HOMELiving June 2016
by Beth Behrendt
(photo courtesy HOMELiving)
Why brew your own beer? Lots of reasons: it’s scientific, it’s creative, it’s delicious, it’s economical, and it supports the local food movement. (Doesn’t get more local than your own kitchen, does it?)
And home brewing devotees all agree on one definitive reason to brew: it’s fun! As Joe Martin, store manager at Brewer’s Art Supply, said, “That’s definitely the focus at our store. People have fun with the process of making beer. But they also have fun drinking the beer, then talking about the beer, then making more beer.”
It’s a pretty straightforward process.
Beer is essentially made from four ingredients: malt, hops, yeast and water.
- Malt is a grain (most often barley, but sometimes wheat) that has been prepared for brewing.
- Hops are used in very small quantities to add the “spice” to beer, adding bitterness and enhancing flavor and aroma.
- Yeasts consume the sugars in the malt and turn them into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
- Water makes up 90 percent of beer’s content and can come straight from the tap (depending on the quality of the water supply) or be bottled spring water.
Brewing is basically a four-step process: malting, mashing, boiling and fermenting. Home brewers can buy malt extract in which “malsters” have taken care of the first two steps of the process for them; or they can learn to do it themselves. Malting is the process that turns the start molecules in the grains into sugars. Mashing uses hot water and enzymes to create smaller sugar molecules, called malt sugar. The water, malt sugars and other substances from the malt is called wort (i.e. unfermented beer). Before wort can be fermented to turn into beer, it much be sanitized by the boiling process. Fermentation happens when yeast is added to the cooled wort. The length of time of fermentation depends on the type and strength of beer being created by the brewer.
A small amount of equipment is needed to being brewing at home. “We sell complete starter kits,” explained Miller, “and are happy to give advice.” Starter kits generally include fermenter and bottling containers, a spigot assembly, a brewing kettle, siphoning tubing, a capper and bottle caps, and the necessary cleaning products.
All of the materials for brewing must be food-grade plastic and glass. “No,” said Miller, “you can’t use the 10 gallon paint bucket from your worksite. The materials are pretty specialized. And that’s why we’re here.”
Time to Give it a Try
The time commitment? Miller estimated that over the 4-6 weeks it takes for a batch to be completed, a brewer devotes 5-7 hours of dedicated time. A standard batch yields 5 gallons of beer.
Once the brewer has mastered the basics, experimentation and creativity can run wild. Home brewers are definitely being influenced by the prevalence and creativity of craft beers. “Our business has been increasing on pace with the increased interested in craft beer,” said Miller. “Home brewers are adding fruits like pineapple and watermelon to lighter beers, and things like coconut and vanilla to darker beers. Brewers are getting more creative all the time,” he said.
Try home brewing and say “Prost!” to the fruits of your labor.