I began brewing in 1997. There followed a period of regular home brew sessions resulting in good beers, great beers, messy kitchens. But life and finances and foul temper interfered. Brewing was perpetually put off. It’s been five years since I’ve really brewed seriously and two years since I’ve brewed at all. I’ve covered these items on this blog in the past and so I shan’t bore my readers with yet another prosaic quaff from that morose pint.
No, I want to return to home brewing. Everyone that knows me discerns that I love beer. I need to get back to my roots, so to speak. Thus, I started a refresher course. I visited the American Homebrewers Association website and started reading up on home brewing again. I renewed my membership whilst I was there. I watched videos of other homebrewers on You Tube. I have rekindled my desire.
These blog posts under the category “A Return to Homebrewing” will be my effort to remind myself what brewing is all about – tangibly and metaphysically, if you will – and succinctly lay out the process for myself.
Beer is made from grains – barley and wheat primarily. Many tyro home brewers start with an extract, however.
This is basically a syrup and it comes packaged in either a can or a bag, anywhere from three to ten pounds. Essentially, the grains have gone through a partial brewing process. A wort has been made from them. All the sugars and other materials have been extracted from the grains. As much water as possible is extracted from the wort. A home brewer, then, adds water back to the extract and creates a beer from there. Here’s an article at Brew Your Own magazine that explains it well. http://byo.com/extract-brewing/item/1101-making-malt-extract
Five gallon batches seem to be the standard starting point in homebrewing. You boil approximately three gallons of water and extract, add that to a 6 gallon plastic pail that serves as your fermenting vessel and top it off to five gallons.
I considered using this method when getting back to the hobby. In the end, however, I opted to go all grain.
Small Scale Brewing
With all grain brewing you use the grains themselves and make your own extract, a wort. It means using a lot more water. You’ve got to heat the grains in water to get your sugars, you’ve got to rinse the grains off to extract these sugars. You end up needing to boil all the water you collect.
Since you’re already trained to think in five gallon terms you realize that you need to collect at least five gallons of water for your five gallon batch. Then you would need to boil that volume in your brew kettle. But a brew kettle is not part of the original start up kit. You’ve either got to have your own pot or buy one. A five gallon sized stainless steel brewing pot is expensive.
However a lot of us, being married, have collected cooking utensils over the years. One of these utensils is usually a big stainless steel pot used for boiling water to make the ubiquitous spaghetti. I realized that can be used as a brew kettle. It doesn’t hold five gallons, only three, so my recipes need to be scaled down to a two or three gallon volume. Or even a one gallon.
I will also need some other equipment.
The Home Brew Adventure
Part of the allure of home brewing is the do-it-yourself zeitgeist it captures. The equipment and the product are all made or assembled with your own hands. A home brewer scrapes together whatever funds, junk, or mettle he has and ignores any obstacles to reach his goal – a hand crafted beer of his choice, not corporate choice.
One of the pieces I will need for brewing is a mash tun. A trip to Home Depot garners me a five gallon Rubbermaid beverage cooler, a 1/2″ ball valve, coupling, close nipple and two 1/2″ pipe to 3/8″ hose barbs. These quickly replaced the plastic spout and voila, a mash tun.
And that’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. But it’s much farther than I ever anticipated at the beginning of this year. So I pretty happy. I’m even anticipating a chapter two for this journey.