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I stopped recording all the details about brewdays some time ago because I brew quite frequently but remembering how little I knew when I started, and even when I joined this forum 2 1/2 years ago, I thought I might post a brew day with a bit of a running commentary and an explanation for what’s going on and why. Clearly this will be aimed more at folk still at that earlier stage of brewing. So where to start? I guess with the recipe.

People get their recipes from a number of sources including other people, books, websites, brewing software tools, etc. I like to invent my own because I’m not just doing this for the beer, I enjoy the creative process and I enjoy experimenting. There are guidelines to follow though for any given beer style and my preferred guide is the BJCP Style Guide. BJCP is the Beer Judge Certification Program and their guide is the bible for BJCP competitions - many (probably most) beer competitions are judged using the BJCP standards. You’ll find the guide here…


I’ve decided to brew a Czech lager and in the guide there are several from light to dark and different strengths. I will brew a Czech Premium Lager because that’s the one I most like the description of. The BCJP style guide tells me what it should look like, smell like, taste like, how it should feel in the mouth, what ingredients you might typically use, and some vital statistics about gravity, strength, bitterness, and how light/dark it should be.

Do remember though that this is a “guide” and you can vary a little from the script. Drift too far though and in a competition it will be judged “out of style” and your score will suffer. If this beer is just for you, do what you like to brew a beer to your taste.

This is my recipe for today…

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Water in brewing is important because almost everything in your glass is water.

Any water that is drinkable is fine (historically even unsafe water was used!). There are a couple of factors though that might impact your beer.

The first is Chlorine/Chloramine that’s added to tap water to keep any nasty bugs from growing in the water. These can give the water a chlorine taste and in your finished beer this becomes a medicinal taste like sticky plasters or TCP. You can neutralise this by adding crushed campden tablet to your brewing water at the rate of half a tablet per 30 litres. You can add the crushed campden immediately before you use the water.

The other main factor is alkalinity. Water can be soft or hard depending on where it is sourced. Surface water from reservoirs tends to be soft, underground water from aquifers tends to be hard because it’s taken on minerals from the rocks it’s percolated through over years. The effect of alkalinity is that the pH is too high for the enzymes we rely on to work effectively and you will get poor efficiency. If the alkalinity is very high your beer might even taste minerally. You can address alkalinity in several ways from adding Carbonate Reducing Solution (CRS - a mixture of acids), to using bottled water with low minerals, and even using a Reverse Osmosis machine to purify your water.

I do the latter and use an RO machine because my water is very hard. This gives me water with nothing in it. Unfortunately water with nothing in it is also not the best for brewing because the brewing process uses minerals, calcium in particular, and your beer will also taste a bit thin without any minerals. So I add back the minerals I do want and that’s why in the recipe you see me add a few grams of calcium sulphate (which accentuates dry bitterness) and calcium chloride (which accentuates maltiness and sweetness). I’ve added similar amounts of both for a neutral profile. Both add calcium.

@strange-steve wrote a very good article on water treatments when you’re ready for this. You’ll find his thread in the section “Grain, Hops, Yeast and Water”.

You can also of course use a combination of tap water and RO or bottled water. For now you might want to just add a little crushed campden to your tap water.

As I’m brewing a very pale lager, soft water is best and I’m starting with RO water. This is my RO machine. Tap water goes in, pure water comes out, and waste water goes down the drain.
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I notice you use 2 packs of MJ54, are you being on safe side or have you used only one before and had under attenuation ?
I'm interested as I've down similar steam lagers and Cali commons ( same OG as you but slightly smaller volume 18L ) using one pack without problems but wondered at the time if I was taking a chance.
 
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I notice you use 2 packs of MJ54, are you being on safe side or have you used only one before and had under attenuation ?
I'm interested as I've down similar steam lagers and Cali commons ( same OG as you but slightly smaller volume 18L ) using one pack without problems but wondered at the time if I was taking a chance.
Using one pack is probably fine but if your OG is around 1050 it could be marginal and you may get esters from the yeast affecting the flavour of the beer.
 
