My First All-Grain Homebrew: Hops on Fire IPA
I have been homebrewing off and on for over a decade. That is not to say I am an expert at it, or that all of my beers are necessarily great. I have certainly had my share of successes and failures, from really excellent creations to bottle-bombs that came close to killing someone. But I had always gone the “easier” route of extract brewing with specialty grains. For those non-brewers out there, it simple means you use a concentrated malt extract for the bulk of your brew instead of extracting the fermentables from the grains yourself through a process of mashing, steeping, and sparging. Extract brewing takes less time, has fewer steps, uses less equipment, and is simpler on paper. I had always wanted to try going all-grain, but the cost of the necessary equipment was a deterrent (or so I thought), the process seemed complicated, and I really didn’t know what I was doing. Finally, I decided I had waited long enough, and I made the switch. For Christmas, I got the pieces I needed to build my own mash tun (igloo cooler, braided line, spigot, etc.) But due to my own dawdling, procrastination, or whatever, I never got around to buying a big enough boil kettle to make the beer! When I got a shiny new 42-quart Polarware pot for Father’s Day, I had no more excuses. It was time to do this.
My good friend Khris is a fantastic homebrewer (well, technically I guess he is a professional brewer now) and also happens to work at Southern Brewing & Winemaking, brewing beer, teaching classes, and so on. When I told him I was ready to do my first all-grain batch, he took the time and sat down with me to formulate the recipe, then came over and walked me through the process step by step, explaining what we were doing in great detail so I know why, not just how. The recipe was simple enough, a fairly straightforward India Pale Ale (a style we both love). Here is the recipe:
- 12 lbs. 2-row
- 1 lb. Carapils
- 1 lb. Crystal 40L
- 1 lb. Munich (light)
- .5 oz. Amarillo hops (First Wort)
- .5 Citra hops (First Wort)
- 2 oz. Chinook hops (60 min)
- 1 oz Cascade hops (10 min)
- 1 oz Amarillo hops (flameout)
- 1 oz Citra hops (flameout)
- 1 oz. Amarillo hops (dry hop after 1 week)
- 1 oz. Citra hops (dry hop after 1 week)
- Wyeast 1272 – American Ale II
I was pretty happy about it. The learning process was fun, and I felt like I really understood what I was being told.
As with most endeavors, things rarely go as planned. Sometimes it is because someone screwed up, sometimes something got forgotten or overlooked, and sometime accidents just happen. Well, we had an accident.
Everything had started great. We had everything set up, laid out across the kitchen counter and flat ceramic range top (we were brewing outside). We had our water ready to mash in, so we came back inside to grab the big bag of crushed grains. I grabbed my iPod (it has a brew timer on it) and the beer I was drinking, and Khris grabbed the grain from the stove top and we went outside. Mashing in went fine, and after about ten or fifteen minutes, we went to go back inside while the grains did their magic. It was June in Florida, after all, and the temperatures were hot at muggy. As I opened the back door to go inside, I knew something was not right. Smoke filled the kitchen, and I could see flames rising from the stove. Quickly, Khris and I managed to put the fire out and turn off the range. Apparently, when he had picked up the bag, it had hit the knob to turn on the front burner, and that had ignited a few of the foil-sealed packages of hops. The house smelled like the day after a frat-party smokeout. Stale weed and burnt foil.
We tried to salvage the hops, but they were too far gone, reeking like a Michael Phelps bad dream. We realized we had lost about four ounces of hops, required to brew the beer we wanted. Luckily, mashing takes a while, and we had ample time to run up to the Beer and Winemaker’s Pantry to replace the destroyed hops. An interesting note: the hops we got from the Pantry were obviously from a different harvest because the AA% was lower than our original hops. We had to make some adjustments to calculations for IBU, but the app I use (Brew Pal) made that easy enough. We made it home in time to start the boil, and the rest of the day went off without a hitch, but we had our name for the beer: Hops on Fire.
And for those who are wondering, no, there was no damage done to the kitchen or the stove. 🙂
I cracked open the first one on Monday night, and was blown away. This beer is so. damn. good. Without question, this is the best beer I have ever brewed. Khris and his father (and also my good friend) came over as soon as I told them and we shared a few bottles. They agreed that is was a really, really good beer.
So, my first foray into the world of all-grain brewing was a great one, burning hops notwithstanding. The process is really not that complicated, and as long as you pay attention to what you are doing – and have the extra time on your brew day – it is absolutely worth the effort.