The first beer – E.S.B

Unexpectedly, this post will not be about the equipment we bought to make beer – although that post is currently in progress under Anni’s fingers – no, this post is about our first beer and the process we followed to make it!

This decision came before the original schedule because we received all the ingredients and missing equipment during the week. Having everything in hand… well… we decided what the hell!

Ok, on to the fun stuff! We wanted to make a beer that is fresh-ish, but not too light and not to heavy, so we decided to go for an Extra Special/Strong Bitter. The recipe we followed was obtained from the Homebrewing for Dummies book by Marty Nachel, mentioned in the previous post. The recipe won the 1st Place Award in the American Homebrewers Association Nationals and was brewed by Andy Leith. We followed the recipe almost completely, but changed a few things for two reasons:

  • Lack of experience in attempting to execute a step mash (mashing at different temperatures for different times)
  • Lack of secondary fermenter

The modified recipe was as follows:

  • Base grain: 4.3 Kg of Pale Ale malt
  • Specialty grain: 200 grams of 100-L Crystal malt
  • Bittering hops: 50 grams of Willamette hops (90 min)
  • Bittering hops: 15 grams of Cascade hops (90 min)
  • Finishing hops: 25 grams of East Kent Goldings (2 min)
  • Yeast: Wyeast #1084
  • Mashing: Single step mash at 67°C (90 min)
  • Primary: Undecided yet, but will be between 8-14 days
  • Batch size: 18L

Another thing to have in mind is the beer profile for E.S.B’s, this is:

  • OG/FG: 1-048-1.060+ / 1.010-1.016
  • ABV: 4.6-6.2
  • IBU’s: 30-50+
  • SRM: 6-18

Ok, now for the fun stuff, since this is the first post related to our homebrewing, I’ll describe the process step by step, further posts will focus on the recipe and general process without many details. So!, the process can basically be divided into sanitising, mashing, sparging, boiling, cooling, pitching and fermenting.

Before moving on to the steps I’d like to point out that we had a little software help. There are a few applications out there that are pretty helpful for the beginning brewer, some are: BeerSmith2 and BrewMate. For this beer we used BrewMate (, which is free software for Windows that pretty much does all the math for you in terms of amounts of water to use for mashing, sparging, temperatures, etc. It basically makes all the calculations based on the ingredients you want to use and the desired beer outcome, so it saves quite a bit of trouble in making beer. We’ll write a review on some of these applications at some point. For now, on to the brewing!


This is not just cleaning. This is actually disinfecting all the equipment that will come in contact with your wort with special agents. This subject deserves a post of its own, but suffice it to say that it basically consists of diluting disinfecting chemicals in water(i.e. chlorine, ammonia, iodine-based sanitisers, lye, percarbonates, etc.) and using this to disinfect everything.


According to BrewMate, for the amount of malt we were using we needed to bring 12 L of water to the strike temperature of 74°C, once this was done we put the malt bag in the pot and added the malts. It looked something like this:


Adding malts to strike water

Adding the grain brought the water to the desired temperature of 67°C. This is because most of the fermentable sugars from the grain are obtained between >60°C and <70°C. After this we insulated the pot with an old sleeping mat and a sleeping bag. So the result was the following:

Insulating the mash pot

Insulating the mash pot

An important thing to highlight is that is that BECAUSE we used a mashing bag for the malts the “Mash tun”(another container that is used when you have no bag, a cooler is typically used for this) was not necessary. While the mash was on-going, we checked the temperature and stirred every 20 min. All in all, we mashed for 90 min and the temperature never went below 64°C. The insulation worked better than expected. After this we put the kettle on the inductive stove and put the temperature up to 71°C-75°C for 12-15 minutes. This was the “mash-out”. Doing a mash-out is not necessary, but its recommended since it makes the wort warmer, less sticky and easier to filter, and it also destroys the left over enzymes in the malt.


