20 July, 2012

Mmm...Beer...

I love a good beer. I'm not talking about that domestic lager crap, though. I love craft beers. You'll usually find a smattering of local brews in my fridge, along with a few bottles of stuff that ain't from around these parts. I had been kicking around the idea of learning to brew my own for quite some time, but always found a way to talk myself out of it. Mostly because it would have been a $200 up-front investment for the equipment and ingredients and I was scared I'd eff it up, get discouraged, and never touch the stuff again.

This year the Easter Bunny was way, way to generous and instead of an Easter basket, I received brew buckets and carboys and all of the other bells and whistles needed to make that ancient frothy beverage, that may or may not have saved the world. Hells. Yes. All I needed to do was buy an ingredient kit; for that, I went to Salt City Brew Supply. After discussing my preferences and options with the brew master, I settled on their British brown ale. He told me it would be similar to Newcastle, but not as sweet, and pretty hard to mess up. Sounded perfect to me.

After doing meticulous research (read: skimming this book and Googling "how do i make beer"), I felt I was ready to embark on my beer-making journey. I followed the directions enclosed in the kit, starting with steeping the grains for a half hour, adding the malt extract, and adding the hops at various times during the hour-long boil. After that, I cooled the big-ass kettle in my sink to chill the wort to 80 degrees or so. This took longer than I thought it would. Damn water and it's heat capacity. When appropriately chilled, I transferred the wort to the primary fermentation bucket, added water to bring the total volume up to 5.25 gallons, and pitched the yeast. Eat that sugar and make alcohol, little yeasty friends! (Hm. I think the word "yeasty" might belong in my previous post, now that I think about it.) I did forget a trivial step, here. I neglected to measure the original gravity. Whoops. No big deal, I just won't know how potent my  libation is. Mr. Boyfriends beefy, body-buildy cousin hefted the bucket to the cool basement for me (ok, the bucket wasn't *that* heavy, but muscly guys like to show off their muscly skills from time to time, right?). And the waiting began. The airlock bubbled away and Lady Wiener Dog guarded the door (or rather, I think the was convinced there was something living in the bathroom because she heard the airlock noises).

After a week in primary fermentation, I transferred my fledgling beer to a glass carboy for a secondary. I'm told this step wasn't really necessary since I wasn't adding more yeast, but it helped to settle out more trub and yeast, er, droppings and stuff. After one more week of waiting (this beer making stuff isn't very instant-gratification, by the way...) I added a priming sugar solution to my bottling bucket, carefully siphoned my beer into it, and bottled away with the help of Mr. Boyfriend. After bottling, I think my total yield was around 3.5 gallons or so. I lost some beer in the transfer steps. And more waiting ensued.

After five or so days had passed, I could no longer resist the sweet siren call of my beer. I threw one on the fridge to crack open that night, but alas, it was not as bubbly as I'd hoped. I decided to wait several more days and try it again. Getting better, but not quite there. Damn. More waiting. We went out of town for a few days, which made things a little easier. I could not just sit in the basement coaching what yeast was left to burp carbon dioxide. The cliche "third time's a charm" proved true! My beer was perfectly carbonated and brown and delicious. I was skeptical about how it would turn out. I wondered if it would be one of those skunky homebrews that everyone's tried. "Yeah...this is really, uh, interesting. So cool that you make your own beer. Um, what else do you have?" But guess what?! It was awesome! I could hardly believe it. It was crisp and smooth, with just the right amount of hops. I took it to several parties and received rave reviews from people who would tell me my beer sucked if it, in fact, sucked. I made beer! And it was good beer! That batch didn't stick around too long. I am now making my second batch, an amber ale from the same brew supply store from which I got the brown ale kit. It's percolating in primary right now, awaiting a transfer to secondary this weekend.




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