Hand-Crafted by You
It’s not as easy as heading to the corner market and lugging home a half-case, but making your own beer at home is at least twice as satisfying. Few accomplishments are more refreshing than reaching in the fridge and snapping a bottle of fresh-crafted ale with your name on the label. It’s actually quite simple and, given the relatively small up-front cost, it’s an investment with many happy returns.
When turning your kitchen into the hottest new microbrewery in town, the best place to start is a beer-making kit. Serious-minded brewers can select ingredients individually, but kits are great for novices and the time-conscious. Typically, beer-making kits cost anywhere between $50 and $200, depending on quality and yield. They are available in the full spectrum of beer styles – from light-colored lagers to midnight-black stouts.
Kits are also useful for helping home brewers through the process. Like cooking from a recipe book, the procedures for making beer are simple and straightforward. And although each style of beer calls for different ingredients and techniques, all beer is comprised of four essential ingredients: water, malted barley, yeast, and hops.
As the old Pabst advertising slogan used to claim, “It’s the water,” and indeed it is. As the single largest ingredient in any beer, water is key to setting off on the right foot. Use good-quality water; bottled spring water is generally reliable. But be sure it is not distilled – there’s no oxygen in distilled water and beer needs to breathe.
Mix the malt and the hops into the water and bring it to a boil. The mixture must boil for a period of time before it becomes what is known as wort, the primordial ooze of beer. Malt, or malted barley, is a grain that has been soaked until it sprouts and is then dried before being used as a beer ingredient. During the malting process, sugars and starches are developed within the grain; the sugars play a key role in the fermentation stage of beer making. After malting, the grain is taken through the mashing process, which extracts the sugars and starches. Advanced home-brewers often do the mashing themselves, the better to control the ingredient characteristics. But typically the grain in purchased for home-brew purposes ready to go in the malt extract form.
Hops are part of the wort for many reasons, notably taste and aroma. A green flowering plant, hops are grown almost exclusively for use in beer. Hops are also a bittering agent, balancing the malt sugars that are not consumed during fermentations. Home brewers can select hops based on the desired flavor and aroma they want in their finished product.
Once the wort is ready, the mixture is poured into a fermenter and allowed to cool. Yeast is added and an airtight seal is placed atop the whole mixture. Yeast gives life to beer, literally. A living organism, yeast immediately begins devouring the malted sugars in the wort. As it chows down it multiplies extensively and coverts the sugars into alcohol, also creating carbon dioxide – this is the fermentation process.
It’s important to choose the strain of yeast especially cultured for beer making, known as brewer’s yeast. The yeast is integral to the fermenting process, but it also plays a role in developing taste and texture in the finished product.
Fermentation generally takes about 7 to 10 days. Once the yeast has consumed all it can, it falls to the bottom of the fermenter later to become carbonation. The finished beer is then bottled and allowed to sit for couple weeks to develop its drinkability. This waiting time is a good opportunity to create your own special label. Because when you’re friends are enjoying your handiwork, it’s good to remind them their beer didn’t come from the corner liquor store.