My Process

I use a Brew in a Bag (BIAB) all grain process for making my beer.  I use the following online sources for designing my recipes and for assorted needed calculators such as hydrometer/temperature adjustment, ABV calculation, strike water volume/ temperature determination and priming sugar amounts:  http://www.brewersfriend.comhttp://www.brewheads.comhttp://www.rackers.org and http://www.northernbrewer.com .  Below is a step by step overview of my process using my Left Nut Brown Ale as a basic example.

I use http://www.brewersfriend.com to design my recipes and I set brewhouse efficiency at 70% to target my desired attributes. A brewhouse efficiency is specific to your system and process. Only with experience using that system and process can you determine your efficiency number. You can save up to five recipes on the site for free or do as as many as you want for a low annual subscription fee.  There is also a brewer’s forum on there and you can search their database for other users’ recipes that they’ve shared.    Most recipes of mine are designed to produce 5 gallons except for experimental batches, imperial stout and kriek, which are targeted for 2.5 gallons. What’s great about this site is it’s cloud based, so you can access your account and recipes anywhere using a computer or smartphone.

Recipe

My local homebrew shop is Southern Brewing and Winemaking in Tampa, FL.  I get all of my ingredients from there and customers can mill their own grain on site.  That’s their mill below.

Mill

I use a 7.5 gallon aluminum pot/turkey fryer burner set up.  It’s inexpensive and does the job.

Brew Pot

This is 11.8 lbs of milled grain (85% Maris Otter, 5% Victory, 5% Crystal 120, 2.5% Special Roast and 2.5% Chocolate Malt). 

Grain

To determine my water volumes and brewing temperatures, which I input into my recipe, the first thing I do is go to http://www.rackers.org and use their “Can I Mash It” calculator to determine what my water to grist ratio will need to be based on my grain weight and the capacity of my pot. (For those new to this, water to grist ratio is the volume of strike water in quarts divided by total weight of your grain bill in pounds) The calculator is easy. You put in a ratio (anywhere from 1.2 to 3.0) and the total grain weight and it tells you what volume it will take up. Even though I have a 7.5 gallon pot, experience tells me that my max volume per the calculator is 6.3 gallons. So I play around with the ratio input until it gives me about 6.3 gallons. I then take that ratio and go to http://www.brewheads.com and use their mash calculator. I put in my grain weight, grain temperature, water to grist ratio (determined from the rackers calculator), targeted mash temp and my desired pre-boil wort volume and it gives me the required strike water volume, strike temperature and required sparge volume.

Concerning water, I use bottled distilled water and add my salts/minerals for the desired water profile of the style I’m brewing. I use the Bru’n water excel spreadsheet to determine the type and amounts of additions I need and ensures that my mash pH will be in the proper range. There is a free version of this spreadsheet available online. Just google it. The only additions that I find I need are gypsum (calcium sulfate), calcium chloride, epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and phosporic acid 10%. You can of course buy baking soda and epsom salt at your local store. The rest you can get online or at your local homebrew store.

Once I have all my numbers and my ingredients, I’m ready to go.  I  measure out my water into the kettle, dissolve my salt/mineral/acid additions as necessary, then heat up to the needed strike temperature.  In this instance, I needed to heat 5.3 gallons to 164 degrees F.   For this recipe, my water to grist ratio is 1.8. This ratio varies depending on the total grain weight of a given recipe.  My pot is always the same and I want to max out its volume during the mash, so the grain weight of the recipe will give me a different water to grist ratio.

Strike Water

After strike temperature is reached, I put a 5 gallon paint strainer bag (which I get from Lowes) into the pot and I add the grain to the strike water, stirring as I go to avoid clumping.

Mash 2

After all of the grain is mashed in, I check the temperature to see if I’ve hit my desired mash temperature (153 F for this recipe).  Then I put the lid on and set the timer for 60 minutes, stirring the mash every 15-20 minutes. If its cold outside, I’ll wrap the pot in a blanket to insulate it.

Mash

On a separate camping stove, I start heating my sparge water to 170F as I get near to the end of my mash time.  The volume of water is calculated to give me a total of 6 gallons of pre-boil wort after sparging is complete, according to the brewheads calculator.

Sparge Pot

Sparge Water

After the mash time is up, I carefully twist the top of the bag, lift the grain out of the pot, slip a colander under it and rest the bag in the colander to drain on top of the pot.  Then I carefully and slowly pour the sparge water through the grain bag, which then drains into the pot.  After sparge is completed I remove the grain bag and colander.  With the sparge, there is no need to squeeze the bag, though you can if you want to. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that squeezing the bag does not impact the end taste of the beer.

Drain Grain

Voila! Wort!

Wort

I turn the heat on to get the wort boiling and I add my first hop addition via a muslin sack.  I use dry hop pellets generally.  The first hop addition for this recipe was 0.75 oz of Northern Brewer at 60 minutes.

Northern Brewer Hops

First Hop Addition

Below illustrates a trick I picked up from fellow blogger Dennis at Life, Fermented .  The fan prevents a boil over and it worked like a charm. I’ve also read that a relatively inexpensive product called Fermcap will help prevent boilovers. Just add a couple drops to your wort.

