Brewing beer

'Free software' means software that respects users' freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, 'free software' is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of 'free' as in 'free speech,' not as in 'free beer'. -- Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman’s famous quote about Free Software in contrast to Free Beer inevitably resulted in an open source beer recipe and several derivatives of it - see http://freebeer.org.

FREE BEER (version 3.2)
This is the official Freebeer etiquette from a previous version.

“FREEBEER3.2_label” by The Free Beer Foundation is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Since we have been studying the free software culture, while kickstarting our related program, and beer makes everything a bit easier, this certainly caught our attention.

We decided to make a derivative work and document the actual brewing process a bit more in detail. If this succeeds, it would be neat to have others contributing. Good beer is a worthy cause, even if you don’t care about the ideology!

So we studied the recipes and settled for the most recent one published on the site, the SKANDS. It is probably not the last one made in the world, since the site seems inactive nowadays. No matter; the recipe looks interesting enough. Adding guarana is a bit weird… o_O

Our planned approach

  1. We make a homebrew version of the SKANDS version. It will actually be a derivative work, since we can’t easily get all the ingredients, but it will be close.
  2. We drink some and see how we like it. Offer some for people who know about beers and ask their opinion. This will probably get us some ideas on how to develop the recipe.
  3. We either make another homebrew edition with the refined recipe, drop the beer project, or order a larger volume of our beer from some professional but friendly microbrewery.

We ordered the relevant homebrew equipment, the malts, the hops and the yeast. We got a Brewferm expert starting kit called Superior Electric.

Fundamental components

Here’s how the set looks like. I really dig the spoon.

Homebrew equipment
Brewferm Electric beginner set, we can recommend this

“Brewferm beginner set” by ttur is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Upon receiving the kit we had no idea on how to use them; fortunately they came with good enough instructions.

Trouble brewing

So on February 26th 2014 we gathered to our Designated Brewing Laboratory, aka an office kitchen, located at Rikhardinkatu in Helsinki. The brewforce extraordinaire: Rauli, Jetro, Matias and Teemu.

Liquid yeast was our pick, so we extracted it from the fridge three hours before the actual brewing started. A newbie mistake was made; you activate the liquid yeast by “punching” the bag, breaking a smaller bag inside it. This was done while the yeast was still very cold, resulting in the yeast failing to activate. This caused us some unnecessary distress later…

We started the actual brewing by grinding the various malts with the hand grinder. It’s kind of hard work, even with the modest amount that we were making. For larger batches or frequent use, it might make sense to integrate an electric drill with the grinder, as Rauli suggested.

Grinding the various malts
At first the grinding was captivating and fun. But there was a lot to grind..

“Grinding away” by ttur is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

While the grinding was commencing, 13.5 liters of water was added into brew kettle and the heater was turned on. When the water appeared to be at 66 degrees Celcius, we added the ground malts and tried to keep it at that exact temperature for a full hour. This required almost constant stirring with the hilariously large spoon that came with the kit.

This process of heating the malts (and hops, they got added later) is called mashing. It is surprisingly difficult to control the temperature - the more expensive brew kettles where you can actually program the temperatures and mash times would come in very handy. However, they are quite a bit more expensive.

We followed the SKANDS recipe by increasing the mash temperature to 72 degrees, then to 78. After this the recipe calls for “sparging with 15.5 liters of 78 C water”. This we accomplished by using two large kettles and our stove to pre-heat the water that we can then add into the brew kettle.

I am not sure if we did this right, since the recipe is sort of vague at this point. We started to siphon the liquid out of the brew kettle, into a lauter tun. That is a plastic bin with a tap and a filtering plastic above it - the idea being you can use it to get rid of the malts and hops, while keeping the wort (the liquid that is about to become beer).

So we added water, siphoned wort, added water, siphoned wort. Jetro was telling us we’re probably doing it all wrong. We probably were!

In any case we ended up with less than the suggested 22.7 liters of wort - we had maybe 15 liters. No matter. After quickly cleaning the brew kettle and transferring the siphoned and filtered wort back, we heated it up to a boil and added the first hops bag. At 45 minutes we added some guarana powder (we couldn’t find fresh in Finland), and finally, for the last 7 minutes, the second bag of hops.

Now the wort was ready to go into a fermenting bin. It needed to be cooled on the way. This was the part we dreaded, but it turned out to be really easy. It was achieved by using a plate heat exchanged that came with the kit.

It’s simple and brilliant; the device consists of a number of metal plates with high thermal conductivity. Copper, if I am not mistaken. It has four valves. You feed in cold water into one and out of the other. The hot wort comes through from the opposite direction. The liquids do not mix, but they are ran through the intricate set of channels surrounded by the metal plates, resulting in the hot wort cooling down really quickly.

We could control the exit temperature of the wort very easily by adapting the flow of either the cold water, or the hot wort. The wort was precisely at the desired 19,5 C when it entered the fermentation bin.

Then we added the yeast… which hadn’t been activated. FAIL. We managed to convince each others that it had, since we had never used liquid yeast before. You can see whether it has become active by the swelling of the bag. We thought ours had swollen. It hadn’t, not a bit. If it properly had, there would have been no doubt.

So we added the yeast, sealed the fermentation bin, found a spot for it where the room temperature was the instructed 19,5 C and considered the initial brewing work DONE.

Fun fact

I was going to write a “fun fact” segment on beer brewing, but then I found this:

Twenty Things Worth Knowing About Beer by Oatmeal

Now I can have a beer instead. Oatmeal, you are a prince among men!

The aftermath

A day later there was no sign of fermentation.

Two days later no sign or sound.

At this point we were really worried and I called a local brewing supplies store, checking whether they have more of that yeast, so we could add it into the wort. Instead of selling us newbies more yeast, the store owner gave a 20 minute phone lecture on brewing beer, explaining the mistake we did in activating the yeast, and finally telling us that it will activate anyway, just with a several days delay. A great guy, thanks! I can only highly recommend the store.

So we waited, and the fermentation began.

A week later the bin fell silent again. Time for bottling! We had collected suitable bottles, quite a lot of them, considering we didn’t get enough wort. Not sure how we managed to miss the fact that we only had maybe 14 liters of liquid - especially since I spent hours washing and disinfecting WAY TOO MANY bottles…

Bottling turned out to be very easy as well. We added 90 grams of sugar into the wort… wait… just now that I am writing this I realize that we should have used less; the recipe had 90 grams for 22.7 liters, whereas we only had 14 liters of wort! /_\

Nonetheless, we added 90 grams of sugar into the wort and then siphoned it straight from the fermenting bin into the bottles and sealed them with the crown corks that came with the kit. We were careful to leave the sediment into the fermenting bin.

Bottling the beer
A serious man, a serious business

“Bottling” by ttur is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The bottles then remained in room temperature for nine days, the idea being that the additional sugar re-activates the yeast and while we get more alcohol, the beer also gets carbonated. The alternative here would be to use a keg and so called force carbonation, but we’re not that pro yet. Next time, sure.

Bottles of beer
That beautiful thing is my bike.

“Bottles of beer” by ttur is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

After nine days the bottles (of which none had exploded, which was a relief) were moved into the refrigerator and kept there for three weeks.

Happy ending

Then we opened some and had a taste!

Beer tasting party
Caption?

“Beer tasting” by ttur is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Great victory! Our beer is actually pretty good. Since some people use Untappd, you can also find it there: Free Beer 4.0.1