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Hefeweizen Beginnings

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It's time for another batch of beer to begin! For our last beer of the summer, we decided that we wanted to make a beer that makes us think of summer with it's crisp flavors and lots of carbonation: a Hefeweizen. The name "hefeweizen" has a fairly simple translation. "Hefe" means yeast and "weizen" indicates wheat. Thus, Hefeweizen's are a combination of yeast and wheat. And the yeast reference goes beyond just the fermentation process. A true hefeweizen will also retain some yeast -- if you pick up a bottle of hefeweizen in the store you should be able to see a bit of that yeast floating around in the bottom of the bottle. It helps produce some of the extra carbonated zing as well as providing the beer with some of its distinct flavors.

What do you need to put together a Hefeweizen?

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Hefeweizen Components

Our recipe comes from the helpful people at the Homebrew Shop in St. Charles, IL. (I'm going to review some homebrew shops in the future, but right now I'll stop and say that the Homebrew Shop was completely worth the long driving trip we had to take to get out there to them). The components?

  • 1 lb Cracked Pilsner Malt (German 2-Row)
  • 1 lb Wheat, Cracked
  • 6 lbs 55% Wheat/45% Barley Malt Extract
  • 1 ounce Hallertau Hop Pellets
  • 1 Tube of While Labs Hefeweizen Yeast

Doesn't seem like very much, does it?

To get things rolling, John wanted to make sure that his yeast were happy, active and well expanded before pitching them onto the top of the wort. To do this, he first needed to make some "growth media" for the yeast. And what could be better than something similar to what will make up the beer?

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Creating the Yeast Media

John put about 100 g of the malt extract into 1 L of water and boiled it. The boiling process helps to sterilize the media so that nothing but the yeast will be inclined to grow. After all, sugars are great food for a variety of microorganisms.

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John Cultures His Yeast

After the liquid had cooled below 80 degrees F (yeast will get killed by boiling solutions just as easily as less desireable microorganisms will) John put the yeast into solution, covered them up, and took them to a nice cool dark place in the basement. To keep them growing and active, he would go downstairs and swirl them around every now and again.

Putting the beer together after that was really easy. Hefeweizens are relatively simple and don't require too much effort if you brew with malt extracts. The first thing we did was put our grains in a bag and steep them in 160 degree F water for 30 minutes. That helps to extract some of the sugars, proteins and flavors of the grain into the wort. This process, is called "sparging" (I think).

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The Wort After The Sparge

After the sparge, the liquid reflects the mild color of the grain. Now it's time to add the malt extract and and bring the wort to a boil. Once the wort gets to a boil, you add the hops and let the boil continue for an hour. Just like boiling the yeast media, boiling the wort helps sterilize the wort. It also has an impact on the sugars and the alpha acids in the hops. Hops added early in the boil are added as flavoring or bittering hops, hops added at the end of the boil are added for aroma.

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The Wort During the Boil

See how the color of the wort has changed? Some of this comes from the color of the malt. But some of it also comes from carmelizing the malt sugars in the boil.

We learned a special trick with th yeast when it comes to getting a flavorful hefeweizen. Hefeweizens are often noted for their banana and clove flavors. Clearly, though, there are no bananas or cloves added to the beer. Those flavors come from the yeast. In order to get the yeast to make those flavors however, you have to give them a cold shock. To do this, you chill the wort down to 58 degrees F before you pitch the yeast. This temperature shock affects the physiology of the yeast and gets them to make the compounds that impart the clove and banana flavors to the beer. The beer doesn't need to be maintained at that temperature (hefeweizen yeast can't divide at temperaturs quite that low) so after pitching the yeast we just took the ale pail down to the basement bathroom to equilibrate. By morning, the temperature of the wort and the room temperature were similar and the yeast had begun their magick as the banana essences had definitely begun to waft through the room.

