A decade ago, there were only a handful of choices- all lagers, with very little differentiation in style. Today there are over 250 microbreweries in India, each having 4-10 beers on the tap. A lot of draught beer and bottled beer startups are also mushrooming. Craft beers is one of the most fiercely competed arena, with people trying to introduce newer styles, newer ingredients, and innovation in every aspect of brewing.
It is a 5000-year-old craft, which is probably older than our civilization. Hence making a decent beer in one’s kitchen is not as daunting as one might like to imagine. The most complicated of it being the mashing. It is an activity where the brewer performs saccrification (conversion of starch into maltose and other water-soluble maltodextrins). If you are just getting your feet wet in this hobby, my recommendation is to start with a simple malt extract based beer. It takes about 20-30 minutes to brew and another 10-14 days to ferment.
My First Extract Based Beer
- 3 Liter mason jar/glass pickle jar with a tight screw lid/ plug,
- Airlock (or a blow off tube),
- A grommet gasket or food-grade plug with 7-8mm inner diameter (cork or anything else to get a firm grip),
- A steel pot (at least 5 liters),
- A hydrometer or refractometer (optional),
- Swing top glass bottle (6 x 500ml or 3 X 1L),
- Food grade siphon tube (1.5m) preferably one with an automated pump and a steel mesh filter.
- 100-125 gm/liter Dry malt extract 100-125gm per liter. Or liquid malt extract, 120 to 150gm per liter,
- 1 packet Hops about 0.25gm of bittering hops like Cascade, Magnum and 0.5-1gm of aromatic hops like Citra is good for beginners,
- 3 liters Purified water RO or bottled 3 liters,
- 3 gm Beer Brewing Yeast: 0.5-1gm per liter,
- Ice made from boiled water which is frozen in aseptic ice trays a night before 1kg,
- Gelatin 1/8 teaspoon per liter and Irish moss (0.25gms per liter),
- Priming sugar or Sulfur less sugar 1-1.5 teaspoon per liter or brown sugar for carbonation,
- Sanitizer Iodine solution, hydrogen peroxide, Starsan etc.,
- Yeast nutrient 1/2 teaspoon per 3 liters.
Step 1: Prepare Wort
- Boil at least 2 kg of water (or 2 liter).
- Add malt extract: stir it to prevent it from sticking to the bottom and caramelizing.
- Add the hops (this is malt extract based simple brewing so we add all of it together. In grain based mashing the bittering hops are added early and aromatic is added just moments before it starts to boil, as described in next chapter).
- Adding Irish moss helps remove the proteins and clear the final beer.
- After 5-10 minutes of continuous boiling (or above 70o temperature), take the vessel out of flame and plunge it in ice bath. You may add ice cubes inside the wort as well to achieve faster pasteurization. All the mashing (starch to malt conversion) happens in the factory where the malt extract is made. Hence, over boiling it will only result in reddish kettle caramelized hue.
- Chill until wort reaches room temperature (less than 30o C).
Step 2: Sanitize
- Use rinse free sanitizer to wash & soak all equipment and surfaces (at least 5 minutes of soaking of the Mason jar). You may also boil the equipment if it is temperature resistant. Your hydrometer, siphon, airlock and everything that will touch the wort should be sanitized.
- Invert and jerk the equipment to shake off any capillary water sticking to the equipment surface. (Optional) Rinse it with sterilized water to remove any residual taste/ color of the disinfectant.
- You might have to use a hot nail to puncture the lid of the Mason jar to insert the grommet gasket & airlock. Use a sealant (glue) to achieve a good seal between the lid and airlock.
Step 3: Kick starting fermentation
- Pour wort in the Mason jar and take the hydrometer reading. I typically aim for 1.055 S.G. but based on the desired alcoholic strength of the beer, we may add or reduce the malt.
- (Optional): Oxygenation of the wort is more important in larger batches. In smaller batches (less than 10 liters), pouring from a height is sufficient to infuse oxygen back. Use a hand blender (or) manually shake the wort vigorously to oxygenate. Compressed air is pumped in commercial breweries to increase the oxygen levels.
- Hydrate the yeast in 10 parts of water (10ml per liter) and add yeast nutrients. Mix them well and wait for about 15 minutes. If yeast is alive, we should see the yeast foam (bubbles) being formed. This is the most crucial step and dead/ inactive yeast can ruin any batch.
- Seal the lid and attach the airlock. It should start bubbling in 4-12 hours. (Diagnostics): Press the plastic lid gently to induce bubbling. If there is a leakage in the seal, the airlock will not bubble and one can add a sealant in the gap.
- Store it away from sunlight in a cool dark place and check specific gravity periodically over next 7 days or until bubbling has stopped.
- Please take the hydrometer/ refractometer reading. You can refer the original & final gravity in a Plato table (Percentage of malt in the solution). This will help measure the alcohol content.
- Not all beer styles are supposed to be clear. If we prefer clarity, keep the fermenter at 4oC for 48 hours for turbidity to settle down. Dissolving 1/4 a teaspoon of gelatin in ½ a cup of warm water (not boiling) and mixing it with the beer will aid in suspended yeast settling down. It takes 48-72 hours for the process to show results. You will get a thick yellow yeast cake at the bottom and a clear beer.
Step 4: Bottling
- Sanitize the glass bottles & rinse off the disinfectant with water. (Like we cleaned the mason jars during wine making).
- Use a siphon tube to pour beer into the Bottle & add 1-2 teaspoon of sugar for natural carbonation.
- Seal the crown cap/ swing top cap tight and store the bottles in a cool dark place for three days for CO2 formation.
- Serve chilled in a glass mug. (Home brew is never drunk from the bottle directly because of the yeast deposits at the bottom).
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This is a simple recipe to get beer brewing hobby started. Once we get a hang of it, we can move to the next step using malted grains.