Drinking a home brewed porter
The next step in my program of simplification is to target areas of one’s consumption. Readers of this blog know I enjoy craft beer and it certainly is a measurable portion of my consumption. Clearly brewing my own beer is the answer! I dabbled in home brewing in the late 90s when I was living in a house with some of my old college chums. After making a successful beginners batch I subsequently got a job in Seattle and moved to a small apartment which wasn’t very amenable to home brewing. So the equipment I had was passed on and I didn’t persue brewing for over a decade. But now I’m back in Olympia with plenty of space for brewing and access to pretty much all of that equipment I formerly had and more. So I’ve embarked on homebrewing again.
Complete Brewing process
To date I, along with a friend who was involved in the first batch of home brewing, have brewed two batches of beers. It is not my intention to completely go over the process of home brewing as that information is widely available on the net (this article is as good as any, though there are plenty more). But with the first batch now being drinkable I thought I’d present my impressions of the experience particularly in terms of my program of reduction of consumption.
Boiling the wort
One can home brew from kits that involve little more than adding a concentrate to water and fermenting for a few weeks then bottling to starting with whole grains, milling them, extracting their sugars, hopping and then fermenting. One can bottle or keg depending on ones desired outlay and use of space (you need fridge space for your keg). So far the batches I’ve made have been in-between these two extremes. We’ve been using kits that we purchased from Austin Homebrew Supply that replicate various craft brews. I chose to go this route so as to be able to practice the actual brewing process without having to master every possible step in the process. But there are many recipes available in books and online (plus many, many forums and mailing lists and the like where home brewers exchange recipes, tips and the like) and as I become comfortable with the process I intend to switch to working from these.
We have one more of these kits to brew but from then I suspect we’ll primarily use these recipes and buy the ingredients in bulk. This to me is point to get to, as it really maximizes the cost/benefit ratio and allows for easy experimentation. You can buy the raw ingredients from places like Austin Homebrew Supply (or even better your local home brew supply store) and when you get the kits from them, they are basically just measuring the ingredients out for you, packaging it and then selling it to you at a premium. You can eliminate that additional cost by doing that aspect yourself. More importantly to me is that you can can modify the recipes in ways that you prefer. Perhaps there is a beer you really love so you learn how to replicate it. But if you always felt it should be slightly hoppier, have more body, or perhaps be a bit stronger these are all variables that you as the home brewer can control. Furthermore you can do things that the craft brewers might not do to their standard recipes – add speciality grains, infuse with different flavorings, change the hops and so on.
The ultimate endstage of home brewing is what they call “all grain” brewing. In this you use malted barley (and other grains) which you mill to your specifications and mix to create the mash from which your brew will be made. I think it would be pretty hard to actually grow ones own grains but one could certainly get to a point where one is buying grains directly from those who do. Of course you then have to ‘malt’ it which is a process I’m completely ignorant of. For now one can easily buy malted barley, a situation which is unlikely to change in the near future. However growing your own hops, and cultivating your own yeast is are other options within the home brewers control. While milled grains and extracts are available it seems worth using these in my opinion. All Grain recipes require a bit more equipment and for now I like having as little equipment as possible. It’s still a decent amount of gear, you need at minimum a large pot to brew in, a strainer, a vessel to ferment in with an airlock and vessel to “rack” your beer into plus equipment for bottling (or kegging). Various measuring devices are also needed – a thermometer primarily but as hydrometer is useful especially if you start making your own recipes.
Racking the beer
The first beer we made, a clone of my favorite porter, just completed the minimum three weeks of bottle conditioning. If one bottles ones home brew (as opposed to kegging it) you rack the beer to a separate vessel (usually just a large sanitized bucket) in which you add some priming sugar. This sugar allows the yeast that is still in the beer to reactivate which produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. Sealed in a bottle this carbonation will infuse your beer giving it the fizzy aspect we all associate with beer. We popped a couple of these last night and were relatively pleased with how it came out.
Racking the beer: mixing with the priming sugar
Each batch is a learning experience and in this first batch we felt that we under filled the carboy (our fermentor) with water a bit. We also didn’t sufficiently mix the wort (the brewed fermentables and hops) with the water before we took a hydrometer reading (which measures the density of your water). Thus this first batch seemed a bit “maltier” with a slightly higher alcohol content then the reference beer. But not at all bad! It is a bit “stouter” then the target porter but not quite an “imperial porter” nor an actual stout. It will continue to condition in the bottle and if we don’t drink it all too quickly we should see these characteristics mellow out a bit. The lessons we learned from this batch, we applied to our second batch, a Pale Ale, which has been bottled and should be ready for drinking in a couple of weeks. It so far seems to be within expected measurements and I expect it to turn out even better. The next batch, an Oatmeal Stout, should be even more improved as our technique is refined even further.
The bottled beer
After this next batch I intend to use bulk ingredients and existing recipes which is where I’d like to be in my home brewing. Once one is doing that it becomes a matter of understanding how the specific grains and hops (and yeast to some degree) alter the flavor profile. Once enough knowledge is gained in that area one can experiment with modifying recipes and finally making ones own. But if one basically just wants to have on hand the beers one likes it simply is necessary to be able to make those beers to your satisification. This is my primary goal – I’m a big fan of the classic beer recipes – porter, stout, pale ale and so on and I want to have good solid recipes for those that I can reliably brew. I do enjoy trying new styles and variants and I’m sure I’ll always experiment with those to some degree. But for me the main goal is to be able to make the beers that I buy the most. In other words to target this aspect of my consumption and to replace it with my own efforts.
A photorecord of my home brewing attempts can be found here:
Home Brewing Set on Flickr