Homebrewing is on the rise, and for good reason: once you have the equipment and a basic understanding of the process, brewing beer is pretty simple—even Obama is doing it! Plus, after all the rinsing and sanitation is over, you've gained a bounty of freshly bottled beer and an enchanting ability to make new friends (if you're the sharing kind). Interested in taking up the craft? This post will guide you through the basics of homebrewing a Smoked Molasses Porter. Bring on the summer brewskies!
What You’ll Need:
- 5 gallon pot
- Bottling bucket
- Fermentation bucket or glass carboy (carboys are more expensive, but will last longer)
- Clamp for the tubing
- False Bottom
- Glass beer bottles (collect bottles from craft brews you’ve recently enjoyed, just make sure they are not twist-off)
- Caps for the bottles
- Bottling wand
- Iodophor (for sanitizing: You must sanitize everything your beer is going to touch. This includes tubing, bottling bucket, bottles, caps, siphon…everything)
If you don’t have a local homebrewing store like San Francisco’s Brewcraft, you can get everything you’ll need online. Try Homebrewing.org’s Basic Homebrewing Kit and make sure to add a five gallon brew pot, long stem thermometer, and auto-siphon to your shopping list.
Step 1: Finding a recipe
Just like gardening, fermenting beer turns out best when you match the style to its season. This means starting your winter ales in the first months of fall, and your autumn beers in summertime. Holiday Ales, Stouts, Porters, and other dark beers, Winter Wheats, Smoked Rauchbier, and Scotch Ales are all good candidates for winter, but some folks also enjoy dark beers year-round. A batch started now would be ready to drink in late summer or early fall, or in mid-winter for those of you in the southern hemisphere.
Smoked beers date back to the 1500s and to the district of Franconia in Germany, where it is known as Rauchbier (“rauch” is German for smoke). It is typically of dark color and has similarities of the Oktoberfestbier. Malts, dried over an open fire of beech wood, impart a bold smoky character. The smoked porter is an acquired taste, and therefore not a very common craft brew style (this writer loves it).
Step 2: Ingredients
Like most things, beer is only be as good as what goes into it. Water, yeast, hops, and malted barley. Additionally, you may include honey, fruit juice, molasses, cane, and other sugars. Introducing more sugar in this secondary fermentation increases the carbonation and influences the finished flavor of the beer. The Smoked Molasses Porter recipe below is a Kevin Koenig original.
|7.80 lb||Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)||Grain||57.35 %|
|2.50 lb||Smoked Malt (9.0 SRM)||Grain||18.38 %|
|0.85 lb||Chocolate Malt (450.0 SRM)||Grain||6.25 %|
|0.60 lb||Barley, Flaked (1.7 SRM)||Grain||4.41 %|
|0.50 lb||Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM)||Grain||3.68 %|
|0.50 lb||Caramel/Crystal Malt – 80L (80.0 SRM)||Grain||3.68 %|
|0.30 lb||Black (Patent) Malt (500.0 SRM)||Grain||2.21 %|
|1.10 oz||Challenger [8.00 %] (60 min)||Hops||26.2 IBU|
|0.30 oz||Goldings, East Kent (whole) [7.00 %] (15 min)||Hops||2.8 IBU|
|0.55 lb||Molasses (80.0 SRM)||Sugar||4.04 %|
Thousands of beers are made with virtually the same method. A simple switch of your specialty grains, change of the hop or mash profile, or a different strain of yeast will alter the brew. Beyond that there’s a world of spices, fruits, honeys, and sugars to further influence your beer. Even if you aren’t interested in a Smoked Molasses Porter, the following instructions will let you in on the quest for the perfect seasonal homebrew. With many forums and blogs out there, it should be no trouble to find a recipe that better suits your tastes. I have listed a few great resources at the end of this article to aid in that endeavor. Otherwise, locate your various grains, hops, and malts and get started!
Step 3: Making the mash
The point of the mash is to get sugar from the grain. Malted grains contain starch and heating them creates the enzymes that convert this starch in sugar. These sugars will feed the yeast, which will produce alcohol and carbon dioxide in the beer. The grain will also give your beer its flavor and color.
If you follow this recipe, you will be making a single infusion, medium body mash:
Heat 13 quarts of water to 178 degrees. The standard is 1 quart of water per pound of grain (Smoked Molasses Porter calls for 13.05 pounds of grain).
Add all the grains (the temperature will drop by about 10 degrees, that’s okay).
Maintain the mash at 168 degrees for 90 minutes (this varies for every recipe; lighter beers mash around 150 degrees). Stir every ten minutes and take the temperature from various points in the pot. The bottom will get hotter than the top, and you don’t want your grains to scorch. Also, it is not necessary to keep the burner on the entire time. You can wrap the covered pot in a towel to help retain heat and let the mash sit.
Step 4: Sparge the wort
Now that the heated water has helped convert the starch into sugars, you need to remove the sugar water called wort—this is done in the sparge and lautering process. Prepare by heating five gallons of water to 170 degrees.
