I can’t help but notice, with some shock and amazement I might add, that I brewed last in February! To be fair, that brew did last me almost until May.
It didn’t turn out so great, so I wasn’t confident enough to share it and thus, I slowly sucked down most of 23 litres of not-so-great-but-ok-to-drink beer. Amazing what you can get used to.
Replies to me bemoaning my fate in the forums (and on this blog) pointed to the most likely cause of my imperfect beer to be the high temperatures I tried to brew at. My living room, a.k.a. the brewing room, is a toasty and constant 30°C, except when we’re hit by several warm days in a row, in which case it goes up to 32°C.
At those temperatures, said my fellow homebrewers on the forums, too much fusel alcohol is produced, which gives it the off-not-quite-like-beer flavours. The other annoying side effect of brewing at such high temperatures is that unless your beer is ice cold, it has head that takes forever to settle.
Try pouring that at a picnic.
I researched several inexpensive methods of keeping the fermenter cool, but in the end decided to build a cool box based on an actual product I saw for sale on a beer brewing site.
A local stationary shop had Styrofoam sheets that I added to my building supplies. After some serious measuring and careful cutting, a cube took shape tall enough to accommodate my fermenter (with airlock attached) and a soda keg I planned to acquire.
To chill the cube’s interior in the first test, I froze solid a 1.5 litre bottle of water and placed it inside. One side of the cube is detached and at first, based on the product I saw, it was the bottom. The rest of the cube was the lid. However, I think because my rough build doesn’t seal properly (at all), the cold just wafts away through the cracks – the temperature didn’t drop significantly and by morning the bottle of ice was almost room temperature water again.
In the second experiment I used 2 x 1.5 litre bottles, resealed the edges of the cube and flipped it upside down so that cube formed a bowl and the lid was 1 sheet on top. This worked much better and the bottles were still icy the next morning with the temperature inside stable at around 23°C.
Let the Brewing Begin
With my temperature worries solved, it was time to get brewing. My next batch is Cooper’s India Pale Ale. Last night I went through the motions, sanitised my equipment, readied my water and followed the instruction from Homebrewing for Dummies.
In there they advise not to use the brewing sugars, but they also advise using 2 cans of malt extract to get a fuller body. Clever me, did neither.
I laboured through carefully watching an hour long boil, infusing bittering hops at the 30 minute mark, and even gently woke up the yeast in luke warm water while the wort cooled down. The cold top-up water was vigorously added to oxygenate the wort, and then I pitched the yeast at about 24°C.
Of course, only then did I realise I forgot to take a gravity reading (supposed to be done before adding the yeast). It was 1.020 (or 1.022 after temperature correction) and according to my hydrometer in the finished brew range. Disaster!
In a flash panic I dissolved 2kg of brewing dextrose in another litre of water and added it to my brew. Now I have 24 litres of wort, but the gravity went up to an acceptable, although still weak, 1.032 (1.034). Now I just have to hope my yeasties are super diligent and consume as much sugar as possible.
I put the fermenter to rest and started the clock at about 10pm.
The Morning After
Walking down the stairs this morning, intending to change the ice bottles, I was pleasantly surprised by the rumbling of my cool box. I listened as my brew bubbled away at 5-second intervals.
As I cracked the lid the sweet aroma of the fermentation process promised me great tasting beer – I sure hope that promise will be fulfilled. The temperature in the box was still around 23°C and my ice bottles had a good core of ice in them, which positively affirms the efficiency of the box. I swapped the bottles of ice out nevertheless.
Clearly the yeast is healthy and everything so far seems OK. Now for that pain staking wait.