Make beer in the Smart Hub

Make beer in the Smart Hub



This post is about one of the many things you can make using the Oliso Smart Hub.  If you would like to learn more about the Smart Hub itself, read about it here.

I am a very amateur home brewer.  I enjoy brewing and I’ve made a few very good beers, but I’ve also made a few duds.  And since it turns out that having 5 gallons of bad beer is no longer nearly as appealing as it was in college, I’ve begun making single-gallon test batches before brewing a full 5-gallon batch.  This has been an absolute revelation; it allows me to bring my favorite part of cooking, creativity, to brewing.  Before the one-gallon batch, I would only follow a recipe and brewing was more similar to following a step-by-step lab assignment than it was to cooking.  Now that the stakes are only a single gallon’s worth of ingredients, I feel free to experiment instead of simply emulate.

The Smart Hub made this revelation possible.  Using the simple brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) technique, I can make single-gallon, all-grain recipes with minimal effort and time.  When I arrive at something I like through experimentation and iteration, I simply scale it up to my big kettle, Igloo cooler, and plastic bucket 5-gallon system.

Here is a fool-proof guide to all-grain brewing your own incredible beer in the Smart Hub, written for someone who has never brewed before.  This guide will explain how I’ve been brewing in my Smart Hub and should give you the knowledge to adapt larger recipes or craft your own.



The Equipment

In addition to a Smart Hub, you’ll need a one-gallon fermentation vessel with an airlock, a muslin bag, a hose to use as a siphon, swing-top bottles, and ingredients.  I highly recommend you also get a steam tray, hydrometer, a tool called an auto-siphon to start the siphon, and a no-rinse sanitizer like Star-San.  I’ve also adapted one tool from my standard brewing kit to be used with the Smart Hub: an immersion chiller.   It allows me to quickly cool my wort at the end of the boil, but there are other strategies that I’ll discuss for people who don’t own immersion chillers.



Step 1: The Mash

The first step to brewing is the mash, where we use water, malted grain, and heat to create the fermentable liquid called sweet wort.  During this step, two things that happen to turn the grain into wort.   First, malt starch from the grain is dissolved into the water and then enzymes present in the grain convert it into fermentable sugars. 

As a process, it’s somewhat similar to making tea: we heat water, mix it with milled grain, and then separate the grain from the water.  If done right, the liquid that remains should be filled with sugars that the yeast will eat and turn into c02 and alcohol. 

There are two main factors that determine the efficiency of this operation; the coarseness of the grist and the temperature of the water.  When brewing, we start with malted grain and grind it into grist.  For me and many other homebrewers, the milling is done by the homebrew shop where I buy my grain.  When buying your grain, tell the homebrew shop that you would like it milled and that you will be using a brew-in-a-bag technique.  If they have an adjustable mill, they should grind it a little finer than they would for a traditional sparge where it needs to be coarse to prevent getting “stuck”.

Now that we have grist, a bag, water, and a Smart Hub, we’re ready to start the mash.  For this guide, we’re going to be assuming a single infusion mash, which is what is most common in homebrewing.  In later recipes and posts, we’ll discuss more complicated methods like the step mash and sour mash.

Start by filling your Smart Top with about 1.75 gallons of water and setting the Smart Hub five or six degrees above your mash temp, a step called heating the strike water.  Once it is at the strike temperature, adjust the Smart Hub to the mash temperature and line the Smart Top with the muslin bag as shown in the picture below.  Leave in the baffle that came with the Smart Top and place the bag on the inside of it.  This will ensure that heated water can circulate and maintain an even bath temperature.



Now you’re ready for dough-in, which is where you mix the grains into the water with a large spoon.  Pour in the grains slowly while stirring to avoid clumping.  Once all the grains are mixed in, just put on the top and wait about an hour, or whatever time your recipe calls for.

At the end of the mash, pull the grain bag out and let it drain above the Smart Top until it stops dripping.  Since it is tiring to hold the bag there, it is best to find a way to suspend it above the water.  The steam tray that fits into the Smart Top is perfect, but if you don’t have one you could also use a wire rack across the top.  As soon as the bag stops dripping, we have our sweet wort!

If you have a hydrometer, you can take a gravity reading which will tell you how efficiently you extracted sugars from the grain.  Either use an online tool or hand calculate the potential gravity of the grain you used in 1.75 gallons of water and divide your measured gravity by that number to get your extraction efficiency.


