I had never brewed beer before. I feel like that is a confession of sorts these days. I like beer. I drink craft beer. I know several varieties of beer. I can give moderately good advice on what you should order based on your tastes. I am a member of several beer/drinking clubs, including this one. I have been to distilleries and breweries. I have even made the pilgrimage to Dogfishead and gone on the tour there. In addition to all of that I can and do cook. I cook a lot and, if you don’t mind me saying, I’m pretty good at it. I’ve even had several people act with incredulity when I tell them I hadn’t brewed before. Most of these people had ironic facial hair. So when a friend of mine, and fellow nobler invited me over to brew up a batch with him I jumped at the chance. What I discovered is that, just like many other industries, beer brewing has a language all its own that can confuse and intimidate, but that language once experienced loses its mystique.
It turns out the basic brewing process can be described in a handful of steps. But the whole process requires specialized equipment with arcane names and what sounds like emergency room levels of cleanliness. Read it out of a guide-book or worse listen to well-versed brewing obsessive and it’s no wonder most people are intimidated. So let me try and talk through the basics and dispel a little bit of the complexity:
Step 1: Creating the Wort – basically means soaking grain in hot water for an hour. We had to keep the temperature pretty constant but that’s all it was. You wind up with a sugary liquid that acts as the base but sugary liquid doesn’t sound cool. Hence the name “wort”.
Step 2: Sparging the Wort – sparging basically means washing. The goal is to get as much sugar as possible from your grain by rinsing with more warm water before moving on with the brewing process.
Step 3: Boiling the Wort – again, pretty straight forward; bring the wort to a rolling boil and leave it going for an hour.
Step 4: Adding Hops – hops are where most of the flavoring comes from and they can be bought in handy pellet form. I assume in 50 years everything will be in pellet form, so I guess brewers are ahead of the game. Depending on the beer you are making you will add the hops (variety and quantity depend as well) at different time intervals. This is where the fine-tuning of flavors come in but shouldn’t intimidate you. Just an opportunity for experimentation the more you brew.
For a sanity check, let me interject quickly and point out that the process thus far has involved adding things to water at various temperatures and waiting an hour. And by waiting an hour I mean hanging out and drinking beer. I now understand why the Milwaukee Brewers routinely have a losing record.
Step 5: Cooling down the Wort – the mixture needs to be cooled down in order to add the yeast which would die a horrible death if added to the just boiled wort. The quicker you cool the wort down the better we hear but either way, it’s more waiting and drinking.
Step 6: Transfer to a Sanitized Carboy – as a man, sanitization has always been a foreign language to me but in beer making it’s pretty crucial. Once you get your beer in the carboy there it sits for up to a month for fermentation.
This feels like a good place to stop as this is as far as I’ve gotten to date. But soon enough, I’ll be bottling and tasting my first homebrew. I plan on documenting a bit more of the process as part of the Homebrewer’s Journal simply to share, to learn, and to get rid of the perceived complexity. Making beer is simple my friends. It’s the experimentation and optimization that breeds the best beer, but no one said we all have to be making the best.