We set this beer up on August 6th, and on Sunday night we moved it to it's second ferment. We took a little taste and we both liked what we sampled pre second ferment, so we're hopeful that we have another winner here. And the alcohol content will be a bit milder than previous beers. Our measurements of specific gravity suggest it's going to be right around 5.4% ABV. Hefeweizens don't require a lot of aging, so we're anticipating kegging on Friday night so that we can take some with us to Michigan this weekend when we head there to see the Michigan Fiber Festival and to pick up the small chest freezer that plays a role in the next phase of homebrewing chez Keyboard Biologist. Stay tuned...

Beer, Part 3 -- Kegging

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So what do you do with your proto-beer after it has gone through the primary fermentation and a secondary fermentation? At this point, you might be surprised to know, the beer has no carbonation. Even though in the first fermentation, the yeast were busy belching out CO2 just as fast as they could, most of that is released to the air and is not trapped in the beer(otherwise your ale pale would explode in what is sometimes referred to as a "beer bomb"... it is not pretty).

There are two ways to get carbonation back in your beer. If you put your beer into bottles, you add just enough sugar to the uncarbonated brew to get the yeast a little active again and then put everything into the bottles. You have to be careful about how much sugar goes in or those bottle become beer grenades, which, like the beer bomb, make a big mess and loud scary noises. The other way to do it is by kegging. All the beer you get on tap in a bar or pub has been kegged. Because neither John nor I relish the idea of cleaning and santizing enough beer bottles for a 5 gallon batch of beer and because I have no desire to find out just how destructive beer grenades are, we opted to go for the kegging system.

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Sanitizing 5 Gallon Cornelius "Corny" Kegs

Probably the most important part of this process is having santized kegs. One thing that is guaranteed to make you unhappy with your beer is if some other microbes besides your beer yeast get involved with the beer. Since beer is plenty rich in nutrients, there are plenty of bacteria and fungi that are willing to sample your beer for you. Unfortunately, this leads to all sorts of unpleasant flavors an off-putting smells. Since your beer could be spending quite a long time in this keg (after all, it does take a little while to go through 5 gallons of beer if you are only two people) it's important that it be well cleaned. There are a number of nice one step sanitizers on the market now, and that's what John used to get his keg ready for storing beer (I think the one we used is "StarSan")..

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From Carbuoy to Keg

Just like moving the beer from the primary to the secondary fermentation, moving the beer to the keg involves a sanitized siphon, an elevated surface and a little bit of patience while the beer moves into it's final home.

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Mixing the Beer and CO2

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the CO2 gas canister and its associated apparatus. You'll just have to trust me that after the keg lid is sealed, you pump CO2 gas into the canister. After that, you give the keg a bit of gentle agitating to mix the CO2 throughout the solution.

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Chilling the Kegs

It may not look like it, but what you are seeing here is chemistry in action. CO2 is more soluble in cold liquids. Thus, to help the carbonation process along, it's important to chill the kegs (and beer) down to 40-50 degrees Farenheit. John managed to find the perfect sized small refrigerator that holds 2 5 gallon kegs and fits in the fridge space under our wet bar. One of those kegs contains our IPA the other contains our Belgian-style ale.

Beer, like wine, will change as it ages. How long you need to keep the beer kegged before you start drinking depends on the beer and your tastes. We sampled both our IPA and our Belgian less than 24 hours after kegging and noticed changes as the beer matured. The beer was good almost immediately, but both have mellowed nicely as they've aged. This was particularly important for the Belgian, which is 9-10% ABV (alcohol by volume). At first taste, the taste of the alcohol was very forward. A couple of weeks later, it has receded into the background and some of the lovely carmelly malt and banana flavors have taken over.

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Belgian-Style Ale Amongst the Petunias

Here's a view of the final product. Our Belgian is a little darker than you would expect most Belgians to be, but it is quite clear, which makes John quite happy. Not a huge head on this beer, but it's turning out to be a very pleasant and smooth drinker, and a nice complement to a hot day. Not a beer you can drink a lot of at once or drink fast, so we expect this keg to be with us through the fall.

Cheers!

It is, without a doubt, even within the confines of my air conditioned home, too hot to knit. But it is not too hot to contemplate beer. In fact, around my house, we happen to think that a cool frosty beer is a perfect complement to a hot day. So my next two posts are going to be about homebrewing. Specifically, the secondary fermentation and kegging process, demonstrated with the help of our most recent beer, a Trappist Ale.

