I followed Charlie Papazain's recipe for "Whitey's Gone Fishin' Pale Ale" (though it does sound a little racist), which I figured would be easy enough for a novice, but allow me to play with the ingredients. For the most part, that's about how it went, but there were some lessons learned.
First and foremost: use cold water. That alone would have saved me about four hours.
I swung by Yes Mart yesterday and picked up five gallons of Culligan filtered water. Two gallons were needed for the boiling wort, the rest went to the fermenter.
Now, if I knew what I was doing, I would've stuck those three gallons of water into the fridge while I futzed around sanitizing everything and making the wort. That way, when I added the wort to the fermenter, I would've spent a lot less time trying to get the temperature down to 75 degrees, which is about the top of the range for ale yeast. Because I kept the three gallons of water on the counter, I spent about four hours trying to drop the temperature from 110 degrees to 75 degrees (76 degrees actually, but by then I was ready to move on). After an hour in the kitchen and an hour in my cool laundry room, I finally surrendered and placed my fermenter outside where the ambient temperature was about 25 degrees. Even still, it took just over two hours to finish cooling off that five gallon container.
Sticking the fermenter outside exacerbated my other major concern: bacteria.
Everything I've read about brewing, including Papazain, has been
emphatic about the need for proper sanitation to prevent bacteria from entering the beer. Fair enough. I sanitized everything I used yesterday, and initially everything went well. But when I had to keep opening the fermenter to check the temperature (first in the kitchen and eventually in the back yard), I started thinking about all the hungry bacteria drifting in and feasting on my sweet wort.
So at this point, I have to hope that exposure was minimal and the only organism in the fermenter is the ale yeast I added around 11 p.m. last night. I'm going to check the fermenter on Thursday to see how the yeast are progressing and swap out the overflow hose for the bubbler (By the way, for all the talk about maintaining a bacteria-free environment, I didn't see anything about submerging the end of the overflow hose into water to prevent unwanted organisms from wandering up the hose and into the wort. Odd.). After that, it's a matter of being patient. The beer is scheduled to finish on Jan. 11.
The other thing I learned was that I need a beaker. To take the hydrometer reading (to determine the density and eventually the alcohol content of the beer), I had to lower the hydrometer into the fermenter (exposing it to more bacteria). The neck of the fermenter is pretty narrow, so I had to MacGyver a twist tie and rubber band contraption together to hold on to the top of the hydrometer so it wouldn't get stuck in the jug. I eventually got the reading (1.037), but a beaker would make the task a whole lot easier.
Besides, I need to pick up some corn sugar or dried malt extract for bottling. It turns out the guy at the home brew supply store didn't give me everything I needed, which just shows that I should've carefully checked my order rather than trusting that he pulled everything together for me. Live and learn.