Simple SMASH 6-Pack

For the last few months, major Canadian booksellers like Chapters/Indigo have really been pushing beer. In store displays have featured everything from books, to glassware, to homebrew kits like the popular one by Brooklyn Brew Shop. I’ve often wondered what happens to the equipment from these packs once the original supplies are exhausted, especially once booksellers eventually abandon the $15 resupply kits sold by Brooklyn. In this post, a quick, easy, and very inexpensive way to brew one gallon of beer – about a 6-pack – using mostly things you already have in your kitchen.

The method I’m using in this post has been adapted from a couple of places, though I’ve tried my best to make it as streamlined as possible and the recipe as simple and tasty as possible. The beer that I describe in this post is a SMASH beer, using a Single Malt And Single Hop, which is closest to an American Pale Ale (about 5.8%) in style. I’ve been brewing these beers to try out different hops with a standard malt base. The whole process is easy and you can be drinking your beer in just four weeks. Little in the world of beer tasting is as quick and as informative as trying out different hops in a pretty simple beer.

The basic things you need (not from a homebrew shop):

– A one gallon glass jug. This can be the kind that are sold with the Brooklyn kits, or could be a jug from a cheap wine, like Carlo Rossi.

– Some kitchen pots, ideally three: one that can hold about 5l, another than can hold a little more, and a final a little bigger than that. A standard 8l stock pot would be great for this. If you only have two, that’s fine too. The second stockpot will only be used for heating water and can be distributed among several other small pots if needed.

– Empty beer bottles. Again, if you used flip-top bottles for the Brooklyn kit, you’re set. If you want to use standard pry-off bottles, you’ll need a capper. I strongly suggest getting a small collection, 10 or so, of flip-top bottles for this.

– A strainer. Just a large pasta strainer is fine, ideally it will fit nicely over your biggest stockpot.

– A funnel. Just a super cheap funnel from the dollar store will work, just big enough to get liquid easily into your glass jug. It’s even better if it fits nicely in the mouth of your bottles too.

– A thermometer. As long as it can be trusted to measure the temperature of water, you can use it.

– A measuring cup. For liquid.

– A soup ladle.

– A stove!

That’s almost it except for the grain, hops, and yeast you’ll need to get from the homebrew shop and two more items which you should pick up there.

Homebrew Shop shopping list:

– A bung and airlock that fit your jug. Again, if you had a kit, you’ve got an airlock that fits your jug. This should be less than a $3 investment.

– Sanitizing Solution. This is a bigger topic in homebrewing and is super essential. If you think you’re going to be doing these a lot, it might be worth buying a good product like Star-San. The easiest thing, however, is to buy some chlorine sanitizing powered. It’s usually pink. I’ll assume this is the product you have when working through the rest of this post. Read the instructions provided on the bottle carefully.

On to the actual consumables! The ingredients:

– 2 lbs of 2-Row (Pale) malt. Ask for it to be milled, which is usually free or only a couple of cents. 2lbs is a little under 1kg and if the homebrew shop you’re visiting only sells in kg quantities, just use the 1 kg. Your beer might be a 0.2-0.4% stronger, but that’s the only difference. (As an option, to make more of a contemporary IPA, you could also add 0.25 lbs Munich malt and 0.1 lbs crystal 120 malt to the grain bill. Or simply 0.25 Caramunich. Either will add a little more malt character and colour to the beer. Otherwise everything else is entirely the same.)

– 2 oz (about 50g) of your hop of choice in pellets. Two things to note: first, because this is such a small batch dried hop flowers will eat up a lot of your beer, so pellets will give you a better yield. Second, for your first SMASH it might be nice to try something like Cascade which is a pretty classic, American hop. For further batches, research other hops and try them out. This recipe will work for any hop with alpha acids under 10%. Alpha acids are a much bigger topic than I want to take on here, but, in really short, they are a component of hops that make beer bitter. They will be listed on the package and I’ll provide an adjustment for higher alpha below.

– 1 package (about 11.5g) of dry yeast. US-05, US-04, Nottingham, or Coopers are all fine. I like US-05 (American Ale) best for this because it’s clean and flocculates (again, very basically, settles) out nicely so you get a slightly higher yield. This package will actually do you for three batches, so if you’re stocking up on this trip feel free to buy more of the other ingredients.

