When I was younger, there were four kinds of beer: Molson, Labatt, Coors and Bud. There were probably others that I’m forgetting, but it goes to show just how limited my knowledge of the stuff was.
Since then, the craft beer scene has positively exploded, and it’s become feasible to find a new beer to drink each and every time you drink a beer. I mean, if you’re the type that drinks a beer once a week or something.
I’m not that type. I drink more beer than that. But I used to just drink a lot of one kind of beer at a time. That was maybe a problem. Now I drink a little of a lot of different kinds of beer and I learn about them while I do it. This makes my beer drinking a hobby. Problem solved!
I had been talking about getting into hobby beer-making for a while, with varying degrees of seriousness. My very intuitive partner, Chantal, gave me a home-brewing kit for my birthday this year. This was an incredibly thoughtful gift that provided me with the push that I needed! My reaction is summarized by this charming series of photos.
I ask you, dear reader, to come along with me on a journey. A journey that can only end with me becoming the greatest brewer of delicious craft beverages in the entire world.
I will become… a BREWMASTER.
Step 1: Unpacking the Box & Sterilizing Everything
The Brooklyn Brewshop BEER MAKING KIT comes with most of the things that one needs to create a pre-packaged IPA in the comfort of their own home. I’m going to run through making beer once with the training wheels on, and then I’m going to start an award-winning brewery and get my picture in the paper.
Here we have our bag of weird grain, thermometer and little packets of hops and yeast. We’ll see all of these later.
This is some other junk and the packet of sanitizer that they stress needs to be dissolved in water that you then soak everything in. The instructions make a pretty big deal out of this, which seems kind of weird when you think about the fact that you’re just leaving a bunch of grain-juice to rot until it turns into booze. But whatever. I did what they told me to.
Here’s what came in the box:
– 1 Gallon Glass Fermenter
– Tubing Clamp
– Packet of Sanitizer
– Blowoff Attachment
Here’s what doesn’t come in the box that you’ll need:
– A big pot. They recommend two. I don’t see how you would actually accomplish this task without two. So have two of them on hand.
– Fine mesh strainer
– A spoon
– A bowl
– A funnel
– A smaller strainer
Looking at this list now, I realize that there are some items included in the kit that I didn’t use and I don’t know what they were for. That might be a problem! But for now, let’s move onto the beer-making process itself!
Step 2: The M*A*S*H.
The first real step to making beer is making shitty oatmeal that smells like a barn. Heat up some water and pour in your weird bag of grain.
You’ll need to keep your lousy grain-slop at a consistent high (but not boiling) temperature for an hour, stirring every ten minutes or so. It makes your house smell not the best, but so does making garlic bread. And this way you’ll maybe get really drunk after a month or so whereas with garlic bread you just become basically unloveable for days. So when you look at it that way, it’s easy to put up with the barn-oatmeal smell.
It is not pretty, by the way. It will, though, boil down to a pretty thick & hearty consistency. This process of adding the grain and making it into warm mush is called mashing in. When your hour is up, it is time to bring the temperature of your mixture up to 170F, which is called mashing out. This sounds like a dance craze from the 50s, but it’s really just cooking some things and then not wanting to eat the result of your hard work.
Step 3: The Sparge
When you’ve raised the temperature to 170F, you’re ready to tackle the sparge, which is fun to say. You’ll say it a lot. You’ll also need to get some water heating to 170F, so there goes your other pot. This caused me to have to transfer my mash to a sterilized bowl in order to clean my #1 pot in order to receive the sparge-bilge (that one I made up).
You will question whether or not you should have tried this.
After cleaning, you place your strainer over your pot. This is called a “lauter tun”, but you’ll forget that immediately and just call it “a strainer” and “this pot I own”. Carefully, you will transfer your grain goo to the strainer, allowing precious juices to slip through to the pot.
You’ll get so happy about your progress, you might grow a weird little double-chin. Don’t worry, this is a trick of the light and you’re actually very trim and attractive.
Next, you begin to pour the hot water from your other pot through the grain. It will collect in the pot below. This liquid is called your “wort”. You pronounce it “wert”, though. This is another very fun thing to say, particularly if you start saying things like “hey, wert’s going on” or “‘Wert’s The Stery Merning Glery’ is the berst Oersis alburm”. Making beer is the best.
When you’ve poured your water and collected your wert, you’re going to want to pour it through the grain again, recirculating it in order to collect as many of the malts and sugars as possible.
Now you have a pot full of frightening looking brown water. In many of life’s circumstances, this is a bad and often upsetting thing. While making beer, this is exactly what you’re hoping for. Wert.
Step 4: The Boil
Crank up the heat under your pot of brown water. You’re going to need to get it boiling. Not a crazy boil, mind you. You’re hoping for a sustained, rolling boil. Otherwise you’re going to boil off your malts and sugars and I guess bad things will happen to your wert.
These strange pellets of pet food are not pet food. These are hops. You’ll add them intermittently throughout the boil. The hops that you add at the start of your boil are bittering hops. From there, you’ll add another variety and this will serve as your aroma hops. I’m fairly certain that this can be played around with in a bunch of ways, but give me a break. I’m new.
After an hour of boiling and hopping, it’s time to give your beer a bath.
An ICE BATH! You’ve gotta get it down to a cooler temperature (71F) for the next step.
Step 5: Fermentation
Pour your cooled brown stuff through a filter into a funnel into the gallon-jug that came with your beer kit. Be disgusted by how much sediment gets filtered out and get a real bad feeling that you didn’t boil hot enough.
Give yourself a couple of opportunities to bask and dream while you’re doing all of this. You deserve it.
Throw in an entire package of yeast. This is called “pitching” the yeast. Sports.
After you’ve pitched your yeast, you need to give the jug a shake in order to wake the yeast up and get it munching on all of the good things that you’ve cooked for it. In return, it’s going to shit out a bunch of alcohol and get you drunk. A gallon of brown water is heavy and slippery, so be careful when you’re shaking it.
From here, you’ll need to set your friend up to sit for a few days and get itself in the mood to turn delicious. Screw on the cap with a hole in it, stick the rubber tubing in the hole and then put the other end of the rubber tubing into a bowl of the sanitizing solution we were talking about earlier. Like so:
Leave the beer to sit. When you hear your cat playing in the water/sterilizing solution, get as mad as you can. Remind the cat that you love beer more than you love the cat. Remind the cat where he gets his food.
Ick. The concern that the beer is now contaminated with cat paw germs will now fester in your guts. Cultivate your rage and store it away to be channeled into productive endeavours like finding someone to adopt or kill your cat. Move your beer to the basement, because the cat hasn’t figured that door out yet.
Then you wait.
Step 6: The Morning After
Ironic title for this step, given that the goal here is to create a real bangin’ hangover delivery method. After keeping your beer in the dark for a day, you will check on it and notice something marvellous (hopefully):
The little guy is down there just fartin’ up a storm! This is because the blow-off stage is when the fermentation is most active. There’s some foamy junk that comes out of it, but the gas resulting from this process (CO2) smells like beer, kind of.
This fart-fest will continue and then taper off in the second or third day. When the bubbling seems to have stopped, you throw on an airlock and put your beer someplace safe and mostly dark.
Now you have to wait again. And I mean really wait. For two weeks.
Until then, please send me (and my beer, especially) your best wishes! And join me in two weeks for our second installment in this historic (and brave) series.