Boil

At the final 15 minute mark of the boil, I added the second hop addition (1 oz of East Kent Goldings), one Whirlfloc tablet (irish moss) and the wort chiller.  Hop additions and times are of course recipe specific.  But the addition of the whirlfloc  tablet and the wort chiller at the 15 minute mark is part of the process for every recipe.  This is so the wort chiller gets sanitized and the whirlfloc tablet helps to precipitate the protein solids in the wort, which helps to make a clearer beer in the end.

Second Hop Addition 1

After the boil is done, I hook up my immersion chiller to my garden hose, turn on the water and let it go for about 20 minutes. I stir the wort almost continuously during this to speed up cooling. Otherwise, it would take close to an hour.  The wort chiller cools the wort by simple heat exchange through the copper tubing.

WP_20150828_007

To prepare for the transfer of wort to the fermentor, I sanitize my fermentor pail, autosiphon and tubing.  By the way, StarSan is my sanitizer of choice.  And a spray bottle full of Star San is the one of the best, most convenient things ever.

Fermentor Sanitization

After the wort is cooled, I remove the hop sacks, take a sample for a hydrometer reading by using a sanitized stainless steel measuring cup and pouring the wort sample into my hydrometer test tube. I take a temperature and hydrometer reading of my wort sample to determine original gravity. The gravity reading varies depending on temperature. My hydrometer is calibrated at 60 F. So if my sample is warmer than 60 F, then a calculation must be done to determine what the reading would be if the sample were 60 F. http://www.brewersfriend.com has a calculator for this. You enter your sample temperature, sample gravity reading and the calibration temperature of your hydrometer. The result is the original gravity that you report for the batch. For this batch, my target per the recipe is 1.053 and my actual OG was 1.058. I then transfer my wort from the pot into the fermentor with the autosiphon or I will directly pour from kettle into the fermentor if there is nothing in the wort (like coriander seeds) that I don’t want to separate out.  I fill a three piece air lock with Star San and pop it into the lid.   Then I sprinkle in the yeast (Safale US-05 for this one) and let it sit for 30 minutes.  Then I vigorously stir the wort with a large sanitized stainless steel spoon, snap on the lid and place in my temperature controlled chest freezer for 14 days. For most ales, I ferment at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week. Then I let the fermentor climb to ambient (about 74F) for the final week to encourage complete attenuation and the yeast can do some cleaning up. Unless it’s a really low gravity beer, I pitch two packs of yeast to make sure I have an adequate pitch rate. A lot of homebrewers do yeast starters, but I’m not there yet.

Transfer to Fermentor

Transfer to Fermentor 2

After primary fermentation is finished (usually 14 days), I bottle.  First I make a sugar solution to prime the batch so that the bottles naturally carbonate.  I heat up two cups of water in a small pot on the stove to boiling and then kill the heat.  Then I add a 1/2 cup of pure cane sugar to the hot water and stir until dissolved.  I place the lid on the pot and let it sit to cool.  I may use a little more or a little less sugar depending on the style of beer or the batch size.

Sugar solution

While the sugar solution is cooling, I make up a gallon of sanitizer (star san), and assemble my bottles and caps on the counter.  I sanitize my bottling bucket and autosipon and tubing.

unlabeled bottles  pails

Then I transfer the fermented wort from the fermentor pail into the bottling bucket, being careful not to transfer too much of the trub from the bottom of the fermentor.  I  take a sample for my final gravity reading and calculate my ABV using a calculator on http://www.brewersfriend.com.

Then for each bottle, I empty out the sanitizer, fill with beer from the bottling bucket and cap.  Then I apply my labels, pack into boxes and stick in a closet to carbonate and condition for two weeks before I begin to refrigerate to drink.   I always bottle one PET (plastic bottle) as my carbonation tester.  I just have to give it a little squeeze to see if its firming up.  If it is, everything is as it should be.  If not, I’ve got trouble. I bottle condition at my home’s ambient temperature. I don’t take measures to keep it cooler.

Racking brown ale  bottling    bottles filled  final gravity

finished brown ale bottles  brown ale label

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4 comments on “My Process

  1. I see you target 60 percent brewhouse efficiency. I have read so much lately on hitting efficiency numbers in the high 70’s to low 80’s with BIAB that I thought my process was seriously messed up. Have you ever worked to try and increase your efficiency, or from your experience (which far exceeds mine) have you found 60 percent to be optimal without a lot of additional fuss?

    • mgrob76 says:

      In my opinion, brewhouse efficiency is just a number that some like to brag about. I think what is more important is that you are hitting your numbers as far as desired attributes. Mainly original gravity and to a slightly lesser extent, ABV. IBUs have next to nothing to do with your mash and is independent of your efficiency. Yes I’ve tried upping my efficiency by extending mash time, doing a finer crush on grains, and doing a modified sparging. It’s helped a little bit but not much. So now I just compensate for efficiency by adding additional grain to my bill so that I hit my OG. The only thing that doing this hurts is my wallet, and and we are talking a dollar or two per batch. So my bottom line is, don’t worry to much about it. As long as you end up with the beer that you intended to design in the end, it doesn’t matter how you get there. As long as you are happy with your system and process.

  2. TheWeekdayPreacher says:

    The plastic bottle carbonation tester is genius. I’m about to start using a grain bag for mashing small 1-gallon test batches while I play with my process and recipes. You have lots of helpful stuff here, thanks for sharing. Cheers!

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