Step 2: The Boil 

Now it’s time to boil the wort.  This serves to a number of purposes including sterilizing the wort and additions, changing the structures of the extracted proteins, extracting and isomerizing the acids from the hops, and driving off undesirable compounds.

Since the Smart Top only goes up to 194F, we need to use the Smart Hub in induction mode like we would with other pots and pans.  To make the Smart Hub think that the Smart Top is just like any other pot or pan, I lift up the front edge and slip an index card between the electrodes on the Top and Hub.  Once that connection is broken by the index card, I set the Smart Hub to level 10 and let it come to a boil.

During the boil it is important that you leave the lid off.  The evaporation will increase the gravity and bring the volume down to a gallon, and the steam coming off the wort will contain compounds like DMS that we don’t want in the final beer (unless you are going for a specific style that does actually want to retain those compounds). 

The recipe for the beer that you are brewing will tell you how long the beer needs to boil for and when to add hops during the boil.  During the boil you may need to reduce the power level to 8 or 9 if it is boiling too aggressively at level 10.

Since the boil serves to sanitize the wort, everything that comes into contact with it after the boil will need to be sanitized.  For this reason, I place my immersion chiller into the wort a few minutes before the boil ends.  Then when the boil is over and it is time to chill the wort, I know that the chiller is sanitized.



Step 3: Cooling and Transferring the Wort


Before we can pitch the yeast, we need to chill the wort so that the yeast don’t get killed by the heat.  For most yeast strains, this means around 70F, but look for the recommended pitching temperature on your yeast packaging.

There are a number of reasons to believe that it is better to get the wort to pitching temperature as soon as possible, but most importantly it reduces the chances of another bacteria beginning to colonize the wort before the yeast get established.  An immersion wort chiller is the perfect way to do this; at the end of the boil just turn on the water hooked up to the chiller and the heat exchange through the chiller will bring the wort to pitching temperature in under 10 minutes.

If you don’t want to build or buy a wort chiller, there are some other options.  The simplest would be to fill 2 liter bottles with water, freeze them beforehand, and then sanitize them with no-rinse sanitizer right before adding them to the wort.  Three 2 liter bottles should be sufficient to bring the wort to pitching temperature.  If you remove the card between the Smart Hub and Top, the Hub will tell you what the temperature is as it falls so you’ll know when it’s low enough to proceed.

Now you need to transfer the wort to your sterilized fermenter with a sterilized siphon.  Most of the grain sediment, known as trub, should have settled in the bottom of the Smart Hub by the time it is has cooled.  On the other hand, the hops should have mostly floated to the top.  You can skim the hops off the top with a sterilized strainer and try to avoid siphoning the sediment when you transfer, but it probably won’t have a very big effect on your results.  The trub may actually help in clarifying the beer, while leaving the hops in may add bitterness. 

When transferring, pour some of the wort into your hydrometer and take a reading.  This reading is your original gravity, or OG.  Comparing it to the final gravity, or FG, will allow us to determine how much alcohol is in the beer.




Step 4: Fermentation 

Now that your wort is in the fermentation chamber, it is time to pitch the yeast.  If the directions on the yeast container call for you to rehydrate it before pitching, then follow those instructions.  Once you’ve done that, pour the yeast starter or dehydrated yeast into the fermentation chamber.  Then put your sterilized fermenter lid with airlock into the top of the fermenter.

The fermenter should be placed in a dark environment at a suitable temperature for the yeast that you are using.  For most ale yeasts, this means somewhere around 70F.  Now you wait! 

For most beers, two weeks should be sufficient for fermentation.  Take a gravity reading and if it is sufficiently attenuated for your taste, it is time to bottle.  This reading is your FG, and allows to you determine how much alcohol is in your beer.



Step 5: Bottling

 To bottle your beer, simply siphon the beer from the fermenter into sanitized bottles and mix it with priming sugar.  You can either make your own priming sugar mixture by boiling table sugar in water, or use a premade carbonating tablet product.  Either way, just make sure there is enough (but not too much!) sugar in each bottle to allow the yeast to bring the beer to the desired level of carbonation.  Once the beer and sugar are in the bottle, cap it with a swing-top if using swing-top bottles, or use a cap and capper if you have those tools.  Then put the bottles back in the same environment you fermented them in and wait another four weeks (the might be done in two, but four is safe since there is no way to check without opening them).



Step 6: Drink it!

 After 4 weeks have passed, put your beer in the fridge, wait for it to cool, and then drink it!

Click here to learn more about the Smart Hub and what else you can make in it.

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