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Moving on to the grain pretty much all lagers that are light in colour use Pilsner grain as the great majority of the grain bill, in my case 98% is Pilsner malt. I’m using Pilsner malt from Weyermann because I find it rich and flavoursome compared to some other brands. I’ve added a little Melanoidin malt for extra maltiness - just a little of this makes a difference.

Some people add acid malt to reduce the pH a little (you’ll see I did this with lactic acid in the water treatment). Some people add Carapils malt for improved head/head retention. I don’t find I have an issue with this.

You can buy your grain whole or crushed. There’s really not much difference except you have more control if you crush the grain yourself. The rollers on my mill are set a little further apart than the thickness of a credit card. When you mash your grain you are extracting the sugars in the grain. If the crush is too coarse it will take longer to get the sugars out (I once forgot to reset the gap in my rollers after cleaning and a 1 hour mash took over 4 hours to get the same extract of sugars). If the crush is too fine you may just get one big dough ball and something called a stuck mash. A good crush will have a nice blend of husks, broken pieces of grain, and “flour”.

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So onto the mash. I use a Cygnet/Burco water boiler and fitted a better tap. Fitted to the tap on the inside is a Bazooka which stops any bits of grain coming out of the tap. Inside the boiler I’ve put a grain basket (hop spider) to hold the grain and make it easy to remove. You can use a mesh bag but this is easier. The Cygnet is a great little boiler but not so good at setting and holding a specific temperature for mashing so I set the boiler to its hottest setting and plug the boiler into an Inkbird temperature controller. The Inkbird temperature probe goes in the boiler and will switch it on and off to maintain the set temperature.

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The mash can be simple or complex depending on what you want from it. If you want simple then set the temperature controller to maintain 152F/66C and leave the grain to soak for an hour.

A more complex mash might consist of a series of “rests” at key temperatures that favour one or another enzymatic processes. A discussion about these would be too much for one sitting so just a couple of the biggies…

The sugars you get out of the grain can be simple short-chain sugars or can be more complex longer-chain sugars. A cooler mash temperature around 140F/60C favours the enzymatic process that produces short-chain sugars. A warmer mash temperature around 160F/70C favours the longer-chain sugars. Most yeasts can easily ferment short-chain sugars but struggle with the longer-chain sugars. This means a mash a lower temperatures produces a highly fermentable wort resulting in thinner dryer beer. Conversely a warmer mash will result in a full bodied sweeter beer. You can step up the temperature and rest at various points to let the enzymes do their stuff but you can’t go back down because enzymes are denatured beyond a certain point and are permanently destroyed.

My mash profile starts at 152F so is in the middle and produces a blend of short and long chain sugars to give a medium bodied beer that is neither particularly dry or sweet. The mash tests here for an hour which is about the right time for the main mash. You can leave it longer (all night if you need to) but not much less than an hour. I then raise the temperature to 161F for a glycoprotein rest - this is where an enzyme gets to work that produces proteins that are responsible for a good head and improved head retention. Finally a rest at 170F, this is the temperature that should substantially denature all these enzymes and “lock in” the profile of sugars, called the “Mash-out”.

This is my mash in progress. I take wort from the bottom of the boiler and spray it back in the top. This is not necessary at all but it does help to maintain an even temperature through the grain bed and helps to produce a more clear wort as the wort is filtered through the grain bed.

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Through the mash I like to keep track of the specific gravity of the wort and check the pH of the mash. These are useful as checks and can help diagnose an issue if things don’t go to plan.

For checking the specific gravity I use a refractometer (a hydrometer is better but you need a bigger sample and you need to cool it). This is the one I use.
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For checking the pH I use this pH meter. Again the sample has to be cooled to 20 degrees to get the right reading and in order to not damage the meter.
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Here you see the refractometer reading and pH reading at 20C.
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As I go through the mash I record on my sheet the gravity at each point and the pH after 20 minutes.
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Next comes the sparge. This is where we use what’s left of the original 30 litres of water to flush the sugar out of the grain bed. You don’t need to sparge at all but this will improve your efficiency and is required if your boiler isn’t big enough to hold the full volume of water. Mine isn’t so I use 22 litres in the mash and then sparge with the other 8 litres.

There are two basic ways to sparge; batch sparge and fly sparge.