Make a lauter ton by attaching the false bottom to the stopper and hose. Fit the stopper into the bottling bucket and clamp the hose. Next, fill the bucket with three inches of 170 degree water. Then, pour the mash out slowly to avoid and a “stuck sparge”. Rinse the mash by circulating hot water through it, slowly. Unclamp the hose and collect the wort in the brew pot. Keep rinsing the mash until the liquid runs clear (two gallons of heated water should do it).
Step 5: The boil
Heat up the wort you just collected to its boiling point, stir occasionally, and keep the boil going until it starts to foam. Reduce the heat so the pot doesn’t boil over. A vigorous boil will cause more water to evaporate (meaning less beer later), and it will caramelize sugars for a sweeter beer with less alcohol.
Step 6: Add hops
Now it’s time to add the hops. Hops account for the bittering, aroma, and flavor of a good beer. Each type of hops is added at a different stage in the boil. The boil will last for 60-90 minutes depending on the gravity of the beer (higher gravity means more time in the boil). The first 60 minutes (lighter brews call for 45 minutes) is dedicated to your bittering hops. In the Smoked Molasses Porter, these are Challenger hops. Then come the flavoring hops (Goldings, East Kent) for 15 minutes, and finally 5-10 minutes of finishing hops. As sophisticated as Smoked Molasses Porter is, it doesn’t call for finishing hops, the recipe needs the bitterness of the boiling hops to offset the sweetness of molasses, which is introduced at this stage.
Step 7: Ice bath
Once your boil is complete, you need to cool the wort as fast as possible. A bathtub full of ice water is best, but a deep sink will work as well. Cool the wort to 65-75 degrees (the yeast packet/vial should have instructions for the ideal temperature for the strain you’re using).
Step 8: Transfer
Once your wort is cool, transfer it to a carboy or fermentation bucket. Vigor is alright now, as you want to dissolve oxygen into the wort. During this step, pour a little into a tube and check your Original Gravity (OG) with a hydrometer (water has a gravity of 1.000). The gravity is a measure of how much sugar is dissolved in the water of your wort. The estimate for the Smoked Molasses Porter is 1.060 OG —it’s okay if your measurement differs. Every beer is different!
Step 9: Add yeast
Add 1 tsp. brewers yeast to your wort, aerate vigorously and secure a blow-off tube into a bucket of sanitizer. The sugar you created in the mash is now being eaten by this yeast, which is expelling alcohol and carbon dioxide. In other words, your beer is now fermenting. Congratulations! Store it in a cool, dark place for two weeks and check on the fermentation as often as you please. When you think it’s about ready, use a sanitized auto-siphon to sample and test its gravity.
Step 10: Preparing for a secondary fermentation
Start by dissolving molasses in water (about 10 minutes at a light boil). The purer, more refined the sugar you use, the less flavor will be imparted. Molasses and treacle add caramel tones indicative of robust winter ales. Add this molasses solution to the bottling bucket.
In the primary fermentation, the byproduct carbon dioxide was released into the air. Adding more sugar for a secondary fermentation provides the fuel for more carbon dioxide. Once your beer is bottled, this carbon dioxide will carbonate the brew—also known as bottle conditioning. Remember: your beer is a living thing, and the yeast will continually alter the taste, IBU, ABV, and gravity of the beer.
Step 11: Bottling
Hooray! Bottling will be your final labor, and because you now have about six gallons of Smoked Molasses Porter on hand, it’s a good time to get a friends to help you. Bottling is done in three steps: sanitizing, filling, and capping. It is important to make absolutely certain that all your bottles and bottling equipment are properly sanitized; not doing so will result in an off-taste or an explosive bottle.
Start by gently siphoning your Porter into the bottling bucket. Insert the bottling wand into each bottle (to prevent oxygen from entering) and fill. Do not bottle if the measured gravity is above 1.005—overgassed bottles may explode (there’s a little more danger in home brewing than being burned by wort).
Cap each beer right after you fill the bottle, this will keep compromising nasty air particles out. Naming and labeling your beer can be good fun. I recommend including information like style, gravity, and average alcohol by volume (ABV).
Step 12: Waiting
The finished beer will take another two to four weeks to fully mature. Waiting to tap into your homebrew will be the hardest part, but may make all the difference. Even a few days can impact the flavor, carbonation, and gravity of your beer. Of course, since you now have a few cases on hand, it’s okay to let curiosity get the better of you—how else will you learn?
Step 13: Describing your unique craft beer
“Ashen molasses-smoked malting deepens wood-burnt hop-charred bittering to lactic mocha finish of viscous rum-barreled porter. Maple, cedar, and walnut seep into Black Forest caking, bringing brown chocolate sweetness to pureed black cherry tartness.”
Step 14: Rinse well, repeat often
Live up to what BYOB could be. What could be better than keeping your fridge stocked with ounces-upon-ounces of unique homebrews? Equipment is relatively cheap and a few simple ingredients will yield phenomenal results.
Bonus Tip: After you brew, label and save a few from every batch so you can create verticals, taste your improvement, and understand what went into making your favorite batch.
If you are a home brewer with a story to share, please comment below and link to your favorite site on the subject!