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Saturday, November 8. 2014
Earlier this year, my son came home from school and asked me how hard it was to brew beer. This was not a surprising question from a boy who is 17. I still asked him why he wanted to know. His response was related to school (shocking). He said his Chemistry teacher brewed beer. I thought for a moment, and pointed out that cooking was a form of chemistry, so brewing seemed a natural extension.
At that point I mentioned a brew kit my brother had purchased for my birthday many years ago. It languished in an apartment closet until we moved to our house, and I never utilized it It was gone, but I asked would he be interested in learning to brew?
The answer was robustly affirmative, and we began to look into the purchase of a brew kit.
If you have the desire, you can build your own brew kit for about $35. Two 6 gallon Home Depot buckets, a siphon, an airlock, some washers and a small plastic spigot and you're all set to build the kit on your own. The spigot, washers and airlock can all be purchased online. You'll need lids for the Home Depot buckets. You'll need drills to attach the spigot and the airlock. It will take a little time and effort, but would save a little cash. The alternative is to spend about $100, buy the kit ready made along with all the ingredients for your first batch of brew. I opted for the expensive, easier, route.
You'll also want to read up on brewing first, too.
At roughly $25 a case (for a decent beer...you can get Coors or Bud or Miller for less than $20 here in the NYC area), you should break even with your brewing by the third or fourth batch. Each brew will produce roughly 5 gallons, or 48-54 bottles. You'll save about $15-20 per brew after third brew. That makes it an economical approach to beer drinking. The break even point will vary based on where you live, what you like to drink, and how you put your kit together. Since I chose the expensive path, I knew I was going to take time. But this is about having fun and making tasty beer, not saving money.
We are on to our third brew, so I'm feeling good about the savings. I'm also feeling very good about the brew process.
Our first was a Brown Ale. It was delicious. Honestly, it's hard to beat a good home brew. As long as you follow the directions carefully, and avoid introducing any bacteria or other unwelcome items, you should wind up with something quite palatable. We named it "Barking Spider." The day after drinking, I discovered we had given it an apt name.
The second batch was a Stout and I quickly learned the limitations of taste management. Stouts can be temperamental, often being too bitter if you're not familiar with them. I had a problem during fermentation that forced me to open the lid of the fermentation bucket to prevent a messy explosion. It's likely this opening introduced something which altered the taste of the Stout. Ultimately, it was drinkable but not good. It worked very well with a Yuengling Lager in a Black & Tan, so there was a small consolation. This brew was called "Portly Dog".
The current liquid down in our basement is a Red Ale. So far, it's been fermenting nicely. The aroma from the airlock is perfect. We bottled last weekend, after 5 days of fermentation. We now have three to four weeks of bottle fermentation, at which point it is ready to drink. It should be ready right around Halloween, and I'll be sure to share how it tastes.
For now, I'll share some tips to those who wish to attempt home brewing. Let's start by saying it's very easy, and is quite a bit of fun. But start simply. Brew kits have step-by-step instructions, and the ingredients are all prepackaged. As you gain confidence, you can move on to using real ingredients, such as actual malt or hops. I've been told, by more experienced friends, this is the best way to brew. I'm not there yet. In the meantime, I recommend sticking to the prepackaged stuff and hone your skill.
Keep a diary of the steps you take, the temperatures, lengths of time of boiling up the ingredients to create wort (wort being malt, hops and water, along with any other grains that might be added for flavor, which are boiled prior to fermentation, with yeast added after it has cooled a bit). Every step in the process can alter flavor, and if you keep careful records, you can develop consistency or find a recipe that provides tasty results.
Bleach!! You don't need much, but it's absolutely necessary. Don't sterilize, just sanitize. Sterilization would be expensive, time consuming and unnecessary. Sanitizing helps assure quality and it's only about 1 tablespoon of bleach to 5 gallons of water for a proper sanitizing wash.
Bottle capper. These are inexpensive, and make sure you get reusable brown bottles. Grolsch bottles, those with the ceramic stoppers, work great and are reusable. If you can't get bottles with ceramic stoppers, you can get 48 reusable brown bottles, bottle caps, and a bottle capper for about $30 or $40. Most of the fully packaged kits (like the one I bought) come with the caps and the capper. You can reuse bottles that had twist-off caps, but I don't recommend these. The bottle cappers don't work as well with them.
One thing to keep in mind is that beginners should stick to ales. Lagers are difficult. There are several differences between ales and lagers. Ales use top fermenting yeasts (which add flavor and cannot be reused) and are typically stored at room temperature while fermenting. Lagers (lager from a German word meaning to "store" or "set aside") use bottom fermenting yeasts and are cold fermented. Ales tend to be a more complex drinking beer, inviting more flavor and having a higher alcohol content.
I'll walk through the process of making wort and fermenting with my next post. In the meantime, if anyone wants to come up with a name for our Red Ale, I'll share them with my son and we'll choose a winner. We had some ideas for labels on the first two brews, but never got around to drawing them. If we get a good name, I'll have him draw a label up and post it.
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If your kid really wants to understand the processes involved, he could learn a heck of a lot of chemistry, biochemistry, and biology.
Remember Louis Pasteur's story.
History will long debate the merits of teaching one's kids how to become drunks. Perhaps you could start the younger one on a 'Junior Martini Kit'. :)
Names? Contest? Okay, here are my entries:
1. Ol' Slobberjaws (in honor of Dad)
2. Buffalo Breath
3. The Mote in God's Eye
Will there be prizes?
