DIY Beer – Homebrewing Part 1

A few weeks ago I was really REALLY excited to get a homebrewing starter kit for my birthday. Making my own beer has been something I’ve wanted to try for a long time. It appeals to my DIY side, my chemical engineering background and, of course, my love of (ridiculously hoppy) craft beer. If you’re interested I’m using the Deluxe Beer Starter Kit (with glass carboys) from Northern Brewer.

We also bought a recipe kit. I’m looking forward to getting creative and making a custom beer someday, but for the first batch we thought it best to follow a recipe. You can choose to make a ‘clone’ of almost any beer you like – we went with Surly Furious, an American-style IPA that we enjoy when we visit MN but you can’t find here in Houston. All of the ingredients come pre-measured and neatly packed in a box.

The first step was to smack the yeast to break the nutrition pouch inside and get the yeast ready to go.

The Northern Brewer kits come with an instructional DVD that’s really helpful. We watched it once before starting and then played each section again as we went along.

The next step is to put 2.5 gallons of water into your pot. This is particularly difficult if you discover that your ‘oh sure that pot will be big enough’ pot is actually only 2 gallons. We jumped into the car to head to the restaurant supply store and arrived there at 2:30 only to discover that they closed at 2:00. Next we headed off to Bed, Bath and Beyond where we learned that 5 gallon pots are not part of the Beyond. Finally we did the obvious thing and drove to the local homebrew supply store where we opted to go with a 7.5 gallon pot. We will never have this problem again! Also, next time I make soup I’ll be able to invite the entire neighborhood over.

After all that running around we decided to call it a day and start again the next morning. Because we would be waiting overnight and because our original yeast had been shipping from MN to TX in the heat of summer we bought a new yeast pack at the homebrew shop. I wasn’t taking any more chances. This picture is the next day – look how tiny our original pot looks!

This time there was plenty of room for 2.5 gallons of water. (What there isn’t room for? That pot! Where am I supposed to keep it?)

While the water was heating we added the first of the hops. This was 1/2 oz of Amarillo hops. Soon our entire house started to smell like hops! I did some Googleing to learn more about hops and read that a pillow filled with hops is a popular folk remedy for sleeplessness. Really? I love me some hops, but I’m not interested in sleeping on them!

We also added this sock full of ‘specialty grains’ which I guess contains malt and barley and something called crystal. Speaking of crystal.. we’ve been watching Breaking Bad on iTunes for the past few weeks. It’s SO GOOD. And weird, and a little too violent sometimes but completely addicting. (See what I did there?) So throughout the brewing process we would tease each other about who was Mr. White and who was Jesse. As the resident chemical engineer I’m obviously Mr. White, right?

Looks swampy, but smells great! The grains stayed in until the temperature reached 170F when it was time to take them out and bring the liquid to a boil.

Once it started to boil we added more hops and the malt syrup. I tasted the malt syrup- pretty good! This must be where all the carbs in the beer come from.

Here it started to get pretty foaming and we were wishing for a longer spoon! Soon it resided, though. We boiled for an hour and added the malt extract 15 minutes before the end. After the hour was up we added even more hops!

While boiling we sanitized all of the equipment and the glass carboy. Everything I’ve read has said that the most important thing to remember when making beer is to prevent contaminating the batch.

After the wort (liquid) cooled down we poured it into the carboy and added water until we had 5 gallons total. 5 gallons! That’s a lot of beer! Then we swished it around, added the yeast and sealed the top with the airlock.

The instructions said to put it in a warm, dark, quiet (!) place so we pushed it into our pantry and shut the door. The next day we had this – foam attempting to escape! It’s a good sign, I guess, because I know the yeast are doing their job. I replaced the airlock with the included blowoff hose and a bucket of water.

And now we wait. In a few weeks we’ll move the beer into a different glass carboy to continue fermenting. A little while later we’ll add even more hops and a week or two after that it’ll be time to bottle. And then, finally, a couple weeks later we’ll be able to drink it! As my husband says, just in time for NFL season :)

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