Sunday, January 16, 2011

Do or Do Not, There is no Try

Yesterday, Matt and I spent the day with our very own beer Yoda, our friend Bill. Bill has been brewing beer for many years with varied levels of success.  So we joined him and his wife Susan for a day of beer making.

We arrived at their house about 11am and then headed out right away to a beer store in Lilburn GA.  I had intended to get some supplies myself but because of this past week's winter weather event, they hadn't had any recent deliveries.  In fact, they didn't have the precise ingredients for the beer that Bill wanted to brew.  So I learned my first lesson in beer brewing - be flexible. He wanted to do a wheat beer he had done before and really focus on that for the next several batches he would make to perfect it.  They didn't have the exact wheat beer so he chose another type that seemed like it would be a good fit.  It required additional malt which he purchased as well.  However, one key ingredient to Bill's "Wheaton Wheat" was an apricot extract so we discussed with the owners (a husband and wife team) about what some alternatives would be and she suggested we go down to an international market just down the street and get some apricot nectar.  We were super excited about these ingredients and believe they will make an excellent apricot wheat.  We returned to their house and began the process.

The first step we learned was to make sure the work space was clean and sterile.  Bill recommended a product called B Bright. We cleaned all the equipment and all the surfaces in the kitchen.  He also showed us some additional equipment like the bottle washer attachment that seems invaluable.

Once the work surface was clean, we placed the can of malt syrup in hot water to make it easier to work with.  We also filled the 16 quart stainless pot with about 8 quarts of filtered water and set it on the stove to boil. 
Susan also showed us their brewers journal and shared with us how valuable it would be.  It showed them what worked in the past and what didn't. I will, of course, keep notes for myself by largely record them here for future reference as well as for the good of my project.  Bill also reminded us to read the directions.  He admitted he wasn't always good at that since he has brewed before, but sometimes they actually have helpful information.

Once the water was boiling we added the canned mixture which was a complete beer mixture including wheat malts and hops.  Bill showed me how to make sure we get every drop of syrup out of the can.  However, while doing this we discussed how to add ingredients if we wanted to.  This beer wouldn't have any additional hops but if we were to Bill explained that would you put the hops into a permeable sack and drop it in only for a period of time depending on how much of a hops flavor you want.  The best example of this is Dogfish Head Brewery's series featuring 60, 90 and 120 minute IPAs. 

We then added the additional malts and stirred the mixture until there were no clumps.
Once the mixture was boiled for several minutes make sure all the ingredients were well blended, it was time to pour it into the carboy.  Beer needs to cool quickly from boiling to about 70-80 degrees.  Bill had learned a trick on You Tube to put ice in the funnel and pour the beer mixture over it into the carboy.  Worked like a charm.

Once it was in the carboy we added water and the apricot.  Bill and Susan had measured out how much you needed to fill the carboy to be able to make 2 cases worth of beer and drew the lines.  They also determined that they needed to fill it just a little above the lines so that when you transferred it to the bottles you off set the level of sediment at the bottom of the carboy. 

We checked the temperature and it was at a perfect 79.  Then we used a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity.  Once we had those figured recorded in the trusty brewer's journal we added the yeast.  Of course when brewing you need to use specific brewers yeast not bread or any other type of yeast because brewer's yeast can handle the alcohol.  It does all the magic by eating the sugar and fermenting it.
At that point, it was time to put the stopper on the top.  It is a cap known as an airlock that lets the co2 escape.  Bill and Susan fill it up with vodka which keeps away the tiny fruit flys who really love the co2. 
And now, the beer does it's magic.  It will sit in the carboy and the yeast will eat all the sugars and belch out alcohol and after some time it can be bottled.  Bill tells us that now is the lazy part of brewing.  It'll be ready in a couple of weeks but you can leave it in for longer if you just aren't available to do the bottling.  Susan has promised to take photographs of the fermenting process where the beer bubbles and churns without the help of human intervention.  We plan on going back when it is ready to be bottled and help with that part as well.  It still won't be ready to drink then, it'll need to age in a cold refrigerator for a few more weeks after that while the carbonation works it's own magic in the bottles.  That will be a blog post for another time. For now, we wait. 

After the beer brewing event, we went up to a local bar called the Brick Store. It is known for a great selection of Belgian Style and American Craft Brew Beers.  Bill and Susan's nephew and niece-in-law joined us at the bar and we really enjoyed meeting them and had some great conversations. 
Today, Matt and I are going to put together a list of things I need to start home brewing and then walk up to a local beer store to see what they have and buy what we can there and order the rest on line tonight. 

Next week, we will be in Asheville for their Winter Warmer Beer Festival.  I plan to write about our experience there as well.  The weekend after that, though, I will start my first batch of home brewed beer.  I can do this.

1 comment:

  1. We had a lot of fun with you guys yesterday!

    I took vids of the carboy with the air-lock gurgling away and a good head of foam. This is going to be a good beer.