Yeast is magical.
Truly a lifeform of creation, multitudes of noble yeast strains produce alcohol and carbon dioxide from boring sugars and flours. Yeast makes an art out of emptiness, producing the most delicious bubbles in breads and beers and sodas. In reality, we should constantly be thanking and praising yeast for its creative and delectable processes.
Sorry. I happen to have a batch of beer fermenting in my pantry, and while yeast is most definitely magical, it’s also temperamental. The slightest change in temperature or humidity can send the whole batch of beer into an off-flavored mess of wasted yeasty potential. I realize I use the term “yeasty potential” rather often, but it’s a universally applicable phrase. from baking to beer, there’s nothing more important than yeasty potential.
While I had friends in town for my birthday, I thought it might be fun to brew a batch of beer with them. I have at times been more prolific with my beer brewing, but since my wedding (where I brewed four 10-gallon batches of different celebratory ales) my output has been lacking. I am trying to get back into the routine of brewing, which will be easier now that I have a consistent schedule. Of course, my wife and I are also born-and-bred DIYers with a home to remodel, so brewing falls off the priorities list pretty fast. That’s life.
One of my favorite styles of beer is a Belgian Golden, which is essentially a blond ale brewed with more malt to make a stronger/boozier beer. Goldens are fun to brew because they are so damn simple: you typically have a maximum of two or three different malt strains, very minimal hop additions, some Belgian candi sugar to boost the alcohol content a bit and a mild-tasting but strong-acting yeast strain to round it all together. They end up earthy, sweet, simple and delicious. They can be refreshing when served cold on a Summer day, or they can hold their own served a bit warmer on a cool Autumn night. I love a good versatile brew. Try Duvel or Delirium Tremens to see what I mean.
Without further delay, let’s get to the recipe:
12 lbs Belgian Pilsner malt
12 oz. Caramunich malt
1 lb. 4 oz. Clear Belgian Candi Sugar
1 oz. Kent Goldings Hops at 45 minutes
1 oz. Sterling Hops at 15 minutes
Simple and easy. As usual, we use Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Home Brewing to guide us in our mash, using 1/4 gallon of mash water per pound of grain and 1/2 gallon of sparge water per pound of grain. In mashing, I typically use a single step infusion in order to seep out as much fermentable sugar as possible from the grain. I raise my 13 lbs(ish) times 1/4 gallon = 3 1/4 gallons of mash water to 168-170 degrees and pour it into my mashing tun along with the two different types of malt, then stir it and let it sit for a while to extract all that sweet beer wort goodness. After that, I take 13lbs times 1/2 gallon = 6 1/2 gallons of sparge water and raise it to 175 degrees, then slowly pour it evenly over the grains to rinse the sugar off and drain it into my huge brewing kettle.
That sounds complicated, I know. All you need to remember is 1/4 gallon of water for the mash per pound, and 1/2 gallon of water for the sparge out per pound of grain. I made my mashing tun out of a $30 cooler and an old dryer supply line. My state-of-the-art sparge system is a disposable roasting pan I punched a bunch of holes into. A lot of people start worrying about the most efficient mash and the highest possible starch conversion, but I honestly feel that home brewing is a pretty grass roots enterprise. I write down my recipes and plug them into BeerSmith, which is a great app, but as far as technique goes you have to work within your means unless you have several thousand square feet of a sterile warehouse to do you dastardly brewing deeds. Just be as clean as possible and work with what you have, and you will typically end up with something drinkably delicious.
According to my hasty calculations, this amount of grain along with the fermentable candi sugar (which is homemade, and that’s a story for another time) will end up at roughly 8.5% Alcohol By Volume. It will be mildly bitter at roughly 20-25 International Bitterness Units, due to the hop additions. I should end up boiling over 6.5 gallons of beer wort, which will reduce by more than a gallon over the 60 minute boil due to high altitude. I can hopefully bottle around five gallons of this stuff.
Once the beer wort is sufficiently drained and your sparge water has filtered through all the grain, you can begin to boil the sucker down. I use a handy outdoor burner that connects to a full-size propane tank, and it typically jumps right to a boil pretty quick. Once it’s boiling, you can begin adding your other ingredients, but be careful! For some reason, beer wort will foam over the second you turn away from the boiling kettle. I usually start by adding the candi sugar, then about 15 minutes into the boil I’ll add my bittering hops, and 15 minutes to the end of the boil I’ll add the aroma hops. For darker beers, you want to boil for around 90 minutes in order to attain a heavier mouthfeel, but since this will be a refreshing and effervescent golden, we can stop the boil after an hour.
Cooling is one of the trickiest parts of home brewing because you have just produced something that every single molecule of wild yeast wants to eat. This sugary syrup will eventually become beer, but for the entire time it’s cooling the beer wort is like a huge buffet table to yeast molecules. You have now made yeasty potential, and you need to cool it as fast as possible so you can introduce whatever yeast strain you want. Remember-this is your kitchen and you make the rules. Yeast by express invitation only, show me your VIP pass! Unless you’re making sourdough, in which case it’s a yeasty free-for-all, but that’s not how we brew it.
I have recently purchased a copper immersion coil, which cools things down very fast. if you boil the outside of the coil for a minute, you can immediately plunge it into your beer wort and run cold water through it, thereby cooling the beer down in a rapid manner. It typically takes around 10 minutes to cool a 5 gallon batch of beer, which is awesome. Copper coils are expensive, though, so I will admit that I’ve had pretty successful brews by filling a clean bathtub with ice, plunging the whole pot of beer wort into the ice, and covering it up for about 45 minutes.
Again, this is home brewing, so work within your means.
Once the beer wort is cool enough, I pour it directly into my fermentation vessel and pitch the yeast. Pouring it will agitate the brew and give the yeast a more friendly environment. Make sure your fermentation bucket has been properly sterilized and rinsed before you add the beer wort, then cover it up and toss it in a cool, dark place for a few weeks. If you want, you can pull a bit of the unfermented wort out and measure how much sugar is in the mixture using a hydrometer or refractometer. This will give you a measurement to take against your final product, thereby discovering how much sugar has been eaten and therefore how much alcohol is left over. Mine is close to target, but again, this is home brewing. It’s a ghetto-rigged science experiment.
This time around, I promise to post tasting notes after I’m able to bottle this baby and pop a crisp bottle open. I love a good Belgian Golden Ale, but since this is relatively high alcohol it will probably take a good three weeks to ferment before I’m able to bottle. In the meantime, I should probably come up with someway to use the few gallons of home brewed stout I still have leftover from the wedding… Perhaps a cooking experiment?