Reviews & info on some beers, bars & pubs in Japan (mainly Tokyo/Yokohama area) - with an extra large serving of nonsensical jibbbbah jabbah thrown in:

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Crossing over to the 'otherside' - the world of homebrewing

Well, this ol' fool finally took the plunge and dived head first into the fantastical world of brewing your own beer!

A new and now very good friend of mine, BrewedinJapan, invited myself and another newcomer to, BeerKat, to his home to watch and help out with his latest batch of 'approximately 1% alcohol' homebrew.

Well, I made the best of starts by being about 2 or 3 hours late.
No suprises there.

When I finally got there, he and Beerkat had already steeped the malt and the wort was boiling away.
Incidentally, if you want to know more about brewng beer, I highly recommend this free online book How To Brew, by John Palmer. This text is very famous and quite well written. The online version is free but there is a newer 3rd edition available via the website. Highly recommended and a very interesting read.
Back to the plot.
I got to BrewinJapan's (BIJ) place and this is what I saw:You can see the huge boiling pot on the big ass stove.
I think it holds about 7 gallons or so (around 25-30litres or more).
He is boiling the wort and getting ready to add the bittering and flavoring hops and any other ingredients to the boiling wort [if you boil hops for a short time, the bitterness and aromas and flavors are kept. However, if you boil for more than say, 15 minutes, then any aromatic properties can be boiled away. Boil for about 30 minutes or more and you start losing the flavor profiles, being left more and more with just the bitterness from the hops. This is why brewers talk about bittering hops (boiled for around 60 minutes or so), flavoring hops (boiled for around 15 to 30 minutes) and aroma hops (boiled for a very short time or even sometimes added to the wort as you end the boil).].

When you boil the wort (A kind of 'unmade beer juice' - basically the sugars and starches gotten from the malt - usually barley), you should be careful of something called the boil over, especially if the volume of wort is close to the maximum capacity of your pot. A boil over is when you get large boiling mass of foam which, if left unattended, is in danger of boiling over the top of the pot. A simple method of spraying with a small 100yen water spray device tends to collapse the foam and avoid the potentially nasty boil over.

The boil over is avoided at the hot break and the mixture has now developed a steady rolling boil.
Time to add the first stage of hops - the bittering hops.
In they go!
Meanwhile, whilst all this is boiling away, it was time to get ready for bottling the previous batch!

We rinse out the empty bottles (it wasn't me who drank all that Super Dry!). You can see the wort chiller to the right. This is basically a large coil of copper piping which is put into the pot and cold water from the tap ran through it, thus extracting thermal energy from the hot wort and cooling it down quickly.

One of the most important points in brewing beer is sanitation. This is also probably why I didn't start brewing earlier. I just thought it was too much hassle.
Well, it isn't.
It's not that hard to maintain a sanitary environment.
Here BrewedinJapan has a large container, filled with a mixture or water and sanitising solution. You can use iodine or bleach solution or other chemicals but this stuff he is using doesn't need to be rinsed away, so it is very easy to use.

You can see BeerKat rinsing out the bottles. The large white bucket is the bottling bucket, to be used later on, for bottling the beer. It, like everything else that comes into contact with the beer, is sanitized.
Can you see the nifty little bottle tree?

This allows the sanitised bottles to hand upside down and drip dry.

Right. Below, you can see the top large bucket is the fermentation vessel. This is where the beer has been fermenting and maturing.
Can you see the weird thing sticking out of the top?
That is a simple airlock. using some water or sanitizing solution, this keeps a barrier to stop any unwanted bacteria entering the bucket and spoiling the beer. At the same time, any extra CO2 produced by the yeast can safely escape the bucket.
The sanitized bottling bucket is below, ready to receive the beer to be bottled.

There is however, one problem.

After the initial fermentation, after the yeast has used the oxygen in the air and the young beer to multiply, it then gets to work changing the sugars in the wort to alcohol and produces lots of CO2. However, by this stage, if the yeast comes into contact with Oxygen, this can be very bad for the beer.
So, we don't the beer being oxygenated.
Before we started, we wanted lots of oxygen in the fresh wort. Then we left it alone to ferment. However, now we don't want oxygen in the picture. From now on, oxygen is bad. So how to proceed?
We can't just empty the beer into the bottom bucket. That would oxygenate the beer and spoil it. We can't splash it either, for the same reason.

So BrewedinJapan uses dry ice (CO2) to create a CO2 layer in the bottom of the bottling bucket (CO2 is heavier than air or oxygen) and carefully draws the beer out of the top bucket, using a plastic tube to avoid splashing.

Here's the dry ice, bubbling away. He got it from Baskin Robbins (the ice cream place).
Adding it to the bottling bucket created a protective layer of CO2.
Here BrewedinJapan is adding a solution of corn sugar to the bucket (this has already been boiled, to sanitize it).
The sugar is the priming solution, with which the dormant yeast will re awaken and convert to CO2, thus making the beer carbonated. As the beer fills the bottom bucket, it will mix evenly with this mixture.
Then it was just carefully transfer the beer.
Great. Now the beer is in the bottling bucket, we can sling (not really) the top bucket and carefully put the bottling bucket up on the table.

