I’ve been brewing from grains since January and I’ve learnt how to do this from books. More specifically, I got my brother to read a load of books and report back to me. What is the point of having a younger sibling if you can’t delegate tasks to him?
Our first brew was an involved process because we setup the mash tun incorrectly, but what we ended up with was drinkable. Subsequent brews have been better and I was really please with a recent batch of lager. I’ve had one major failure with lambic but other than that everything was drinkable.
The Brewhouse and Kitchen brew their own beer in each of their pubs and they offer a Brewery Experience day. I decided to attend at the Angel/Islington bar recently. The day costs £85, but it includes breakfast, cups of tea throughout the day, several beers, dinner and a barrel of beer (worth £25) meaning that it is very good value for money indeed. I skipped the bacon roll for breakfast having loaded up with an American breakfast at the nearby Breakfast Club.
There were 10 of us at the brewery experience and the head brewer did well to keep everyone engaged and involved. We went through the entire process of brewing from the hot liquor tank (HLT) to the mash tun, through the boil and then to the fermentation chambers. The brewery is a 2.5 barrel capacity with one HLT, one mash tun, one boiler and four fermentation tanks.
We brewed a rye beer on a massive scale using over 80kg of grain. I use less than 8kg for my brews. Obviously we are brewing in greater volume in the brewery than at home, but it gives you an idea of the scale. We were able to taste the wort at various stages – during the mash, after the sparging (rinsing the grains with water to make up the wort) and after the boil. This gave us an idea of how the pre-fermented beer changes throughout the process.
After a long day involving me cleaning out the mash tun, I came to the conclusion that the process I’m following is pretty much what they are doing in this brewery. The key differences are that the brewery conditions the beer in the fermentation tank and lowers the temperature at the end, and does not prime its beer in the casks (that is add sugar or malt to encourage a fermentation).
I was surprised to see that they used dried yeast – there is nothing wrong with this. I just had a preconceived idea that they would have a liquid yeast strain living somewhere at the brewery.
Most of the participants took a barrel of something else at the end of the day, but I went back three weeks later. The beer was very drinkable indeed. I have the recipe and may try to recreate it. If you want to get into brewing from grains:
- Try a starter kit that will take you through the fermentation process
- Go to one of these brewery experience days
- Read this book
- Consider this grain starter kit – together with your equipment from the previous starter kit you will have enough to brew from grains. Note that the one I have linked to includes the book I’ve mentioned in 3. The kit is expensive but if you like beer you will quickly make your money back.