Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good Luck to the Barley Mow

For those who don't know already, Heather was nice enough to get me a beer brewing kit for Christmas. I'm not sure I needed another obsession, but I'm happy to roll with it. My gift was the kit, a box of ingredients for an IPA (India Pale Ale) and an accompanying book, How to Brew by John J. Palmer. I would recommend this book to anyone starting out because it is very well laid out. If you just want to know the basics, the first chapter will probably get you through. If you want to get more in depth about any one topic, the chapters are very clearly labeled. And if you want to get into the science of fermentation and beer production, there is no shortage of that either.
Rather than rush into brewing right after Christmas, I decided it might be best to read up a little about what I'm doing and try to avoid any pitfalls. After all if I make a mistake, I might not know right away. It might take me a solid month to find out. "Oh right, I was supposed to put yeast in it. I was wondering what that was for." I didn't read the book cover to cover, but I amassed what I thought was enough knowledge to proceed. I got all giddy and set aside a whole day to brew. In the days leading up to brew day I wouldn't shut up about it. I would point to my ingredients and say, "There it is Heather. That pile of crap will soon be delicious beer."
Heather, upon seeing my excitement, tried to temper it by warning me not to get my hopes too high. She said that she bought the ingredients as a test batch and that I shouldn't be crushed if it doesn't work out. I'll be bummed but I won't be crushed. I just can't help getting excited about it. I even talk about it at work. "Three days til brew day...Two days til brew day...brew day's tomorrow." A coworker of mine says that Heather has given me a golden ticket to become an alcoholic. Maybe, but I don't think so. There are cheaper and easier ways to get beer. Buying Pabst Blue Ribbon for one. Malt extract isn't cheap.
Then the day came--this past Thursday to be specific. The whole process is supposed to take only a couple of hours but I took things slow to make sure I was doing them right. I started by putting a gallon and a half of water on the stove in a five gallon stock pot. Before the water boils, a pound of cracked grains is steeped in the water for a half hour to give it color and aroma. To be honest, it made the entire apartment smell remarkably like Grape Nuts. After the grains are steeped, they are removed and the water is brought to a boil.
The water is then taken off the heat and half of the seven pounds of malt extract are thrown into the pot and dissolved. The pot is then put back on the heat and the first of a battery of hops are added--bittering, flavoring, and finishing. As time goes on and I get better at this whole process I'm sure I'll come to understand better this whole process, but for now I'm just doing what the directions tell me. After the bittering hops have steeped for 40 minutes, the pot is taken off the heat again and the rest of the malt extract is added.
This is where I hit a little snag. It took me a long time to dissolve the malt extract and even after ten minutes there were still little clumps. I ran the wort through a strainer and got rid of the clumps. I don't think I removed enough to harm anything, but if my beer isn't as malty as I'd like, I'll know why.
After finishing my hop additions, I transferred the pot to my sink which was waiting with ice water. I thought two bags of ice from the grocery store would be more than enough but it melts very quickly. I had just enough to get me through. After it cooled, I poured the wort through a strainer into the fermenting bucket which had two gallons of water waiting in it. The book told me that I should have a fair amount of sediment at the bottom of the pot--proteins that solidify and need not go in the fermenter--but I saw none. That may have been because I already strained it when it was on the stove. I have no idea.
After pouring the wort into the fermenter, I topped it off with additional water to achieve five gallons and sloshed it back and forth between the two containers a couple of times. The book recommends that you oxygenate the beer before you pitch the yeast. My yeast came in a little packet that resembled a cold compress. A couple of hours before brewing, you smack the bag inside the pack to activate it. The packet expands to let you know the yeast is viable. After the yeast is pitched, it's off to the races. I just have to let it sit in the dark at a constant temperature. It's currently in my office, sitting under my desk inside the box it came in. Every now and again, I'll peek in like a child to see if the airlock is moving. Like many of my projects, the main goal is to keep things from exploding and making a mess of our apartment. So far, so good.
Tomorrow marks the one week anniversary of brewing day. My goal is to obtain 50 empty beer bottles before I get to the next step in this process. I don't have that much further to go thanks to a friend of mine inviting Heather and me to a party for the Eagles/Cowboys game. The Eagles lost but I got a bunch of bottles so I count it as a win. Once I've passed two weeks, I can begin to bottle. Hopefully nothing goes wrong in that time. Wish me luck.


Cajun Chef Ryan said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. I need to get me some form of beer brewing kit too, I have always wanted to make some of my own brew!

Culinarily yours,

Claudia said...

It's just too much fun to make it at home, isn't it? We've made wine and have toyed with the idea of beer.

Emily Ziegler said...

There is nothing better than beer in this whole world. I can imagine homemade beer is probably even more amazing, just like homemade food is!

Janice said...

Can't wait to see the final product. I have a Mr. Beer kit in the cupboard that I need to use, I think I'll have to make it now in time for the Superbowl.

April Cavin said...

"Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." -Benjamin Franklin

Good luck! I hope it turns out great--

Drick said...

home made beer is so different than that from the shelves ... my neighbor did it once and learning about it is so interesting

Catalina said...

Good luck!
Sounds like a fun project!
I got 300 beer bottles at my local recycling center.
I don't use the bottles for beer......but you could :)

bonnie said...

That sounds really fun, a new obsession your right do I really need another? Ya maybe

Anonymous said...

I just started brewing after the summer and will never go back! It's an addiction. I love the smells of hops and grains. And what satisfaction to see the airlock bubbling away!

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