At Handbrewed Soaps, we believe that brewing beer and soap are both a science and an art. Just like a science experiment, you must follow some basic rules in order to produce the desired outcome or product—in our case, beer and soap. And, as with art, individual interpretation, experimentation, and improvisation are encouraged and expected. While many brewers feel that they have found the “best way” to brew beer, there are so many variables in the brewing process, that there’s a good chance that a homebrewer in your own neighborhood is doing something radically different or just subtly unique enough that you could apply to your own brewing process to make more interesting or flavorful beers… and soaps! At Handbrewed Soaps, we have developed our own unique style of brewing and soap-making by reading, researching, and hanging out with fellow homebrewers and soapmakers. We hope that you enjoy the methods, tips, and tricks that we use in our brewing and soapmaking process!
If you are new to brewing beer or soap, and want to learn more about the basics of either (or both!), we highly recommend How to Brew by John Palmer and The Soapmaker’s Companion by Susan Miller Cavitch. Of course there are hundreds, if not thousands, of resources online to help you get started and support you every step along the way. Below is an overview of how Brew Master Eric Swihart brews the beer, and how Soap Lady Alyson Swihart transforms the beer into soap. Don’t worry, we don’t use all of the beer to make soap-- we drink a lot of it too!!!
The VERY basics of Homebrewing
We’re going to assume that you already have some basic brewing supplies (boiling pots or kettles, buckets, fermentation vessels (glass or plastic carboys), etc.). If not, head down to your local homebrew store, and they will hook you up with everything you need to get started. Likewise, we assume you already have some basic soap making supplies including stainless steel pots, hand mixer, and molds.Don’t go overboard. Start small and keep it manageable. It’s no fun to jump in over your head, only to get discouraged and quit. Do what’s manageable for you right now. Don’t jump in to all-grain brewing until you have the time, equipment, and brewing experience to make the jump. I brewed about 10 extract batches before making the jump to all-grain. I’m very glad I did, but if I had jumped in to all-grain brewing before getting some experience with simple extract kits, I would have been very overwhelmed. Have fun, start small, and grow your homebrewing setup as your brewing skills advance.
Put together a recipe
What kind of beer should you brew? Brew the beer that you (and your friends) like to drink. You’re going to be making 5 to 10 gallons of beer, and it would take one person a long time to drink that much beer. So, make the kind of beer that you—and your helpful/thirsty friends like to drink. At Handbrewed Soaps, our three most popular beers (and soaps) are I.P.A., Oatmeal Stout, and Hefeweizen (American Wheat Beer, to be specific.) We decided to share our Orange Honey Wheat Ale Recipe with you. We will first explain the beer-making process, and then describe how Alyson transforms Eric’s beer into soap.
Clean and sanitize!
Everything that comes in contact with your brewing ingredients needs to be clean and sanitized. I personally recommend PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash), which is an environmentally-friendly, biodegradeable alkali cleaner. After everything is clean, I sanitize it with Star-San, an odorless, tasteless, food-grade sanitizer made from phosphoric acid. I have never lost a beer to contamination or infection, when I have used these two products to clean and sanitize my equipment. Of all of the steps in the brewing process, this is one of the most important.
Let’s make beer!
After everything has been clean and sanitized, you can and should start making beer! In order to make beer, you need four main ingredients: Water, Grain, Hops, and Yeast. Technically, any combination of grain can be used to make beer, but the most common grain is malted barley, which serves as the “base” for most beers. Additonal grains (rye, oats, and wheat) and a supporting cast of specialty grains (carmel/crystal, roasted, and dark malts) and adjuncts (honey, spices, herbs, etc.) can be used to make some very tasty homebrew. Typically, the grain bill for wheat beers (hefeweizens) is 30-70% wheat. The grain bill for our orange honey wheat ale is going to be 40% wheat, with some additional support from orange honey wheat and orange zest.
All of the beer we brew at Handbrewed Soaps (for drinking and soap-making) is brewed on a three-tier, all-grain brewing setup built by our friend and fellow homebrewer Jaston Hopkins, (aka Jaston of the Woods).
The first part of all-grain brewing involves cracking or “crushing” the grain you’ve selected. By cracking the grain, two things are accomplished: 1) you’re making the starch accessible for conversion, and 2) the husk of the grain settles in the bottom of the mash tun and acts as a filter to prevent grain from transferring into the boil kettle. We are going to soak our grain in hot water (at approximately 152° F) for about 60- 90 minutes. At this temperature, enzymes in the grain start acting on the starch to convert it to sugar (fermentable). This is a process called saccharification.
Lautering and Sparging
Once the starches in the grain have been converted into sugar, you need to separate the sugars from the grain. This is a process called lautering. Sprinkle 170° water over the top of the grain to 1) stop the enzymes from converting starch and 2) wash the sugar off the grain and into your boil kettle. The process of sprinkling water over the grain to remove the sugar is called sparging, which literally means “sprinkling.” The sugar water resulting from the mashing and lautering process is called wort. (We have to go through a few more steps before we have actual beer.)
Once you’ve collected the wort in the boil kettle, and the wort is boiling, add your hops at the times indicated on your recipe. Hops added at the beginning of the boil are called bittering hops, because the extended boiling time allows you to extract the highest amount of oils (bittering qualities) from the hops. The hops added during the middle part of the boil are for flavor, and the hops added at the end of the boil are used to give the beer aroma. After 60 or 90 minutes, depending on your recipe (and the style of beer you’re brewing), cool the wort with a wort chiller.
*Wort is what we call beer before the yeast has eaten the sugar and created alcohol.
1) Once wort reaches 75° (people have their own preferences for higher and lower temps) transfer the wort to a sterilized carboy, aerating it as much as possible in the process. Aerating the wort is helpful to ensure a vigorous, efficient, and complete fermentation.
2) Leave 4” of headroom at the top of the carboy. During peak fermentation, the yeast will rise (“krausen”) up to 4-6” above the liquid level in the carboy, and if you haven’t allowed room for this to occur, prepare for a very messy result!
3) Put on airlock or blowoff hoses, to allow for the yeast to “burp” off CO2 while preventing external air from coming into contact with the beer
4) Put in a cool dark place, and monitor frequently. When the “peak krausen” has dissipated and the airlock bubbles less than once per minute, transfer the beer to secondary fermentation.
5) After 7-14 days, transfer the beer into keg or bottles, for carbonation. Beer can be carbonated in a keg in 2-3 days, with forced CO2. Bottle-conditioned beer takes approximately 2 weeks to become fully carbonated, by adding corn sugar to the bottle prior to filling it with beer.
At this point, we take the beer to make the soap. See Part Two of our from Grains to Soap series to learn more!