Brew Your Own!
My upcoming post will be a recipe for what I think was by far the best beer I’ve made. First let me give a brief intro to brewing, and the options available to home brewers.
Brewing can be broken down into 6 or so key steps made up of the following:
Grain is wet down and left alone for a few days in order to build up its natural enzymes in a process called malting. After a few days, the process is stopped by applying heat, drying the grain, and removing the sprouts that develop.
Malted grain is roasted to achieve the variety of colors of beer that you see. Colors can range from light yellow to charcoal black depending on the roasting technique and combination of different roasts in the beer.
The malted grain is mixed with hot water (around 150-160 degrees) and left to sit for an hour. This extracts flavors and body from the grain and allows the enzymes to break down starch into sugars. What you end up with is a starchy, sweet grain porridge. Mashing is also the same process used to make whiskey and grain-based vodka.
Once the mash is complete, the grain is drained and rinsed with 170 degree water to extract as much of the sugar, flavor and color as possible. The liquid is now called wort.
Wort is boiled for about an hour at high heat to disinfect it, boil off unwanted flavors, and to cook additional ingredients used in the brew. This is the point when hops are added, following a specific timing schedule depending on the beer style. The longer hops are boiled, the more bitter the beer will be. For some styles like IPAs, hops are also added toward the end of the boil to give the beer a citrusy, floral flavor and aroma. Other ingredients like orange peel, lemon peel, honey, etc.. are typically added during the last part of the boil to produce the variety of beer styles that you see. For example, Blue Moon is made with coriander and orange peel.
Once the boil is complete and the wort has been cooled to a temperature that yeast can tolerate (about 70 degrees), it’s moved to a fermentation tank and a specific yeast strain is added. Yeast is a living organism The type of yeast that’s used can determine the flavor of a beer. The flavor of hefeweizen comes almost entirely from a unique yeast strain from Bavaria. IPAs on the other hand get most of their flavor from hops, and stouts from dark roasted grain.
BREW YOUR OWN!
Here are a few ways that you can brew at home. Some are easier than others, so I’m listing them in order of difficulty:
My first attempt at home brewing was with this type of kit, where all of the brewing work is done for you and condensed down to a syrup. The hops, malt, and other ingredients are already incorporated into the syrup. The instructions are typically “just add water and yeast”. This type of kit makes a good gift but will probably not produce a good beer unless additional steps are taken. Doing at least a quick boil is best, so that nothing alive is left in the water. Unfortunately there will probably be some off flavors, but the beer should still be drinkable if you do it right. If nothing else, this type of kit is a good way to get someone interested in learning more about beer. That’s what it did for me.
Extract brewing is the best way to start getting serious about brewing beer, and is the way most out of the box kits are designed. The mash has already been taken care of, and an unflavored wort has been boiled down to a syrup in a can. This makes it really easy for a home brewer, since the mash requires some careful work, and additional equipment. Extract brewing involves pouring the syrup into about 6 gallons of boiling water, adding hops on a schedule, and fermenting the wort. No grains, no mash, no mess. If you’re careful with all of the steps, an extract can produce a great beer, and still leave plenty of room for experimentation with hops and flavorings.
The next step up from extract brewing is doing a partial mash. You will typically have a few pounds of malted grain for flavor and body and a can or two of syrup (or dried extract powder) to make up the rest. This is a great way to save some time, and is still a lot of fun. I’ve made some great beers using this process, without sacrificing quality.
All grain brewing is the most “raw” way to brew, and gives you the ability to control every aspect of the final beer. For a 5 gallon beer, you would typically start with 10 – 20 lbs of malted grain and put it through a mash. There are mash tuns (mash tanks) that you can buy online, but you can also easily build one yourself out of a cooler if you’re handy. All grain brewing takes a few hours longer, and can be messy, but I highly recommend trying it. It will give you an appreciation for the process that professional breweries go through. There are a number of additional variables here that can impact the quality of your beer, but you can use that to your advantage in creating something unique. A difference of only a few degrees during the mash can change the beer’s body, and even impact how the yeast will behave.
Beer enthusiast 🙂