What could be a better St. Patrick’s weekend activity than brewing beer? I experienced my first taste of home brewing on Saturday, courtesy of my friend Tom, who acquired the relevant equipment and ingredients. The goal for the day was to make the recipe for a pale ale featuring citra hops. The first step was to mash malt that had already been run through a roller mill and crushed. The process of mashing combines the cracked grain with hot water, allowing enzymes to convert the starch in the malt into sugars. It’s like steeping tea.
Next, we added both liquid and dry malt extract. Some brewers favor an “all-grain” approach to brewing, wherein they essentially make their own extract and are able to exert more control over the brewing process. For beginners, however, buying ready-made extract is a nice shortcut because it saves time and requires less equipment.
The next step was to add the hops – both Nugget bittering hops and Citra flavoring hops. This phase of brewing requires occasional stirring with timed periods of heating at set temperatures between adding ingredients. We also added Irish Moss to prevent the beer from becoming cloudy.
Finally, it was time to take our concoction off the stove to cool it. The mixture has to be cooled to under 80 degrees so as not to kill the yeast when it is added. The cooling technique was quite low-tech: we gave the whole pot a cold bath.
Once our brew was sufficiently cool, we poured it into a sanitized container and added water up to the 5 gallon mark.
Tom took the initial gravity reading for the beer. Gravity refers to the density of the wort, which is largely dependent on its sugar content. Tom will double check the gravity of the beer before declaring the fermentation process complete, because a high reading could indicate that the yeast organisms have not yet finished their job – and the resulting beer will be too sweet.
After funneling the brew into its final (sanitized) storage container, Tom pitched the yeast.
The end result of my very first home brewing experience:
The tube and water bath serve as a low-tech but sanitary way of allowing release of carbon dioxide produced from the fermentation process, but preventing other gases or potential contaminants from entering the storage container. I was informed this morning that the yeast were happily eating and reproducing, as evidenced by bubbles in the water bath.
Hopefully, in about a week and a half, Tom and I will bottle a delicious beer.