Brewing Beer with a Rambling Mutt.

Haha! Welcome, one and all to this maddening place. What I have to show you will change the way you think about the world forever. Or at least kill ten, fifteen minutes of your time. Whatever, same difference. You see, the one and only Mutt (that is me, for those of you who are new) decided that he should make beer. Why? Why the hell not!? Well, actually, there is a reason. See, Ive been in and out of wineries forever. I know the wine making process in and out, I worked at small wineries where I was involved in every step, down to picking the grapes, to large wineries where my only duty was to hold a 4″ hose for eight hours, six days a week. The problem is, when I get off work and sit down, I don’t want a damn glass of wine. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of wine I really enjoy, and there are times when a glass of Steel Barrel Chardonnay is what I need. Most of the time, though, I’d rather have a glass of beer. Making beer, I reasoned one day, couldn’t be harder than making wine. Fortunately, I was so very right.

Beer. The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, if the TV is to be believed. Sure, it doesn’t have the class of a glass of wine, and maybe it doesn’t have the social status of a good scotch, but under most cases it’s the peoples drink. It is also one of the oldest beverages, dating back to the time of the Giza Pyramids and even before. Beer was given to people in the Middle Ages because the alcohol killed the bacteria that would kill you making it far safer than water. Beer has always been a favorite for people who work hard because it’s full of nutrients, and is so highly important that an entire variety of beer was invented for the purpose of keeping an army well lubricated. Indeed, a local favorite “India Pale Ale” or IPA, has a high alcohol content so it could survive the trip from Britain to India so the poor British troops wouldn’t have to go without beer. With so much prestige, how could you not want to try your hand at one of the world’s other oldest professions.

Beer comes primarily in 2 forms. Lagers and Ales. Lagers have to be kept cool during the brewing process, making them un-ideal for making in the middle of a Californian Summer.  So lets make an Ale. Specifically, a highly tasty Nut Brown Ale, similar to a New Castle. Where do you start? I started on the internet. Specifically, the fallowing links:

This is probably one of the most complete guides Ive ever seen:
http://www.howtobrew.com/section1/index.html
He even outlines the science behind it all. However, the free E Book from the home brewers association has big pictures and pretty advertisements, so it was the first thing I read.  http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/attachments/0000/3424/Zymurgy_Introduction_to_Homebrewing.pdf

As this entire ‘guide’ is meant to be a catalog of my own experiences and some humor, I suggest if you really want to brew to read those and not rely on this, as I will have left out important steps and details.

Now you’ve got to get yourself some supplies. I did my shopping here, http://www.homebrewers.com/category/aardvarks/ and they seem to have some great starter kits. To be honest, though, I had a lot of the stuff already lying around from Wine making, so I only bought some fancy bottles, a couple buckets and some sanitizing agent. Oh, and an ingredients kit, very important that. You don’t have to get an ingredients kit, (it’s like a cake in the box thing, they give you all the stuff measured and separated, but you still have to make the cake,) but you do have to get the ingredients. Refer to the 2 free books, or if you buy things from the HomeBrewers they ship you a copy of their book, which was a good read (though not very detailed.)

Then you get the stuff and you get overwhelmed and decide to hang out with friends all day. The second day, though, you have to crack down and do it. Start by setting up a workstation. If your like me and live in a tiny apartment, it may take some clever re-organizing of dirty dishes.

Also, if you have a tiny apartment, you may find that your ingredients and tools span into multiple rooms. This one doubles as the place where I write these posts.

Oh, and if your like me and didn’t take the advice up there, where I said don’t procrastinate, you’ll also want some fuel:

 

Right then. First you have to clean the hell out of everything that is going to touch anything. This is true of wine, as well, so I was used to the overly paranoid sense of clean and sanitize everything. Why? Well, bacteria likes to live on things, and while no harmful bacteria can survive in alcohol, it can poison the taste (a worse crime, some would argue.)  A diluted bleach solution works, or I buy ‘no rinse’ sanitizing agent.

Next, you boil water. Easy, right? Well, kind of. My stove top wasn’t working to good, it’s old and electric and had trouble boiling 5 gallons of water.

 

There is no way to make this go faster

So I boiled 2 gallons first, and then dumped that into the fermenting bucket. Next I boiled 3 gallons, and did everything to that, as this is the way it is outlined on one of the online guides.

Now, since I wanted a nut brown ale, it has a step where you steep (just like making tea) grains. You do that by wrapping them in a cheesecloth like material and dunking them in the not yet boiling pot. How do you get them out? Sterilized coat hangers!

 

When it comes to a boil, you remove the steeping grains and then remove the pot from heat. If your smart, your using a propane burner or natural gas stove, because then you can just shut the thing off. If your me, you have to move 3 gallons of boiling water to a new location *without* burning yourself. I was mildly successful, and after a nice face sauna I was ready to add the Liquid Malt Extract. Now, LME is a substance that is about the consistency and color of maple syrup and I think it was used as a bonding agent on the first spacecraft. Seriously, I think there is a spoon permanently stuck to my counter.
You stir that till it’s gone, then move the pot back to the burner. Once it’s boiling again, you add the Hops. Now, after adding the hops, the wort (that’s the fancy word for beer that isn’t yet beer) has a tendency to boil over. If you stir it frequently, witch means bathing your hand in scalding steam, then you can prevent it from gushing out of the pot. I was also told that if you add two pennies to the pot it will prevent boil overs.

 

This is not the case. The only way I was able to prevent boil overs was to stir the mix every five minutes or so for the hour it takes to boil. Even still…

 

 

Remember, cleanliness is important. So important that I think I’ll clean that up tomorrow.

So, your wort has finished and your chilling it (because you can’t add yeast to the boiling water, it’ll die.)  Oh, RIGHT. The yeast. Yeast is important, it’s what makes alcohol. Yeast eats sugar, producing alcohol and CO2. Which is all good and great, me and yeast go back a long ways to when I used to make yeast cultures in five gallon buckets. A  dab of water, some sugary malt, and a packet of dry yeast. The magic ingredient:

 

Also notice the giant wooden spoon. I had to go to 3 different stores to find a spoon big enough to stir five gallons of liquid. I was just about to give up and cut down a piece of oak from the shop, when I stepped into a local Mexican Market for a taco. There, hanging on the end of an isle, was a bunch of random cooking implements, among them a giant wooden spoon. Awesome.

The wort cooled, the yeast cultured (I read it some old books and played Mozart on the radio.)  I was ready to introduce the yeast to the brew, which will be the final step before it ferments for nine to eleven days. After pouring the yeast into the first batch of boiled water, I dumped the cooled wort into the fermentation bucket, making sure it stirred up a bit. Snapped the lid down, popped on the bubbler (or air lock if you prefer) and cleaned up.

 

Not to bad for a night of work , if I don’t say so myself. But, how will it taste?  I have no idea. At the time of writing this i’m still a few days off from bottling, and even still a few weeks away from being able to drink it. It’s killing me, it really is. However, I do know that it’s working. You can watch bubbles escape, which means the yeast isn’t dead because it’s producing CO2. So, it has to be kind of right.

 

Taken the next morning. See em Bubbles! Success. Well, for this part. It’s my first time ever brewing beer, so I’m really only hoping for having created something drinkable. I’ll keep you all updated, dont’ worry. I’d also be happy to answer any questions, so there’s that. For now, though, Laterz.

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