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Homebrewing is like cooking

Homebrew Pot
Hombrewing on the stove

When I have much more experience with homebrewing, I might write a book and call it “Mastering the Art of Homebrewing,” much like Julia Child’s book.  Charlie Papazian, who is the “Father of Homebrewing,” has written three editions of “The Joy of Home Brewing” (one of my favorite cookbooks is “The Joy of Cooking”).  Really, the craft of homebrewing is a lot like cooking!
Like most beginning homebrewers, I have found that making a beer from an extract kit is relatively simple—and nearly fail proof.  Like  lab work I’ve done in my career, much of it is “cookbook;” meaning that you just follow the instructions as you would in preparing a recipe from a cookbook.  This beginner approach is akin to making a cake from a mix—the results are pretty good if you follow the instructions without error.  I’ve made a couple of extract brews with my son, and this weekend I made one by myself—from an extract kit for a “Breakfast Stout” I purchased from Northern Brewer, after my visit to their store in St. Paul last month.

The process only took 3 hours.  First, the specialty grains were steeped in a mesh bag for 20 minutes (before the brewing water reaches 170F).  Then, the water was brought to a boil and “fermentables” were added.  As I mentioned, this was a kit with malt extract—making the process streamlined vs. preparing wort with all-grains through a “mashing” process.  The brewing pot was taken off the heat for adding the thick extract—much like molasses, but made from malted barley (rather than sorghum).  For this recipe, lactose is also added for body.  The pot was brought back to boiling, and hop pellets were added—and the timer  set for 60 minutes.  It is important to leave off the lid while boiling—or a flavor of DMS will result (like creamed corn).  After the boil is finished, it is necessary to rapidly cool the wort.  I put my pot in a stainless steel sink, and surrounded it with cool tap water--changing frequently.  Checking with a sanitized thermometer, it took about 30 minutes to cool to 70F.  Meanwhile, I rehydrated my dry yeast—a sachet of Lallemand’s Nottingham yeast.  I boiled a cup of water in the microwave, and cooled it to lukewarm and added the dry yeast—following their directions.  I have heard comments at my homebrew club that many think dry yeast is not as good as liquid.  As a microbiologist, I know this not to be true; we used dry yeast for bottle-conditioning when I worked at Boulevard.  And, I know that the purity of Lallemand’s yeast is very high (unlike baker’s yeast).  In fact, Lallemand held a competition among commercial brewers at the GABF this year, to see who could make the best beer with their Nottingham dry ale yeast.  The winner was a brewer who made an outstanding Pilsner (I tasted it)—proving that Nottingham is a versatile yeast.

Glass carboy

I started my brew at 11 am; it was into the fermentation glass carboy at 2 PM.  I found a new gadget at the GABF—called Brew Balls; I boiled them to sanitize, and then added them to the carboy.  They sink according to the density of the beer—as indicators to the progress of the fermentation (as yeast ferments, it consumes the sugar, converting it to alcohol and carbon dioxide—resulting in a reduced density).  This will be fun to watch!  The airlock attached to the top of the carboy was bubbling the next morning—much to my pleasure!  In a week, I’ll transfer the beer to a secondary fermenter; at the end of the second week, I’ll bottle my beer.  Bottle conditioning will go for two weeks, and then the beer will be ready to drink!  So, this is like very slow cooking—it takes four weeks to taste the final product.

After my brew was in the carboy, I went to a homebrewing party hosted by Amy Satterlund.  She sent me an e-mail after we were both in last Wednesday’s KC Star Food Section (“They put the Ale in Female”).  Amy has her own blog (KCWortHog) and this was her fourth brewing party.  Much like my homebrew club (ZZ Hops), brewers brought their all-grain equipment to cook beers in the driveway.  I am gathering equipment to give all-grain brewing a try later this month—having taken a course on Advanced Homebrewing through Siebel in Durango last summer, I feel more than ready to give this a try.  Brewing with all-grain is less expensive, but requires more equipment, space, and time.  It’s much like cooking an elaborate dessert from scratch.  In November, the American Homebrewing Association promotes “Teach a Friend to Homebrew”.  I’ve already purchased an extract kit to share with some beginning-cooking friends.  

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  • Amy 5 years ago

    Jennifer I couldn't agree more that making beer is a lot like cooking! Sanitation's much more on the forefront, but other than that it really is similar.

    Also, dry yeast is fantastic, I agree. It is only unfortunate that the available yeasts are so few. You get so much more yeast in a dry packet than you do with liquid yeast.

    I'd love to hear about your experience at Siebel some time.

  • Cullun 5 years ago

    Catching up on your blog posts. From what I've seen and read it's definitely just another form of cooking. I'm looking forward to giving it a try myself soon. I've always found cooking to be very rewarding and I'm assuming that brewing will be even more so!

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