As all of my readers are aware, I am both and avid drinker and a firm believer in a do it yourself lifestyle. My topic today is home brewing. I’ve been brewing beer for about 6 months now. It’s a great hobby, fairly inexpensive and a finished product you can take pride in. In case any of you guys are interested, I’m going to write a bit about making a home brewery.
The start-up costs for a home brewery come up to around 80 dollars or so. You need a fermenting container, air lock, bottles, malt, yeast and hops. I use Northern Brewers 6.5 Gallon Bottling Bucket for primary and secondary fermentation. These buckets are around 20 dollars, come with a pre-drilled lid with grommet for your airlock and are drilled at the bottom for your spigot. As the name suggests, they are supposed to be used specifically for bottling, but I use them for every step of the process because the spigot makes transferring from primary to secondary so much easier. Without this,I would have to use a siphon hose, racking tube and a few other things. More equipment, more money, more shit to sterilize between each brew. I try to keep the process as simple as possible.
The first step in making beer is creating “wort”. Wort is non-fermented, non-carbonated beer. This is done by boiling water and adding liquid malt extract, then boiling for an hour. Hops are added at different stages of the boil, depending on what flavor profile is desired. I boil a full 5 gallons, which is considered a “full boil”. If you do not have a pot capable of holding that much water, you can boil 2-3 gallons, called a “partial boil”. When doing a partial boil, you add the remaining water to the boiled wort in the fermentation container to reach 5 gallons.
Hops are very important. Wort is sweet, because malt is actually sprouted cereal grains. These contain a lot of sugar. Hops are bitter, and are used to counteract the sweetness of the malted barley in the wort. There are 2 basic types of hops, Alpha hops and Beta hops. Yes, I know, go ahead and laugh. Your Alpha hops are also known as bittering hops. They are added early in the boil and really bitter the wort. Beta hops, also known as aroma hops, are added near the end. They do not change the flavor profile much, you use these to give your beer a nice, hoppy aroma. If added too early, the aroma of your beta hops will boil out and be lost.
Once your hour boil is over, you have very hot wort. You cannot pitch your yeast until the wort has cooled to below 100 degrees, or the yeast will die. There are devices called “wort coolers” that are basically metal tubing connected to a garden hose. I don’t use one. I like to keep things simple, as I said earlier. Supposedly, if you don’t cool your wort quickly and pitch, you can wind up with an infection in your beer. I just pour the hot wort into the fermentation bucket, put the lid on, and wait for it to cool. Once cooled, I pitch my yeast and stir. After that, it’s just a matter of adding your airlock and waiting.
An airlock is a two-chambered device that you fill partially with liquid. I use 80 proof whiskey in my airlock, since the alcohol discourages any bacteria or fungus from trying to grow in my airlock. The purpose of the airlock is to allow the CO2 produced by fermentation to escape, without letting air in. You don’t want air getting in, because wild yeasts and bacteria could ruin your beer.
I let my beer stay in primary fermentation for 2-3 weeks. I then transfer it to secondary. This step is not actually needed, but you will get a much clearer beer for doing so. I started out with only one fermentation bucket, so I just bottled straight from it. Now I have three of them. The dead yeast and the solids from your wort drop out in primary fermentation, creating a big cake on the bottom of the bucket. Transferring to primary gets your beer off this cake, and allows more sediment to fall out, giving you a clear finished product with no cloudiness.
My beer spends another 1-2 weeks in secondary fermentation. After that, it’s time for bottling. I use natural carbonation for my beer, which means I add a little sugar to each bottle (priming sugar) before filling the bottle with beer. The remaining yeast will turn this sugar into alcohol, creating CO2. With the bottle sealed, there is nowhere for this CO2 to escape to, so it goes back into the beer as carbonation. Carbonation takes 3-6 days. It’s important to check your bottles regularly or those bastards will explode and do lots of damage. Once your bottles are carbonated, put them in the fridge. This is called cold shocking, and will kill any remaining yeast. Your bottles will not stop carbonating until you cold shock them.
I leave my bottles in the fridge for a week or so, which is referred to as “bottle conditioning”. The longer you let the beer bottle condition, the better it will be. Aging gives the flavors a chance to blend together and mellow out, producing a more rounded beer. I don’t worry about aging, I start drinking them after a week in the fridge. Thus far, every beer I have brewed has been much better than anything found in stores. FTCT and I brewed a beer a few months ago while drunk, and all I can remember is him shouting “Make it darker!” as I poured molasses into the boiling wort. That shit came out stronger than Guinness, but surprisingly drinkable.
The great thing about this hobby is how cheap it is. Once the buckets, airlocks, and bottles have been purchased (and a big ass pot for boiling, in my case. That was about 50 bucks) you can make 5 gallons of beer for around 20 dollars. 5 gallons is equal to roughly 50 beers, or 2 cases. I know I can’t find great beer for 10 dollars a case anywhere, so that’s a pretty good deal. All my friends love my beer, and I am always giving away bottles. The important thing is to get your empty bottles back, since they are re-usable once sterilized.
If anyone thinks how brewing is something they would like to get into, I am always willing to answer any questions you may have. If you enjoy alcohol, as we all know I do, there’s not a more rewarding hobby out there. There’s nothing like winding down after a hard day’s work while enjoying a beer you made yourself.