Brew Day

IMG_3146I was thinking maybe I would brew yesterday, but that just didn’t work out. Too many things to do. Today, the rest of the family took a trip to the climbing gym, which would not have been unfun, for sure, but I stayed home to brew. I had the ingredients. I had the equipment. It was a nice day. It seemed the right time.

I have been brewing beer since 1992. A friend and I had discovered that there were a few better beers out there, but not all that many. The craft beer revolution had just begun. He was pretty gung ho about brewing our own beer, and I was game, so off we went to the (now long gone) brew supply store in Orford, New Hampshire. This was just a guy selling stuff out of his garage but we got everything we needed. We were working at an outdoor education center at the time so we used the commercial pots and the huge gas range and had our mess cleaned up before the school kids came around for breakfast. That batch was pretty good. I made a few batches with that friend and with others before taking a hiatus from brewing for a while.

I pulled out my supplies several years ago to find that they were less than optimal after lack of use and several moves. As a Christmas gift, my parents got me a starter kit. I have added a few things over the years and have a fairly smooth system now. The process is pretty simple as I did it today: steep some grains in water, add malt extract and hops, boil it for an hour, cool, add yeast and let it sit for a while. Bottling is a later step that happens after fermentation is complete.

The set-up on the porch

The set-up on the porch. Note the yeast warming in the sun as it gets started.

Today’s batch was a brown ale. I have been craving something a little heartier than my last beer–an India pale ale. Plus, it is fall, so something darker fits the season. I added some maple syrup to the pot as well. One of my enhancements to my starter kit is a burner I can use on the porch. No one else in the house appreciates the sweet aroma of steaming malted barley and hops, so this allows me to keep that aroma mostly outside. I need to use the sink a bunch so I am back and forth, but today was a sunny day in the 50’s so it was not at all what you might call a misfortune to be out on the porch so much.


Wort bubbling away with hops in a bag to make clean-up easy.

Once it (the wort, that is, rhymes with skirt, which is just the beer as it is cooking) was all boiled up I sat the pot in ice water until it cooled off enough to add the yeast. Then I transferred it to the carboy to sit for a couple of weeks. By tomorrow morning it should be bubbling, the yeast snacking away at all the sugars. With some beers I add another step in the middle, transferring the brew to a second carboy to ferment longer to add other ingredients, like more hops; I am hoping this one will be straight to the bottles, however. I want it to be as simple as possible, at least for this go-round.

I don’t brew as often as I like. I take the shortcut way by using malt extract, basically letting someone else do a bunch of the hard work. Still, it takes three hours at least to get it into the carboy and to clean up, often longer. Bottling will take another couple of hours. All in all that isn’t bad for a couple cases of really good beer. The ingredient cost is about $5.00 per six-pack.


Brew waiting for the yeast to do its duty

This batch might be ready for Thanksgiving. The timing is not always up to me. The yeast will decide how quickly to work. I can only give them a good environment in which to perform. Once bottled it will need to sit for another two weeks to naturally carbonate. Because of the process of brewing I am repeatedly amazed at how we depend on these microorganisms to do their thing. No yeast means no beer, and no bread, and no donuts for Pete’s sake. A world without those things? Well, that is just too terrible to imagine.

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