Grape to Grain: A Winemaker's Transition To Home Brewing

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About a year and a half ago, I stumbled on an article on the Flanders Red beer style. A Flanders Red is aged in oak barrels for years, giving it acidity and a Burgundian complexity which has been described as the most wine-like of all beers. I was intrigued by this concept, so I drove to my local liquor store and picked up a bottle of Duchess de Bourgogne to try. To be honest, it tasted wine-like with the acidity and the barrel character, however the big acetic character (think Worcestershire sauce meets balsamic vinegar) turned me off. From what I learned afterwards, Belgian Flanders beers have more of this acetic character than domestic interpretations. This character is something that I avoid at all costs in my own interpretations of the style. Not wavering from this setback, I picked up an American Flanders-style beer, Oude Tart, and I was instantly hooked by its clean lactic acidity, tart red fruit, oak, and malt complexity. So what else is a determined wine maker to do when facing a new challenge but dive in full speed? That is exactly what I did.
When making the transition from wine to beer there are some differences in process that should not be overlooked. The first and most important is sanitation. While sanitation is important for winemaking, the high alcohol, high acidity, high levels of sulfite, and high tannin (in general), often found in wine make it resistant to microbes. The average beer does not usually have these preservative features. However, hops are naturally anti-microbial and are really the only protection the beer has from any bugs in the air (and they are oxidized over time, resulting in off flavors).
In addition, wort (unfermented beer) must be boiled and quickly cooled to kill wild Lactobacillus and other microbes that live on the grain. In wine, these microbes are killed by sulfites, so there is not a lot of extra work required for must production.
The issue of time is another facet that should be discussed. When wine is produced from concentrate or juice, the bulk of time invested is not on day one (which usually consists of only sulfiting and pitching yeast), but during the aging time (which could be up to a year). However, the process of brewing a beer (sanitizing, mashing, boiling, and cooling) usually takes four to five hours on day one, but the beer is usually carbonated and drinkable within three weeks to a month. For those winemakers transitioning to beer brewing, if you plan accordingly, and set aside plenty of time on day one, you will have a drinkable beverage within a few weeks. Really, brewing both types of beverages is a perfect symbiotic relationship; I have beer to drink while my wines age to perfection.
After making wine for two years, I already had 99% of the equipment necessary to make beer in my winemaking stash and kitchen. After purchasing an inexpensive 5 gallon Polar Ware kettle and a fine mesh bag (for mashing grains), I was all set! My kitchen brewing method is basically what is commonly referred to as "brew in a bag" (BIAB), with a few tweaks that I have found to simplify things:

Adding Grain To Do BIAB

Adding In Hops For Bittering, Flavor And Aroma
1. Limit the total grain for a batch to less than 10-12 lbs. Beyond this, dealing with the hot and wet grains is very difficult (and potentially dangerous).

Handle Sopping Wet Hot Grains With Care
2. The grains are easily sparged (rinsed of sugars) with your average pasta strainer positioned over a 6 gallon bucket.

Pouring Hot Water Over Grains To Rinse Out Sugars
3. Use a bathtub or a large sink filled with ice and water will chill down the kettle to pitching temperatures within 30-45 minutes (more than enough time to avoid DMS).

