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This is my final post in the 365 Foods project, and what could be more appropriate than drinking a beer to celebrate? I’ve had so much fun both contributing and reading the posts by the 365 team and my co-guest bloggers. So I’m raising a glass to each of the foodies here, and to all you readers out there too. We appreciate you dropping by!
I have to say, I am a lucky, lucky woman. Why? My boyfriend makes fantastic home-brew. For several years now he’s been producing carefully tailored brews right in our apartment, and there’s no pleasure in life quite like the pleasure of tasting a beer that has been carefully planned and prepared over the course of weeks. As summer approaches I can count on him to produce a gorgeous Belgian-style witbier, perfect for sipping in our camp chairs. Other times he’ll turn out IPAs, Amber Ales, or whatever is tickling his creative fancy.
To those of you who have politely sipped at terrible home-brew and tried to pour it in the nearest house plant: trust me – there’s a whole other world out there.
I will attempt only a cursory intro to home-brewing today. The process is far too involved to do justice in a little blog post. However, if you are intrigued by what you see, don’t be intimidated! Once you’re familiar with the process it’s quite easy and doesn’t have to take a lot of time. In fact, fabulous results can be had with a method easier than the one I’m describing today.
A dear friend of ours got us into home-brewing, and introduced us to Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies. Dan is incredibly knowledgeable and stocks everything you could possibly need to make top-quality beers customized to your own tastes. He offers many recipes to get you started, and will help you create your own recipes too. This isn’t your standard “pick-a-boxed-beer-kit” U-brew kind of place.
Today’s beer is an ale loosely based on Liberty Ale by San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company. I’ll break it down by ingredient, and then roughly describe the process. I’m not the expert in the house (and while we are careful we aren’t as meticulous as some brewers out there) so I acknowledge now that what I’m about to write should be taken as a loose guide only!
In brewing, Malt refers to grains (usually barley) that have been germinated, dried, and sometimes roasted. In this recipe we’re using mostly Canadian-grown 2-row malt, which is a classic British beer malt, and a little bit of Carastan malt, a roasted malt that adds some body and sweet, toffee-like flavour.
Hops are flowers that not only flavour beer, but act as a natural preservative. Hops add both bitterness and aroma to the beer. We used two American varieties: Centennial and Cascade, which both have spicy, floral characters with a lot of grapefruit.
Yeast ferments the sugars in the malt creating alcohol and CO2. We used dry Nottingham yeast, a fairly neutral ale yeast that would let the malt and hop flavours really shine.
We used an “All grain” method for this beer, which means that we extracted all the sugars from the malt ourselves. A quicker method that still yields excellent results makes use of malt extract and pretty much skips the mash and sparging steps I’m about to describe.
Mashing is the process of soaking the malt in hot water to convert the complex starches into simple sugars that the yeast can easily ferment. We use our camping cooler and diligent attention to keep the mash at the right temperature. The sugary fluid that results from the mash is called Wort.
Sparging combines two processes: draining filtered Wort from the mash tun (in this case our cooler) and flushing as much sugar out of the malt as possible with more hot water. We modify our cooler to include a spigot that filters the wort through braided stainless steel cable, keeping all the grain debris out of the wort.
Boiling and Hopping
The boil serves three purposes. First, it sterilizes the Wort. Second, it purifies the Wort by removing undesirable compounds, some of which evaporate and some of which coagulate at this stage and can be removed later. Third, the boil releases flavour from hops by releasing alpha acids. Hops are often added at more than one stage of the boil. Hops added early in the boil add lots of bitterness but little aroma while hops added near the end add little flavour but lots of aroma. We added the Centennial hops at the beginning of the boil and some of the Cascades at the end. More Cascade hops were reserved for a later stage.
The Wort needs to be cooled very rapidly. We used a cold water bath and ice. We then strained out the hops and transfered the wort into the Primary Fermentor.
Fermentation and Dry-hopping
Once the Wort is cool enough, activated yeast is added and the beer is left to ferment. The first stage, or Primary Fermentation, takes a few days – we usually let it go for a week. During this time the fermentation is apparent from the bubbling in the bung (um, yeah) as CO2 escapes the fermentor.
When primary fermentation is complete the beer is carefully siphoned into the Secondary Fermentor (for this stage we use a gigantic glass bottle called a carboy). For this beer we will be “dry-hopping” which means more hops are added to the Secondary to increase the beer’s aroma. Secondary Fermentation clarifies the beer and can rejuvenate the yeast a bit. We generally leave beer in the Secondary for two weeks.
We don’t use kegs, so we rely on bottle conditioning to carbonate our beer. The beer is carefully siphoned out of the secondary into another vessel and Priming Sugar is added. The beer is then poured into bottles and capped. The yeast in the beer gorge on this new sugar and create CO2 in the bottles. After a few weeks in the bottles the beer is carbonated and ready to drink.
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This batch is currently in the Primary, so we’ll probably get our first taste in mid-November, and it will continue to improve for several weeks after that. This batch will produce about 23 litres of beer (about 65 standard sized bottles) from $30 worth of ingredients. That’s about $0.46 per beer.
I’d share with you all if I could. But please enjoy Drink Beer Day in whatever manner suits you best! All my best, and thanks for a great year here at 365 Foods!
* Sorry. I don’t know who to attribute the beer mug photo to. It’s on over 60 websites and I don’t know who the photographer is.