Saturday, April 19, 2014

Beer Making 101

Jay has been dabbling in beer-making for a few years now, and he is becoming quite the pro!  The ingredients are sometimes a bit inconvenient to buy locally, so for his birthday in February I signed him up for a beer-kit-of-the-month club.

Now, all of the necessary ingredients are delivered right to our doorstep each month to make a unique and seasonally appropriate beer.  It's fun trying so many new varieties!

While Jay is the primary beer-maker in our household, I usually always help him out along the way.  It does require some special equipment, but you can always start with a beginner kit that provides everything you need.  Jay used a "Mr. Beer" kit when he first began brewing, but he has since graduated to more advanced equipment to make larger batches (five gallons) from scratch.

I won’t go into too much detail, but here is an overview of the basic process that we used to make a “Flat Tire” style ale. (Thanks to Jay for helping me write it out.)  The steps will vary a bit depending on the type of beer you make.

Step 1: Steep the grains in 2-3 gallons of water.

The grains are put into what is basically a giant tea bag and steeped for 10-30 minutes at 155 degrees.
Step 2: Add in the malt extract while the pot is off the burner. The kits usually come with either a dry malt extract (DME) or a liquid malt extract (LME).
Step 3: Bring mixture to a boil and add bittering hops.
The mixture then has to simmer for an hour, so at this point we took a break and watched a couple episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” while we waited. The beer-making process involves a lot of waiting around and babysitting the pot!

Step 4: Add in flavor hops for the last 2-5 minutes of boiling. You now have “wort”(pronounced wert).  Everything that comes in contact with the wort needs to be sanitized from this point onward.
Step 5: Cool the wort and transfer to the primary fermenter.  Add water until you have reached 5 gallons.

It takes a while to cool this much liquid, but you want to do it as quickly as possible.  It's important because the heat will kill the yeast if it’s too hot.  Luckily for us, there was snow on the ground when we first started this batch!
Step 6: Sprinkle the yeast on top. This is where the magic happens. The yeast will consume the sugars, resulting in alcohol and CO2. You can watch the process be taking hydrometer readings and watching the CO2 bubble out of the airlock.
Step 7: After a week, we transferred the beer into a glass carboy and allowed it to continue fermenting for another week. This step isn't totally necessary, but it filters out some of the sediments on the bottom.

I forgot to take a picture, but here is an old photo of a previous batch in the glass carboy right before being transferred to the keg.
(Don't worry, the little yellow floaties are just lemon peels!)

Step 8: After two weeks total, add sugar and transfer beer to bottles or keg. Store in cool, dry place for at least two more weeks.

We like to use a kegging system because it is a LOT easier to clean one keg than it is to clean and cap 54 - 12 ounce bottles. Once you add more sugar to a closed pressure system (keg), the yeast will again consume the sugar and the CO2 will pressurize the keg naturally!

Jay built us a kegerator a few years ago.  Sparkling water on the left, beer on the right.
Step 9: Chill your beer. For best results, allow beer to chill for another week or two (if you can wait that long) before drinking. Since liquid volume compresses in cold temperatures, we have found that the beer is better carbonated (and tastes better) if you wait at least one week after chilling. 

Then, you are ready to enjoy your home brew!

The entire process takes about 6 weeks, but, as you can see, most of it is just waiting around.  It is so much fun when you finally get to taste your creation (and the beer tastes even better when you know you made it yourself!).  Plus, you get 5 gallons of high quality beer on tap for only around $.75/beer.  Can't beat that!
After having a little cold all week, I am happy to be feeling better just in time for the new beer to be ready.  I've already enjoyed a couple of these this weekend!

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