Normally I would start out with a lot of apologies and explanations for why I haven’t posted in so long. But you know, bygones. It’s a new year, and does it really matter? I’m here now. I will try and post a bunch in the next few days, because I made a lot of homemade gifts this Christmas season, and now that they’ve all been received by their recipients I can post about them without ruining any surprises. In the meantime, though, I’m here to tell you about making beer. BEER.
When I was really young, my dad used to homebrew beer. I only have vague recollections of his equipment, and of course I was too young to sample it. When my little brother was born, he stopped brewing, but since my brother is now away at university, he’s started up again, and this time he’s delving even deeper into the art and science of brewing beer. He tells me that back in the day he brewed from malt extract, rather than from the malted barley itself. I gather that using malt extract would be like making lemonade from a frozen can of lemonade concentrate, whereas working from the barley itself is more like squeezing all those lemons yourself and making simple syrup, etc. When you brew from the barley rather than the extract, you also have way more freedom in terms of how you want your beer to end up tasting – just like cooking things from scratch affords you more control with your food. So this Christmas, when I was at my dad’s house, we spent a day brewing beer. He had asked me in advance what kind of beer I’d like to make, and I decided on a coffee porter.
The basic procedure, as far as I can remember, goes like this. You start with your big sack of malted roasted barley. My dad gets his from a guy in Windsor, Ontario. Depending on what you are making, you may have a mix of barley that is more darkly roasted with lighter roasted, etc. In this case, my dad got a bag of barley that was kind of pre-mixed for making porter. So you heat some water, you mix it with the barley, you really smash it around and mix it, there’s a bunch of stuff with adding water and taking temperatures that I don’t remember really. Eventually you start draining the liquid out into a big pot. My dad crafted his equipment himself, and so he used this big yellow water cooler for mashing the barley, and he put a false bottom in it that strains out the big barley pieces as it drains through the nozzle thing. Very technical terms I’ve got here, eh?
So you drain it out, and you do it slowly through a hose and try to avoid getting any big chunks of barley in your pot. This whole process takes longer than it sounds – around an hour or so just to mash and drain it usually. Then you heat that brew up. My dad has a big propane burner that he sets up in the garage (where he does all his brewing so that his house doesn’t smell like hops all the time). You let it come to a boil, and you boil it for an hour. In the last 15 minutes you add your hops. For porter, we had two different kinds of hops to add. One was added at the 15 minute mark, and one was added a little closer to the end – the hops added at the end will not get cooked as much and will thus offer more hoppy flavour to the finished product (i love hops).
After boiling it, you drain it out of the pot into the receptacle that it will ferment in (in this case a sterilized bucket). You have to drain it nice and slowly again, and you want a lot of air to get in there, because air is good to feed the yeast. Then you add the yeast, which my dad had already been brewing up since the day before, in a fruit jar on the counter. It was extra oozy!
Basically then you let it ferment for 10 days or so. If you know anything about yeast, then you know that it has to be warm for yeast to do its work, so you ferment in a warm place. Then you start to chill it and age it. Then you drink it! In this case, since we were making coffee porter and not just regular porter, you add a cup of espresso after it ferments.
I haven’t tasted this beer yet, but my dad is going to try and bottle some and send it to me somehow. He tasted it when it was done fermenting, and said that even when it was warm that it tasted great. I will let you know how it turns out! Brewing beer was fun, though really cold when you’re spending a number of hours in a garage in the winter. I kept putting my face over the boiling pot of beer to warm up, and I’m pretty sure my face was all burnt in the days after, because I was rosy cheeked for a few days. There are a lot worse things, lemme tell you.
ADDENDUM – courtesy of my Dad, some of the more scientific stuff that I forgot:
The grain blend that the guy in Windsor sell and grinds was my recipe for Porter. He weighs it out and grinds it cause his grinder rocks!
The yellow cooler itself is called the “Mash Tun”, the process of steeping the grains to change the starch to sugar being called “mashing”. The wooden tool is called the “Mixing Wand Tool Thing”
There were some hops added right when it started to boil, these are the ones that will contribute bitterness but no flavor. Boiling for a long time means that you extract the bittering compounds but boil off the flavor compounds. Adding hops near the end has an opposite effect, not much bitterness and hopefully you keep the flavor.
I can tell you that I think it tastes great. It’s just about fully carbonated. I think I’ll be bottling soon.