Beer making? That’s a different kettle of wort.
In our family, the ritual of beer brewing goes back generations, and I fully expect it to be passed along to the next. The changing of sugars into alcohol is a living, breathing science experiment that’s gentle and fascinating, historically significant and results something that’s far more cool than a baking soda volcano.
Locally, I get my beer making supplies at Wine Barrel Plus in Livonia (734-522-WINE). You can pick up the kit and kaboodle on line at www.winebarrel.com but then you wouldn’t get the chance to hobnob with knowledgeable owner Mark George who can steer you toward—or away from—the stuff you think you want.
For a first timer, that requires the outlay of some cash for the basic set-up, which will run around sixty dollars, including a glass carboy, air locks, siphon, tubing and a functional bottle capper. If you have Mr. Science blood, you may want all kinds of geekometers to test temperature and specific gravity, etc., but if you proceed correctly, cleaning everything with diluted bleach (or preferably, sulpher-based sterilizer) and minding that your brew ferments and ages at room temp or cooler, you won’t need to track these details: Everything will work out in the end.
Ingredients to brew four gallons should run in the neighborhood of thirty more dollars; from that you’ll get about forty twelve ounce beers. This will cover canned malt extract, powdered dried malt, hops (if your malt extract is un-hopped), brewer’s yeast, sulpher-based sterilizer, priming sugar (for the bubbles), bottle caps. There are now as many beer styles available for home brewing as there are on the party store shelves, from stout to lambic to the weak Mexican stuff you have to put a lime in to make it drinkable. To each his own.
Clearly, do-it-yourself brewing is not necessarily a cash saver, but then again, few fun hobbies are. If you decide that this one is for you, you can learn to sprout and mash barley from scratch, grow your own hops, even produce a keg version complete with CO2 carbonation.
For the entry level brewer, here’s an easy step-by-step demonstrated by an ol’ underage brew master:
Everything to be used in the beer making process should be bathed in bleach solution (1 TBSP bleach to a gallon of water) and thoroughly rinsed. Use commercial sterilizer if you prefer—I do, but it costs more. Bring two gallons of water to a boil in your largest pot, then add one can of malt extract and one pound of dried malt. For richer beer, add two pounds. I’ve found that the ickiest home brew is usually the result of a too-dilute final product. Keep everything well-stirred to avoid scorching.
If you are using un-hopped extract, add the dried hops. Adjust heat to a low simmer for twenty minutes. Cool to blood temperature and, using a funnel lined with a spaghetti strainer, pour your ‘wort’ into a sterilized glass carboy. Top off with tap water to make about four gallons. Experiment beforehand to find the four gallon mark if you are that retentive/challenged. Add yeast. At this point, if you want, you can add to the overall cost by stirring in yeast starter and water hardener (if you use soft water), but for a first-timer, the result of this will not be a blatant improvement.
Put on an air lock filled with sanitizer and place in a reasonably warm spot. If it’s winter and you don’t live on the equator, try an area near a heat vent. After twenty-four hours, you’ll see some fermentation begin, and after three days, the bubbling should be ferocious. At that point, I move the carboy to a cooler spot in my basement, where it continues to ferment for about three weeks.
On bottling day, I run my bottles through the dishwasher minus the soap. If you don’t have sufficient empty bottles left over from the weekend, most liquor stores will sell you empties for the price of the deposit. Only thing, make sure they are spotlessly clean and residue free, or you’ll regret it when slimy alien cultures appear in the bottle.
Siphon the fermented beer into another carboy or a five gallon plastic Home Depot-style bucket (my preference). Heat two or three cups of the beer over low heat with a cup of corn sugar (in a pinch, ordinary sugar should work) and stir into the siphoned beer. This is to prime the stuff for the secondary fermentation inside the bottle which will carbonate the brew and give it the frothy head we’ve all come to love.
Using the same siphon set-up, fill each bottle to about an inch of the top.
Cap. This takes a bit of practice, and remember, the more you spend on a capper, the easier this job becomes.
Fight off the devil for at least three weeks before you sample. This allows ample time for the secondary fermentation to take place and mellows and marries the various beer flavors. It will, in fact, continue to improve for months. Of course, for Julia, the sample part is not an option. A final accessory, a gag, can be found for no cost hanging in the closet.
In my case, the gag had an auxiliary use when Julia’s mother bought her a copy of ‘One Thousand And One Knock-Knock Jokes.’
NEXT: Science Project: Turning that old jalopy into a meth lab