– When bottling you’ll need to add some sugar. The corn sugar (dextrose) sold at homebrew shops is great for this, but you can also use table sugar if you want to keep the investment in stuff down.

That’s it! You’ve got everything you need to make beer. Hopefully, outside of the jug and the old bottles, the only new investments you’ve had to make are for what should be about $10 of ingredients (the hops might be $4-$5, the malt about $4, the yeast about $3) and the $3 bung-airlock and some sanitizing power which will be used in a couple of batches. Once set up with this stuff you should be able to turn over a 6-pack of tasty beer using this recipe for less than $10.

How to do it. (You need about 3 hours free, but most of that time isn’t active.)

The Mash.

Bring 2.5L of water (filtered though a carbon filter like a Brita is best) to 158F (70C) in a pot that can hold about 5L of water . Pour the 2 lbs of milled pale malt into the heated water and stir to make sure there are no clumps of grain. This should bring the temperature down to 148F (64.5C). If you’re over that temperature, don’t worry, it will come down. If you’re under that temperate, use a little low heat to warm it up. Let this stand, holding the temperature as close to 148F (64.5C) as possible for 60 minutes. Cover with a lid to keep the heat as consistent as possible. During the last 10 minutes turn the heat back on and slowly heat up to 170F (76.5C).

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The Sparge.

While you’re waiting for the mash to complete you’ll need to heat up more water, the sparge water. It works best if you start heating this up in the last 20 minutes of the mash. Heat 5L of water to 168F (75.5C) in another pot. This can be done in multiple pots, or even your kettle, if needed and make sure to keep your largest pot of the three free for the next step.

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In this beer we’re using a fly sparge method to pull the last sugars off of the grain. Here is how it goes: once your mash is done (after the 60 minutes of the mash) put your strainer over your largest stock pot and pour the entire contents of the mash (the grain and the water) though it. This will allow you to collect the wort without the grain. If your strainer has very large holes, use a little cheesecloth lining to prevent the grain from going through. Let the grain drip while you get your pot of sparge water – the 168F (75.5C) water from the other pot –  ready. Slowly use your ladle to pour the sparge water over the grain in the strainer. Once you get sick of slowly doing this, just pour the last bit of water, as slowly as you can, over the grain, as pictured above.

The Boil.

At this point you can remove the strainer full of grain to reveal a pot full of wort ready to boil. Put this on the stove and bring it to a full, rolling boil. You want this to boil for 90 minutes, during which you’ll be adding hops at different points. If your pot is near its brim, be really careful of the wort boiling over when it first starts coming to a boil. Stirring and reducing the heat can help prevent this. Make sure to keep an eye on it during this stage more than at any other point. Start timing the boil when it has calmed down and is at a firm, steady boil. Do not cover, we want evaporation in this stage.

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Here is the hopping schedule. Each addition is listed in minutes left in the boil, so the first addition is at 60 minutes, which is 30 minutes into your 90 minute boil.

5g at 60 minutes, 5g at 30 minutes, 5g at 15 minutes, 5g at 10 minutes, 5g at 5 minutes.

If you do not have a scale, you can divide your pack of hop pellets by eye. If you have a 1 oz package you need to divide it roughly into these five equal hop charges. If in doubt, use slightly more at the 10 and 5 minute marks than at the 60 minute mark.

If using higher alpha hops (above 10%), lower the 60, 30, and 15 additions to 3g and increase the 5 minute addition to 11g. This will prevent too much bitterness, but feel free to explore bitterness using higher alpha hops in the original hopping regime. Amarillo is a fun one to try as a first higher-alpha hop.

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When the boil is complete move your pot into your sink (carefully!) and pour cold water around it. The goal here is to cool the wort as fast as possible without getting any water into the pot. Using ice helps. Once your water/ice bath is setup for the pot, add another 16g of your hop; a little more than half of another 1oz package. Seal the rest of the hops as tight as possible in the package and put in your freezer – you’ll need them again in a few days for dry hopping your beer.

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While this is cooling it is also a good time to sanitize your equipment. If using the pink chlorine power, follow the instructions to mix enough liquid to sanitize your glass jug, the bung and airlock, and your funnel. Make sure to rinse these unless you are using a no-rinse product like Star-San.