This post may not make much sense if you haven't seen my Beer, Part 1 post where we set up the primary fermentation. The primary ferment is where most of the alcohol generation process occurs. It's all about yeast chowing down on the malt sugars that are provided for their dining pleasure. Yeast munch on sugar and belch out ethanol and a whole collection of tasty aromatic compounds. Most primary fermentations last for somewhere between 1 and 3 weeks (it really depends on the beer and the yeast involved). We left our IPA in for a week of primary fermentation, but Belgian-style ales prefer to ferment a bit longer. We left ours in the primary fermentation for about 2 weeks, even though the yeast activity had died down after about 5 days.

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The Lid Comes Off the First Fermentation of the Belgian Ale

After we took the lid off, you could see all the hop leaves had floated to the top. One thing we decided that we like about using actual hop cones (as opposed to the hop pellets) is that they form a nice layer and are easy to separate from the beer. John is all about creating clear beer, so this was very cool to him. Apparently when you are choosing between hop cones and pellet hops (which look like little pellets of rabbit food) you are choosing the more "natural" route versus the ability to get a consistant product. Pellet hops have a very reliable amount of bittering qualities while cone hops can be quite variable, as growth conditions vary from year to year, etc.

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Setting Up the Second Fementation: Transfer to the Carbuoy

The next thing that happens is moving the proto-beer (I suspect there is an official term for it, but I haven't learned it yet) into a second fermentation vessel, in this case, a glass carbuoy. My understanding of the second fermentation is that it is mostly about letting the beer "think" and clear. No more sugar is added, so there's nothing really to stir the yeast up again, although plenty of yeast do make it through the transfer. Sometimes it is also a time to add additional flavors. Some IPAs, for instance, are "dry hopped", which means that some additional hops are added when the proto-beer goes into the second fermentation vessel.

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The Second Fermentation In Progress

Apparently, it's best to move the second fermentation to a glass vessel, because you don't have to worry about the beer developing any strange flavors as a result as sitting in a plastic pail for long periods of time. Since this Belgian-style Trappist aie needs another two weeks (at least) to consider its future, we opted for glass, which can't impart any undesireable flavors for the beer.

You can see John checking the temperature in this picture (with the help of a cat). We love our basement because it is just about the perfect temperature for brewing ales (between 68-70 degress Farenheit) and relatively dark. When we weren't checking in on the beer, the carbuoy sat underneath a cardboard box because when beer is thinking, it likes its privacy.

We had to wait two weeks for our beer to be ready for the next phase. But you'll get to find out the results tomorrow!

Beer, Part 1

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In a shameless attempt to attract yet another new demographic to my blog, I'm going to start talking about homebrewing. John and I, well, we love us a good beer. How do we define good? Well, let's just say that in our world, "good beer" does not include anything that comes out a major brewery in Milwaukee or St. Louis. We're all about the microbrews, both US and European. Generally we tend to favor different styles. John loves stouts, porters and the occasional bock. Give me a pale ale or a hefeweizen (especially in the summer) and I'm a happy camper --when it comes to what I like, the more hops the better. We both will travel to great lengths to try a good Belgian ale. Whenever we visit a new place, the first thing we try to do is find a local microbrewery.

So it's probably no surprise that eventually we would get around to trying to make beer on our own. We were completely inspired by my dad who has recently gotten back into homebrewing (he did it a long time ago when I was small) and has had a couple of great batches of "clone" beer (clones being recipes designed to reproduce commercially produced beers). We were a little surprised when he told us that it was easy to make beer. Particularly when you have a kegging system instead of bottle. Thus, for John's birthday, my parents and I treated the ultimate hard to buy for guy to a complete homebrewing kit.

As a warning to everyone, this post is all about beer... if you're not interested you might want to click away now. I promise, there's nothing fiber related that you're going to miss.

