Friday, May 27, 2011

Homebrewing Beer


Before we get to beer, let's talk about homebrewing in general first...

What is Homebrewing?
"Homebrewing is the brewing of beer, wine, cider and other beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, through fermentation on a small scale as a hobby for personal consumption, free distribution at social gatherings, amateur brewing competitions or other non-commercial reasons."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homebrewing

Some quick definitions of alcoholic beverages:
Beer: Made from cereal grains, usually barley but also wheat, oat, corn, rye, etc.
Wine: Made from grapes.
Cider: Made from apples.
Perry: Made from pears.
Mead: Made from honey... a.k.a. Honey Wine
Cyzer: Made from honey and apples.
Pider: Made from apples and pears.
Pyment: Made from honey and grapes.
Melomel: Made from honey and other fruits.
Country Wine: Wine made from fruit other than grapes.
Why Homebrew?
  1. Price:  It is much cheaper to make your own.  At a minimum, it is 50% cheaper.
  2. Quality:  If I make it, I know what I put in it.
  3. Variety:  I can make things I cannot buy is stores.  I can even make my own varieties!
  4. Self-Sufficiency:  I like to know how to make things from “as scratch” as possible.
  5. Health:  Drinking alcohol, in moderation, is associated with many health benefits.
  6. It is FUN!
Basics of Brewing Beer
Note: This is a VERY basic overview.  If you are an experienced homebrewer, forgive the brevity and exclusion of some detail.

Ingredients:
Malt
Hops
Yeast
Sugar

Malt
This is germinated grain (usually barley) that has been allowed to dry in a process called “malting”.  If you raise your own grains, you can do this yourself.  If you don’t raise your own grains, then you can purchase malt.  It usually comes in either liquid or dry forms.  The liquid form is partially evaporated and sold in cans labeled Liquid Malt Extract.  The dry form is the same substance, but it is evaporated even further into a powdered form and sold as Dry Malt Extract.
Geminated Barley

Variety of dried ("malted") grains.
Hops
Hops is a flower from the Hops vine.  It is used to add bitterness and aroma to the beer.  Bitterness is required to counteract the overly sweet taste of fermented malt.  Hops really became associated with beer due to its preservative ability.  Traditionally, without hops, beer would go bad much faster.  Hops can be used fresh or dried.  The dried forms are sold as whole flowers, pellets, and plugs.

Hops on the vine.
Yeast
Yeast is used to convert the sugars from the malt to alcohol.  There are many varieties of yeast in the world, but the one most used in brewing is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and there are hundreds of strains to choose from.  This is usually sold in liquid or dry powdered form.   Some people even culture their own strains.
Dried brewer's yeast.
Sugar
This is used after the beer has already undergone its primary fermentation.  Adding some sugar right before bottling or kegging allows the remaining yeast in the beer to create additional carbon dioxide under pressure… carbonation!  Many types of sugar can be used, but most common is corn sugar.
Basic Homebrewing Process for a simple Ale
  1. Malted barley is boiled in water.
  2. Hops is added.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool.
  4. Yeast is added (“pitched”).
  5. This concoction (wort) is allowed to ferment (typically for one to 3 weeks). You now have uncarbonated beer!
  6. Sugar is added.
  7. The beer is bottled or kegged.
  8. Wait another two weeks.
  9. Drink your beer!
Overall, homebrewing beer is a very simple process; however, there are thousands of variations to this simple process.  Which grains to use (barley, wheat, oats, rye, corn, etc).  How the grain is processed while malting (light, amber, dark, chocolate, etc.).  How long and how much  malt is boiled with the water.  When and how much and what type of hops is added.  What type of yeast is used.  How long and the temperature during fermentation.  What type of sugar is added.  What other ingredients are added (fruit, herbs, spices, etc).

With all these variables, there are literally thousands of beers you can make…  what are you waiting for?

Resource: This is my favorite book on homegrewing beer.

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