Our Time-Lapsed "Pilot Brewing Process"

Here is what I'm calling my "Pilot Brewing Process", which is known to most as "home brewing".  I think my title sounds more professional. I used time-lapse video and a little bit of amateur editing to compress what is normally about a 5 hour process into 7 minutes.

For those of you unfamiliar with the brewing process, follow along below for the 7 steps to how I brew my beer.  While the equipment is due to get much larger, the steps will still remain the same: weighing/conditioning grain, milling, mashing, vorlauf/sparging, boil/hops addition, wort chilling/transfer to fermenter, and pitching yeast/airlock.

Step 1 - Weighing & Conditioning Grain 

 Each beer recipe has a specific grain bill, which is made up of a base malt (in this case American 2-row pale malt) and a variety of specialty malts. The first step is to weigh the correct amount of each out per the recipe. Once the grain has been weighed out, I condition the grain. "Conditioning" is just a fancy way of saying "adding water to" here... I add 2% water (by weight) using a spray bottle. This helps avoid shredding the husks of the malted barley during the milling process, and can increase mash efficiency.

Step 2 - Milling 

What you're seeing in the video is a mounted 2-roller malt mill that sits on top of a bucket. Some people like to have their grain pre-milled, but this is a step that I prefer to do myself. By milling my own grain, I can set the gap spacing of the mill and have more control over my crush. The milling process should crack open the husk of the malted barley without shredding it.  The perfect crush is fine, but not so fine that the husks are destroyed. The husks aid the sparging process, and shredded husks can mean a stuck sparge (and can even create off flavors in the beer).

Step 3 - Mashing 

Once the grains have been crushed, it's time to mash. Mashing is adding hot water to the crushed grain in a mash tun to extract sugars the yeast need for fermentation. Mash temperature is very important for the fermentability (is that a word? I don't care, close enough) of the wort, amongst other things. Without going into too much detail I'll tell you that for this style of beer (an IPA) , I think that 152 °F is a good target mash temperature.  The mash lasts about an hour.

Step 4 - Vorlauf & Sparging 

When the mash is complete, it's time to sparge, or rinse the grain. To do this, I first vorlauf. While I don't know exactly where the ridiculous word "vorlauf" came from, I can tell you a little about what it is. Basically, vourlaufing is taking a quart or two from the bottom of the mash tun and circulating it back to the top of the grain bed. This helps to clarify the wort going to the brew kettle, and it also aids in establishing the grain bed as a filter for sparging.

Vorlauf complete, the next step is to rinse the grain to get as much fermentable sugar out of the grain as possible. I do what is called a "fly sparge" - I slowly let hot water flow to the top of the grain bed in the mash tun via a sparge arm, while letting wort out of the bottom of the tun into the brew kettle (slowly as well).  The sparge process takes about 45 minutes.

Step 5 -  Boil & Hops Addition 

Once I have collected the runoff from the mash tun (wort) in the brew kettle, it's time to boil. Boiling the wort sanitizes it amongst many other things. The boil also releases DMS (dimethyl sulfide), which can cause off flavors in the beer.  It is during the boil that hops are added.  The hops provide bitterness to the beer, which balances the sweetness of the wort.  The type and amount of hops that are selected have a major impact on the bitterness and flavor of the finished beer.

Step 6 - Chill Wort & Transfer to Primary Fermenter 

When the boil is complete, the wort must be chilled to near its' fermentation temperature.  I use an immersion chiller, which is a copper coil with water running through it that I put in the brew kettle to cool it down.  There are many methods to cooling the wort, this one just happens to be mine.  I have to be careful from here on out - once the boil stops, everything that touches the wort must be sanitized or infection could take over and will result in nasty beer.  That's right, nasty enough that I wouldn't even drink it... 

Once the wort is chilled, I transfer it to the primary fermenter. The bubbles that you see in the fermenter are from the sanitizing solution, and are odorless/tasteless. Strange as it may seem, the sanitizer I use (Star San, if you're interested) is actually not intended to be rinsed out after use, and it has no effect on the flavor of the finished beer. The wort chilling and transfer takes 30-60 minutes, mostly depending on the temperature of the tap water I'm using in the wort chiller (takes much longer in the summer).

Step 7 - Pitch Yeast & Airlock 

Finally, we're ready to pitch the yeast.  Now that we have cooled wort, which contains fermantable sugars, we can pitch the yeast and let it begin turning those sugars into alcohol. With the yeast and wort combined, this mess can finally be called beer! To keep bacteria and other sources of infection out, I put an airlock on the top of the fermenter. This works as a sort of one-way valve to let CO2 produced by the yeast out without letting anything else in.

That's it! I tried to keep the description fairly simple to keep the post as sort as possible... But feel free to comment and ask questions if you want to know more!

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