Ever since I met a cool older Russian dude that taught me how to make wine, I have been thinking about brewing beer. Those thoughts have finally manifest into something concrete. After my first attempt at brewing beer, I do enjoy the process. There are still a few weeks left until the result can be evaluated, but the creative process was fun.
Me With My First Wort - A Wheat Beer Made From a Very Simple Malt Extract
While at his party a few months ago in Santa Fe, I met Stephen Merkel. Stephen is a an archaeologist outside of Santa Fe and is into all sorts of cool creative things. We talked for a while about the beer he was serving at his party. This was all beer he brewed himself. There were a variety of interesting flavors, and Stephen was able to describe the different processes he went through to achieve the unique attributes within the beer. I told Stephen about my beer bottling experience, and mentioned that if he needed any help on bottling I would be happy to help him. A few weeks later, I helped him bottle five gallons. After the bottling event, Stephen loaned me the below book.
Read This Book If You Want To Brew
After reading the first 150 pages (of about 300 - I'm still reading it) of this book, I decided I was ready to give brewing a go. The author of this book constantly repeats the mantra of "Relax. Don't Worry. Have a Homebrew." This was an attitude I tried to adapt, despite being excited to try creating something of this fashion. I was in a bit of a rush to get things going, but chilled out once the ball started rolling. Stephen provided valuable assistance throughout this whole process.
First, I made a trip with some of my coworkers to the Santa Fe Home Brewing Supply during a long lunch break. While there, I dropped $113.74 on home brewing supplies. Of these, about $25 were consumed during the brew (unit costs). The remaining expenses were capital expenditures which will be amortized over the life of the equipment. Below are the consumables.
The Wheat Malt Extract I Used - Pre-hopped for Greater Ease
Dextrose - Corn Sugar To Up The Alcohol Content
Eventually, I will brew a malt-only beer, but for my first time I was not too concerned about the effects of adding sugar. The recipes later in the book usually do not call for much sugar to be added, but rather rely on the malt for providing fermentable sugars. Malt is about 10x as expensive as corn sugar, but is supposed to ferment to fuller, less metallic, flavors.
As an aside, a malted grain has been soaked in water to allow it to germinate and then is dried before the seed could grow much. This allows the developing plant to metabolize a little bit and create different sugars. Those sugars have been extracted, and sold to me, as 'malt extract.'
Other than the malt, and 1 pound of corn sugar, there were a number of pieces of equipment I needed to make this happen.
A good cleaning compound is the first thing needed for brewing. Luckily, the previous tenant at my Santa Fe place left a number of half-filled bleach contains around various locations. Stephen has noticed some odd interactions that take place if any bleach is left on glassware, and sunlight hits it. He uses iodine, which is something I will consider if I have any problems with the found bleach.
Most of the utensils were given a once-over with a diluted bleach solution.
A big pot is the second thing you need for brewing beer. This is what we used to cook our wort (malt + sugar + hops) in. As my malt extract came pre-hopped, all we had to add was the extract and the sugar to the boiling water.
Stephen stirring the wort.
Fermentation Lock - A Simple Water Valve (but really small and compact)
This is a five gallon bucket with a spout at the bottom which is useful for transferring beer to directly before bottling. We did not actually use this piece of equipment for this phase, but will when the beer is ready to bottle.
After we boiled all of the malt and dextrose together, we let the wort sit for and while. Then, we ran the wort through some ice in my funnel to quickly cool it down. Stephen recommended buying three gallons of distilled water, and cooling them greatly to add to the cooling wort. Unfortunately, my distilled water was not quite cool enough so we used ice. With ice, it was difficult to tell how much ice contributed to the water content of the wort, but Stephen's familiarity with the process dictated about a gallon of ice water, 1.5 gallons of wort, and 2.5 gallons of distilled put us at the five gallon mark. This was a good place to apply the concept of "Relax. Don't Worry. Have a Homebrew."
After we finished mixing the malt, sugar and boiling water, we let the mixture cool to and then measured the specific gravity. This is to measure the density of the mixture, which is proportional to the sugar content (which directly impacts fermentation.)
The hydrometer is an instrument used to measure the specific gravity of a liquid.
After measuring the specific gravity, Steven said it seemed really, really low to him (34). We read the instructions on the malt, and the instructions actually called for 2.5 pounds of sugar, and we only added one. Luckily, I had some sugar laying around my house which helped us bring the specific gravity to 48. The difference between this measurement, and the measurement I take when fermentation stops will provide me with the alcohol content of my mixture.
Once we upped the sugar content, and let the wort cool, I added the yeast. There was a small yeast package included in my malt extract, which made choosing the yeast extremely easy. Different types of yeast are available, which have their own impact on the flavor of the resulting beer.
In My Closet, With a Towel Around To Keep Light Away
After A Day of Fermenting
Overall, brewing my first batch of beer was very fun. I am grateful for Steven's advice, encouragement and help. I look forward to experimenting with different processes and seeing how they impact the resulting beer. Send me an email if you'd like a homebrew!