14th Mar 2004

Brewing Your Own Beer at Home!

As a guy who likes to try a variety of brews, I enjoy the wonderful spectrum of flavors and colors of beer. Whenever I go out for dinner, I often order a beer that I have never tasted before, although in Mexican Food restaurants I usually have Dos Equis or Corona. In Chinese restaurants, it’s Tsing Tao, in order to keep with the “spirit of things.” Besides, these are good beers.

I know people who drink the same old brand year after year, seldom wavering from the one they have decided is right for them. They will drink the same beer regardless of the situation (watching TV, at a party, or at a bar). To my way of thinking, however, there are just too many types of beers out there, to stick with just one variety, let alone brand!

If I were independently wealthy, I would probably try different microbrews on a regular basis. Because they don’t produce beer in nearly the same quantity as the “big boys,” they spend a little extra on the ingredients and a little more time during the brewing process. Mass production is not their bottom line. The downside is, these little hybrids usually cost around six bucks a “sixie.” And you can’t buy them by the 30-pack in vain attempt to save a little dough.

So, what other alternative is out there–between settling for whatever is on sale at your local package store, or paying a buck a bottle?

Ever consider brewing your own beer? It is a fun way to make the type of beer YOU like, and after a few batches, it actually becomes less expensive per bottle than almost any “cheap American beer” you could buy at the store. Here is how really simple it is to get started, even if you know absolutely nothing about brewing beer!

First you want to go to a store that sells beer brewing equipment kits and ingredients. Even though there are lots of web sites where you can order everything you need without ever talking to a human being, I still recommend going to a store. It is much better if you can see and smell the products, and talk to someone who knows about making beer.

I went to Beer-at-Home (www.beerathome.com) in Englewood, Colorado. The folks there are very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. For $157 (including taxes) I picked up a basic brewing kit, a book about brewing (good read), two beer kits (Amber Ale and Holly’s Honey Lager), and four cases of glass bottles. Each beer kit contains the ingredients necessary to make two cases (5 gallons) of beer. The kits even include the bottle caps! The only extra items you will need (if you don’t have already) are a 12-quart stainless steel stockpot and a kitchen strainer.

Here is a brief (simplified) overview, showing how simple the process is to make a typical batch of ale. Please consult the directions specific to your own brew kit, should you purchase from a different source.

One of the most important things to remember about brewing beer is that anything that comes in contact with your beer during the process must be sanitized by either boiling water, liquid bleach and water, or some other sanitizing solution made specifically for brewing. You don’t want any unwanted bacteria ruining your beer!

Although each type of beer kit will vary on the exact ingredients and quantities, your basic ales will go about the same. You start out by boiling some water, malt extract, and hops for about an hour. Then you transfer this hot liquid (now called “wort”) into a big glass container (called a “carboy”) that already has a couple gallons of cold water in it (so you don’t shatter your carboy). You let the wort cool down to about 78 degrees Fahrenheit before adding the package of brewer’s yeast. The yeast will become active once it is introduced to the malt, which contains sugars and starches, which the yeast will feed on for the next 5 to 14 days. Meanwhile, keep your carboy close to room temperature.

This is the fermentation process, which is fascinating to watch, incidentally. During the first two or three days, the yeast is the most active. The wort becomes cloudy with the yeast, as the yeast reproduces until it saturates the entire tank!

As they consume the sugars and starches from the malt, they produce alcohol, flavors, and carbon dioxide gas. The carbon dioxide escapes through a hose you affix to the top of the carboy. The other end of the hose is submerged in a jar of sanitizing solution to allow the carbon dioxide gas to escape, while not allowing any contaminated air to enter the carboy.

After the yeast has done its job, it is time to bottle the beer. Transfer the liquid from the carboy, to the bottling container (usually a 6 gallon plastic bucket). All you have to do now is add the priming sugar and then start bottling! The priming sugar gives the yeast something to eat when it is in the bottle, so that it can produce enough carbon dioxide to make your beer naturally carbonated. The beer is usually ready to drink 10 days after bottling.

I hope this gives you an idea of how fun and easy it is to be your own “Brewmeister!”. Remember, there are many types of beers you can brew, and you don’t have to stick to pre-packaged beer kits. You can buy recipes or create your own. Different types of beers require different amounts of time for fermenting and aging in the bottles. Have fun!

by Chris Menges

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