You live in China. You love a good brew (and we’re not talking tea). This article is for you.
When I first moved to China I worried I wouldn’t be able to make beer as I did in the UK. For a couple of years it was true, yeast was poor quality, hops were hard to find and rarely well kept and the equipment just wasn’t what I was used to. Then a friend of mine showed me how to get what I was looking for and inspired me to carry on my brewing in China. So this week, this friendly neighbourhood brewer would like to take you through the basics of everything you need to get your first brew on, whether you’re in China or anywhere else in the world.
The first thing to note is that making beer is not hard and not mysterious. It’s exciting and you get to drink your results. With that in mind, let’s see how it’s made:
How Beer is Made
Let’s take a quick look at how beer is made in a normal kitchen at home. Beer is fermented barley grains. The barley grains are soaked in warm water to get all the sugar (maltose) out. This super sugary, dark brown water is boiled for an hour, during which hops are added for flavour (among other things). Now we have some delicious hoppy, sugary water. This stuff is perfect for sustaining life. Imagine if you left this warm mix in the kitchen for a few days. It would start to smell where bacteria and natural yeasts have landed in paradise and begun to eat the sugar. It is candy mountain. Instead of letting just anyone eat our beer juice though, we pour it into a sterile bucket and introduce a colony of yeast that we know makes beer rather than bad smelly stuff. Over two weeks our little yeasts eat the sugar and basically sh*t alcohol and a whole lot of CO2. Two weeks later they’ve eaten themselves into equilibrium and our virgin, uncarbonated beer is born. The beer is poured into bottles and a teaspoon of sugar is added to each. The yeast is still hanging out in the beer and is happy to eat more sugar. This time however it’s trapped in a sealed bottle, so the CO2 it creates is dissolved in the beer, giving it the fizz we know.
Now, my dear reader, you’re inspired and you want to brew. What next?
Drink and Read
Know what finished product you would like to drink. Research a bit. Craft beer bibles are everywhere and constantly updated so you have no excuse. Learn what makes your imperial stout imperial. Learn the difference between a pilsner, ale, ipa and a stout. I highly recommend practical learning for all of the above – go out and try them! When you’ve concluded your research, we can start to think about our own brew. Today I will walk you through the basic steps of how to make an amber ale.
Lets look at a timetable of what you’ll be doing:
Brew day. Anything from 2 to 7 hours depending on how complicated you want to get.
Fermentation: You stare at your beer in a bucket for around two weeks.
Bottling: Actually putting the beer into the bottles takes around an hour or so. However, you will first have to locate those bottles, scrub them and sanitise them.
Conditioning: You stare at your beer for another two weeks while it becomes delicious (staring optional).
So we are looking at a month from starting to drinking. Not bad.
Now we’re going to do this entire process in your kitchen. Apart from growing the grain. Leave that to barley farmers.
Let’s get brewing
Because we’re keeping it simple, we are going to skip the first step of soaking the grain ourselves. This step is called mashing and requires soaking 5kg of crushed malted barley at a precise temperature for an hour. Instead of this, we will buy dried or canned malt: Someone else has already soaked the grain and extracted the sugar and put it in a can. Yay. You lose some versatility this way, but fewer steps equals fewer errors. If you really find brewing is for you, then dive into mashing at a later date.
- 2.5kg Light Malt Extract
- 500g Dextrose sugar
- 50g East Kent Golding, Citra or Mosaic hops
- Safale S-04 Ale yeast
- 20L bottled water (Nongfu Springs anyone?)
- A 15L stock pot (20L if you can)
- A big plastic bucket with a sealable lid
- An airlock
- Tea towels
- A big metal spoon that reaches the bottom of the pot – A metal wok spatula is great
- A measuring jug
- sanitiser and sponges (chlorine solution for the cheap option, Starsan if you can afford it)
1) Place 11L of your water in the fridge or freezer to get them as cold as possible without freezing.
2) If your yeast is dried, rehaydrate it in 400ml bottled water in a measuring jug. Cover the top. If your yeast is wet already, skip this step.
3) In your pot, boil 8L of bottled water. Add your Light Malt Extract and dextrose and give it a good stir. It’s sugar so we don’t want any caramelising on the bottom. Keep it at a rolling boil.
4) After 15 minutes add 20g of your hops. These are your bittering hops, the acids in them are isomerised and add bitterness to the beer. Today we will be using East Kent Golding hops, a British hop that’s also grown in Oregon. If you would prefer a punchier West Coast style pale Ale, substitute for Citra or Mosaic varieties.
5) Half an hour later, add 30 more grams. These are your aroma hops, they contribute, strangely enough, aroma. After another 10 minutes, turn the gas off. You’re done. Now we have to get the beer into the sterile fermenting bucket.
