I’ve tried homebrewing in the past with varying results. Mostly bad ones. Rather than botch another batch, I’m taking it to the masters, seeking out professional brewers and accomplished amateurs alike to help me hone my skills.
I’m really passionate about three things: coffee, beer, and food. Music and sex are okay, too. When you get the opportunity to do something that involves combining two of your greatest passions, you jump at it. And no, I’m not talking about food fetishes. I’m talking about coffee beers. For my first homebrew experiment, I had the extreme privilege of teaming up with Intuition Ale Works’ experimental brewer, Nathan Fulton, to collaborate on a set of coffee beers that will be available exclusively at BREW Five Points during Jax Beer Week.
PART II – Brew Day
With the general idea for our homebrew experiment fairly well laid out, Nathan plugged the parameters into a computer program of his own design that takes the desired outcome and reverse engineers it into a recipe. Clearly having an engineer with a passion for brewing on your team has its perks! The forms his program spits out are impressively technical documents breaking down every aspect of the brews from what kind of yeast we’ll use to the expected ABV to the grain bill (the specific malts and specialty grains used in the wort). I have to admit I’m a bit tickled to see the names of my former instructors from the Siebel Institute represented on the form. Both Randy Mosher and Ray Daniels have written some of the most referenced books on homebrewing and together teach a Master of Beer Styles course to aspiring brewers and beer professionals. They’ve independently devised formulas that take inputs from a recipe to predict what the final color of the beer will be identified in SRM units (although there is considerable variance between their numbers). This, along with the other values provide just enough information to give a clearer picture of what we’ll be brewing, even for a novice such as myself.
The smell of beer brewing is unmistakable. Well, it could be mistaken for something that smells like cooked oatmeal or some other hot cereal but you know what I mean. When I arrive at Intuition, that smell is thick in the air as the brewers have already been at it for a few hours. Nathan arrives shortly thereafter with some specialty grains and hops he picked up on the way from Just Brew It and we get right into it.
We start with the blonde as it is the lighter of the two beers. That way we don’t have to be as thorough rinsing out the mash tun between brews. The malt bill consists of primarily 2-row pale malt with some wheat added in for body. We combine this grain with hot water for what is known as the mashing process which uses the temperature of the water (or liquor as it’s referred to in the brewing world) to activate enzymes that break down the starch in the grain into fermentable sugars that will later be converted into alcohol. This resulting concoction is called wort and is quite sweet to the taste.
Most beginner homebrewers skip the mashing process by purchasing malt extract and diving straight into the boil but we are going all grain for these beers. When you’re brewing at home you have to heat a few gallons of water on the stove or a propane burner to the right temperature before adding it the mash tun but at the brewery you have the luxury of a hot liquor tank that provides a constant supply of 160-170 degree water on demand.
Our mash tun is the typical 5-gallon Igloo water cooler with a false bottom that consists of a metal screen and a spigot to filter out the grain from the wort. We start by adding about 3 gallons or so to the cooler, slowly stirring in the grain. The stirring step is actually quite important in preventing what amounts to the formation of dough balls as the grain clumps together. Not only would this prevent some starch-conversion that would weaken the beer, it can also result in a stuck mash that refuses to drain off. The mash is left for an hour or so before the next step – sparging.
Sparging is the act of draining the wort from the grain and then rinsing with more hot liquor to extract all the fermentable sugars. About 3-4 additional gallons of water are added, some of which will evaporate off during the boil. The wort is drained directly into the kettle which amounts to a 7 gallon pot set over a propane burner that is already lit so as to speed up the boiling process.
Once all the wort has drained we are left with about 6 gallons in the kettle. If you’ve ever boiled a pot of pasta you’ve experienced that moment when the pot foams up out of control until you lower the temperature. In brewing this is called the hot break and occurs as proteins in the wort begin to coagulate and precipitate out of the solution. With six gallons of liquid in a seven gallon pot, it is extremely important to keep a close eye on the boil in order to prevent a boil over. Like hawks we watch, patiently waiting for the break and once it’s been tamed and a steady rolling boil has been achieved, the clock starts. Normally you would add your first dose of bittering hops at this point but since we are brewing a lighter, golden ale, Nathan goes the hop bursting route, adding a greater amount of hops at the end to give the beer more intense hop flavor and aroma with less overall bitterness. Our first addition of Mosaic hops doesn’t occur until 45 minutes into the boil followed by another addition right at the end which brewers refer to as the flameout.
With the brewing portion complete, the liquid must be cooled down to 60-70 degrees before adding the yeast. To expedite the process we use a wort chiller which acts as a heat exchange, circulating water through a copper coil that has been submerged in the kettle. As water passes through the coil it absorbs heat from the hot wort and cools it down. It takes quite a while to get down to 90 degrees or so at which point we transfer the wort to soda kegs to cool the rest of the way. Normally you’d want to pitch your yeast as soon as possible to prevent oxidation but again we are fortunate to have a brewery’s tools at our disposal and a blanket of CO2 is injected into the keg to protect the wort from the air. Nathan will come the next day to pitch the yeast once the wort is properly cooled. Both of our beers will use White Labs California Ale Yeast, a commonly used strain known for its versatility and clean balance that allows the hops to really shine.
Meanwhile we’ve already begun the next brew. This time, in addition to the typical 2 row malt, we use some darker caramel malt for deeper color with quite a bit of rye in the mix to give it a more complex flavor. The brewing process is basically identical but we are extra careful in preventing a stuck mash considering the abundance of rye. Rye has a high protein content and lacks a natural filter in the form of a hull so it tends to gum up more than barley malt. But all is well as the wort drains a considerably darker than the pale golden we brewed earlier, appearing a deep, almost brownish-red. We use Amarillo hops for the amber rye which should produce a more citrusy, tropical aroma than the fruity Mosaic hops.
And that’s it! For now anyway. With both beers successfully brewed they are left to cool until the yeast can be added and left to do its magic of converting the fermentable sugars into alcohol and CO2, finally becoming beer.
Don’t forget, these beers and more will be available only at BREW Five Points during GET JACKED: The Ultimate Coffee Beer Collaboration on September 20th!