Hops provide a key component to many styles of beer. Whether it be the assertive, pungent bitterness of your favorite IPA or the subtle spiciness of a classic Pilsner, this diverse ingredient has helped shape Craft Beer into what it is today. Yet after we’ve boiled the hops, how do we separate them from the wort?
One simple way is to sift it through a mesh, or plastic strainer. Another option is a hop bag. The hop bag allows constant separation, but allows the hops to be fully utilized during the boil. During the brew process hops additions are put directly into the mesh bag and once the beer is cool and ready to transfer the bag is completely removed.
Other options that will help with hop separation are either Whirlpooling or Cold Crashing.
This is a very easy technique that lends wonderful additions to the taste, and overall appearance of your brew. No matter how careful we are in the brew process, we will always be left with some amount of sediment wort. By utilizing the whirlpool technique, we can remove some of that unwanted sediment from our wort before transferring it into the fermenter. This helps the clarity and mouthfeel of the finished beer.
Before we begin, allow us to explain the basic function of the whirlpool technique. The idea is to force the sediment to pool to the bottom of your brew pot with a vortex, therefore bringing it out of suspension in your wort. By doing this, we are then able to remove the wort from the brew pot and leave all of the unwanted particles behind.
This process is typically done after we’ve cooled our wort, but before we transfer it to our fermenter. After we’ve cooled the wort to below 75 degrees, we’ll remove it from the ice bath and place it on a flat surface. Be sure to set it in the same area you intend to transfer your wort to the fermenter.
To begin, grab a sanitized spoon and start to stir. Make sure to stir well enough to create a small whirlpool, but not so hard as to cause the wort to splash around violently. Once you’ve created a steady whirlpool, quickly remove the spoon mid-stir, cover the pot and simply let the whirlpool run its course. After about 10 minutes, you should see a noticeable difference in the clarity of your wort.
At this point, most of our particles have settled to the bottom of our brew pot. Now we can begin the transfer to the fermenter. Start by setting up the sanitized, one gallon carboy and funnel. Then simply grab your brew pot and begin to gently pour you wort into the carboy. Make sure to do this as gently as possible, as to not disturb the bed of sediment on the bottom. Continue pouring until you’ve separated the clear liquid from the sediment, then stop and set the brew pot aside.
As brewers we have an immense passion for the beer brewing process, but at the end of the day it’s the yeast doing the heavy lifting. As they say “Brewers make wort; yeast makes beer." Yeast is not only responsible for the alcohol and carbonation, but a massive array of flavors and aromas. Because of this, it’s best to keep these little critters as happy as possible and temperature control is one variable that can attribute greatly to the finished product.
Our ale yeast can function in a wide temperature range but thrive within 60-75 degrees. For most of you out there, this is about the average household ambient temp. However, if the temperature where your brew ferments is outside of the given window, there are a few simple options to help your yeast thrive!
If your fermentation area is on the colder side, there are a number of quick fixes. First, simply wrap the one gallon carboy in a thick towel, or blanket. Once it begins fermentation it will generate heat and the covering will allow the vessel to essentially heat itself up about 5 degrees. Should your temperature be even lower than that, consider keeping the carboy on heating pad set to low. Obviously we want to make sure the outside of the carboy is dry and shows zero sign of leaking. This should aid to give you a little more control of the heat as well.
Should your fermentation temperature be too high, there are some similar tricks we can incorporate. One simple way is to find an area of the house where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate too often. Often times a closet or an unused, dark area of the house works well. If we need to drop the temp even further, we can implement a swamp bath. A swamp bath works very simply. First, find a large enough container that will hold both the carboy and some water. A large pot or some tuberware work well. Second, fill the container with about two inches of water. Third, place the carboy in the water and wrap it in either a hand towel or an old shirt. Make sure that whatever you’ve chosen wraps around the carboy while the bottom sits in the water. Lastly, place the entire swamp bath in front of a fan. The idea behind this technique is that the fan will blow on the cloth, causing it to wick water and cool. This, in turn, will create a sort of insulated jacket around your carboy.
As we spoke about before your beer will ferment just fine in a wide range of 60-75 degrees yet it is said that 68 degrees is the ideal fermentation temperature for most ales. The closest you can get to this temperature the better. If you choose to go the extra mile to take control of the fermentation temperature it is just another step towards crafting the best beer possible.
Beer is a complex beverage. It takes the right balance of flavor, aroma, and mouth feel to create an amazing brew. However, before we experience any of these aspects of a beer, the first thing we notice is the appearance.
Cold Crashing is a simple process that allows us to, not only improve the flavor of our beer, but to really help it’s appearance shine.
This one is easy. After the beer has fermented for the allotted two weeks, we simply stick the carboy in the fridge for 3-5 days. Be sure to keep the airlock on. During this time, the residual yeast and particulates will begin to drop out of solution which will result in a clearer beer! This will also benefit the mouth feel as the beer will have a cleaner, crisper finish! After 3-5 days, gently remove the carboy from the fridge so the sediment doesn’t break back into solution. Bottle as usual.
After waiting the recommended two weeks for your bottles to carbonate and condition, it is now time to check if your beer is carbonated enough for consumption.
First, hold the bottle up to a light source and inspect the contents. If you see a healthy layer of sediment at the bottom then we are on the right track. This tells us that the yeast has most likely consumed all of the priming sugar and has gone dormant.
Second, open one up! Chill a single bottle in the fridge for a few hours. Upon opening the bottle you should hear a slight “hiss” sound. That lets us know that yeast has provided an adequate amount of CO2 to our beer.
Next, pour the beer into a room temperature glass at a 45 degree angle. At this point the beer should pour with a nice, foamy head. If the beer is too thin and watery, your beer may have not have carbonated appropriately. Allow the bottles to sit at room temperature for another 3 days before checking the carbonation again. If the beer is carbonated to your liking you can put the whole batch in the fridge to cold condition, this will allow the level of carbonation to stay the same and will help the beer clear in the bottles over the next few days.
Keep in mind that one of the best things about home brewing is that it gives you personal choice on the final brew. If you like the beer to be a little still or more carbonated, then keep it that way!
If you’d like to add fruit to your beer, we’d recommend doing so during the boil. This way you can ensure the fruit is properly sanitized. We’d recommend adding your fruit with 5 minutes left in the 60 minute boil. This will give your beer a really nice fruit aroma, too. If you’re looking to use citrus, you can use the peel, but make sure you don’t cut too far into the peel - you’ll want to avoid adding any of the white part (pith) to your beer since it can lend unwanted bitterness to your brew. If you’re looking to use whole-fruit, we’d recommend smashing it up or making it into a puree, leaving the peel out. Fruit purees provide the best color, aroma and fruit ‘backbone’ to your finished beer.