So where do you start? Well the first thing you should do is find a good homebrewing store. We got John set up at Adventures in Homebrewing in Dearborn, MI. This is a great store and the guys who run it are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. Have a question you need help with? Just give the store a call. Even complete beer-making newbies are treated with respect. I can't recommend them enough. They are also good at recommending and helping you put together recipes. Which is where any beer brewing experience begins.

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Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Clone Recipe

The beer that Dad and I started a couple of weekends ago is a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone. After you have the recipe, you need to get all those ingredients. Gotta love all that malt sugar! No fermentation would be complete without something to feed the yeast. The grains add flavor and color, the hops add the bittering elements and other aromas. Most of the hops in this beer had an almost citrusy scent.

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Steeping the Grain

The first thing in the process is to put all the cracked grain into a porous bag and to steep that bag in a gallon or so of water that's about 160 degrees Farenheit. Basically, it's like steeping your tea bag. Only this is a very large 2 lb tea bag! It actually smells better than you think it might.

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Adding the Yeast Food

After you pull out your big tea bag, then it's time to add the malt sugar. This brew has about 8 pounds of malt for 5 gallons of brew, yet the beer isn't sweet. Why? The malt is there to feed the yeast. Basically, yeast eat up the sugar and they belch out CO2 gas and alcohol (and other nutrients). Essentially, when you make beer you're trading that sugar for the alcohol. Both yeast and humans become very happy. It takes a while to get all that sugar into solution, and it clumps a little bit (as you can see in the picture) but eventually it will all go in.

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Boiling the Wort

The next step is to get the wort (i.e. the starting gamish that is beer) up to boiling temperatures. There's a couple of reasons for this. One is essentially sterilization of the solution. The other is to cause certain chemical reactions to happen with the alpha acids in the hops that create a lot of the flavors in beer. Most worts are boiled for an hour. You add hops depending on what you want them to do. Bittering hops are added early in the boil. Aroma hops are added towards the end. Basically, it's just chemistry in action. When you add the hops determines how far the chemical reactions with the alpha acids can go.

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Sanitizing the Ale Pail

While we're on the subject of sterilization, one very important step in this process is to sanitize your fermentation container. There are lots of very nifty "one step" sanitizers that make this an easy process. Dad claims these things are one of the reasons he got back into it. Apparently the cleaning part used to be a much more painful process.

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Cooling Down the Wort

Once you've finished boiling the wort, it's time to bring it down in temperature. After all, you wouldn't want to swim in a boiling sugar solution and neither do your yeast! You can just wait for it to cool down on it's own, but that can take a while and most homebrewers like to help it along. I knew there was something good that all that ice that accumulates in our automatic ice maker could be used for!

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Wort Meets Ale Pale

Not so much left to do now. All you have to do is put the wort in the sanitized pail (some people filter at this stage, but you don't have to) and bring the volume of the wort up to 5 gallons (or whatever volume you are making).

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Pitching the Yeast

Only one thing left to do now! It's time to "pitch the yeast". Ales are top fermented, so the yeastie beasties (please forgive a hold over phrase from grad school) are just distributed across the top of the wort. After that, you just put on the lid, and attach the bubbler (essentially a little contraption that allows the CO2 gas to escape but doesn't allow bad things to get into the beer) and let the first fermentation phase "hang out" around room temperature. Something I learned at this point: there is actually a difference between lagers and ales. Ales are fermented at what is mostly room temperature, right around 70 degrees Farenheit. Lagers are fermented in the cold (around 40 degrees Farenheit). You need to use different yeasts and sugar mixtures to make each one work right because yeast that can ferment ales at room temperature aren't necessarily the same ones that are good at doing the job in the cold.

For sticking with me through the beer making extravaganza, I'm also going to introduce a new feature here to my blog: AVI movies. This is just set up as a link so that you don't have to download if you don't have the bandwidth or don't want to. This little movie shows what the bubbler does once those yeast get busy with their yeasty business. I just love my new little camera! Click Here for my First Beer Movie

What comes next? Well, a bunch of fun things! But beer takes time so you're going to have to wait patiently just like we are to see the next installments!

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