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Brewing Beer

This is a new section for me.  We didn't plan to brew our own beer, but we sort of backed into it, and I found it was fun!  For this incarnation of the website, I've included our brewing procedure as well as some of my brew-logs.

We don't drink that much beer, but we enjoy a beer with lunch on a lazy weekend afternoon, and of course we keep it on board for friends who might drop by.  When a friend in Fiji gave us everything we'd need to brew our own (see below) we weren't immediately enthused, but it's actually a great deal.

Some of the beer kits available in Brisbane
Some of the beer-kits available in Brisbane

In Australia we can buy many different malt-kits for making different types of beer - Lagers, Bitters, Pilsners, Ales, Porters, Stouts, and even Ginger Beers or Apple Cider (with variants of each).  Also easily available are all the supplies needed, like Brewers Sugar (usually Sucrose, Dextrose, Light Malt, and/or Maltodextrin - see my discussion on brewing sugars).  The sugar costs ~$2.50/kg (what you need for a "batch") and the malt-kits are $6-8 (all prices here are converted to US$).  The kits nominally make 23 liters (6 US gallons), but we usually don't bottle the last liter or 2 as they're very yeasty (the dead yeast settles to the bottom during fermentation).

The economics of brewing your own beer in Oz are very compelling.  Beer at a bottle shop costs ~US$1.50-2.50 per stubbie bottle ($9-15 per 6-pack).  Brewing my own costs about $10 in consumables (mostly the malt-kit, sugar, and some cleaning products) and produces the equivalent of ~60 bottles, bringing the per-bottle cost down to less than $0.20 each (assuming my time has no value and that I can find bottles for free).  We haven't seen beer that cheap since South America!  But more than that, brewing can be very satisfying - sort of like gardening.  With gardening, you plant your seeds, add some water (and as much love/weeding as you want) and these wonderful flowers, fruits, and vegetables grace your life.  With brewing, you add $10 of gloop to some water and these wonderful yeasties turn it into beer for you!  To top it off, both the vegetables and the beer often taste much better than their mass-produced store-bought equivalents.

Home-brewing with a kit is usually done as a 2-step process, fermentation followed by bottling/priming:

First, the sugar, malt-kit (malt, hops, etc.) and yeast are mixed with warm water in a "carboy" and allowed to ferment.  This fermentation builds the taste and alcoholic content.  It usually lasts 3-6 days, depending on the temperature and sugar content.  In the tropics, it goes pretty fast.
When fermentation slows down and the specific gravity drops from its initial ~1.040 to under 1.010, the beer is ready to be bottled.  A small amount of sugar is added to the bottles for priming, which primarily adds the carbonation (alcoholic content usually only goes up ~0.2%).

There can be several embellishments to these procedures (finning, clarifying, etc.) but that's the rough outline.  I've left out the cleaning procedures that go along with these 2 steps, although they can actually take the most time and effort.

Water trap in top of carboy
Water trap

There are 2 crucial items to keep in mind when brewing beer, and both can be a challenge on a boat in the tropics:

Everything must be kept not only clean, but sterile, to avoid the introduction of unwanted yeasts.
The "wort" must be kept at the correct temperature range for the yeast,
64-90F (18-32C) maximum, but for best results 70-80F (21-27C).

Contents of my Brew Kit:

Carboy (fermenter):  30 liter (8 gal) plastic jug with a large screw-top and a tap near the bottom
Water trap:  Fits in the top of the carboy, to let off excess CO2 while still maintaining a seal
Thermal strip:  Liquid crystal thermometer, stuck on side of carboy (not very accurate)
Bottle filling tube:  Fits into the carboy valve and fills the bottles from the bottom to minimize foaming
Brewing hydrometer:  For measuring specific gravity and therefore alcohol content
Measuring spoon:  For dosing bottles with sugar for priming
Brewers detergent:  Special detergent that washes off easily, leaving no residue
Sodium metabisulfite:  Sterilizing compound (often also used to pickle watermakers)
Big bottle brush:  Bottles must be very clean, or you get funky beer
Assorted labels:  Not used, as we used plastic soda bottles to save weight (no glass)
Capping supplies:  Bottle caps and capper - also not used, as our plastic bottles have screw caps

Overview of my brews to date:  (my overall average alcohol content is 4.59%, or 4.92% for my recent batches)

Brew Where Start Bottle Sugar Water Alc% Comments
Real Ale (#3) Seychelles 2 Sept 07 9 Sept S Table Maldives rain 4.9 My first all-table-sugar batch
Aus Pale Ale (#2) Seychelles 13 July 07 19 July  L BE2 Seychelles ?? Prime with table sugar - works very well.  Very nice
Real Ale (#2) Maldives 6 April 07 11 April S BE2 Salty RO 5.3 OK, but a bit malty for my taste - shouldn't have used BE2
Bavarian Lager N Indonesia 18 Oct 06 24 Oct  L BE2 Watermaker 4.8 Very nice, but still low carbonation
Bitter (#2) Indonesia 17 Aug 06 22 Aug S BE2 Watermaker 5.3 OK, but a bit malty - shouldn't have used BE2 (but no choice)
Draught (#2) Darwin 15 July 06 21 July  L BE2 Watermaker 4.7 Nice
Australian Pale Ale Keppel Is 31 May 06 8 June S BE2 Watermaker 4.5 A delicious brew, but still not much carbonation even with +20%
Bitter Brisbane 1 April 06 9 April L BE1 Brisbane tap 3.7 Very nice!  Our best brew to date (and for some time to come)
Draught Brisbane 25 Mar 06 30 Mar S BE1 Brisbane tap 3.5 Very nice.  Carbonation a bit low, even using dextrose
Real Ale Brisbane 17 Jan 06 21 Jan S Suc/md Brisbane tap ?? Complete disaster - too hot, wrong priming sugar, undrinkable

L/S: Large (1.5L) or Small (1.25L) bottles      BE1/2: Coopers Brew Enhancer #1 (dextrose and maltodextrin) or #2 (dextrose, malt, and maltodextrin)

Brewing Pages: Brewing Procedure | Real Ale #3 | Aus Pale Ale #2 | Real Ale #2 | Bavarian Lager | Coopers Bitter #2 | Coopers Draught #2 | Australian Pale-Ale | Coopers Bitter | Coopers Draught | Coopers Real Ale

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