Thursday, October 25, 2012

Brewing A Batch Of Starter Wort

Extract is expensive, messy, and an all-around pain-in-the-ass to deal with. But as an all-grain brewer, when you just need a quart or two of starter wort, what else are you going to use? Well, here's what I'm doing from now on: taking a few hours of my free-time and brewing up an all-grain batch of starter wort.

I obviously didn't come up with this idea — for all I know, I could be the last all-grain brewer to implement what is otherwise common sense. Nonetheless, this is the first time I've actually been able to run with it. Up to the beginning of this year, I was an extract / partial mash brewer. I ended up making the switch to all-grain somewhat impulsively, months earlier than I had been planning, and that left me with a bunch of left-over extract — enough to last me all the way until the end of summer.

I really didn't want to spend any more money buying extract, or spend any more time dealing with its sticky/goopy headaches. Instead, I spent a few hours on a free Sunday afternoon making a super-simple 2.5 gallon batch of all grain wort. In many ways, it was a typical brew day — except there was no stress about my recipe, the boil only lasted for 20/30 minutes, and I had no concerns about yeast-pitching or infections after cool-down. In fact, I just put the lid on the pot and let it sit overnight until the wort was room temp. The next morning, I grabbed a funnel, filled up a half dozen or so bottles and growlers, and tossed them into my freezer (which is now quite full.)

Lurking up there, frozen and all, I don't think they're going to get nasty. And when I'm ready to use the wort, I'll pull a bottle out, defrost it the day before, and then boil the wort for another 15 minutes or so to sanitize. The other trick: I brewed my batch to a little over 1.080 OG. Obviously, this is much too high for starter wort — in fact, it's just about double what you want. Like, you could just dilute with an equal volume of water and have double the starter wort. Convenient, huh? So my collection of bottles up there is good for twice its present volume. I'm guessing I should have enough to make starters for the next year, maybe longer. We'll see.

The time commitment is the one real drawback that I can see, but it's only a few hours — less time than if you were brewing a 'real' batch, and less effort too. And extract is expensive; this is not. All you need is a couple pounds of base malt — any base malt will do. I bulk buy sacks of Canada Malting Pale Ale Malt, but even if you get your grain one batch at a time, the sevenish pounds of base malt that you'll be using — for months and months (and months?) worth of starter wort — is still nothing compared to the equivalent amount of extract you'd have to buy. The money saved before you have to re-up should be enough to brew at least a whole other batch of beer. I debated throwing a spare ounce of hops into this, for flavor insurance and  preservation insurance, but I decided I didn't have an ounce of hops that I was willing to spare. If you grow your own, or buy cheaper varieties in bulk, it would probably be nice to toss in a 1/2 ounce or so.

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