March 30, 2005

What's Brewing?

A Honey Brown Ale, that’s what.

It’s been over 8 years since I’ve brewed. Closer to 10, actually. But yesterday my cousin Bob called up from a brewer’s supply store and said “OK - what do we need to brew tonight!” And we were off.

Last night we threw together our first batch. It took a number of hours. We went with a recipe that the homebrew supply fellow had on hand. Dark and light malt extract. An ounce of Northern Brewer hops for the bittering. An ounce of Fuggles hops for the aroma. Irish moss for clarity. And, of course, honey.

There were a number of small mishaps. Glassware was broken. There was 1 messy boil-over in which we lost some of the wort. But no real harm to the beer, which is what’s really important.

Our initial gravity was measured at ~1.038. That’s close to 5% potential alcohol, but realistically, 75% efficiency in fermentation with malt extract is a general rule. So we may end up with a little over 3% alcohol. A weak beer, but a beer nonetheless. That’s alcohol by volume, not by weight, btw. The wort was quite bitter. I think it’s going to result in a successful first attempt. So far, the indications are promising.

The picture you see to the right is the homebrew as it appeared last night before I left my cousin’s house. The yeast were not yet producing alcohol They were still in the “breathing and multiplying” state in which they take in oxygen. Later, they will begin to produce alcohol and Co2 as they consume the sugars in the wort. And then, when that’s done in a couple of weeks, we have beer.

We’re not bottling this brew. It’s going to go into a custom draft system built by my cousin. A modified soda draft will be used to force-carbonate the beer, chill it, and pump it up from his basement to a tap he has in his kitchen.

He took a picture of the beer this morning when he woke up and, look, krausen! That’s evidence that the yeast is now producing Co2 (and alcohol). “Krausen” is the frothy head that forms in the fermenter.

You can see a few more pictures in my Brewing Gallery, but you’re basically looking at the best of them here.

I’ll keep y’all posted on our progress.

Posted by James at March 30, 2005 5:06 PM
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Ah homebrew. It's been a long time. It was fun for a couple of batches but I decided large quantities of moderate quality beer just weren't worth the enourmous effort required (mostly in cleaning and bottling which you can avoid by kegging). I actually still have some of my last batch (a cherry wheat) which is now used for slug bait in the garden. It had a contamination of some sort and foamed upon opening. The slugs don't seem to mind.

I thought about trying homebrewing agin when I was diagnosed with celiac since I could theoretically try alternate grains (sorghum, buckwheat) but as I'd need to malt the grains myself I quickly decided I'd live with distilled liquors, cider and wine.

Posted by: B.O.B.(bob) at March 31, 2005 2:34 PM

I used to enjoy making soap, but the cleanup was miserable. (Not joking.)

The second most annoying part of soap-making was the people who asked why I needed to make soap when I could just buy it at the store.

Posted by: Julie at March 31, 2005 2:47 PM

Oh, I'm so glad you did that at Bob's house. Our old stove never recovered from the last "boilover."

I wonder what the idiots who asked you about making soap did in their free time, Julie. Oh, well. I guess we need consumers.

Posted by: Maggie at March 31, 2005 3:12 PM

What they did in their spare time is watch TV, most likely. Why have a hobby that requires active participation when you can be a passive blob?

Good for you, James. Sounds yummy. If you need someone to QA your batch, let me know.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 31, 2005 3:15 PM

I think that, eventually, we will divert some beer to bottles (large) or even growlers.

Personally, this experience has increased my interest in making cider at home. While I'm making beer with my cousin, I may take up cider for myself. I actually prefer cider to beer nowadays.

However, what I've read about cider is that it has a lot in common with wine, in that it has different variables than beer. Beer seems crude in comparison, and even with crude methods you can still get a drinkable beer. Possibly not as true for cider.

But it would be fun to find out for certain.

Posted by: James at March 31, 2005 3:44 PM

This should prevent the boilover problem, or at least move it to the backyard.

Posted by: Jim at March 31, 2005 4:15 PM

You can do a hobby and watch TV at the same time. In fact, they go very well together. OTOH, you can't conveniently watch TV while you are out buying soap and beer.

So, I'd have to say that watching TV is not a good enough reason to avoid hobbies. On the contrary, I think I've used hobbies as an excuse to watch TV. :) In fact, I used to spend a lot more time on hobbies back when TV Land did those weekend marathons.

Posted by: Julie at March 31, 2005 4:33 PM

Bob can watch TV and play a board game at the same time. ADHD or multitasking? You decide.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 31, 2005 5:03 PM

Actually, my cousin has one of those. Sadly, we didn't use it.

Next time.

Posted by: James at March 31, 2005 5:10 PM

I've always had a hard time *just* watching TV. Even if it was a show I liked, which would be Star Trek. I always embroidered or something.

Posted by: Maggie at March 31, 2005 9:07 PM

We only had one small boilover that could have been avoided if I wasn't chasing an inside straight. I am looking forward to making the next batch and to drinking this one.

Posted by: cousinbob at April 4, 2005 1:43 PM

We've got 5 gallons of homebrew to drink ahead of us.

Posted by: James at April 4, 2005 2:36 PM

This is my next project, once I get my bees all settled in. It seems to me that anyone who really enjoys good beer should take a crack at brewing their own, if only to understand the process better. And maybe by September I'll be able to use my own honey! Unfortunately for you, James, I'm sure I'll be trying to pick your brain when I get the basement brewery set up...

Posted by: Bil at April 5, 2005 8:56 PM

Bil, allow me to offer my services as a taste tester.

Posted by: Patti M. at April 6, 2005 8:19 AM

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