There’s a first time for everything right? Well, this past June was my first experience home brewing and I’ll admit, just like they said, it was addicting! I did some research to find out what people recommended for an online brew store and purchased my first brewing kit. The kit came with a beer recipe for a Chinook IPA, which 5 months ago would not have been my first choice (I was still developing my now obsessive love for IPAs back then) but I decided to give it a try. It arrived securely packaged with thorough instructions stating I should set aside about 3 hours for brewing day. With that, I decided a Sunday afternoon would be perfect and went about my week.
Sunday finally came and it was brew day!!! I got everything out, watched the short dvd included, read the instructions 3 times and got to work. The most important part of brewing is sanitation! Unless you are more experienced and trying to utilize bacteria to get a funky taste, do not forget this as your beer won’t turn out as expected. With sanitation down, it was time to steep the grain aka malt in a large mesh bag kind of like tea (you can also add it directly to the water based on the type of beer you’re brewing but they always get strained out at the end), add the liquid malts and hops and boil this baby up! Now, it’s a little more involved than just adding everything at once. There’s a science to the addition of ingredients and they must be added in the correct order. Depending on your recipe, malts are always first, then comes your extracts, hops and spices or any ingredients used for flavor. Hops are used for either aroma or flavor and different ones added at different times will produce, you guessed it, different results. With everything together after the boil you have this weird soupy mix called wort (pronounced wert). This is essentially unfermented, uncarbonated, sugar liquid, or “beer starter”. You cool the wort in a cold water bath, siphon it into your fermenting container (called a carboy), add yeast, air lock it and then store it in a dark, undisturbed place to let those little yeasts work their magic.
Fermentation is a metabolic process that converts sugar to gas and alcohol. During this time, the yeast rapidly reproduce converting the malt sugars from the wort to CO2 and alcohol. The specific gravity will drop and a thick tannish foam will appear on the top of the liquid called krauesen (see picture). Dead yeast cells will fall to the bottom of the carboy and bubbling in your airlock will start to decrease until it almost stops. When this process is complete you have beer, well, uncarbonated beer. Since this was a starter kit, the carbonation method I used was bottle carbonating with sugar drops. Basically, once you’ve bottled your beer, you place one drop in every bottle and the left over yeast again eats away at the sugars causing more CO2 to form and carbonating your beer. Cool right?! Depending on your recipe you could have beer in as little as 3 weeks unless you force carbonate your beer, then it’s ready as soon as fermentation is complete and you bottle or keg it.
There are many other ways and techniques used to brew, especially if you are creating your own recipes. Some include all-grain recipes, clarifying the wort, using wort chillers (instead of cold water), measuring specific gravity to get alcohol content, using iodine to make sure there are no starches left after boiling, force carbonating, etc. Since my recipe was a starter kit I didn’t have to worry about any of this. However, being that I am going to stray off the path of pre-determined recipes, these are the types of things I will be learning about and sharing with y’all along the way. So don’t you worry, there will be much more to come! Oh and in case you were wondering – the beer was a success! A little under-carbonated, but nonetheless a success.