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I’m thinking about it. This could be dangerous.

 

Recently, I read an article in Saveur about brewing root beer. And then in ReadyMade (one of my favorite new magazines), there was an article about making your own apple cider. I don’t even like soda, well root beer I find to be at least palatable, but I briefly considered it. Apple cider I do like and if I can find enough time, I might even make my own press.

 

Now what I’m working up to is brewing my own beer. My barrier has always been the belief that you just need too much stuff – this could just be a misconception on my part, though. But don’t you need to buy hops, funnels, beer kits, fancy beer club memberships, etc? Is it all worth it?

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It is worth it. Although I haven't done it in about 5 years.

To do a good batch, you need about $100-150 worth of equipment:

 

2 glass carboys (7 gal and 5 gal)

Brewpot - 5 gal, 7 is better. Stainless is great, but that's way too expensive.

Various tubes, airlocks, thermometers, hydrometers, etc.

 

You do need to buy malt extract,* roasted malt, hops, LIQUID yeast, and perhaps some additives depending on what you're going to make.

 

The brewing part is as easy as making soup. After you sanitize (not sterilize, this isn't canning), you put a few gallons of water into a pot, add your roasted grains for color and flavor (in a muslin bag) and bring to a boil slowly. Remove grain bag and pour in malt extract. bring to a boil and boil for an hour -- adding specified amounts of hops at specified times. That's the brewing process.

 

When that is done, you need to cool your wort as fast a possible. (To do this efficiently, you buy or make a wort chiller -- a big coil of copper tubing that attaches to the sink faucet. You place the chiller in the pot of wort and run cold water through the chiller, which acts as a radiator.) Strain out the hops and congealed proteins, and pour into 7 gal. carboy. Add liquid yeast (dry will work, but won't taste nearly as good). Put on the airlock. Place the whole shebang into a cool, dark place and let it ferment. It does make noise and smell.

 

Then comes the annoying part. Sanitizing, filling, and capping two cases of bottles. Imagine the most annoying, messy process you've ever done in a kitchen and that describes the fun of bottling. This can be eased by finishing off the last batch as you bottle your next. But it still aint a charm.

 

*If you really want to "brew" you start from all grain, instead of malt extract. For the first step (mashing), you add grains to water and bring it all to various temperatures to (1) convert enzymes and (2) convert starch to fermentable sugars. It's not very hard -- I managed to do it successfully -- but it requires more attention.

And buy this:

The_Complete_Joy_of_Homebrewing-Third-Edition.jpg

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Yes and no. You can pretty quickly make pretty good beers. And I think that without factoring in the cost of equipment, it comes out to about $10 a case. I never made one that I was thoroughly pleased with -- I thought all mine had too much of a sweet kick at the end, and many other home brews I've had had similar sweetness. I'm not sure one can duplicate a real good Sam Smith's nut brown or Corsendock without some practice. But recipes for that stuff are out there -- the biggest problem is that you have to buy commercially available yeasts, which are key to duplicating the subtle tastes of specific beers. You also won't be able to replicate Guiness's mouthfeel without nitrogen, etc.

 

But just like most of the cooking we do, the joy and pride is in doing it oneself.

 

I'm willing to help. But I tend to make big, wet messes.

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i was toying with the idea for a while - but Stone framed the problem:

I never made one that I was thoroughly pleased with.

so if the reason to home brew is not to save money but to get to the ultimate taste (for me it would something on the level of Three Floyds IPAs) i don't believe it can be done in a casual after work, second thought, ready made kit manner.

 

 

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The BF introduced me to home brewing -- we do it in a small apartment and have two carboys going at any given time. Right now, one needing to be bottled is an 18-month old White Nectarine/Orange Blossom Honey Mead made with Champagne yeast (meaning: tiny bubbles!).

 

I haven't much cared for the BF's beer brews as I like my beers REALLY dark. We just picked up the ingredients for *my* first brew which will include black treacle, chocolate, and coffee. He thinks that will be dark enough for my tastes.

 

I think it is great fun and have at least enjoyed the process even though I haven't enjoyed the end product as much (but that is a my preference issue -- I don't like any beers I can see light through). The initial investment from San Francisco Brewcraft was just under $100.00. The actual ingredients were another $20 or so. We drink a lot of Wyder's Pear Cider so I simply saved those bottles for our production instead of buying empties.

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It's a very personal calculation to figure if it is worth it. The biggest investment will be your time. You'll expend 3 or 4 hours getting things boiled and cooled and fermenting. Then your time is wasted waiting a few weeks for the yeast to get done. Then you have to spend an hour or two getting it into bottles. Then you have to wait for the yeast again.

 

If you don't enjoy the process, and value your leisure time at more than $10/hr, then it's totally not worth it. If you are interested in brewing things not commercially available, then you don't really have other options.

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In beers, the yeast express themselves much much more distinctly than in any bread. You can take the same grains and hops and introduce them to different yeasts, and get entirely different beers. Actually, you can introduce them to the same yeast and vary the temperature and get very distinct beers.

 

Brewing is even more of an organic chemistry lab experiment than bread baking is.

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I’m thinking about it. This could be dangerous.

 

My father has been brewing his own beer for about 15 years and pretty consistently makes great stuff - mostly IPA-style, and the occasional porter. I'm sure he'd be happy to teach you the basics if you don't mind a trip to the hinterlands.

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Brewing is even more of an organic chemistry lab experiment...

 

that's an interesting observation - the beer taste is so dependent on your palate state, much more so than wine - i observe a relative consistency of the same wine tasted, not so much with beer, even from the same batch.

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Yeast are little organic reactors that take sugars and rip them apart leaving mostly carbon dioxide and alcohol... what else gets made is very dependent on the environmental conditions where the reaction is taking place. Yeast strain, pH, temperature, available free atoms will all play a role in what gets made when the yeast are chewing the sugars to bits.

 

Beer flavors are also quite variable, depending on temperature, dissolved CO2, air exposure, light exposure, etc.

 

 

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Yup... the funny thing about homebrewing is that crappy beers like Coors are the hardest to do right. So little is there, that everything has to be exactly right or you can tell something is off. Fortunately crappy beers are cheap, and homebrewed beers are more interesting.

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