by Mike Micalone
I know August might seem early to talk about Oktoberfest but to a homebrewer August is the perfect time. For those who have never homebrewed, brewing a batch of beer can be as quick as a few weeks or as long as 2-3 months. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle since I've found letting the beer condition really helps in taking some of the unnecessary bite out of the beer.
A traditional Oktoberfest (aka Marzen) is brewed as a lager, not an ale. Lagers are a cold fermenting beer that takes several months to ferment and condition. Ales ferment at warmer temperatures and have quicker fermentation times. Marzen was originally brewed in March (thus the name) and was left in caves until late summer and then brought out for Oktoberfest in late September. Now, as much as I would love to toss a 5 gallon bucket of beer in my fridge for 5-6 months, I'm pretty sure my wife would toss me out in the street. Most homebrewers who are in a similar boat are left with brewing an ale version of Oktoberfest.
This past weekend Adam and I decided to undertake brewing not just one Oktoberfest, but two! Mine was an all grain recipe that I developed using software called BeerSmith, with the ingredients I purcahsed from Witches Brew in Foxborough, and Adam's came as part of a partial grain kit from Beer & Wine Hobby in Woburn. After sanitizing our equipment we proceeded with brewing our awesome concoctions!
The first step was to heat up some water up to 167 degrees Fahrenheit. While that was happening we roasted some 2 row pale malt for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F. That, along with some chocolate, Munich and Vienna malt were cracked and added to a cheesecloth bag and put into a 2 gallon cooler (called a mash tun) to wait for some of the water we were heating. After the water reaches the right temperature, it is added to the two mash tuns to completely soak the grains. Rather than get into a whole dissertation into how the whole mash process works or how much water was added to achieve the proper water to grain ratio it goes without saying that this is part of what makes homebrewing feel similar to commercial brewing. After 30 minutes in the cooler for Adams grains and an hour for mine we then rinsed the grains with some more hot water (known as sparging) and started to bring the liquid to a boil in our brew pots.
Waiting for wort to boil is like watching paint dry so we took the time to try out some of my Centennial Brown Ale that I brewed a few months ago and had on tap in my basement. After getting Adam's wort to a boil it was time to add his extracts and start working on his hop schedule.
What's a hop schedule you might ask? It's the times during the boils that you add various types of hops to add some bitterness to your beer. My hop schedule included adding Tettnang and Hallertau which were added at 10 minute intervals for my 60 minute boil. Adam's only had Hallertau and were added at 30 minute intervals for the first hour and then at 15 minute mark until the 90th minute. We also added some Irish Moss at the last 15 minutes of the boil to help pull some of the proteins out of the beer and help make it clearer.
After the boil it was time to break out my immersion chiller to bring our beers down to around 70-76 degrees so we could pitch our yeast.
The immersion chiller is nothing more than coiled up copper tubing with two hose connectors on it. With it cold water is pushed through the piping and pushed out the other end. The cold water draws the heat from the recently boiling wort and takes it out to the drain. This device helps make a process that normally takes 3-4 hours only take 15 minutes.
After chilling our wort it was time to move it to the fermenters. We poured it in, added enough water to make it to a volume of around 5 gallons and then took a gravity reading using a hydrometer. We take a gravity reading so we know when the beer is done fermenting. You see, beer is really a bunch of sugars that get converted to alcohol by the yeast. When the sugars are done being converted, the density of the beer reaches a certain point depending on the style of beer you are brewing and what ingredients you added. We added our yeast, waited 10 minutes, aerated the wort and sealed the lid. On the lid is an airlock that is half full of water. This is used to indicate when the beer is fermenting.
The next day I found both beers actively fermenting. In around 10 days I hope to do some dry hopping (to be explained when I post about the rest of the brewing process for this beer), wait another week or so and then move our beers into most likely bottles. Stay tuned for more next month after the beer is finished!
This is Part I of this edition of "Adventures in Homebrewing." Stay tuned for Part II soon!
You can find Mike on Twitter under the handle @Mickle623!