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.

Beets for Dinner

Just pulled from the dirt

I wasn’t really all that fond of beets. My parents grew them in our garden when I was growing up. I ate them with the rest of my siblings because that was one of the things we were served. I don’t remember hating them, but I also didn’t ask for second helpings. Once I moved out on my own I never ate beets. I didn’t buy them, I didn’t cook them, I didn’t order them. They just were not on my radar of delicious things. That, however, has changed.

Last year I planted beets in our garden for the first time. It turns out my parents instilled in me not only a love of gardening, but also a love of beets. Who knew those purple guys could connect generations? I only grew a few of them last summer. I had a spot in one of the beds and so bought a few seeds and sowed them. And they were tasty. The first ones I coated in olive oil and grilled, and I have not turned back. I remember eating boiled beets, but roasting or grilling is my cooking method of choice.

So last night we had beets for dinner. I had a small crop, thinking I would plant a second batch that hasn’t made it into the ground yet. They were fat and bright and red. I peeled them and sliced them thick and grilled them like I did that first time. I also grilled zucchini, several of which we got from our farm share this week. The topper was the pesto I made yesterday as well. Basil and cilantro is bursting so I cut lots of it. I also pulled a couple heads of garlic–the first from our garden this year. I whipped up a batch of traditional basil pesto and one with cilantro. I froze most of it and the rest dressed the grilled vegetables. It was dee-lish.

Basil ready to be turned into pesto

It turns out, after turning into somewhat of a grownup, that I now have a real taste for beets. Soon I am planning to brew another batch of beer. I will add a couple of pounds of beets to that. I will add some sugar for the yeast to snack on and it will likely turn the brew red or pink. That will be interesting. I certainly did not imagine myself, back when I was swallowing those red boiled tubers, that I would be a fan of beets, growing them myself and adding them to homemade beer. Maybe I am more of a grownup than I thought.

Getting Muddy and Gathering Trash

Those were the two highlights of the day.  My wife went skiing for most of the day.   I stayed home with the children.  We stayed inside for a bit to let them get their craziness and creative play out.  Then we had lunch of tortillas and cucumbers.  Then we headed outside.

We took a walk down the road.  We spent a good deal of time exploring the ditch that runs along our road.  The town road crew has spent lots of time over the past couple of years clearing and improving road drainage in town.  Last year they got by our way.  The ditch is filled with ice, which is covered in sand and dirt, which is mostly just under the surface of the flowing melting snow.  I was cautious about letting the children walk on it at first but it was solid and we hopped back and forth all down the road.

We also picked up trash which consisted mainly of discarded beer cans and bottles.  There were many.  The children had fun both spotting them (“I see one under that bush!” “That one is buried in the sand!”) and fishing them from their various hiding places.  We couldn’t carry them all so we set up stations of them along the roadside.  We wouldn’t have been able to carry them back either so we left them to pick up later, cairns of aluminum and glass for drivers to wonder about.

We cut across the field to get back home.  It was rutted and frozen and muddy and wet.  Not all in the same place, of course, but we found some mixed terrain.  By the time we made it back, the children were wet and muddy.  “My feet are chilly,” explained the boy child.  His boots were soaked through.  Plus, he hadn’t bothered to wear socks.  Despite this, they stayed outside for a while before heading in to clean up.

They played outside together for a good chunk of time after they did get cleaned up.  Then they had to clean up again.  They each went through three sets of clothes today, not including the pajamas they wore this morning.  They got wet and muddy more than once.

Last summer I bought a pair of tall rubber boots.  They were one of the best purchases I have ever made.  Those things can take me anywhere and I am confident going.  Hike across a wet muddy field?  No probs, babe.  Step in a ditch of meltwater?  Easy.  Hike to meet the bus in the rain?  You bet.  Those puppies served me well today.

Tomorrow I will need to head down the road and collect those bottles and cans.  I hate seeing all that garbage on my road.  What gives with someone who will toss their empties for someone else to clean up?  That’s crap, if you ask me.  Heck, even if you don’t ask me, it’s still crap.  In any case it will give me a good excuse to take the kids for another walk.  Maybe we can see if the spiders are still crawling all over the grass by the big culvert.  And if they don’t want to come with me, it will feel good to gather the refuse and see that it makes it to the recycling bin.

Somebody’s got to take care of the empties.  If the end user won’t do it, that selfish butt, I will take it on myself.