Strong Ale Works is a craft brewery in Qingdao at 12 Daxue Lu (大学路12号) across from the Qingdao Art Museum. The unassuming space in Old Town is the wellspring for the craft beers Origin Ale, Bitter Ale, Coffee Ale, and various seasonal brews.
For more information, check out their website and contact Strong Ale Works here. Special thanks to John from Strong Ale Works for providing the following overview on what it takes to make beer on your own here in Qingdao.
How to Home Brew in China
Tsingtao Beer slowly loses it’s backbone after you’ve had a few. Eventually the longing for a beer with a little more flavor is desired. Designing you own beer is a good way to accomplish that goal and have fun at the same time. China is not exactly a mecca for home brewers yet there are some resources available.
Brewing can sound complicated at first but anyone who has a strong enough desire for good beer and thirst for learning new things will really enjoy this hobby. Brewing beer breaks down into a few basic steps; mashing, boiling, and fermenting. This article will go into the basic procedures of brewing but if you’re really interested in crafting your own beer you should probably take a look at John Palmer’s website, How to Brew. If you’re interested in brewing beer in China, this article is a good step forward to help you find equipment, ingredients, and run through the basic process.
The mash is the first step in brewing your beer. The goal of the mash is to put crushed malt into water and allow enzymes in the malt to convert starches into sugar. The sugar that is created in the mash is what will be fermented into alcoholic beer. It basically works like a giant coffee filter, filtering water through grain to extract sugars that are finally used to make alcohol. Making a vessel that can be used for the mash can be done in a variety of ways. A separate vessel from the boil kettle can be made with a false bottom, or a filter to separate the wort from the grain.
If you want to mash with as little equipment as possible you can use your boil kettle as the mash tun by using the brew in a bag method. A large nylon bag can be filled with crushed malt and set into the kettle of water and allowed to steep like a giant bag of tea. This is probably the easiest method for most home brewers but finding a large clothe or bag that can hold the grain might be challenging.
Restaurant supply stores usually carry similar items, that would be the first place to check. A simple mash can be completed by letting the crushed malt soak in 65 ℃ water for 60 minutes.
The greatest resource you might find is other brewers. Whether itʼs a home brewer, craft brewer, or professional brewer, theyʼre usually pretty interested in talking about beer.
The boil is an important part of brewing. During the boil hops are added to the sugary wort you created in the mash. The first thing you’re going to need for the boil is big pot that can hold about 30 liters of water. These are easily found at restaurant supply stores or places like Metro. A typical boil is about 60 minutes long, however it can extend to 90 minutes.
Hops can be added at various times and amounts during the boil. For example, you may added 30 grams at the beginning of the boil (60 minutes) 20 grams at the middle of the boil (30 minutes) and another 20 grams at the end of the boil (0 minutes). This hopping schedule will have a big impact on the bitterness and flavors in the final beer. The variety of hops you choose will also contribute a lot to bitterness and aroma.
Hop variety in China is pretty limited. However, you can find some decent hop varieties to work with and make great beer. I would not suggest using hops that are sold as Chinese medicine. These hops are generally old, dried up and will impart some pretty bad flavors to your beer. Your best bet is to buy hops that have been processed into pellets. These pellets are designed to last longer and keep fresher. Itʼs always a good idea to keep your hops refrigerated and in a sealed bag.
Zhejiang Dayu, an equipment manufacturer, sells homebrew boil kettles with built in thermometers and ball valves. This setup is a little more expensive but may be the antidote for serious beer connoisseurs. Once you have some hops and grains to work with you can search for good recipes in home brew recipe books or online and build your own recipe around those. Recipe building takes practice and most importantly- good record keeping!
Another important piece of equipment is the fermentor. The most basic fermentor would be a food grade plastic container. The blue water carboys for delivering water work well, ask your water delivery guy if help can sell you an old one. Otherwise large glass carboys can be found in chemist shops.
Fermentation is considered the most important part of brewing. During fermentation yeast consume sugar and create co2 and alcohol. Depending the strain of yeast you use and the temperature of fermentation will greatly impart on the alcohol content and flavor of the beer. Fermentation science is a deep subject and a lot of variables affect fermentation. Iʼd suggest Yeast, by White & Zainasheff for anyone who gets addicted to the craft of beer.
The basic procedure to fermentation would be siphoning or pouring your cooled wort from the boil in the fermentation vessel, shaking or stirring the vessel to allow oxygen to get into solution, and finally adding the yeast. Depending on the variety of yeast you use will depend on the optimal fermentation temperature. Most ales will ferment around 18 ℃ and lagers around 12 ℃.
I would not suggest using hops that are sold as Chinese medicine. These hops are generally old, dried up and will impart some pretty bad flavors to your beer.
Sourcing Ingredients and Equipment
Malt, hops and yeast are easily found from suppliers on Alibaba, but generally these suppliers are only interested in selling in large quantities. Most suppliers sell malt in 50 kg bags and hops in 5 kg bags. If your going to go this route you should consider a good way to keep the raw material from spoiling. Malt is best kept away from oxygen. Airtight containers can be found pretty easily and some can hold the exact amount of a 50 kg bag of malt. Hops should be kept cold. I package my hops with vacuum sealing machine and throw them in the freezer.
Most home brewers will probably be more interested in buying smaller amounts. Octoberfest home brewerʼs supply Taobao shop or from Jiefei Food supply gear and ingredients for home brewers. Jiefei Food has some of the typical plastic buckets as well as homebrew kits and malt extract. The Oktoberfest homebrew store has grain, hops, yeast, bottles, caps, bottling equipment, malt grinders, thermometers, hydrometers, and anything else a home brewer might need- itʼs an excellent resource.
Chemicals and Sanitizers
One difficulty about brewing is finding appropriate sanitizers for equipment. Bleach and hot water is good for plastic buckets and spoons but not ideal for stainless steel. Pharmacies carry iodine which can be used to clean small stainless steal parts and can also be used for starch conversion tests.
Amazon.cn is a great way to get homebrewing books. They have a lot to choose from but the best book for a beginning home brewer is How to Brew By John Palmer. It’s the home brewer’s bible. If you are an over achiever or trying to hit two birds with one stone, you can also find Chinese brewing books- improve Chinese and get some brewing science down at the same. Another useful book is Brew Ware, this book focuses on designing and building equipment for your home brewery. Finally, the greatest resource you might find is other brewers. Whether itʼs a home brewer, craft brewer, or professional brewer, theyʼre usually pretty interested in talking about beer. There isnʼt one way to brew and it isnʼt always necessary to reinvent the wheel either. Talking to other brewers is sometimes the best way to solve problems and get suggestions.