Rack City

IMG_20160302_192707The second day of brewing usually involves racking the beer. Or at least it should.

“Racking” is the process of transferring wort (unfermented beer) from one vessel to another. Most often this is from the primary fermentor, where you initially pitched the yeast, into a second vessel that will become known as the secondary fermentor. A glass carboy is one of the best vessels to use for this, as it will be impermeable to oxygen (therefore ensuring your beer stays fresh). While glass carboys are quite heavy, especially when filled with wort, they are extremely sturdy and still quite easy to clean.

But what is the point of all this?

Many beer kits will recommend that you skip secondary fermentation altogether, opting to bottle your beer straight out of the primary. However, there are a few distinct benefits of racking your beer before you bottle.

The main reason most home brewers choose to rack their beer is to remove the beer from the yeast-cake at the bottom. The longer the beer sits on a bed of dead yeast, the more likely autolysis – self-destruct, loosely translated. Imagine you’re stuck in a big glass jar with all of your friends, a few of whom have already died of starvation and other causes. Once all your food is gone, you too might consider…well, think Marten Hartwell‘s harrowing tale. Other desperate historical figures have done the same. I think that’s enough detail for now. Sleep well, fellow home brewers!

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Before and after. No testimonial necessary.

Autolysis produces dead yeast cells and yeast metabolites, which can produce off flavours in your beer. Likewise, racking straight from primary may transfer a lot of sediment into the bottle. While a little sediment is OK, nobody wants a chunky beer. Nor do they need to eat more yeast corpses and poop (or “metabolites”, if you prefer) than are necessary. Many brewers are comfortable leaving a beer on the yeast-cake for 3-6 weeks, but I would prefer to be a bit more cautious and get it off of there after two.

Other benefits of racking include giving beer time to mature and mellow out. Kind of like your party-crazed friends from college. And like most college graduates, some beer styles need more time to mature than others.

What You Need:

  • Racking Cane
  • Siphon
  • Carboy or other secondary fermentation vessel
  • Airlock
  • Hydrometer

 

Step 1. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.

Does this sound familiar? It should.

Sanitize EVERYTHING you use. AGAIN.

Any time you transfer beer from one vessel to another, you increase the risk of contamination from outside sources. If you’re not sure if an item you’re using will touch the beer? Sanitize it anyway, and save yourself the heartbreak of throwing out an entire batch of spoiled beer. You can never be too cautious in this regard.

Step 2. Set-up

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Because it ain’t good for much else.

After your equipment has dried a bit, set up your equipment with the primary fermentor above the carboy, which will become the secondary fermentor. Always let gravity help, if it can. Towards the end of the racking process, you can also prop the primary up with a large book to tip it sideways to get the maximum amount of wort out of the vessel.

Don’t throw out your phone-book – while obsolete for every other reason, they are especially useful for this task.

Step 3. Siphoning

Make sure the tubing of the siphon is coiled at the bottom underneath the liquid to prevent splashing. The more you splash the beer around, the more oxygen it’s exposed to. The more oxygen the beer is exposed to, the more oxidation will occur. This can cause stale, cardboard-like flavours to form in your carefully crafted beer – not something you want.

After this part is done, you’ll be left with a big, yummy yeast-cake that is REALLY fun to clean out. Just ask my partner-in-crime how much he enjoyed that task.

Step 4. Air-lock

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The end product.

Lock out all the extra oxygen with an airlock. Place the “plug” of the airlock in the top of the carboy, and pour enough water up the side to seal it air-tight.

 

Step 5. And We Wait

More waiting? Yes, the boring part keeps coming back. After racking, you can leave the beer in the secondary fermentor for a minimum of 14 days before you bottle.

Now, you might be thinking: “is that all this girl has done over the past month? Transfer a bunch of liquid in a jar to another jar? That doesn’t seem too difficult.” And it isn’t, especially when you have an extra set of hands to help.

I did also have a chance to cook a pretty awesome turkey.

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I like to rub mine down with smoked paprika and orange zest. And baste it with beer, obviously.

 

Turkey dinner, like pumpkin-flavoured everything, is something that seems to only be consumed at certain holidays. People don’t seem to realize that they can, in fact, eat it at other times throughout the year.

Naturally, I made a poutine out of the leftovers. See below for details.

Turkey Dinner Poutine

with Beer Gravy and Cranberry Witbier sauce

 

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Next level leftovers.

Beer Gravy

2 tbsp butter or turkey drippings

2 tbsp flour

1 ¼ cups chicken broth

¾ cup beer

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

¼ tsp onion powder

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp finely ground black pepper

Cranberry Witbier Sauce

12 ounce bag of cranberries (3 cups)

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup wheat beer

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp. orange zest (optional)

 

Turkey Stuffing

Sliced turkey

French fries (I often just use oven fries)

1/2 pound fresh cheese curds

  1. In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the butter and flour. Whisk to form a roux.
  2. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes for a dark roux.
  3. Gradually add beef broth and beer, whisking thoroughly to combine.
  4. Season with Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, salt and pepper.
  5. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Remove gravy from heat when completely thickened and keep warm.
  7. Combine the ingredients for the cranberry sauce in a medium sized saucepan. Over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the beer and water, stirring gently until the sauce begins to simmer.
  8. Remove the cranberry sauce from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool and thicken.
  9. To assemble the poutine, place a spoonful of stuffing in each bowl or plate. Top the stuffing with a mound of fries and top with cheese curds.
  10. Spoon gravy over fries, cheese, and stuffing to serve. Garnish with a spoonful of cranberry sauce and stuffing on each side.

