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Just Brew It

 

By Sherry Ballou Hanson
August 2004

Making your own beer is a craft that even your friends and family can enjoy.

As a young lieutenant stationed in Monterey, Calif., Cmdr. Joel King, USN-Ret., heard about a nearby home brewing store and thought brewing his own batch of beer sounded like a great idea. He visited the store and came home with a simple home brewing kit.

King’s brewing got off to a rocky start in the tiny kitchen that he shared with his wife, who immediately discovered she could not stand the smell. The wort boiled over on the hottest afternoon of the summer—King could not cool it enough—and then hops clogged the siphon tube. But eventually he took the brew to the coolest place in the house—the bedroom. The next morning he awoke to the glug-glug of fermentation gas bubbles escaping the airlock, music to every home brewer’s ears. He has been brewing ever since.

Today, King, 43, brews in a self-designed 15-gallon brewery with a high-temperature magnetic-drive pump and heat exchanger coils. “I may be a bit overboard on the toys of the hobby—and I certainly know many other home brewers with half the equipment and twice the product—but I have a great love for the process, and an even greater understanding of those immortal words, ‘Give a man a beer and he wastes an hour, but teach a man how to brew and he wastes a lifetime.’”

King isn’t alone in his hobby—some 250,000 Americans make their own home brews, according to the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) (www.beertown.org), which supports more than 700 homebrew clubs. Paul Gatza, the director, learned about home brewing while shooting pool with friends about 12 years ago.

“Within 10 hours I bought my equipment kit and first two ingredient batches. After calling the shop a few times with simple questions, I had a successful batch going,” he says (see “This Brew’s for You” for recipes).

Before 1978, when the surge in home brewing began, there were a handful of homebrew supply shops, mostly catering to winemakers. After a boom in the early 1990s, however, home brewing has exploded in popularity.

The real nectar of the gods

There’s nothing new about brewing beer at home. Medieval monks drank home brewed beer as a supplement to meals, and it especially was helpful during fasts. This nutrient-laden brew was heavy and dark and had a lot more malt than today’s beers, making it rich in B vitamins. Classified as a beverage, it resembled oatmeal in consistency and gave a nice kick to periods of fasting.

But the fascination with home brewing has been around longer than that. The oldest records of brewing date back as far as 6,000 years ago. Ancient Sumerians discovered the fermentation process by chance and are reputed to be the first civilized culture to brew beer, offering the divine beverage to their gods. Romans, Babylonians, and Egyptians carried on the tradition, and amphora (clay jugs) found near present day Kulmbach, Germany, date back to 800 B.C., the first evidence of beer brewed in Germany.

Home brewed

Former U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Eric Hanson, 34, of Portland, Ore., began brewing ales in 1988 as a college student in Aberywstyth, Wales. “Ingredients were widely available at local [drug stores] in the United Kingdom, and it was cheaper to make your own than to buy it in a pub.” His beers improved through medical school; years spent serving in the Navy in San Diego and Groton, Conn.; and a residency at the University of North Carolina, where he perfected his All-Grain Raspberry Ale recipe.

“A neighbor had several pints of raspberry ale at one of my parties—tasty, hides its strength well. He literally crawled home afterward,” says Hanson. “Luckily, he lived next door.”

Former Air Force Capt. Reed Racette, 34, got into the act as a result of tasting beers from all over the world. “I liked the idea of brewing my own beer, but so many of my friends had tried brewing and produced such awful beers that I had decided to be content with the store-bought stuff.” A friend’s pumpkin ale, however, tripped Racette’s trigger and he began making his own brews with a recipe from Maryland Home Brew (MHB) (www.mdhb.com), which gives military members a 10 percent discount.

Brewing on premises

Retired Air Force Col. Frank Rohrbough, 64, had enjoyed the brews of Germany and England while serving in Wiesbaden, Germany, in the mid-1960s. “I have had a yearning to brew my own beer, but I did not want to go through the hassles of doing it at home.”

And then came the answer: brewing on premises. In 1993 in Alexandria, Va., the Shenandoah Brewing Company (www.shenandoahbrewing.com) opened its doors. The staff made it easy for Rohrbough by providing the facilities, equipment, recipes for ales and lagers, ingredients, bottles, and labels. Brewing on premises is a good way to learn whether this hobby is right for you. Recipes are tried and true, and the brewery’s staff is there to help you along and clean up.

A typical batch makes about 16 gallons, or about five-and-a-half cases of beer. “The best part is that it is my beer—my brew, with my labels,” Rohrbough says. The only worry he has is marking his calendar to brew a new batch before the last one runs out.

Col. Lee Lange II, USMC-Ret. Also enjoys brewing outside his house. “I became interested in home brewing because I like beer and because I received a one-time-use home brewing kit a few years ago as a gift,” says Lange. The beer was good, “but I failed to close a valve on a brewing bag when I was adding hot water to the ingredients and I had sticky stuff all over my kitchen.” When Lange, 55, began looking for a system for his home, he was still in the military and moving around. So two years ago he teamed up with Rohrbough in brewing on premises. “No investment in equipment, no smells in the home, and it’s fun to do since we can sample as we make the beer,” Lange says.

