Adventures in Urban Homesteading: Homebrew!
When I first started working at Callander Associates I lived in the city just up the street from Anchor Brewing – one of the first and oldest microbrewery’s in the country – and as I walked to and from the train station to work, I could often smell the barley, malt, and hops in the air. As a beer drinker, I appreciated that smell and was happy to live near the brewery (and have a next door neighbor that worked there – on occasion supplying me with free cases of Anchor Steam, Porter, Old Foghorn, and the like). In addition to living near and touring a number of breweries over the years, I also started running into homebrewers and sampling their product. For the most part, I was extremely impressed with the beer they brewed and decided that I would try my hand at homebrewing.
When my wife and I bought our house in May 2012, that gave us the little bit of additional storage space that we didn’t have in the City and therefore, the opportunity to begin our homebrewing adventures. Through my conversations with other homebrewers that I met, I knew of a beer supply store in the City – Brewcraft – and a few beer supply websites, including Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies. I started with some research on what type of equipment I needed and what type of ingredients I thought would fit my beer tastes. Then I went up to Brewcraft and spent some time talking up the staff there, got all the equipment and ingredients I needed, and went home and set to it. The first beer that my wife and I brewed – a brown ale – was a success. As was the 2nd beer we brewed – a stout. Then we got a little cocky and ahead of ourselves and had a couple failures (due to our inexperience) before we got back on track.
To date, we’ve now brewed 25 different batches ranging from brown ales, red ales, stouts and porters to white ales, hefeweizens, kolschs, and other french and belgian beers. We’ve even brewed a batch of mead now using our own honey. We bottle all of our beer and typically get a yield of about 2 cases per batch – which is about 5 gallons of beer.
The brewing process is actually fairly simple and straight forward, but the details and methodology are critical. The following is a simplified version of the process:
- sanitize every piece of equipment you are going to use to brew
- boil water, typically 2-3 gallons of it, in a 5 gallon pot,
- steep your grains in a bag of cheesecloth (like you would tea),
- add in your hops at specific times – depending on the recipe – and add in your specialty ingredients if you have them (honey, spices, etc),
- allow to boil for about an hour and then rapidly cool the water/ingredients – now called wort.
- we create an ice bath in our kitchen sink that we lower the pot into.
- for most of our beers we let the wort cool to a temperature of 100 degrees or so and then we pour it into the primary fermenter (basically a 5 gallon food safe bucket with a spigot).
- we pour slowly as all the grains and other ingredients you want to leave behind have settled into the bottom of the pot in a thick layer of sludge. We pour until we hit the sludge layer (which we save and put in our compost bin)
- and then add more water so the entire amount is 5 gallons
- we then aerate the beer for 4-5 minutes by placing the primary fermenter on the upside down lid of the 5 gallon pot and rocking it back and forth (the fermenter needs to have an air tight lid, airlock, and stopper at this point)
- once the beer is aerated, we add in the yeast (the beer needs to be less than 80 degrees now), put the lid back on, and put the stopper and airlock on
- then we let the beer sit and let the yeast go to work
Depending on what type of beer you’re brewing, the fermentation process might be one stage or two stages. The beer could ferment from anywhere to as little as a week (for hefeweizens) and as much as a few months (for belgian beers and other specialty beers). If it’s a 2 stage fermentation that the recipe calls for, you simply open the spigot in the primary fermenter and pour it into the secondary fermenter – leaving the sludge at the bottom of the primary fermenter. If it’s a single stage fermentation, then you are ready to bottle. You add a little sugar to the fermenter and little it sit for a while (this is what gives beer the carbonation). In our case we have a pump, sanitize all our beers, pump the beer into the bottles, cap them, and label the caps with the batch and the date it was bottled. The beer needs to sit in the bottle for as little as a week and as much as a few months or even years, depending on the type of beer once again.
Once the bottling period is over the beer is ready to drink (and delicious).