 

References

  1. http://www.homebrewtalk.com/wiki/index.php/racking
  2. http://www.northernbrewer.com/connect/2011/08/glass-vs-plastic-fermentors/
  3. https://beerandbrewing.com/VW4F_ysAAKAAgOPa/article/population-density-a-yeast-wrangling-update

 

Brew-ha-ha

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Home Brewing starter pack

A few weeks ago, I finally took the leap and dove head first into the world of home brewing. I wasn’t alone, and had ample support from a partner in crime and a few beer-savvy friends. However, I was sternly cautioned not to follow the directions on my convenient can of hopped malt extract (HME), as they can be misleading. In particular, they don’t tell you to rack your beer. Unless you want a chunk of yeast sediment at the bottom of each bottle, I highly recommend this step (more to come on this later).

 

 

The following description is not meant to give specific directions on how to brew your first batch, but an assurance that this process is more user-friendly than you might think. A dumbed-down guide for hesitant newcomers to the world of home brewing, if you will. Likewise, if your fist homemade beer sucks, there are plenty of people more knowledgeable than I on the internet that can help you troubleshoot a bad kit.

What you need:

  • Your Primary Fermentor (the big plastic bucket with a lid)
  • The lid of said fermentor
  • Your stirring stick
  • 1kg of corn sugar (Dextrose)
  • Your beer kit, which should include:
    • Hopped Malt Extract (HME)
    • Yeast
    • The instructions that came with the HME (give these a cursory glance)

Where to begin?

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Sanitize, or else.

1. Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize

This part is extremely important to prevent nasty bacteria from getting it on in your brew – be sure to sanitize ALL of the above items. The most effective product to use for this would be an acid no-rinse variety such as Star San.  This step didn’t take too long a time, since we only needed to sanitize a few items. And I had a lackey to assist with the heavy lifting. What did take a long time, was waiting for the primary fermenter to dry.

But seriously guys. Sanitize EVERYTHING.

2. Warm the malt extract

I did this by placing the can of HME in a large bowl and pouring some boiling water down the sides. This stuff is like molasses. And just like molasses, you need to trick this stuff into thinking it isn’t January (or, er…February, which is when we did this).

IMG_20160302_1923293. Boil some water.

For my particular recipe, this was specifically 3.5L. In a relatively large pot. On your stove. Most municipal water is fine for extract brewing, though if you . Don’t be too picky with the volume either – it’s going to be diluted anyway.

4. Mix it up.

Pour the HME into the dry, sanitized primary fermenter along with the boiling water and the corn sugar. And stir really, really well.

5. Add cold water

Add enough cold water to fill the fermentor to a volume of 23L (or 6 US Gallons). It’s a good idea to measure the volume you need ahead of time and draw a line on the bucket – lucky for me the actual owner of the brewing equipment had already done this for me.

IMG_20160302_192540This is also a good time to take a hydrometer reading. A hydrometer measures the specific gravity of a liquid, which gives an estimation of the sugar content of your beer. At the beginning, the specific gravity is usually between 1.040-1060, depending on the type of beer. As more sugar is turned into alcohol, the number will be lower.  A typical range for specific gravity at the end of the brew is usually about 32 points lower at 1.004-1.016, though some styles may be higher (approximately 4.5%ABV).

 

hydrometer
A chemistry term. Not what you tore in Senior year football

The Homebrew Manual website has an excellent infographic indicating the ranges of specific gravity you would see for different styles of beer.

 

The easiest way to get a reading is to use a (sanitized!) turkey baster to extract about  from your malty/sugary/water mixture and transfer it to a narrow plastic tube called a “trial jar.” Gently drop the hydrometer into the trial jar and measure the number at the bottom of the miniscus.*

*Break out your high school chemistry textbooks, folks. The meniscus is  the curve in the upper surface of a liquid, which can easily distort volume measurements.

6. Add the yeast

Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the malt-and-water mixture. No need to mix!

7. Cover and Wait

IMG_20160214_145230Put the (sanitized) lid of your fermentor back on, place it in a warm spot, and wait 5-6 days. During this time, be sure to take a few hydrometer readings to make sure the fermentation is taking place as scheduled.

Timing is everything in home brewing, so it’s a good idea to set aside time for each step. Five days is enough time for the yeast to chew up the delicious sugars in the malt and make some alcohol (the carbonation comes later).

And that was it for day one. Easier, than expected, don’t you think. Listen…if an incurable recipe-defying anarchist like me can do it, so can you.

 

References

  1. Love Brewing, UK. http://www.lovebrewing.co.uk/guides/wine-making/how-to-use-a-hydrometer/#.VteV0X0rKt8
  2. Homebrew Manual http://homebrewmanual.com/beer-gravity-chart/