Tips from the “pros”

Our beer “experts” agree that three things make the difference between success and failure: Use high-quality ingredients, keep everything clean, and follow a good recipe.

“The key to being a great brewer from day one is to brew in a sanitary fashion,” says Gatza. All equipment that comes in contact with the beer after the brew kettle should be sanitized, and contact with air should be minimized. For clean up, Gatza suggests a bleach solution or other sanitizer.

Once you’re used to brewing, you might want to use a program such as ProMash (www.promash.com). It calculates how much fermentable sugar will be available out of your malt, how bitter the beer will be, and what color your beverage will be.

Another important tip is to have fun while brewing. Even if your friends aren’t interested in home brewing, they might want to taste your product. There are even groups such as the Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP) that host great meetings and beer-related events. Racette, a BURP member, says that getting to know new people is just one more benefit of brewing your own beers. “It’s really cool to serve your own beer at parties,” says Racette, “but the best part to me is the people you meet.”

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Sidebar:
This Brew’s for You

The basic ingredients— malted barley, hops, water, and yeast—are all you need, though you can add other fermentables. Hanson suggests such sumptuous additions as fruits, honey, molasses, vegetables and other grains. One of the great things about brewing your own beer is the ability to try new and different things, but if you would rather follow a recipe, here are a few tasty beverages to try making.

Eric Hanson’s All-Grain Raspberry Ale
(5 gallons)

Ingredients:
8 lbs. American II Row pale malted barley
_ lb. 60 L crystal malt
_ lb. Carapils malt
_ lb. flaked wheat
2 tsp. gypsum
1 tsp. Irish moss
½ oz. Willamette hops
1 oz. Fuggles hops
½ oz. Kent Goldings hops
1 vial White Labs California liquid ale yeast

Directions:
Mash at 147-150 degrees for 1 hour.

Raise temperature (while stirring) to 170.

Sparge with 6 _ gallons water at 180 degrees.

Bring wort to boil; start timer.

After 10 minutes into the boil, add ½ oz. each of Willamette and Fuggles hops.

After 65 minutes, add ½ oz. of Fuggles.

After 79 minutes (last minute), add Kent Goldings hops

Place beverage in 5-gallon fermenter and allow to ferment until almost completed (about a week). Then pasteurize 5 lbs. red raspberries (heat on stove at 140 degrees for ½ hour). Then add raspberries and beer together into a secondary, larger (6-gallon) fermenter. Allow to ferment another week, then siphon the beer off the fruit and into a third fermenter and allow to settle out prior to kegging or bottling.

Paul Gatza’s Downhill Bitter
(5 gallons)

Ingedients:
3.3 lb. John Bull English Ale Hopped Malt Extract
4 lb. Munton’s light dried malt extract
½ oz. U.K. East Kent Goldings Hops
5 gallons water
1 pack (11.5 grams) Edme Dried Ale Yeast
¾ cup corn sugar (at bottling)
1 ¼ cup water (at bottling)

Directions:
Bring 1 ½ gallons water to boil, turn off kettle, and stir in malt extract until dissolved, then return to boil.

Boil for 10 minutes, then add hops.

Turn off the kettle, cool in snow bank or ice to approximately 75 degrees.

Pour into fermenter, add remaining water then yeast.

Ferment for seven days.

Siphon to second fermenter for seven more days.

Boil corn sugar and water for about 5 minutes, place in bottom of bottling vessel.

Siphon beer onto corn sugar mixture, then bottle.

Try beer at five days to test carbonation. Continue testing at leisure until batch is finished.

Maryland Home Brew’s Brown Ale
(5 gallons)
(Courtesy www.mdhb.com, or call 1-888-BREW NOW)

Ingredients:
2 cans (3.3 lb. each) light malt extract
1 lb. Belgian aromatic malt
½ lb. biscuit
½ lb. crystal 80
1 oz. Styrian Goldings hop pellets
1 oz. Willamette hop pellets
1 oz. Willamette hop leafs
One vial White Labs British Ale yeast
¾ cup priming sugar
Directions:

Steep grains in hop bag in 1.5 gallons water at 155 degrees for 30 minutes.

Remove grains, add malt extract, and bring to a boil.

Add 1 oz. Styrian Goldings; boil 30 minutes.

Add 1 oz. Willamette hop pellets; boil 20 minutes.

Add 1 oz. Willamette leaf hops; boil 3 minutes.

Turn off and let steep 10 minutes.

Combine wort with water to make 5 gallons. Remove leaf hops.

Pitch yeast when wort temperature is between 70-80.

For ONE-STEP fermentation, allow to sit in fermenter at 65-70 for about 7 days, then use a sanitized hydrometer to ensure beer has reached its final gravity.

For TWO-STEP fermentation, rack to a secondary fermenter (glass carboy) after 5 days and allow to sit another 10-14 days before bottling.
Prime and bottle. To prime, dissolve corn sugar or dry malt extract in two pints boiling water for 15 minutes. Pour mixture into empty bottling bucket and siphon beer from fermenter over it. This ensures priming sugar will disperse evenly through your beer. For proper carbonation, store beer at 75 degrees for at least first week after bottling. This allows yeast to feed on priming sugar and produces the carbon dioxide for carbonation. It’s ready to drink, but will improve with age.


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