Then we can use a special bottling rod/tube to fill the bottles.
This is just a plastic or glass tube with a spring valve on the bottom. When you put this into a bottle and press up on the valve with the bottom of the bottle, the beer is released. When you remove the upward pressure, the valve closes and the beer flow stops.
One of these items is not compulsory but it makes the bottling job easier.
Here's the bottle with the bottling rod inside, about to be connected to the tap.
I then open the tap and put pressure up on the rod using the bottom of the bottle it is inside.
Wahey! We have a controllable flow of beer! Fill each bottle to within and inch or two of the top.
Put a cap gently on top of the bottle when it is full, again to avoid oxygen or nasty things getting into contact with the beer.

Here, you can see BeerKat is busy, filling bottles:Without using a piece of silicone or rubber hose, it is not so easy to keep the contact between the tap and the bottle filler leak proof! Oops!
This is why brewing with friends is a good idea!
Oh, BeerKat! I hope that's beer on the floor...
Then they let the monkey have a go.
When all bottles are filled, it's time to put those caps on properly!

Here, BrewedinJapan is showing BeerKat how to use the bottle capping machine:

"Go on, Beerkat! Grrrr!!!!!"
The monkey joined in, too.
Here's two caps I screwed up (Hey, even monkeys make mistakes!):
Finally, all the bottles have been filled and capped!
Here is what was left of the two buckets. The sediment of yeast and sludge that shouldn't go into the bottles.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

..the wort has been boiling away and the hops have been added at intervals for bitterness, flavour and aroma.

It's time to hydrate the yeast.
BrewedinJapan took some yeast and added it to some water (which had been boiled, to sanitize it and allowed to cool) . This meant the yeast could waken up or at least get hydrate and hopefully get to work a little faster. This is left for a while, to hydrate.
It is covered and left alone.
For this particular brew, BrewedinJapan added some coriander seeds.
Brewers often add various ingredients to their beers. e.g. cocoa, vanilla beans, coffee beans, tea bags, fruit, coconut, young puppy dogs (just kidding), etc.
Right, the boil is over and it's time to cool the wort - fast!
WE want to cool it as fast as possible to avoid any off flavours developing in the beer. Can you see the wort chiller I talked about earlier? Well, this baby cooled about 20l of wort from about 90C to around 24C in about 20 minutes - not bad!

The beer is now at the right temperature to transfer to the primary fermenter.
In this case, it is a glass carboy. This is quite a popular choice for home brewers. You can see what's going on, inside and the glass doesn't leak oxygen into the beer and is impervious to the acidic beer. some may think it tastes 'cleaner'.
I'm not so sure. any people otherwise use plastic buckets, like the one mentioned before, which are a lot cheaper.

To transfer the beer, we cyphon it, using a length of hose.

Here it doesn't matter so much if the beer splashes. We actually want oxygen in it. sometimes, boiling liquids removes the oxygen. We want as much oxygen as we can, to allow the yeast to do it's stuff.
This wort is now more or less finished, in terms of ingredients. only dry hopping or the addition of yeast is left to do.
This is when we take an initial gravity reading.
The gravity of the liquid is more or less a measure of it's density.
We use a special device (hydrometer) which is just a graduated tube which sinks into a measure of the liquid beer. The rod/instrument will sink to different levels, depending on the density of the liquid. eg. Water has a specific gravity of more or less 1.0000. Adding anything to the water can increase the density and so the reading rises and the instrument floats, slightly. This is basically why we can float, in the Dead Sea. The salt solution is so dense that we pop up to the surface like corks. Big fat, sunburned, rich, touristy corks.
As you can see, the initial gravity or Original Gravity (O.G.) reading is about 1.052
Comparing this to the final gravity gives us a measure of how much material has been converted by the yeast to alcohol. This in turn tells us the alcohol content of the beer.

Now we need more oxygen in the beer, if the yeast is to stand a good chance.
To get even more oxygen in there, we can shake the container or use an air pump. BeerinJapan uses a fish tank aquarium air pump to oxygenate his beer.
Here it is, being modelled:Silent air. That name made me laugh (and carefully sniff test the air).
Here is the air being pumped into the beer, oxygenating it in the process.
The beer is all nice and bubbly. Now is the time when BeerinJapan dry hops his beer. Another way to add aroma and a little extra flavour is to add hops after the boil is finished and directly into the fermenter. For normal dry hopping, it is usually better to wait until the primary fermentation has finished. Then the lovely flavors and aromas of the hops aren't evaporated away by the action of the fermenting young beer.
Don't forget that yeast!
The wee yeasties have awoken and are raring to go!
We add the yeast and then put the top on the fermentor.
The airlock is in place and now it is time to leave it alone for a few weeks.

Now, it's time to sit back and get pisshhhhd!!!!
BrewedinJapan opened up a Stone 13th Anniversary ale - nice!

Then he gave us some gorgeous brisket!

Plus home made potato salad. This guy is a great cook!
We had a few more quality brews, courtesy of us all. Good times!
Man, great food!
Great food, great beer.
It was then watch BrewedinJapan clean up, then off to Thrashzone for more quality booze!
BrewedinJapan, BeerKat, it was a pleasure to lose my brewing virginity with you guys.

This adventure was only the start...

p.s. want to know how that beer we bottled turned out?
Just lovely!


  1. Mmmm, home made beer. Looks like you had a good time and I'm glad to see you've joined the addiction. I need to stop brewing, actually, 'cause I have to move in a couple months and am about to have 15 gallons worth of homebrew in my house. This could become a hazy last hurrah in Japan

  2. If u need any help drinking it...