Once the mashing was done, we took another 13 L of water preheated to 84°C per BrewMate instructions and prepared for sparging. Sparging, is basically a post-mash filtering/sugar obtaining process to finish getting the wort. We took the mashing bag out, put an oven grill below it and let it drip the left over wort for a while as seen below:

Dripping the left over wort

Dripping the left over wort

After this was done, we started adding the 13L of sparging water to obtain as much wort as possible from the grain. As seen in the following picture:

Adding sparge water

Adding sparge water

Once this was done we had roughly 22L of hot wort. Now, at this point what we did was take a sample, lower the temperature of the sample to 20°C and measure the gravity. Our aim was to get a gravity of 1.045ish, but the measure turned out to be 1.019 (which is really bad). Fortunately for us, we remembered that we hadn’t mixed the sparge wort with the base wort before taking the sample. So we mixed it, took a sample, and voilá! a gravity of 1.046 🙂

With this gravity we estimated the “mashing efficiency”, which translates to the efficiency in abstracting fermentable wort from malts. Since I won’t go into maths in this post I’ll just say that the estimated efficiency was between 65-72% which is not bad for a first try. I’ll make a separate post on calculating efficiency at some point in the coming weeks.


After the mashing, we needed to bring the wort to a boil. We put the inductive plate to max power and waited for the boil to come. It took almost 20 min to get the boil, but we got it. We boiled for about 10 min while we added the bittering hops to the hop bags (think tea bags) and then we added them into boiling wort. This was done for 90 minutes. 2 minutes before the end of the 90 min boil we added the finishing hops.

Weighing the hops

Weighing the hops

At the 90 min mark we took out all the the hop bags out of the wort and turned the induction plate off. Wort preparation complete.

Removing the hop bags from wort after boil

Removing the hop bags from wort after boil

The wort once boiled had some floating stuff in it, these were basically the proteins from the mash that coagulated. Its normal, and its actually desired to have them around, since its a good indication that the wort is good. I’ve read that some brewers like to filter it before adding it to the fermenter, while others prefer not to. I guess its a matter of choice.


Once the boil was done, we used a cold water bath to cool it down. Depending on who you ask (or read), its IMPERATIVE to cool down the wort within 40 minutes of the boil. To do this you need a heat exchanger or immersion cooler, but since we didn’t buy one, we went for the water bath. Some Finnish homebrewers and friends use the “No chill” method, which is basically letting the wort cool overnight in the sealed fermenter(to prevent oxidation) and pitching the yeast the morning after once the temperature of the wort is in the 20°C range. For the water bath we changed the water a couple of times, went to eat, came back to change the water, and then went for some beers. Upon return we checked the temperature, it was 21°C.

Next, we poured the wort into the sanitised fermenter. At this point you want make the pour as vigorous as possible so that the wort gets oxygen in it and it helps the yeast cells eat. Once inside the fermenter we took another gravity measurement. Unlike the previous one that was used to calculate the efficiency, this one was to get the Original Gravity(OG). This let us know the “alcohol potential” of the beer, our measurement came up as 1.050-1.052 which equals an alcohol potential of around 7%. See picture below.

OG measurement

OG measurement


For the pitching (putting yeast into the wort), we pre-activated a “Smack Pack” the evening before brewing day. A smack pack is basically a bag that contains two things:

  • Yeast
  • Nutrients for the yeast

The nutrients are enclosed in a sealed package inside the bag, so to activate the yeast one just needs to literally “smack” the package to break in inner container and let the yeast activate. Depending on the age of the yeast it is recommended to activate 3-5 hours before pitching or 2-3 days before pitching. The final step before fermentation was simply to pitch the yeast into the wort, seal the fermenter and put on the water lock and shake the fermenter vigorously to mix the yeast and put more oxygen into the wort. The water lock allows CO2 to leave the fermenter, but prevents oxidation during fermentation.


The fermentation of our beer is currently still on-going, we expected to hear the water lock bubbling the morning after pitching, but it took a bit longer to start. It wasn’t until about 15-18 hours after pitching that we started hearing a constant bubbling and seeing a nice “krausen” (the foam at the top of the beer when fermenting) developing. At the moment of this writing the fermentation has slowed, but is still ongoing. We’re not sure if we’ll leave it for 7-8 days or if we’ll do it for 14 days, we plan on measuring the gravity on day 7 to see if the beer is ready or not and then decide if we bottle or not. Until then let’s see what happens!




2 thoughts on “The first beer – E.S.B

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