Gut Rumbles

October 04, 2008

Potential brewmeister

Originally published October 28, 2002

Rich of BRAIN SQUEEZINGS has decided that he wants to start brewing his own beer and is asking for advice from anyone who knows anything about the subject. Always willing to share my knowledge of the arcane with anyone who will listen, I offer this missive on home brewing.

It is FUN! Making your own beer is like conducting an experiment with a really cool chemistry set and being able to drink the end result without turning into a hairy, murderous freak like Mr. Hyde. You just turn into a drunken, slobbering freak like a lot of fans you see at professional hockey games.

My beer-making tools were a 5-gallon glass carboy, a funnel, a bottle capper, a four-foot piece of 1/2" plastic tubing, a rubber stopper with a hole in it for the neck of the carboy, a long glass tube that fit the hole in the stopper, and a short glass tube that did the same thing. I also had a bubble-counter device that fit the stopper, too. All these nifty things are available over the internet and likely for sale at a brewpub, if you have one nearby. I bought mine at The Mill in Savannah. I also bought 10 pounds of corn sugar, a 3-pound bag of spray-dried malt extract (for dark beers), three packs of various hops (they are rated on a bitterness scale), 1,000 bottle caps, and two cans of kit beer.

I then bought four cases of long-neck beer bottles for $2.00 per case from the bartender at The Blue-Collar Lounge, a bar down the street from where I lived at the time. I poured two cups of bleach into a clean plastic garbage can and filled the can with enough water to sink all the bottles. That will soak the labels off the bottles and disinfect them at the same time.

I started out making kit beers because they are the easy way for a beginner to learn and they usually turn out well. A kit beer basically is beer syrup in a can with a packet of yeast and cooking instructions included. The first batch I made was a "Cooper's Ale" (I think) from Australia.

Step one before brewing is to sterilize all your equipment. Bacteria love the nutrient-rich environment of sugar, yeast grains and hops that you are about to create and they will thrive there, turning the beer cidery and undrinkable if you give them a chance. I ran everything I used through the dishwasher first, except the carboy, which wouldn't fit, so I rinsed it thoroughly with a 5% bleach solution, then filled it with water and added four effervescing denture-cleanser tablets.

I cooked my batches on the kitchen stove. Just put some water in a big pot, bring it to a boil, and add the kit beer syrup. Lower the heat to a simmer and add sugar, stirring constantly to a) keep from "scorching" your beer and 2) keep the damned concoction in the pot, because it will boil over like Vesuvius if you aren't careful.

Most kit recipes call for four cups of sugar. I always used six-- the more sugar you add, the higher the alcohol content of the resultant beer. Mine usually ran around 7% (14 proof!) when finished. With the Coopers, I used four cups of corn sugar and two cups of malt extract. The beer came out a beautiful red color that way.

Cook the mixture for 45 minutes, then empty the carboy. Add about 4" of tap water to the carboy, insert the funnel into the neck of the carboy, and CAREFULLY pour the still-boiling contents of the pot down the funnel. Remove the funnel, fill the carboy to 5" air space with water and cover the top of the carboy (I used a dishwasher-sterilized baggie and a rubber band). Allow it to sit and cool until it is no more than titty-warm to the touch. Then pitch in the yeast.

Insert the rubber stopper in the neck of the carboy. Stick the short glass tube in the hole and connect the plastic tubing to the glass tube. Fill a coffee can 1/2 full of 5% bleach solution, poke a hole in the plastic top, and stick the other end of the plastic tubing through the hole that the end of the tube is beneath the liquid. Set the carboy in a safe place-- I used my laundry room.

Now wait about two weeks. Within the first 24 hours, the mixture in the carboy will begin to bubble furiously as the yeast devours the sugar and gives off CO2 and alcohol. The coffee can will bubble furiously, too, as the gas escapes. By day 2, the mixture is working alive and the coffee can starts making noises like a baby alligator, hissing and grunting. This process continues for a few days, then begins to subside. When you see very few bubbles rising from what is now about 2" of sediment in the bottom of the carboy, remove the blow-off tubing and insert the bubble-counter in the stopper.

The bubble-counter is a small plastic cylinder with a ball that seals the bottom. Fill it with 5% bleach solution and watch as gas forms in the carboy, lifts the ball, and allows a bubble to escape. When you see one bubble every two minutes, the beer is ready for the bottle.

Add 3/4 cup of priming sugar to the carboy. This sugar will give your beer its foam.

I always ran the bottles through the dishwasher on the rinse cycle and bottled my beer with the bottles still in the washer for easy cleanup. The long glass tube with the plastic tubing attached is the siphon. Fill the bottles, cap them, and set them in a cool, dark place for a few days.

WARNING! DO NOT siphon the sediment at the bottom of the carboy. That stuff has truly amazing laxitive qualities and if you don't enjoy shitting your pants, stay away from that stuff. Always leave about an inch of beer in the carboy. You should end up with 48-52 bottles.

The beer should age for two weeks, but I always liked to try a bottle after two days, then another one at four days and then another one after a week, just to see how the process was progressing. Sometimes, I pronounced the batch ready to go in 7 days.

I made more batches of more different kinds of beer than I can remember. But I remember that they ALL were good.

Go for it, Rich!

UPDATE Something ate every comment on this post, and this post only. I DID NOT DO THAT, because I wasn't fucking with anything at the time. At least I don't think I was. If you wanted me to know what you said, try to comment again or email me.

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