Starting my own homebrewery was born more out not having the ability to get some of favorite beers here in Missouri. Back in 2008, many of the breweries out West weren't yet distributing here in the Midwest. So the only way to get some of my favorite beers was to make them on my own. Voila! The Potomac Brewery Company was born in August of 2008.
Over the years, I've learned TONS about the ingredients and methods that go into brewing great beer at home. A lot of what I learned came from discussions from other brewers and making a lot of mistakes along the way. But with probably 75 plus batches under my belt, I've been able to get fine tune my process and incorporate consistency in my beers. Below is a little about the different types of brewing, my equipment, what goes into my brew day. Everything from prepping for the batch, to ingredients, to packaging, and finally...getting to enjoy my beer!
The first real step in the brewing process is the soaking of the milled grains in hot water, a process known as "mashing". During the mash, the starches in the grain are converted into fermentable sugars. Starch conversion require for maxium fermentability takes place between 148° and 158°. A lower mash temperature, say between 148 and 152 will produce a thinner, drier beer whereas as a higher mash temperature, say between 152°-158° will produce a sweeter, heavier beer. This is where the homebrewer can really customize the "mouthfeel" in their beer.
The mashing process on average takes about 60 minutes for starches to be fully converted to fermentable sugars. Once your mash has been completed, it's time to rinse the grains of all those sugars...a process known as sparging. After you've drawn the initial runnings of wort into your kettle, simply add a determined amount of 180 degree water slowly on top the grains and let it sit for 10 minutes. Waiting for 10 minutes will allow the grain bed to set up so it can act almost like a filter for the wort that will soon be drained off. You then repeat this process until you've collected your pre-determined amount of wort.
Once you've collected your wort, you're ready to boil!
The boil stage of brewing beer is usually pretty straight-forward. If you can follow directions and pay attention, you'll be good to go. But while it might be the easiest part of the process for us brewers, the boil is where many important processes take place to produce good beer. The two main reasons for the boil are hop solubilization and isomerization, and to sterilze the wort. When hops are added to the wort, the alpha acids in the hops are isomerized resulting in the bitter flavors that the hops provide. Depending on when the hops are added to the boil will also determine the amount of bitterness, flavor, and aroma in the finished beer. Boiling your wort also will sterilize the wort freeing it of any bacterial contaminants. Finally, boiling the wort will also condense the wort down about 10% through evaporation. This will increase the original gravity of your wort.
Fermentation is far and away the most critical step in the brewing process. A lot can go right and a lot can go wrong! Before I pitch the yeast, I take a hydrometer reading and take note of the original gravity. The OG reading measures the amount of density of the wort. I use this reading and another post-fermentation reading to determine not only the alcohol content of my beer, but I can also tell when my beer is done fermenting. Fermentation is the process of the yeast consuming the sugars in the wort. The two by-products of fermentation are carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Once the yeast has been pitched, I seal the fermenter and attach the blow off tube. The other end of my blow off tune will be submerged in a growler filled with sanitized water. This will allow CO2 and foam escape without contaminating the fermenting beer.
I place the fermenter in a cool dark place. If I'm fermenting an ale, my basement floor which ranges from 64°-68° degrees is ideal. If I'm brewing a lager, I place the fermenter in my chest freezer and set the temp at 48°-50°. Then....I wait and watch!