As I opened the first bottle of beer I ever brewed, I was tense with anticipation, fear, hope, and a sense of accomplishment. So far, so good. There was that white vapor between the cap and the beer, and the nice head after I poured. A good five or six hours of work and a month’s worth of fermenting has all come down to this. My hand is shaking as I bring the frosty glass to my lips to take my first sip…
History of Beer: The Rise of Civilization
Before we get to the results, let’s go over some history of beer and brewing.
The sensation of thirst comes from the second of the three requirements for a human to survive: air, water, and food. As man experimented with different types of food and developed a palette, he had a desire for something other than water to drink. It is common belief that fermented drink was first discovered by nomadic peoples in prehistory. “It might have been from rotting fruit; it may have been from stale honey, or even from suppurating dates, damaged cacti, or festering palm sap. We shall probably never know for certain” (Hornsey, 1). This mind altering substance was a revelation in the prehistoric world, a way to escape the dreary existence that most people lived. It became such a central part of life, that it helped the socio-economic development of early man. “In the light of floral, ceramic, and iconographic evidence, the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages, particularly beers and wines, have played an important role in the socio-economic development of early man, and were fundamental in the emergence of complex, hierarchically organized societies, such as were emergent in the Near East (beer and wine), the Levant (wine), and Egypt (beer), (Hornsey, 5). This emergence helped agrarian societies set up a farming infrastructure that allowed them to pursue other interests. And as the centuries passed, these other interests fueled the rise of civilization and humankind. All because of beer. (Just kidding… but not really).
Through the ages, beer, wine, and liquor has always been in the background. In some places of the world, it flowed more freely than clean water. Beers (I can’t speak for wine or liquor) have had different styles brewed out of the necessity. One such legend (I’ve heard conflicting rumors lately, but it is a generally accepted story, true or not) is about the beginnings of the India Pale Ale (IPA) style. Back in the days when the sun never set on the British Empire, the soldiers and other Brits abroad needed some good English beer. The largest “colony” with the longest occupation, and most demand, was India. So for the beer brewers back in England, they needed to find a way to make the beer last the journey to India. The beers they did make were pretty bland, so they experimented and came up with adding a large amount of hops. That is what helped preserve the beer for the journey, and what gives an IPA its distinct hoppy flavor and aroma. Other types of beers are brewed for certain situations. A light citrusy beer is made for a warmer climate, and a dark, thick, malty, spicy beer is for a colder climate. Beer has evolved over time just like everything else, and it has grown into a huge market with all the craft breweries that are exploding today.
The Brewing Process
This is my understanding of the brewing process from the perspective of a beginner home brewer. It can be broken down into four major days: the brew day, racking into the secondary fermenter, bottling day, and tasting day. (The last one is the most fun.)
The Brew Day
With anything in the brew process, it is extremely important to keep the tools you will be using clean and sanitized. This will go without saying for the rest of this post. I like stouts and porters the best, so that is the type I will be describing how to make. I have only brewed from recipe kits to this date. Now the tools you will need include: a very large brew kettle, a five gallon bucket or carboy, a five gallon carboy, a nice spoon to stir with, and a grain bag. An optional thing that is nice to have (which I don’t) is a wort chiller. This helps to quickly cool the liquid after the boil, called the cold break, which helps the beer have a better flavor and appear clearer. If you don’t have a chiller, you can put your kettle into a sink full of ice.
Now back to the brew. After everything is sanitized you want to get about 2.5 gallons of water heated up to 155°. You want to steep the grains (barley, oats, malt, etc.) for about 20 minutes. This brings out the sugars and the flavor from the grains. It also gives the beer much of its character. Once the grains have been steeped, you need to bring the water up to a boil. Once it is boiling, you need to add the malt extract. This can come in different styles and also gives the beer a lot of its character and flavor. After this is added, the water becomes a thing called “wort” (pronounced “wert”). This is the base of your beer. While the wort is still boiling, you want to set a timer for 60 minutes and add the first round of your hops. These will be the hops that bitter, or flavor, the beer. Some beers require you to add more during the course of the brew, but for this, we will wait all the way until there is ten minutes left. At that mark you want to add the aroma hops. These will (surprising, I know) give the beer that distinct aroma.
Once that 60 minute boil is over, you need to cool the beer down, and fast. This is where the wort chiller would come in handy. But alas, I must settle with a sink of ice. After the beer has cooled down to about 70 degrees, you can pour it into your primary fermenter. What I do, is pour the wort back and forth between the fermenter and the brew kettle to oxygenate the beer. This will help the yeast during the fermentation process. When the beer is oxygenated, you top off the wort with enough water to bring it to the 5 gallon mark. It is here that I want to mention that if you are using dry yeast, then you should hydrate it before pitching. To do that you just put the yeast packet in a cup of warm water and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Pouring the yeast into the wort and giving it a gentle stir. This is called pitching the yeast. (I have no idea why). The liquid is now beer. Seal up that fermenter, with the lid and an airlock to let some of the CO2 out, and you are set for a week. (After the cleanup of course).
Racking to the Secondary Fermenter
Once your first week of fermenting is done, you should rack the beer into your secondary fermenter, usually a glass carboy. This is when you get the first whiff of how your beer is starting to smell like beer. It takes about a half hour with cleanup. After you’re done, you can wait another week until bottling day.
This is the second longest day of the beer making process. After you sanitize the bottles and bottling bucket (five gallon bucket with a spigot at the bottom), you need to transfer the beer from the carboy into the bottling bucket. But before you do this, you need to prepare the priming sugar. This sugar gives the yeast a power boost of food that naturally carbonates the beer inside of the bottle. All you need to do is dissolve the sugar in some water and boil it for about 5 minutes. The sugar is added to the bottling bucket before the beer, so while you are siphoning the beer, it mixes in evenly. Once the beer is in the bottling bucket, it is time to start bottling. At the end of the spigot, there should be a bottling wand. This wand makes bottling the beer so much better. It is a long tube with a tip that only dispenses the beer when depressed. So when you plunge the wand into the bottle, you press it to the bottom. The bottle should be filled all the way to the top with the wand inside. The wand displaces the perfect amount of beer for that gap between the cap and the beer. A five gallon batch fills roughly 45 beers, or about two cases. Once the bottles are filled and capped, the final part of the process begins. It is called bottle conditioning. The flavors fill out and the yeast carbonates the beer. Only two more weeks to go. (Many stouts and porters become better with age, so if you can restrain yourself, it’s not a bad idea to let the beer age a little bit).
And now, the moment we have all been waiting for! My first sip. A month’s worth of work, my homemade chemistry experiment, it all comes down to this. I don’t even wait for the beer to get cold, my pulse is racing, anxiety building, I take my sip.
“Hello.” (take a look at the color and clarity)*
“How are you?” (Smell and identify the flavors)*
It is fantastic! (Not to be modest or anything) a nice roasted flavor comes shining through. The beer is nice and creamy with a good mouth feel. (Now this beer was from back in May, so my flavor characteristics may not be the best.) The best part about drinking a home brewed beer, other than the quality of beer, is the sense of accomplishment with each and every sip. I love sharing my beer so that other people can see that they too can make high quality, tasty beer.
Hornsey, Ian. (2003). A History of Beer and Brewing. Royal Society of Chemistry.