Finally took the plunge and kicked off my first home brew project. It was quite straight forward actually. I guess the fact that DIY beer kits are sold signify that it is fairly fail-proof. I followed the instructions that came with the beer kit and it went fine, mostly.
I chose the Coopers European Lager as my first brew as I really like to see if i can make the easy-drinking light blonde type of beer. Lager beer is different from other types of beer in that it is supposed to be brewed at low temperatures – 21 degrees as recommended in the instructions but 14 degrees in many forum postings. I settled for 18 degrees as my brewing temperature, so that the fermentation wouldn’t be too slow, while at the same I do believe that lower temperatures will yield better results.
The instructions implies that you mix the malt extract (the can of beer kit) and sugar (the brew enhancer) in your fermentation bucket, using 2 litres of boiling water. I did so. The mistake i made was not having cold water ready – 20 litres of it that was to be topped up into the fermentation bucket once the malt extract and sugar are properly dissolved. I was filling it up litre by litre from my water filter, and it may have taken too long. 20 minutes is the recommended maximum duration during which the wort (the entire mixture) would be stable. Also, the longer it takes, the higher the risk of contamination. On hindsight, i should have pre-filled sanitized bottles with cold water to be poured into the fermentation bucket quickly.
Another mistake i made was underestimating the amount of cooling needed to bring the overall temperature down to 21-27 degrees, which is the optimal temperature for pitching yeast. I assumed that soaking the fermentation bucket (my fermentation bucket is stainless steel rather than plastic) in a bath containing 2 ice blocks would do the trick. It didn’t! After topping up 20 litres of room temperature water (which is 32 degrees in Singapore), the overall temperature was 32 degrees! I panicked! For the final litre to be poured into the fermentation bucket, i added a little bit of ice, which i doubt was helpful. The instructions does say that it is ok to pitch the yeast at 32 degrees, so i went ahead anyway. Immediately after sealing the fermentation bucket, i placed it in the chest freezer which was set at 18 degrees. That probably helped in bringing down the temperature quickly, and i hope that would have negated, to some extend, the ill effects of pitching the yeast beyond the optimal range of 21-27. Anyway, i’m certain that, safe for contamination happening, i will at least arrive at a marginally drinkable beer.
On the first two days of fermentation, nothing happened, and i panicked a little again. The instructions suggests activity (bubbling) happening within a day. Since my fermentation is at 18 degrees instead of 21, i expected it could take longer. A forum posting suggested that it will happen after 2 days. Thankfully it did. This is the easy part of beer brewing – just waiting for the yeast to do its stuff. Stay tuned for updates in 3 weeks’ time when i do bottling!