Cold Water Bath Helps To Cool Wort Temperature

Use Caution To Prevent Wort Contamination
4. Chlorine free water is easily attainable at any supermarket for about $1 a gallon (Poland Spring, or other spring water). Usually this water is soft (low in minerals) so it is perfect for dialing in water chemistry (this is more advanced, do not concern yourself with adjusting your water at this juncture). If you want to make the investment, get a simple water filter system and get your water tested (about $100 total).
5. The strategy that I have been using for almost two years now is to boil the wort in the kettle down to around 4 gallons, then top off with water after chilling. This strategy is borrowed from extract brewing, but it is easily used for full 5 gallon Brew in a Bag batches as well. The main limitation in the variety of beers you can brew using this method is the weight limit for grains. If you want to do higher gravity beers (e.g. Double IPA, Wee Heavy, Imperial Stout, etc.) you can use some extract as well to increase the gravity.
Notes for first time beer brewers:
1. Pitching and fermentation temperatures are very important! Most styles of beer are consumed within 1-2 months after brewing, so any fusel alcohols will be detrimental to a batch.
2. Rack beer as little as possible! My general rule is that I only rack beers to secondary that are over 9% ABV, or fermented with Brett/souring bacteria. Anything not in this category, after primary fermentation, rack to a keg or bottle carbonate.
3. Just like with wine, KEEP THINGS CLEAN!!!
4. Stick to a simple recipe first, and brew more complex things later.
5. Think of brewing like cooking from a recipe. Follow the recipe closely, and everything will be just fine.
6. Dont fear, it is just beer!!!
Summer Rye Saison (5 Gallon Batch)
*I just brewed up this beer recipe a few weeks ago for a Memorial Day party, and everyone loved it (especially non-craft beer drinkers). It is light and spicy, with a little lime flavor from the New Zealand hops.
Boil Time: 90 min
Batch Size: 5.5 gallons (fermentor volume)
Boil Size: 4.5 gallons
Efficiency: 70% (brew house)
Original Gravity: 1.052 (1.055 with priming sugar)
Final Gravity: 1.010
ABV (aprox.) 6%
IBU: 34
SRM: 5
7 lb - Pilsner (64.7%)
3 lb - Malted Rye (27.7%)
2 oz - Canadian - Honey Malt (1.2%)
5 oz - German - Munich Dark (2.9%)
1 oz - German - Acidulated Malt (0.6%)
5 oz - Corn Sugar " Dextrose - (Add in the last 15 min. of the boil) (2.9%)
1 oz - East Kent Goldings, Type: Pellet, AA: 5, Use: Boil for 60 min, IBU: 15.52
1 oz - East Kent Goldings, Type: Pellet, AA: 5, Use: Boil for 15 min, IBU: 7.7
0.5 oz - Motueka, Type: Pellet, AA: 7, Use: Boil for 15 min, IBU: 5.39
1 oz - East Kent Goldings, Type: Pellet, AA: 5, Use: Boil for 5 min, IBU: 3.09
0.5 oz - Motueka, Type: Pellet, AA: 7, Use: Boil for 5 min, IBU: 2.17
1) Temperature, Temp: 145F, Time: 60 min, Amount: 3.5 gallons, (Start at 158)
2) Sparge, Temp: 170F, Amount: 2 gallons
White Labs - Belgian Saison II Yeast WLP566
Pitching Temp: 70F
Optimum Ferm. Temp: 78-80F
*Use Poland Spring, or other de-chlorinated bottled water
1. Take the yeast out of the fridge 4-6 hours before it will be needed for fermentation.
2. Collect and heat 3.5 gallons of water to 158F.
3. Take the pot off the heat, and pour the grains into the fine mesh bag. After stirring, reduce the heat to low, an adjust to keep the temp. at 145F for 60 minutes (cover so that the heat stays in). After 60 minutes, remove bag and hold over a 6 gallon bucket in a strainer to rinse the grains until most of the liquid drips out (do not squeeze the bag).
4. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the hops at specified times for the 90 minute boil.
5. When the 90 minute boil is finished, cool the wort to approximately 70F as rapidly as possible (put the kettle in an ice bath in your sink/bathtub)
6. Sanitize fermenting equipment and yeast tube. While the wort cools, sanitize the fermenter, lid or stopper, fermentation lock, funnel, etc
7. Pour in the cooled wort into the fermenter, and add more spring water to 5.5 gallons. Leave any thick sludge in the bottom of the kettle.
8. Aerate the wort with a drill for 1-2 minutes.
9. Add yeast, and leave for 2 weeks.
10. When ready for bottling (after approx. 2 weeks), rack to a bottling bucket and prime to 2.5 volumes of CO2.
Duchese goes all out with the acetic acid.
What sort of wines were you making before? Did you age them?
I have been making wine since 2011, and beer since 2013. I have made wine from grapes, juice, kits, Welsh's grape juice, and fresh fruit. Wine varietals I have fermented include, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewrztraminer, Syrah, and Amarone (one of my favorites). I touched upon it briefly in the article, but one of the main differences between beer and wine is ageing time. Wine strains produce more fusel alcohol, and ferment to 1.000, or lower so alcohol, acid, and tannin are all very sharp for at least 8 months to a year. Personally I age wine for at least a year (two is better). I forget who said it, but the statement that it takes a lot of good beer to make good wine is very...very... true.
Homebrew talk includes beer brewers, winemakers, as well as people who make cider, sake, and mead. I wanted to publish the particle to bridge the gaps between them. I am also looking I to publishing on Winemaking talk as well to reach everyone.
^^ Plus cheese, kombucha, etc. etc. all homebrew fermentations!