Homebrewing your own beer for the summer

I’m going to take a break from some of the kitchen basics and talk about homebrewing beer. The art of beer making to be exact. I know. You can go out and buy beer – it’s cheaper and easier. While there is fun in that, it’s even more fun to make it.

Beer making falls into a few culinary categories. It’s cooking. It’s fermenting, and it’s a little cooking science.

In a nutshell, you’re activating the yeast, you’re feeding the yeast, you’re adding flavors (hops, malt, herbs, etc.), and then you’re fermenting and aging. One of the hardest parts, however, is waiting.

I will tell you right now, the instructions say 30 days, but in all actuality, it’s closer to 60. Which is fine, especially if you have a rotation going (#goals).

I decided to do a test run on a beer kit because I was going to teach a class on it. Since I had never made it before, a practice run was probably a good idea. It took about half a day to prep and get the ingredients together. It took a little finesse but it came together nicely. The really exciting part of it all was waking up in the morning and seeing the yeast foaming, bubbling, and eating the sugar.

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Side note: if you don’t see that, then something went wrong and you probably killed your yeast.

The beer kit I used was an Oktoberfest beer kit from Craft A Brew (craftabrew.com). It is technically a type of lager but it has a higher ABV. The starter kit is about $50 with some styles running a bit more. Refills are about $15. For the record, I enjoyed the craft beer making so much, I bought 2 refills.

Each beer kit and refill comes with its own set of instructions. I am paraphrasing the instructions for this article so you can see the rough process before you dive into your own beer-making adventure. I also assume, if you choose to brew your own beer, you have the necessary kit and equipment.

Oktoberfest beer recipe from Craft A Brew

Starting your brew day

  1. Sanitize: The first step is to sanitize your equipment. This includes the gallon carboy (think large growler) and all the kit pieces for a minimum of 1 minute in the sanitizing solution. Then let everything dry on clean paper towels. Sanitizing is required because if any bacteria gets into your brewing equipment, it can ruin the batch or it can make you sick.
  2. Brewing:
    1. While you are waiting for the water to boil, put the grains in the steeping bag and tie the opening in a knot. When the water reaches 155 degrees (use a cooking thermometer), steep the grains for about 20 minutes while keeping the temperature at 155 or as close to it as possible. After 20 minutes, remove grain bag and discard. DO NOT SQUEEZE the excess water; it will release bitter flavors and sediment into the beer.
    2. Bring the unfermented beer, which is called wort, to a boil. Once you see the first big boiling bubble, turn off the burner and remove from heat.
    3. Take your dry malt extract and stir into the pot slowly. It gets a little sticky so make sure you mix it thoroughly avoiding clumpiness or getting it stuck to the bottom of your pot. After the malt has dissolved, bring the wort to a slow rolling boil. Here is where you can get boil overs. If it begins to boil over, remove from the heat and blow on the foam.
    4. After it has come to a rolling boil, add half of the bitter hops blend and bring to a boil for 60 minutes using a timer.
    5. Add the other half of hops blend, the aroma part, when you have 2 minutes left on the timer.
    6. Cool down the wort to 75 degrees. In order to do this, create an ice bath in your sink with ice and cold water. Put a lit on the pot so you don’t get any contaminates in the wort.
    7. Once the wort is below 75 degrees, pour the wort into the carboy (growler) using the funnel. If there is any sludge or sediment in the pot, make sure to leave as much of that behind. You can also use a fine mesh strainer.
    8. Most likely the liquid will not be 1 gallon. At this point add cool water to the carboy to bring it to 1 gallon. There is a marker on the carboy indicating 1 gallon. Open the yeast and add it to the mixture.
    9. Add the rubber stopper, and place it into the carboy opening. Cover the hole on the rubber stopper and shake the mixture and yeast together for about 1 minute. Do not over mix otherwise you can create oxidation.
    10. Add the blow off assembly to prevent overflowing. You just place the tube into the opening and the other end into a container filled halfway with water. This is to allow CO2 to escape but keeps the oxygen out.
  3. Fermentation: The fermentation should begin in 12-72 hours where you will see foaming and bubbling of the CO2. It reminded me of those old sea monkeys you could get years ago. A few days later, the bubbling slows down but the fermentation is still happening. Place your carboy somewhere cool and dark for 2 weeks. Don’t allow it to get too hot or too cold. Ideally, the temp should be between 60 and 75 degrees.
  4. Bottling: I used swing-top bottles. I only had clear glass but they worked just fine. You can get bottle caps or swing tops. It’s your preference really.
    1. Mix your priming sugar into a pot and heat until dissolved.
    2. Once the sugar water is completely cooled, siphon the beer into the pot to mix the sugar water into the beer. This will feed the yeast and give your beer the carbonation it needs.
    3. Siphon the beer from the pot into your sanitized bottles
  5. Conditioning: Store the bottles in a warm dark place for 2 weeks to let the beer condition and carbonate. After 2 weeks, you can refrigerate and then drink, and well, obviously enjoy!

Some beers will be better if they age longer. This is why I said it took me 60 days. I clarified it (extra siphon) and stored it a little longer.

Again, this is just an overview. Each kit will have its own set of instructions. It was well worth the wait because the beer was amazing, especially for it being my first time.

Since the weather is turning better and better each day, now is the perfect time to tackle your own homebrewing operation so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor this summer.

Next up for me, I'll be homebrewing some IPA and Double Hops beer kits…

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