and equipment that is in contact with the wort. The boil will also break up any proteins in the wort. During the boil you need to monitor the kettle. This can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience if you have a few bottles of homebrew and a friend to sit and chat with. Boilovers are quite common; this is why you want to stay by the kettle and have the largest pot/kettle you can find. Cleaning up burnt-on sugar is not fun; another reason to brew outside. Have a pitcher of water nearby to pour a little in when the wort starts to get to the top of your kettle, this will cool it down some. Usually I have found this to happen after the initial hop additions or when using dry malt extracts (DME). Getting the wort up to a big violent boil accomplishes a few things. It will evaporate water from the wort, creating a more concentrated wort with increased sweetness, hop flavor and bitterness. S-Methylmethionine, which gives a cooked corn flavor to the beer, gets boiled out. The higher heat needed for the violent boil helps with caramelization, which gives a malty flavor to the beer. Last, the violent boil helps coagulation of the particles in the wort. Coagulation is what clears the beer and prevents spoiling during long term storage. Add your hops following the timing instructions with the recipe or the guidelines stated above. Make sure you are using a timer for your boil so you can keep track of when hops are added and how long the wort has been boiling for. I use the timer on my phone. When there are fifteen minutes left to the boil, place the immersion chiller (explained below and pictured to the right) into the kettle. The chiller is placed in the kettle at this time to sanitize it. It is important to sanitize it so there aren’t any bacteria taking over as discussed in the Sanitation post. If you do not have an immersion chiller you can place the kettle into an ice bath in a picnic cooler or even the bath tub, to cool it down. Replace the ice as it melts (this is after the boil timer goes off). When the timer goes off after 60 or 90 minutes (see below), turn off the gas. Hook up the garden hose to the chiller inlet and outlet ports, and turn on the water. The goal is to get the temperature of the wort below 80˚F as quickly as possible – - preferably in less than 30 minutes. Since I live in Texas and during the summer the cold water runs at 80˚F, I am forced to place my carboy into a picnic cooler with an ice bath and add a gallon of preboiled and refrigerated water to the carboy. I then drain my kettle into the carboy (I use a 6 gallon carboy to accommodate the extra gallon). My wort is down to pitching temperature within 30 minutes. If you do not have a kettle with a spigot, you can use the funnel and a plastic pitcher to transfer the wort to the carboy. Do this by placing the sanitized funnel in the mouth of the carboy, scoop out the wort from the boiling kettle with the pitcher and pour into the funnel.
60 or 90 minute boil?
According to Brewing Classic Styles written by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer, when brewing with all grain you should up the boil time to 90 minutes to help reduce the DMS in the beer. DMS is dimethyl sulphide – a naturally occurring beer constituent which originates in malt. While it contributes to favorable beer flavors at low levels, in increased concentrations DMS contributes an objectionable corn-like or cooked vegetable character.
- Brew kettle: for brewing with extracts, a three to four gallon size would work. For all grain, a kettle at least eight gallons is needed – the larger the better. You don’t want to clean up boilovers. Many homebrewers, myself included, use converted 15 gallon kegs called a Keggle to boil in. Try to stay away from aluminum pots. Stainless steel pots are the best to use because of their heat transfer rate and non porous surface.
- An outdoor propane burner: bayou classic, King Kooker and Jet burners are popular. I use an old King Kooker.
- Long spoon: I use a 21 inch stainless steel spoon.
- Immersion chiller: this is coiled copper tubing that is hooked up to the garden hose to run cold water through to cool the wort down after the boil.
- A picnic cooler with ice for an ice bath.
- Two or three large bags of ice.
- May need: high temperature tubing, small pitcher, and funnel. (Remember to sanitize these items).
Steeping grains are used for adding color and complexity to your brew. Make sure they are milled and in a grainbag of some kind; nylon, cheesecloth or muslin. Imagine a giant tea bag for the brew. The steeping grains will remain in the wort until it reaches 170˚F. The steeping works best in the 150˚F – 170˚F range. The best practice with the steeping grains is to hold the temperature between the 150˚F and 170˚F for 30 minutes stirring the wort and getting as much color and flavor out of the grain as possible. After the 30 minutes are up remove the bag, let the bag drain but do not squeeze the bag. Squeezing will release the astringent tannins (flavors) that we don’t want in our beer.
Hops are the spice of the beer. We use the hops to give our brews different flavors as you would with adding salt and pepper to your foods. Originally hops were used as a preservative for the beer during transportation. There are three basic types of hops: Bittering, Flavoring and Aroma. The simple way to look at them would be Bittering hops are the higher alpha acids and the Aroma hops are the lower alpha acids.
- Bittering – The alpha acid resin in the hop cone is the main bittering agent. It is insoluble in water until it is isomerized by boiling. The longer the boil, the more bitterness gets isomerized and the more bitter the beer gets. So when choosing a bittering hop, look for higher alpha acids generally around 10%. Bittering hops are placed in the kettle for 45 – 90 minutes. Most brewers boil them for 60 minutes. When hops are boiled they lose their aroma, so we will not get any aroma from this addition of hops.
- Flavoring – this addition of hops ranges from 20 – 40 minutes into the boil. This addition will give both the bittering and aroma to the brew. Any of the hop varieties may be used at this time. This addition will give your brew a more complex character.
- Aroma – These hops have the lower alpha acids, generally around 5%. The additions of these hops happen during the last 15 minutes of the boil to after flameout. These hops do not add any bitterness to your brew, just the aroma.
This is using leaf or whole cones in the secondary fermenter to increase the hop aroma. Make sure the fermentation is finished before adding the hops. Otherwise, the fermentation process (the bubbling) will carry the aromas out with the carbon dioxide that it is already releasing. When dry hopping, leave the hops in the beer for a couple of weeks to pull the volatile oils from hops and defuse them into the beer. When dry hopping there is no concern of infection due to there not being enough fermentable sugars left in the beer for bacteria or wild yeast to takeover.