Brew Day: Step by Step

 

The best way to learn how to use The Electric Brewery is to walk through a typical brew day, so let's brew something!

We'll make a simple 5% ABV Blonde Ale, enough to fill two 5-gallon Corney kegs.

This beer is one of our house favourites. It's a big hit with everyone who tries it as there's enough malt and hop flavour to keep the beer snobs happy (we don't use any corn or rice), but it's still light enough to not scare away the Bud/Miller/Coors drinkers. It's a beer that just about anyone who likes beer can enjoy.

It's a very simple recipe with one type of malt and one type of hop. Far too many brewers tend to over-complicate recipes. Sometimes simpler is better!

The trick is choosing good quality fresh ingredients such as the German Weyermann Pilsner Malt and Hallertau noble hops that we use here.

Here's our recipe:

Blonde Ale

Batch Size: 12.0 gallons (post-boil at 68F)
Efficiency: 95% (how well our system converts grain starches to sugars according to our software)
Attenuation: 80% (percentage of sugar converted to alcohol by our yeast)
Original Gravity: 1.048 (before fermentation)
Final Gravity: 1.010 (after fermentation)
Color: 3.07 SRM (very light)
Alcohol: 5.08% ABV
Bitterness: 19.0 IBU (not very bitter)

Ingredients:
18 lbs Weyermann Pilsner Malt 
(Buy at: Amazon, MoreBeer, HighGravity, AiHOBK)
2.7 oz Hallertau Hops (4.5%) - added during boil, boiled 60.0 min  (Buy at: Amazon, MoreBeer, HighGravity, AiH, OBK)
1 Whirlfloc Tablet (clarifier) - added during boil, boiled 15.0 min 
(Buy at: Amazon, MoreBeer, HighGravity, AiH,  OBK)
24 g Fermentis Safale US-05 dry yeast  (Buy at: Amazon, MoreBeer, HighGravity, AiH, OBK)

Notes:
Use 1.5 quarts of water per pound of grain for mash thickness.
Mash at 149F for 90 minutes (single infusion mash).
Raise mash to 168F (mash-out).
Rinse grain slowly for 60-90 minutes collecting 14.9 gallons (fly sparge).
Boil for 90 minutes adding hops and clarifier per schedule. Final volume is 12 gallons.
Chill to 68F.

Ferment at 68F.

If you prefer to use liquid yeast, either of these is an excellent choice as they are the same clean fermenting Chico strain as US-05:

Wyeast 1056 American Ale (Buy at: Amazon, MoreBeer, HighGravity, AiH,  OBK)
White Labs WLP-001 California Ale (Buy at: Amazon, MoreBeer, HighGravity, AiH,
OBK)

You'll need to use 4 packs/vials or make an appropriate starter. For more information see Chapter 6 of How to Brew and Appendix A of Brewing Classic Styles.

Variations:
If you have the means to ferment at lower temperatures, consider making a Premium Lager instead of a Blonde Ale. To do this, ferment at a colder 52F temperature and replace the ale yeast with twice as much lager yeast. The following yeasts would be suitable:

48 g of Fermentis Saflager W-34/70 dry lager yeast (Buy at: Amazon, MoreBeer, HighGravity, AiH,  OBK)
8 packs Wyeast 2007 Pilsnen Lager (Buy at: Amazon, MoreBeer, HighGravity, AiH,  OBK) 
8 vials White Labs WLP-840 American Lager (Buy at: Amazon, MoreBeer, HighGravity, AiH,  OBK)

The Premium Lager will be very similar but will not have the slightly fruity/estery notes typical of most ales. Lagers tend to be cleaner tasting with less yeast-derived character. Curious about the differences? Split the batch of beer and ferment half as a lager at 52F, and half as an ale at 68F.

Want to brew something different instead? See our recipes section.