I prefer promoting responsible drinking. Too many real drunks in the family are available for learning lessons. It's an Irish thing.
If you can get yourself to the NJ area, I'll gladly hand over a six pack or the cash equivalent to the winner.
Also, I don't really drink distilled liquors. Occasionally some rum or whiskey, and usually only in the winter. I used to be a gin drinker, but that just made me flat out mean and overly aggressive, even in small quantities.
Whiskey and rum mellow me out during a really cold winter's night. But beer is my drink of choice.
BTW, gin was the crack of the 1700's:
'Mother in Law' - (old and bitter) or 'Old Thought Provoker' spring to mind.
I have never done any home brewing, but my parents made wine occasionally. For white wine, they picked dandelions. For red wine, they picked wild grapes. Not bad.
How the parents should model drinking is a matter for debate.
My two boys (21 & 19) started brewing this last summer when the older one got the notion to try it. Although I like a frosty cold one as well as anyone, I've never brewed myself and I didn't get involved in their efforts. I only watched and kibbutzed a little.
They began by fermenting cider to make apple jack and then moved on to the usual barley-based beers.
They've brewed seven or eight batches now, starting from malts (not grain) in quantities from 1 up to 5 gallons. Their third or fourth batch was an American pale ale that I found amazingly good - clarity, odor and taste all first rate. Family friends commented favorably on it too. I think they surprised themselves. They certainly surprised me.
The elder blogged about their work here for a while, but these days he's posting his updates on Google+.
Don't know if I'd go with Home Depot buckets as there is no assurance as to composition. But your local restaurant supply should have the right items, perhaps even cheaper.
Have been home brewing for years.
Started on the simple extract kits you are working on.
Switched to all-grain brewing.
Obtained a kegging system. (Home brewers have converted the old soda syrup stainless steel kegs (they are called cornelius kegs) into beer kegs. Got an old fridge. Now I have beer on tap in my fridge in my garage.
Started with simple ales and now play with all sorts of recipes. My best has been a bourbon barrel porter.
Bulldog, you are entering into an excellent hobby.
I have decided that I am able to have two hobbies. One is homebrewing, the other fly fishing. Don't wanna take the time and treasure to pursue others.
Gotta say, when I show up at a buddy's place with a growler of brew, I am received warmly.
Let me know when you are ready to have a brew-in on a weekend. We could occupy a camp and brew and trade recipes and drink and.......nap.
I was thinking the same thing, you definitely want something BPA free so there's no plastic flavor. I noticed the other day that Firehouse Subs sells pickle buckets for charity, those would probably work pretty well.
I've been home brewing since 2003. Your post is a good introduction to the subject.
One comment - you wrote that you bottled the red ale after 5 days. While the yeast is often done converting the sugar to alcohol at that point, the yeast continues to work for a while cleaning up the byproducts of fermentation. You will get better quality beer if you allow the yeast to work for a longer period. I often leave ales on the yeast for two or three weeks before bottling or kegging.
If you bottle before the fermentation is complete, the beer will continue to ferment in the bottles. This can cause "bottle bombs" - exploding bottles. Messy at the very least, and possibly dangerous.
Get a hydrometer and learn to read it. That will allow you to confirm that the fermentation is finished before bottling.
Welcome to a rewarding hobby. Cheers!
Thanks, someone else mentioned 2 weeks of fermenting, as well.
I have the hydrometer and we keep records of the readings. The reason we bottled after 5 days was based on the instructions. As a beginner, I'm pretty much sticking to "the guidelines" until I grow more confident with knowing what I'm doing.
My son will probably take the brew kit to college with him, and I'll have to get a new one. But a buddy of mine also brews, so we're talking about possibly opening a pub that brews locally....it's a 5 year plan, but worth talking about.
Sounds good. A few friends brew at home, but they are much further along than I am.
I would love to do a little 'brew-in' with a few different folks.
As I get more experienced, and get a little extra cash, I plan on buying more professional equipment. I read about a local fellow who brews 25 gallons but has the capacity for 40.
If my other friend and I manage to get our act together, we may just be brewing in our own tavern - but given the difficulty of getting an alcohol license in NJ, that may be a pipe dream.
Thanks for the info. After I'd bought the kit, I realized I could probably have built it all myself. I don't mind overpaying, but certainly building the equipment is part of the fun (to me, anyway).
No need to buy a book on home brewing, all you need to know is here:
Second that. The yeast will continue to work, even though there is not much activity in the airlock. I always ferment for two or three weeks before bottling.
Buckets - Recommend you buy new, clean, food-grade buckets. Has nothing to do with safety since a good scrub and the final alcohol level will take care of anything that is unsafe. It is about flavor. Home depot buckets, pickle buckets, etc will all contribute undesirable off-flavors to the beer.
As far as bottles are concerned, save your empties. The cost of new glass is almost the same price as buying them with the beer in it.
And agree with the comments on leaving it in the fermenter a little longer to clean up the taste.
Better yet, if you are ready to kick the skill level up a notch, rack it off to a secondary fermenter. I.e. one or two weeks in the primary and 2 or 3 weeks in the secondary. The difference in flavor is significant.
Beer making is a great hobby.
[url] http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/magazine/search-zymurgy-issues/ [/url]