6) Take your 11L out of the fridge and pour it into your fermenter. Next, add your new virgin beer water. You really want to oxygenate the water at this point so shake it up, splash it about, pour it from a height or do whatever you want. I used to seal the lid and give the lot a damn good shake. Whatever works for you. Don’t worry about straining the mixture, just leave the hops in there – everything will settle out over next couple of weeks.
7) Sling your yeast into your 15-17L of water once the temperature is below 25℃, put the lid on and attach the airlock.
You are now ready to stare at your beer for two weeks while it bubbles away, fermenting in a corner. It will begin to bubble 12 to 24 hours after you’ve pitched the yeast. This bubbling will rev up over 48 hours and should have finished after 10-12 days. You should be ready to bottle after two weeks but I have happily left a brew sitting in my cupboard for over 3 before. A note on temperature. You want to keep the temperature as close to 16℃ as possible. A little above or a little below is not a problem but prolonged fermentation over 20℃ will make your beer taste terrible. I really cannot stress how important it is to keep the temperature stable, therefore I suggest you add a digital thermometer like this to your list
Living in Anhui, I have two major problems during fermentation. temperature control is number one so let’s address that first, My favourite method is to sit the entire fermenter in a cold water in cold water in a dark cupboard lined with insulated pizza boxes and top up the bucket with ice every day(frozen soda bottles works well). The wide water buckets for washing clothes are fantastic. Draping cloth or cotton shirts over the bucket to evaporate heat away helps too. The other major problem is the warm wet air that is perfect for mould cultures to develop. Do NOT open the fermenter to peek at your creation. Let it do its thing, it doesn’t need you. My first two batches here were ruined by my impatience. Those bugs are crowded round the edge of your beer bucket, waiting to dive inside, swamp the poor little yeasts and feast on your precious beer. Just don’t open it. Please.
- A Syphon
- A bottle crowner
- A pack of 50-100 Bottle crowns
- 40 x 500ml bottles
- More sanitiser
- Tea towels
- Sugar drops
- A friend who can be paid in beer
1)Line up your freshly sterilized 500ml bottles on the floor and put 2 carbonation drops in each one. Use one drop for 330ml bottles, or a teaspoon of your choice of sugar.
Technically you can use any sugar for this steps but sugar drops make things nice and simple.
2) Pop your bucket gently on the table. We don’t want to stir up the yeast that’s sleeping on the bottom of the bucket. Pop your siphon into the bucket (remembering rule 2), and start it going without sucking the end of it (again, rule 2…). You can google, baidu or yandex how to start a siphon.
3) Great! Now we want to get the beer into the bottles as smoothly as possible, without shaking or exposing the beer to too much oxygen – no-one likes rusty beer. After every five bottles or so, you can stop to cap your beers. Place a sanitised crown on the beer top, place the crowner on top and lever down.
4) Well done you. Even if you spill your fermenter(or accidentally knock your girlfriend’s makeup into it, which has definitely never happened to me) you have at least made one bottle of beer. Continue until you run out of bottles or beer, crown them all and place them in a dark cupboard. hops don’t like sunlight. It makes them go funny.
Another 10 days to two weeks of waiting and then you can put your beers in the fridge ready for consumption. Don’t worry if your final product goes a little hazy, it’s just harmless proteins that come out of the beer when they get too cold. you’re now ready to invite your friends round for the best or worst evening of your life.
Here I’ve gone over the basics. If you follow these steps you will end up with a clear, balanced amber ale. If you didn’t, look over your process and think what may have gone wrong then send a message to me at Pandaboo and I’ll do my best to answer your questions or point you in the right direction. If you enjoyed your first brew, I strongly recommend you buy a Hydrometer to measure the alcohol content of your beer, and also try speciality grains (such as crystal malt) and dry hopping. I have left them out here to keep things as simple as possible, but these steps will vastly increase the range of beers and flavours you can create. A quick search for homebrew forums will yield more results than you can shake a stick at. These were the starting point of my journey, I wish you all the best with yours.
Lastly, I leave you with my three golden rules of brewing:
1.Be prepared – get everything ready before you start
2.Be clean – sanitise eeeeverything.
3.Be patient – No peeking in that bucket!
Good luck on your journey.
A note on hops:
There is a huge variety of hops out there and all will give you a different beer profile. The ones I have picked for our amber ale are by no means standard or bench marks. I suggest you look at the back of the beer you are drinking, find out what hops are in it and match it with the plethora of recipes that can be found on the internet. hops are often measured according to their alpha acid content, which is important for knowing how bitter your beer will be, however personal preferences for individual strains should always be taken into account: follow your tastebuds. With this in mind, here are a couple of varieties I’m particularly fond of. East Kent Golding (UK), Willamette (USA) are both versatile hops that can be used for bittering or aroma. Magnum and Bitter Gold work better as bittering hops
works best as a bittering hop. If you’re after a punchy New World flavour – think American IPAs – maybe try Citra or Mosaic. These two can also be used for both bittering and aroma too, making each brew day a little easier on your wallet.