Friday, July 21, 2006

A comedy of ales

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Matt and I, along with our friend Hilary, brewed a batch of beer - our first in over a year I believe. Matt packed the necessary equipement in the trunk of his car and headed over to my place. We stopped by Things Beer in Webberville for some malt, barley, hops and yeast.

Now, brewing beer is not exactly like riding a bicycle. Just because you had it figured out before doesn't mean you'll return hitting the ground running... or, biking. Well, maybe you will if you have all the proper equipment. Part way through the process, we realized we were missing a few things. Brewing beer is not that hard, but it helps enormously to have good quality brewing gear. Otherwise, you'll end up doing what we did at my house:

In the first stage of brewing, you put all your grains in "grain bags" which are sort of a cross between a sock and a tea bag. You put these socks in a pot with a few quarts of water to get all the flavor out of them, making several quarts of what is basically a beer concentrate. In step one, we were missing a thermometer, so we used a meat thermometer. It would have been fine except we kept almost burning ourselves trying to use it. On top of that, the temperature of the wort (beer concentrate) fluctuated wildly. And when we finally thought we had it holding steady, it turned out that the temperature was only steady in the middle of the pot and it was ten degrees hotter near the edge. I don't know what happens when you let this happen to your beer, but we're gonna find out as soon as it's ready to drink.

In the second stage, we tranferred the wort to a bigger pot to boil for an hour with the hops and an extra gallon of water. No major messes here.

In the third stage, we attempted to filter the beer into the fermenting tank. At this point, there's lots of residue from the grains and hops making the beer cloudy. Having lost the funnel/filter we used to have, we were forced to use a grain sock to pour the beer through. This was a three person ordeal in my backyard with Matt and I using potholders to handle the cumbersome six gallon boiling pot and Hilary trying to steady the kitchen funnel we found with a grain sock stretched over it. It was messy.

The beer is now fermenting happily in my basement. I'm pleased to announce that on Thursday I measured its gravity and it's ready to be bottled. After that it will be roughly another week before it's ready to drink. Keep your fingers crossed!

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