My Brewing System and Process

Everyone brews differently. Everyone has little things they could do better and little tricks that other people haven’t seen before. The best way to learn about these, I’ve found, is actually just watching someone else brew. But since that’s sometime hard, here is a quick walk through of how I brew my beer in my apartment. Let me know if you see anything interesting or anything I could be doing better!

IMG_1830First, I brew in this small apartment kitchen in Toronto. This is what the kitchen looks like both before and after a brewday. Most of brewing is cleaning, so starting with a clean kitchen is key.

IMG_1829I design my beers in Beer Smith, but I sanity check them by hand writing them into my logbook and printing them out and walking through the brew.

IMG_1831This is the sink we’re working with. It doesn’t fit the boil kettle or the mash tun.

IMG_1833But by adding this hose barb, we have a great hose for cleaning and can connect the immersion chiller later on. It also give us the right size adapter to get my water filter on for collecting the strike water.

IMG_1834I collect all the strike water using this 3L jug from a Brita filter. I generally collect all the strike water and sparge water before the brewing starts. That way I can put the filter away and use the hose for rinsing things off.

IMG_1835I generally record the starting PH using this meter. It’s not great, but it gets the ballpark number. I adjust down with acidulated malt if need be.

IMG_1836My mash tun is an old Ontario Beer Kegs model with a bazooka screen. The temp probe was too high for my smaller mash size (I do ~15L batches), so I removed it.

IMG_1837While a use a thermapen for most measurements, having a probe with a temperature alert thermometer is really useful for letting you know when you are near strike temp or sparge temp.

IMG_1838I keep a scoop in my sacks of malt (this is Weyermann Pilsner) and scoop it out into a bowl for measuring before milling.

IMG_1839I also have a large bin of other malts. I try to plan a few months ahead when buying so I don’t have too many older grains.

IMG_1840The unmilled grain is ran through a OBKrusher using my drill.

IMG_1841It ends up something like this. This picture makes it look like there are un-cracked kernels, but those actually break apart when you pick them up.

IMG_1842By the time milling is done, my strike water is nearly heated on my electric stove.

IMG_1843This is the boil kettle – I should have invested in a second OBK pot – which also doubles as the hot liquor tank to heat the sparge water.

IMG_1845The mash in the mash tun. We hit our stike and mash temperatures. The nice thing about brewing on an electric stove is that it’s easy to keep the temperature by keeping the stove on low. Though, to be honest, I don’t often lose that much heat.

IMG_1848The hot liquor tank fits across two small burners to heat up.

IMG_1851While the mash is going, I get some bottling underway. I always measure out volumes on my better bottles before using them.

IMG_1832IMG_1852I’ve got two misc boxes of stuff for brewing. Pretty much everything I’ve ever needed is in these boxes!

IMG_1855Just a side note since I was bottling. I keep a mixture of Oxiclean in this really, really old bucket. When I’m done drinking a homebrew bottle I just put it in the bucket. Once the bucket is full, I rinse them out and put them all away clean. That way they just need to be sanitized on bottling day.

IMG_1849Anyway, this is the kitchen normally when mashing. Pretty neat.

IMG_1859My sparge setup leaves something to be desired in terms of how good it looks, but it works!

IMG_1860I fill a spigot-ed bucket with my sparge water from the big hot liquor tank. I run that into a colander with some tinfoil to block the bottom holes (to get an even drip). That runs on top of the mash.

IMG_1861IMG_1862After vorlof, the wort is run into the kettle using this silicon hose. Looks pretty clear! I try to run this off pretty slowly and use the valve on the pot and the spigot on the bucket to control the rate. Two vessel brewing with gravity on a kitchen counter/chair/floor setup. It works!

IMG_1865I try to keep about an inch of clear water evenly over the grain bed when sparging.

IMG_1867And I check the volume collected using this old spoon I’ve marked off with rough volume measurements. Just over 20L!

IMG_1869Pre-boil we’re reading about 11 brix on the refractometer. We’re targeting just over 15 for this brew.

IMG_1871The pot is now perched over the large burner and the smaller back burner. With both of those on max, it takes about half an hour to get to boil.

IMG_1873It looks really nice on the way.

IMG_1874The first signs of a boil. I generally set the timer for 90 minutes at this point. My boil is not super vigorous, so I use 90 minutes for everything.

IMG_1875While waiting for the boil I drain the tun and let it cool in the sink.

IMG_1876More active boiling.

IMG_1878I buy a brand of garbage bags that fit perfectly over the tun, so clean up is just flipping the thing upside down and washing it out with the sink-hose.

IMG_1879I keep a pretty good stock of hops in the freezer.

IMG_1880For this we are using some German Tettnang.

IMG_1881Hop bits!

IMG_1886  IMG_1884 IMG_1883 IMG_1882This beer is using Candi sugar. At 15 minutes I generally add the Campden tablets, yeast nutrient and Irish moss as a slurry.

IMG_1888I also add the (clean) wort chiller with 15 minutes left. Transferring the kettle from the stove to the counter beside the sink is the worst part of the brewday. It’s just a 180 degree rotation, but it would be nicer if I got longer leads to let me leave the pot in place while cooling.

IMG_1889About 1.060 OG, which is about what we want for this beer. A touch low.

IMG_1892I use this wacky wine degasser which attaches to a drill to aerate the wort. I’ve not seen many people use them, but it seems to whip a lot of air into the beer. It’s a little easier than shaking.

IMG_1891In action!

IMG_1893A nicely whipped up beer ready for yeast!

IMG_1894I prepare a 1L starter usually. Generally 24 hours on the stir plate before pitching.

My actual fermentation temperature control is the most wanting part of my setup. I have to brew with the seasons, so in the summer I mostly brew saisons and I leave the bigger things for the winter. I’ve got a laundry tub of water I keep the carboy in and frozen water bottles I can put in to lower the temperature. I generally ferment a little on the warm side (~20C), so using this can usually hold the temperature near that number. Lagers are not possible, but I can do things with Belgian yeasts and some English and American strains without any issue. It’s really about knowing what you’re setup is capable of and working with it rather than trying to buy your way to perfection. A little limitation can drive  creativity.

IMG_1854

I bottle condition all my beers. I’ve got about 100 bombers (650 mL, 500 mL) and another 100 or so 330 mL bottles. I just use a bucket, add priming sugar in bulk and just use a spigot with a bottle filling attachment to fill them up. Nothing unique about the bottling side of things! They all stack neatly in a closet, half of which is dedicated to brewing stuff. While our apartment is small, it’s pretty compact!

That’s the whole process! Interested in opinions or thoughts, as, like everything, it’s a work in progress!

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