I’ve been involved with the home brewing process for six batches of beer over the last two years, apprenticing under my brother out in California, (a much more artistic, handy craftsman). For many months, I resisted buying a complete home brew kit to create my own Denver brews. But the Dark Days of November at Odell Brewing got the best of me. On November 6th, 2011 my friend Sherry and I purchased the remaining items needed for home brewing, and we bought ingredients for our first batch. The following entries explore my home brewing wanders (after “How It Started,” the entries travel from the most recent and then reach further and further back in time . . . to see the process from start to finish, begin reading at the bottom of this page):
How It Started:
Conventional wisdom claims, “start simple. Start with a ready-made, extract malt, beginner’s brew kit with a large kettle on your kitchen stove.” I lean towards the conventional. Most of the time. I also have bouts of arrogance and am just goofy enough to walk around my local home brew store holding the Joy of Home Brewing open to an advanced brewer’s recipe for the Silver Dollar Porter, asking the aficionado at the counter all sorts of simple questions like “it says I need malted barley, which bin is that?” (for novices who have ten minutes less experience than I, malted barley is, well, malts, any of them). It turns out I needed eight pounds of two-row barley for my fermenting grains, and then an assortment of flavoring and coloring malts. All very simple indeed.
Now it’s time to admit a few other little arrogances. I won’t be brewing on the kitchen stove (my dear wife would rather have me nowhere near the kitchen). My first batch will be an all-grain brew utilizing the Australian Bag Method. If that sounds like a tricky prophylactic, it kind of is, in a sustainable sort of way. Due to an exhausting drought, Australian brewers have cleverly adapted an all-grain home brew method that reduces water use and the need for the more traditional, technical, and complicated (at least for my little non-crafty brain) 3-tier method. So this Tuesday, Sherry and I will be out on my back patio with a large turkey fryer (Thanksgiving is around the corner, so if this all goes to hell at least I can deep fry an 18 pound bird), a giant bag of grains and hops, and an 8 gallon kettle. I can’t wait.
We finally returned the original turkey burner and aluminum kettle system. After recent conversations with my brother, Sherry and I decide to stick with the Australian all-grain, brew-in-a-bag method, but we’re going to move indoors with a stainless steal kettle, use the kitchen stove, and make smaller three-gallon batches for our next run at this. We’re hoping fora first day of spring re-start on our home brewing adventure. Stay tuned!
I swear, I’m not avoiding all the beer equipment. I’m eager to brew again, and it is a great distraction from my usual stare-at-the-computer work. But we must figure out a new system. The outdoor system makes us less inclined to brew in the winter. The turkey burner we bought has an automatic shut-off every fifteen minutes, and we’re cooking in an aluminum pot. So these aren’t just excuses, these are real dilemmas!
I return to California for good family time and mountain adventures. I’m not planning on brewing again for quite a while, but this will be a good time to try out all my brother’s recently brewed batches, taste lots of new and different beer, and talk through the brewing process with him as he now has more than two dozen batches under his belt.
I carry a case of the home brew into my brew-partners apartment for her Holiday House Warming. I’m anxious to serve the beer to say the least. I know it’s not going to make anyone sick. I also know it’s not going to impress anyone. As the party carries on, everyone asks for a taste of the beer. No one sticks their nose up at it, but no one asks for another round. Except me. I remain the fool in the corner drinking carbonated malt water. But I am a humble and happy fool.
There’s this lovely incubation and resting period for beer. After a month since brewing the first batch, I’m eager to see if we’ve produced anything interesting. Late one evening, I wander down stairs to the basement and pull out a bottle. Popping the top reminds me of the excitement of opening presents on Christmas morning. I pour some beer into another glass, and, wal-la . . . it’s not good. But it’s not bad. It’s actually quite crisp and smooth, somewhat carbonated, light-bodied, but what I would call evaporative in taste. There’s almost beer on my palette, but not quite. My hunch is that the Irish Moss, (remember that stuff I overdosed the beer with?), worked a little too good. The beer is clarified and free of any off-notes, but it’s also free of much flavor.
We let the beer sit in the carboy for almost another four days, trying to hold a consistent temperature. On Wednesday afternoon, we purchase the final supplies needed for bottling, sanitize all the equipment and get the lovely liquid into bottles. Stored in a cool, dark place, we look forward to seeing if this home brew turns into anything worth sharing.
It’s dying! The yeast has slowed way down shortly after 72 hours since fermentation began. Though not a very active fermentation process, I’m hopeful that a tasty alcohol has actually been made in the car boy. As they say in Oaxaca, vamos a ver (we shall see).
It’s alive! The incredible pulsing and breathing of a living organism inside the carboy fermenter is almost meditative to sit and watch. Am I Frankenstein?
Lift-off! Despite colder than expected temperatures down in the basement, the beer baby has begun to incubate. At about 15 hours after pitching the yeast, a nice layer of activity has formed at the top of the soon-to-be beer.
It took nearly 12 hours, but the temperature dropped in my fermenter to the necessary 73 degrees. I’ll pitch the yeast in a little while. And all this time, I’m wondering how those Belgium Monks chilled their beer in a timely fashion. Yes, I know I could go buy a copper coil wurt chiller, but stubborn old me is dedicated to a more sustainable process. Without a garden to feed, what would I do with an hour worth of running water?
By tomorrow, I just hope those little yeasts are busy eating and reproducing. What a job they have in front of them.
Well, my first attempt as the leader brewer wasn’t all bad. The Turkey fryer took about an hour to put together. And then my brother called from California, reminding me to stop the heat once I put the bag of grains in the hot water. Needless to say, that phone call was twenty minutes late. I’ll forgive him; it was his birthday. I then looked over the recipe at about 1 am last night while anxiously waiting for the wurt to cool, and I realized I only needed a teaspoon or so of the Irish Moss, not the whole package. I’m sure that will add a lovely flavor profile.
I would like to take this moment to apologize to all home brewers. Home brewing is a respected process that has been happening since folks left wet barley out in the sun of ancient Egypt. A humbler version of myself knows that starting with malt extract and a pre-fabbed kit would have been the more appropriate way to begin. On the other hand, a stumbling, learn-as-you-go, experiential process is about the only way I retain information and understanding. And I stumbled plenty. So the joke will surely be on me when I open a nasty batch of my Silver Dollar Porter in a month. But hey, I sure learned a hell of a lot.
Like I said, it wasn’t all bad. We drank plenty of craft brew and enjoyed the full moon rising into the cold winter air. And had fun, which I think is what this is all about anyway.