When your wort has cooled to 20C (if you want to take a measurement with your thermometer, make sure you also sanitize it in your solution), carefully pour it though the funnel into your jug. Leave the thick hop/starch matter at the bottom of your pot; cooling your wort has caused this to drop out and you really don’t need it anymore. If your volume is a little low, you can add a little filtered water, though unless your boil was particularly intense, you shouldn’t need too. There should be some extra space in your bottle (see picture) to allow for the yeast activity which is about to happen. If this is your first attempt, less volume is good because you don’t yet have a feel for how much yeast activity your jug will show. Once you get an idea of how active yeast is, you can start testing your luck with more volume!

Before adding the yeast, its important to provide some oxygen to your wort by shaking the jug. Usually a swirling motion or tilting the jug back and forth on a dry towel (to prevent cracking your jug against the counter) will do the job. Give it about three minutes of this aeration. It should foam up a little during this shaking.

Now, add the dry yeast. You need about a third of the package you bought. You can rehydrate this prior to use, but it’s not necessary so I’m skipping that step here. If you want to, just follow any instructions on the package. Seal the rest of the yeast tightly in the package and refrigerate (don’t freeze). This yeast should be viable for another two batches if used within a couple of months. If much older than three months, discard it. (For those used to homebrewing larger batches, this is a great place to use washed yeast from other batches. Just make a small starter and pitch.)

Once the yeast is in, pop on your sanitized bung and airlock (you should have some water in your airlock for it to work). You’re done! Ideally, the wort should be kept in a dark place which is between 18C-20C. If it’s too cold, try placing a towel or dark t-shirt over the jug and moving to a warmer room. If it’s too warm, a damp towel will help cool down the jug. Really, putting you jug in a room temperature room and keeping it away from too much light will work perfectly almost all of the time.

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Note the krausen and the volume in the jug. This is a pretty typical amount of krausen and about the right volume to try to fit in the jug.

After about a day you should see some activity. A krausen – a foamy yeast layer – should form on top of your beer and your airlock should be bubbling. If the krausen is foaming -through- your airlock you need to find and sterilize a length of tubing (from a homebrew shop, most likely) which will fit in your bung in place of the airlock. Put the other end of the tube into a bottle of water to allow for venting of the krausen without letting air enter your jug. Unless you were really adventurous with your volume, you shouldn’t need to do this. Be conservative on your first attempt.

Four to five days into the fermentation, once the krausen has dropped and the air lock bubbling has slowed, it’s time to add your dry hops. Carefully pour the rest of the hops (about 10g) into your jug and then replace the airlock. You might see some more activity after this addition, that’s just the hops dissolving and not likely any new fermentation.

One week into fermentation this beer is pretty much done, but still very young. Since we are bottle conditioning, it will have some time to age, mellow those hops which might be a little grassy right now, and carbonate. Again, sanitize your bottles following your sanitizing power’s instructions and also sanitize your funnel again. Ideally, you funnel will fit within the mouth of your bottles.

To prime the bottles, boil half a cup of water with 25g (about two tablespoons) of corn sugar (or just table sugar). Cool the syrup in an ice bath and then pour this, in equal amounts, into the bottles using your funnel. You’ll have to do the math to figure out how many bottles to prime depending on the size of your bottles. I usually get 4 large, 750ml flip-top bottles from one batch. Some volume is lost to the trub – the green junk – at the bottom of your jug.

This is a tricky part. If your planning on trying this more than once or twice, it might be worth investing in a mini auto syphon, but for now we’re just going to be careful and pour it into the bottles. Remove your airlock and, as carefully as possible and trying not to disturb the sediment at the bottom, pour the beer into the bottles. If using standard bottles you’ll need some caps (sanitize these too) and a capper (a $20 investment for the red, Emily-style capper), if using flip tops, just flip them closed and put them away.

Place these bottles in a cool, dark place and let them condition for three weeks. Before serving, chill in the fridge for at least a day to let the sediment firm to the bottom of the bottle. There will be sediment, so don’t pour the bottoms of the beer into the glass.

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That’s it! Hopefully it tastes hoppy and refreshing. The malt should be pretty clean tasting and the hop should be fairly bright. I’ve always found these beers to be very clear and bright. If you try this method, let me know. I’ve had some great beers come out from this process, so I hope you do too!

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