Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Lesson Before Homebrewing

If you are ever given the opportunity to try homebrewing, do it once.  Mostly because, once you are done reading what I write, you will have as much ability to be the pretentious know-it-all that I was when I was given my shot.  This is my confession.

A couple of weeks ago,  at the Superbowl Party, the gentleman who kept trying to get me to fight people mentioned that he brewed at home (side note:  everyone that I have ever met in the past week brews at home.  If you are trying to be the different one, try brewing in a morgue). Three weeks later, he walked up to me at church to tell me that he was making his next batch of beer, a cream stout, and I should come and check it out.  Now, a smart person would not choose to enter the home of someone that thinks they are a wildly unpredictable pugilist (I am pretty certain that will be the plot to Fight Club 2).  However, someone in search of knowledge and adventure would do that at a minute's notice. Particularly when they want to write about the experience in dulcet tones.

There is a whole mess of things that go into home brewing.  For starters, you have to purchase fermentation buckets and bottling equipment.  Then, for each particular batch of beer, one has to procure an ingredient kit.  The contents of these kits depend upon the difficulty of the particular beer.  In general, a kit contains some grain, the malt extract, yeast, hops, and the directions.  Because we were making a cream stout, it also contained lactose.

I was put in charge of the directions, which was an instant mistake on the part of everyone there.  I spent the next twenty minutes memorizing the directions and cross-referencing them with the facts that I have attained at work and the book on the science of fermentation that happened to be in my backpack (seriously, I did not pack it.  I just happen to carry it with me everywhere).  I found the directions to be very general and less technical than I was expecting.  What I could not wrap my mind around was how this process could be completed without the range of equipment to which I am accustomed. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this fellow did NOT have a Lauter Tun in his backyard.

You can tell that serious brewing was occurring, as there is malt extract spilled on the directions
We were finally able to begin the process by measuring out five gallons of water into a giant sauce pan (when you are Italian, every pan is measured in terms of what is most commonly cooked in it, e.g. meatball frying pan).  I may have asked a question regarding whether or not the pH of the water was chemically corrected for the beer in question.  But, for the sake of this story, I did not and was not told that I was the giantest nerd in the world.

Once the water had boiled, we threw in a mesh bag of grains.  It appeared to be a mix of pilsner malt and some form of toasted malt, and maybe a little caramel malt.  The directions firmly stipulated that the temperature be maintained at 155 degrees.  I calmly explained that raising the temperature to anywhere above 172 degrees would shut off the necessary enzymatic activity.  I was then informed that maybe I should stop talking, let my hair down, and try to be normal.

Steeping the grains
Once the grains had steeped for 30 minutes, it was time to remove the wort (the sugar water that was created) from the stove and time to add the malt extract.  Seriously, this stuff is gross looking.  It was a pitch black syrup in a carton (imagine high-fiving a T-Rex from the Le Brea Tar Pits.  That is the level of sticky this stuff is) that is then dumped into the sauce pan. Once it was stirred in and disolved completely, we added the lactose.

Imagine High-fiving THIS T-Rex
It was then time to bring the wort to a boil and add the hops.  This was by far my favorite part of the process.   The hops were Northern Brewer.  Because they are added at the beginning of the boil, they are used for bittering the wort (meaning these hops have high alpha acids), but not aroma.  Stouts generally do not have an estery smell.

For the first time EVER, I got to watch the proteins coagulate and boil away. One generally does not want proteins in beer, as they aid in the creation of diacetyl, the chemical that leads to spoilage and off-tastes in beer.

You can see the coagulated proteins in this picture....
Right as the wort finished brewing, my sister decided that it was time to go home, so I am not quite sure how the wort was cooled before being introduced to the yeast.  I can only assume that the reason there was no Lauter Tun is because the fellow invested in a heat exchange system to cool the wort instead.

The finished product....or a container of beef broth....

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