A few years ago, Cassie and I bought one of those small home brewing kits for her father as a gift. You know, one of the kits you can now just find in the kitchen section at Meijer. He was super excited because, well, a) it’s beer, and b) you’re in control of the outcome.
Beer god, as it were.
Is this a thing in greek mythology? God(dess) of beer? If not, I’d like to make it a woman and call her Hopsephone.
Of course, we love beer too and decided we wanted to get our own kit, so we did! However, life being busy like it is, it kept taking a back seat. Yeah, we never got around to it until two years later.
Problem was that by that point, not only had the ingredients gone bad, but we’d become so opposed to the use of plastic where food is concerned and since the beer would be fermenting in a not very food safe plastic barrel for weeks and weeks we decided we didn’t really want to use the kit anymore. They call it “FDA compliant plastic” which, lets face it, the FDA isn’t the most trustworthy administration in this country.
So, out the window flew the prospects of beer brewing for the time being.
The interest, however, didn’t subside.
We constantly talked about how we’d be saving so much money if we were just brewing our own beer and since the constant interest was there, once every couple of months we looked into investing in a start up kit, but never actually invested in it.
Well, on my 29th birthday this past October I was unbelievably spoiled with a whole slew of brewing equipment by my father and mother-in-law which has allowed my father-in-law and I to get the ball finally rolling.
The aforementioned father-in-law, sanitizing like a boss.
Of note: making sure everything is sanitized is of utmost importance. It may look like our setup outside on a picnic table isn’t very sanitary, but everything that mattered was squeaky.
Now, where beer brewing is concerned, correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I understand you essentially have two choices: all grain and extract kits. The all grain gives you a lot more control over what’s going into your beer because you’re essentially following a recipe from scratch. With the kits, you’re following a recipe, but the ingredients are pre mixed, measured and all that kind of good stuff.
Ultimately, you’re choosing between time vs. quality, but even then, you can get some really good quality beer out of an extract kit. It just won’t be completely yours.
That said, there are things you can do to tweak the kits to make them yours.
For example: say you bought yourself an “autumn amber ale” kit like we did for our first brew. If you follow the recipe down to every last detail, you’ll end up with exactly what the creator intended.
However, there are certain steps that you could tweak.
First, you could order another variety of hops along with the kit, set aside the kits hops, and use those you ordered special instead. Since there a slew of varieties of hops, all of which do something different to the flavour or aroma of the beer, you can do a lot with this ingredient alone.
“Fuggle” is the best thing ever.
Hops according to “Beer Advocate”: “Hops are the age old seasoning of the beer, the liquid gargoyles who ward-off spoilage from wild bacteria and bringers of balance to sweet malts. They also lend a hand in head retention, help to clear beer (acting as a natural filter) and please the palate by imparting their unique characters and flavours. Basically, hops put the “bitter” in beer.”
Second, either while your wort is brewing (the initial cooking process where you boil the grains and hops in water) or fermenting (yeast converting the wort sugars to alcohol), you can add all sorts of ingredients to your beer. If you’ve had an amber before, you’ll probably hear the addition of a mixture of pumpkin, cinnamon and cloves and know you’d have a damn good fall beer.
It’s the little things like these that will allow a beginner to start to play around with the addition of ingredients to a kit that they already know they like, giving them a chance to get a feel for what different ingredients will do to the flavour of an existing recipe.
This is Wort. Wort, meet the world!
My father-in-lawn and I, for example, are going to make one small change to the porter we’re currently brewing. The last step before you bottle your beer is to add a mixture of water and priming sugar beforehand. “Priming sugar” is the sugar that the remaining yeast in your brew is going to feed off of in order to carbonate the beer once it is in the bottle. The kits we’ve been using have been coming with corn sugar, but by making sure your calculations are right, you can substitute all kinds of sugars instead.
So, the small change we’ll be making is using brown sugar instead of corn sugar.
It’s not a huge change, but it’ll alter the flavour just enough that we’re able to start to call a recipe our own.
Now, the big question is how much are we saving?
Well, nothing yet since money had to go into the equipment, but since you can get some damn good beer with not much overhead, let me tell you I can already see how worth it this whole home brewing thing is.
To give you an idea of the savings, let’s do some basic maths.
The “autumn amber ale” kit that we purchased and brewed was $26.99. Plus $4 for the spring water (you want your water as clean as possible since tap water could leave behind the taste of the chemicals used to treat it), and $4 for the bag of ice (for chilling your wort before transferring to fermentation), so roughly $34.99.
Wort again. Just chillin’.
Let’s consider a 12-pack of something more generic, like Fat Tire, that would run you about $16. This brew left us with 49 beer when all was said and done, so let’s make it 48 beer for $34.99 for ease of calculations sake. For 4 12-packs of Fat Tire @ roughly $16 a piece, you’re looking at $64.
Now consider for a second that home brewing essentially makes it a craft beer; a small batch, unique brew which if purchased would run you about $12 or more per 6 pack. $12 x 8 6-packs (48 bottles) would run you about $96.
So, we’ve essentially knocked ourselves down to a third of the price, provided we spent our money on only craft brews. Almost half if we’re talking something a little more mass-marketed.
If you consider the amount of money that’s gone into the equipment, which a quick tally has me calculating around $250, and if between mass-market and craft brews we’re saving an average of $45 per 48 beer, and we brew once a month, we could pay this equipment off in 6 months.
The best part about it all? It’s easy. Especially if there’s two of you doing it, which if you’re a couple who both love drinking beer, it’s a perfect hobby that will not only save you money and support your habit, but it’s just one more thing you can spend time doing together!
The next installment of this series will actually introduce you to more terminology and the whole process of brewing using a kit and the equipment needed (and some extras that make things easier). I just figured it’d be nice to give you all a back story and an introduction to our foray into brewing!
Happy Friday everyone and have a wonderful weekend! Me? Why I’m going to drink a few home brewed autumn amber ales!