So why are we making 12 gallons of wort if we only want 10 gallons of beer? This is to compensate for the normal brew house losses that occur throughout the brewing process. Some of the wort will get left behind in pumps and hoses, some in the boil kettle with the hops and hot break material, and some will be lost to cold break after chilling and to sediment in later fermentation stages. Losses have also been known to occur due to excessive sampling at kegging time. ;)

Different beers will have different losses too: The hoppier the beer, the more you'll tend to lose as hops soak up wort. Our beer here with less than 3 oz of hops will not lose much. Make an aggressively-hopped Imperial IPA with over ten times the amount of hops like Pliny the Elder or Pliny the Younger (some of our favourites), and you could easily lose half a gallon simply to hop absorption. Many hoppy beers are also dry hopped (hops are added after fermentation is complete) which also soaks up additional beer.

Most recipes you'll find online and in books always talk about making 5 gallons of wort which can result in as little as 4 gallons getting into the keg at the end of the process. Who wants a keg that starts off only 80% full? One book that does get this right is our favourite recipe book: Brewing Classic Styles. Their recipes start with 7 gallons pre-boil which typically results in 6 gallons post boil, 5.5 gallons getting into the fermenter, and a final 5 gallons going into the bottles or keg.

Making approximately 10-20% more wort ensures that we'll be able to completely fill those two 5-gallon Corney kegs at the end of the process. While it's not hard to scale recipes up or down based on volume size (modifications must be done anyways as different systems and processes all have different efficiencies), it still surprises us that most recipes always talk about producing 5 gallons of wort instead of 5 gallons of beer.

The easiest way to modify or create a recipe is to use brewing software. After brewing you enter the original gravity and amount of grain used and the software will then tell you the efficiency you achieved. This can then be used for subsequent brews so that you know exactly what to expect. If you've built a setup like ours using the exact same parts you can assume an 85-95% efficiency to start (we recommend assuming a value at the lower end of this scale for your first brews). Tweak from there as you brew more often and get a feel for your setup. The higher the efficiency, the better the system is at converting grain starches to sugars, which means less grain is required. For more information on efficiency, see our FAQ.

We've used various brewing software over the years. None of them are perfect, but the one we like and use now is Beer Tools Pro. We find it very useful for recipe creation as it has a very in-depth ingredients database (grain, hops, yeast, etc.) and also keeps track of the ingredients we have on hand (inventory management). To create a recipe we simply drag and drop items into place and enter the amounts. The software continuously calculates the beer gravity, colour, alcohol, and bitterness levels. Beer Tools Pro also allows you to select a beer 'style' (per the BJCP style guidelines) so that you can quickly assess where your recipe falls within these guidelines.

Some notes on sampling: A good chef always samples when preparing a recipe for the first time, from the fresh ingredients to the finished product. This helps them better monitor and understand how the food is changing throughout the cooking process. Making beer is no different. You should be tasting and smelling throughout the process. Take a few raw grains and chew on them when you create recipes. What do they taste like? Bread? Caramel? Burnt? Rub some hops between your fingers. How do they smell? Floral? Citrusy? Earthy? Taste the wort during the various steps while you brew. Is it starchy? Sweet? Astringent? Taste the beer during the various stages of fermentation and aging. Note how it changes over time. Our senses are an important tool that should be used when brewing beer. Don't only rely on the numbers provided by your brewing equipment. Numbers only tell part of the story.

Keep in mind as well that everyone approaches brewing slightly differently. There are many 'right' ways to make beer. The instructions that follow are how we use our Electric Brewery. Use these as a starting point and tailor as needed. The system is flexible enough to meet the needs of just about every brewer, from beginner to seasoned professional.

We will be using many additional parts and tools during our brew day. For a complete list, including why we chose them and where to get them, refer to our Using Your Brewery 'Parts List' article.

Before using your control panel and temperature probes for the first time, ensure that they have been calibrated together and that you have performed auto-tuning on your brewing setup.  

Our Blonde Ale recipe entered into Beer Tools Pro:

Weyermann Organic Pilsner Malt ready to be turned into beer.