Friday, October 25, 2013

My Brother the Brew Master

Nearly three years ago, the Minx was contacted by Smithwick's to promote a Facebook sweepstakes they were holding. In return, they were sending us a home beer making kit made by Brewer's Best, a company that specializes in home beer making equipment and ingredients. The Minx agreed and the kit was sent on its way. When she told me about this, I was dubious. I've known people who have made home brews and the project requires a lot of equipment and space. Given that our modest house was already crammed with stuff, I couldn't see how we would have the room to use it. The Minx assured me that this was just a small kit and it would not be a problem. A few days later, a box the size of a water cooler was left on our porch. I transported it to a corner in the basement and that's where it sat until last Labor Day.

While my bother Craig was visiting for the holiday, I talked him into giving the kit a go. Since he was retired and had a spacious basement, he might be in a better position to brew beer than we were. Thankfully, he agreed and we loaded the box into his Taurus.

A couple of weeks went by and, frankly, I had forgotten all about the beer kit. Then Craig shot me an e-mail saying that he had just started a batch of red ale. I was surprised and curious about the process, so he filled me in on some of the details.

The kit included everything you would need to make a five gallon batch of beer:

• Primary Fermenter  • Easy Clean
• Carboy                   • Econo-Lock
• Carboy Brush         • Thermometers
• Bottling Bucket       • Hydrometer
• Capper                   • Siphon Hose
• Bottle Filler             • Bottle Brush
• Plastic Paddle         • Lid
• Bottling Spigot        • Auto-Siphon
• Book                      • Bucket Clip

The contents of the kit plus some extra stuff my brother purchased.
The book they refer to is The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papaziar which takes you through all the ins and outs of home beer-making and offers several recipes for different styles of beer. Craig decided to buy an ingredients kit rather than individual ingredients to make his beer. The packages give you all you need to make a specific type of beer. Each ingredient pack also comes with an instructions sheet with the information necessary to make a successful brew. They even show you how to determine the alcohol content of your beer.

Ingredients from kit
Basically, the grains provided in the package are first steeped in 2.5 gallons of water at 150 - 165 degrees F. The bag of grains is removed and the resulting "wort" is brought to a boil. Liquid malt extract is then added and boiled for a time before being cooled down to 70 degrees F. This is achieved by putting the pot in a tub of ice or by a cooling device I will discuss in a future post. The cooled wort is strained into a plastic bucket and enough water is added to bring the entire contents to 5 gallons. Yeast is then mixed in and the tub is sealed. An airlock is inserted into the sealed container and put into a cool, dark place for fermentation (a closet, in my brother's case). If you see bubbles forming in the water in the airlock after 24 hours, you have fermentation.

The wort is sealed in the container for fermentation

Top Tip: Don't let your kids swim in the wort! Sad thing is, you know there was a law suit.
After five to seven days, it's recommended that you transfer the brew to a five gallon bottle known as a carboy. This allows for a clearer beer with a more pure taste. The airlock is inserted into the top of the carboy and stored away again for another week or so.

After a week, the wort is transferred to the carboy for further fermentation.
Once the beer has sat in the carboy for two more weeks, bottling can begin. First, priming sugar is dissolved in boiling water and added to the brew which has now been transferred to a bucket for the bottling process.This will encourage carbonation. Siphoning the beer from the bucket into bottles can illicit some aggravation and colorful metaphors, but the result is 40 to 50 bottles of beer that's ready to drink in two more weeks. I tried the red ale straight from the bottle as well as poured into a glass. The first few sips from the bottle were highly carbonated and lacking in flavor, but as I drank further down, the carbonation lessened and a nice caramel flavor emerged. Pouring it into a glass allowed the carbonation to be released into the head and the flavors were more evenly mixed. Aside from a slightly bitter after taste, the red ale was pleasant and smooth and superior to many mass market domestic brews.

Okay, I know you can make numerous trips to the liquor store in the time it takes to finish this brewing process, but that's an awful lot of beer for your trouble, and it's really meant to be a hobby. Next time, my brother and I tackle a special Christmas brew for the holidays.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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