Batch sparge is where you separate the grain and wort, either by draining the wort or lifting the grain out, and then putting the grain into the sparge water to rinse off the sugars in the grain. That sugary sparge water is then added back to the wort from the mash.

Fly sparge is a process where you slowly add the sparge water onto the grain bed while at the same time removing wort from the bottom of the grain bed. You have to match the inflow and outflow to avoid an overflow and avoid a stuck sparge - this is where the grain bed has settled down (or worse, been sucked down) and forms a dense plug that nothing is getting through.

In both cases the sparge water should be warm but must not exceed 170F/77C or you might extract tannins from the grain husks. These make you beer astringent (that nasty mouth-puckering sensation if you chew a banana skin).

Fly sparging is more efficient than batch sparging but the process needs a bit more sophistication.

This is my fly sparge in operation.
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On the right is a bucket with my warm sparge water. On the top of the boiler and under the lid is my sparge head which is really like a shower head. Attached to the tap is something called a Valentine arm which can be tilted to allow wort to spill into the bucket on the left as the level in the boiler (fed by sparge water being pumped in) rises.
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When the sparge is complete I use a rope and pulley to lift the basket and allow most of the wort to run out, the basket then gets put into a bucket to collect the last bit of wort. In the meantime tip the wort that had been collected through the sparge back into the boiler (adding to what’s still in there) and take another gravity reading to get the pre-boil gravity.

I now have about 26 litres in the boiler, bring the original 30 litres less the water that’s been absorbed by the grain which is about 1 litre / Kg of grain.
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Set the boiler to raise the temperature of the wort to 212F/100C. Wait a while…
 
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What's that on your burco lid that looks like a spray ball but isn't a ball?
It’s an atomiser spray used in things like farm pesticide sprayers. These things…


PS I can confirm they “arrive normally after send out” 😂
 
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As the temperature approaches boiling you’ll get a load of scummy stuff on the surface called the hot-break. This is protein from the grain. I skim this off but many people don’t bother or actively choose to let it reabsorb into the wort. My own view is that this is waste that if removed now will be a little bit less rubbish in my boiler/fermenter later.
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Once I’m past the hot-break it’s time to add the bittering hops. These are Saaz as noted in the recipe for this beer. They are a beautiful Noble hop and perfect for this Czech lager. I put mine in a mesh bag (the kind of thing you put vegetables in at the supermarket) along with a large ball-bearing that stops the bag from just floating on the surface.
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These will boil for 60 minutes with the lid off, or partially off. The lid needs to allow steam to escape to carry away DMS - dimethyl sulphide is also from the grain and gives your beer a cooked vegetable taste if you don’t let it drift off with the steam. DMS is one of the reasons the wort is boiled for an hour.
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With 10 minutes remaining of the 60, I added 1/2 a protofloc tablet to help clear the beer and I added the other 40g of Saaz hops. Unlike the first addition which was primarily added to introduce bitterness these later addition hops are contributing more flavour and aroma.

At the same time I connected up my plate chiller and started pumping boiling wort through it to sterilise it. This is the plate chiller. It’s called a plate chiller because the construction is a set of plates with hot wort running along one side and cold water along the other. There are several sets of plates to maximise surface area.
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Other types of chillers are available and many people use immersion chillers that look like a big copper pipe coil that cold water flows through and is dropped into the wort or counter-flow chillers where that copper pipe coil is inside a hose pipe - wort flows through the copper pipe, water flows through the hose. You can also no-chill and just let the boiling wort cool naturally overnight. It’s generally regarded a good idea though to cool the wort quickly as this reduced the possibility of DMS continuing to be formed and minimises the chances of unintended wild yeast/bacteria getting established before you pitch your own yeast.
 
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The brewday is almost over now. In a short few minutes the chiller has brought the boiling wort down to 68F/20C. Time to finish clearing up while the wort rests to drop out the cold-break. This is similar to the hot-break but happens as the wort cools, proteins coagulate, aided by the protofloc, and drop to the bottom.
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In a moment I will sanitise the fermentation bucket and associated bits and get this beer in the temperature controlled fermentation cabinet.
 

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