Brewmaster Part I

I have drunk my fair share of beer over the years, but usually it’s light in color and equally light on taste. So when my friend Matt Javitch, a fellow blogger and all-around great guy, told me that he had started brewing beer, I thought maybe I would actually enjoy drinking a beer if I tried – and tried to make – a dark craft beer.

So to honor my Irish heritage, and coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day, I set off on a brewing adventure!  I like to bake, how different would this be? If I really enjoy the process, I imagined mass producing my brew with a catchy name, like “Miss Type A IPA,” to something equally witty.

Matt gave me a shopping list and I picked up our supplies at a The Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge. On the day I was there the store was busier than the Apple store on the day the ipad 3 became available. I finally found someone to decipher my shopping list for me and help measure out all the ingredients which were organized in buckets, refrigerators, and on shelves in a system that resembled a small town library that still subscribes to the Dewey Decimal System.

Soaking the barley-filled cheesecloth

The next day Matt arrived at my place with a monstrously large stainless-steel pot, a glass jug, a plastic jug and a curly copper contraption. We started by packing cracked barley into cheese cloth and soaking it in boiling water. We transferred that to a larger pot, added more water and kept it at a rolling boil.  This concoction is not beer at this point, instead it is known as “wort.” Appetizing, I know. The brew is referred to as wort until yeast is added, and that is the very last step in the brewing process.

The copper chiller at work

As the wort boiled we added a thick goop that resembled — in both consistence and taste — maple syrup. Then came three rounds of hops, the first was to bitter the beer, 40 minutes later we added another dash to add flavor and a third to add aroma. Hops in this form look like the pellet food I used to feed to my guinea pig, Violet, circa 1989.  They dissolve in the wort and leave behind this greenish sludgy substance that stick to the sides of the pot. Once the hops are in we had to bring the temperature of the wort down.  That’s where the copper contraption came in. We moved our brewing operations to the laundry room (which had a more accessible plumbing) so we could pump cold water though the copper chiller. The chiller is similar to the medical device used to induce therapeutic hypothermia (I saw that on an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”) circulating cold water through the wort so we could bring its temperature down to under 70 degrees.

We then strained the wort to remove all the sludge the hops left behind, poured into a glass jug, and added the yeast. I was thinking we were saving the best for last, but the addition of the yeast turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic. We just poured it in and put a stopper in the top and left it alone. Technically it was then beer, but it will take two weeks to ferment before we can bottle it.

Straining the hoppy sludge from the wort

If this sound to you like a lot of steps and a lot of time you would be correct. It seems to me that you have to really like the person you are brewing with because there is a lot of down time and chit-chat involved. With the wrong person that could be painful…even more painful than the pace of the brewing. I am more of a get up and go gal, so sitting around waiting for a pot to boil took a lot of patience, not to mention a lot of my Sunday afternoon.  At moments I was pretty antsy. I think as a society, and certainly me personally, we are used to a fast-pace, and certainly more interested in instant gratification than the alternative. Many of my previous adventures have been this way. I swung on the trapeze and then fell on my ass, but at least I knew I was a terrible trapeze artist in that moment.  Brewing beer is like the SATs, you do all this tedious work, and then you wait, and wait, and wait to see if it was a success or if you have to go through the torturous process again.

One important rule I learned was that when brewing beer you have to sterilize everything. This is because you are dealing with live bacteria. I never really thought of beer in this way before. If there is more bacteria than there should be in the wort than that bacteria will eat more of the sugar (in the syrup we added) and grow and grow. For some reason this reminded me of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and I became wary of trying my own beer. But I will…in a few short weeks! I am planning on bottling it and serving it at a re-launch party for this blog. I have purchased a new web address, one that is not quite as long and complicated as this one, and I am in the process of making it pretty for all of you.  Stay Tuned and get ready to drink up!

And it is beer! It will ferment for two weeks before we bottle it

2 thoughts on “Brewmaster Part I

  1. Great job! I have 3 all grain batches under my belt now. I absolutely love craft beer! Hey, make sure you let it bottle condition once you have it bottled! You will have to prime it with corn sugar, and it will take a week to carbonate, but you must wait even longer! It will still have off flavors from the yeasties pissing alcohol and farting carbonation…Well, that’s not technically what produces the off flavors, but I just wanted to use that analogy. In the meantime, may I recommend you some craft brews while you wait for your craft brew?

    Brown Ale:
    Sweet Josie
    Sierra Nevada Tumbler

    Sierra Nevada Hoptimum
    Dog Fish 60/75/90 minute(any one of those are great)
    Hop Devil
    Loose Cannon

    Anchor’s Porter
    Highlands Oatmeal porter (or Coffee porter)

    Imperial Stout
    Great Divide Yeti
    Old Rasputin

    Oh, and drink anything by Stone Brewery! Woo! They’re good.

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