Jamie chewed industriously, washing down a large bite with a gulp of ale. He made an involuntary face, pursed his lips to spit, then changed his mind and swallowed.
“Ach! Mrs. Lizzie’s been at the mash again.” He grimaced and took a remedial bite of biscuit to erase the taste.
Roger grinned at his father-in-law’s face.
“What’s she put in it this time?” Lizzie had been trying her hand at flavored ales – with indifferent success.
Jamie sniffed warily at the mouth of the stone bottles.
“Anise?” he suggested, passing the bottles to Roger.
Roger smelt it, wrinkling up his nose involuntarily at the alcoholic whiff.
“Anise and ginger,” he said. Nevertheless, he took a cautious sip. He made the same face Jamie had, and emptied the bottle over a compliant blackberry vine.
Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 86 – There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea)
It was the best of ales, it was the worst of ales, it was a brew of honeyed sweetness, it was a fermentation gone bad, it was a beverage of Light, it was a Dark mash that smelled of cheese made from feet – in short, the first delicious batch of Lizzie’s Beer was very unlike the evil second one that I’m chocking up to experience. A comparison is required.
(That’s the end of my lame Dicken’s reference — Outlander ahead — I promise)
My Englishman and I like to travel to Victoria every season or so and brew a batch of beer very much like a Newcastle Brown at our favourite UBrew. We measure, mix and brew the mash in their huge stainless steel kettle, then leave the staff to transfer it to the racking area and clean up our mess while we rush to make the afternoon ferry back home.
We return a couple of weeks later with our empties to bottle our latest batch. It’s fun, quick and easy at the UBrew, where they supply all of the equipment and sanitizer flows from taps.
Brewing at home from a kit is a lot more labour intensive and messy. And although it’s also cheaper, I was reluctant to buy a bunch of equipment for my first-ever attempt. I hate getting stuck with a bunch of once-used purchases after my newest hobby turns out to be less fun than hoped.
(That ever happen to anyone else?)
Instead of hopping (sorry) right into an authentic batch of “beer in a barrel” as Lizzie would have made, I wet my feet first by brewing from the kit pictured up top. The kit came with detailed instructions, a list of equipment required, and some very helpful tips. After doing a bit more research on the internet, I chose to skip some of the instructions and bodge most of the equipment. (But it turns out well, I promise.)
The most important thing when brewing at home is to work clean and sanitize EVERYTHING. The picture above was taken in my cluttered basement, but I swear to you that everything involved in the brewing was soaked in a bleach solution for at least 20 minutes.
Next time (and there will be a next time – kit beer is cheap, homemade fun) I will buy sanitizer from the home brew store (it’s faster than bleach), as well a hydrometer to monitor the fermentation process and measure alcohol content. I’m rather fond of the siphon tube I bought for 80 cents a foot at the hardware store, but I may exchange it for one with a bottling rod, which will reduce the mess.
And don’t be fooled…bottling is messy.
I got 21 litres of really delicious Honey Blonde Ale, which is a little less than the yield on the kit, but one of the buckets (and the sediment inside) got stirred up a bit during the siphoning into bottles, so I decided to pitch it rather than risk very cloudy ale. I am incredibly happy with the results, and My Englishman is impressed. We’re still enjoying the fruits of my labour.
I didn’t have a hydrometer for this first batch, so I can’t tell you exactly how strong it is, but I would put it in the 5.5-6.5% range. The brewing process takes just short of 3 weeks, then the ale conditions in the bottles for another 2 weeks. That’s 5 weeks from start to finish.
On the same day I bought the beer kit, I also went to a farm supply store and bought a 20kg sack of seed barley. From there I took it home, and following the instructions in this short ebook, I malted 4kg in my oven.
It’s a warm, homey smell, and I can now safely say I know exactly what the malting shed on The Ridge smelled like.
A much trickier (and less likely to succeed) experiment used organic apples and juice to attempt to produce a yeast culture. I won’t show you the after picture from 3 days later, but I will tell you Claire would have been happy to test a sample for penicillin spores.
Good thing I bought a few packages of brewers yeast, eh?
I may try again. It’s a very difficult thing to do, but harvest time is a good time to try, when the apples are fresh off the tree and the juice is just pressed.
After the malted barley had sat in a cool dark place for about a month to develop its sugars, it was time to make my first mash. Grinding baked, unhulled barley in a food processor is an almost-violent process. It’s LOUD and hard on the machine.
As you already know, this batch was unsuccessful, so I’m not giving you a step by step process until I’ve achieved consistent success. However, if you do find yourself giving homemade malting a try one day, you’ll want to clear the room and tell everyone not to come back for at least 20 minutes. It takes that long to get a fine enough grind. Or, you can buy malt powder at a home brew store. I won’t tell anyone.
I mixed my homemade malt powder with half the amount of rolled oats, then brewed it with successive additions of boiling water. It was basically a big tub of oatmeal that I strained after several hours.
After it had cooled to body temperature, I pitched in my package of brewer’s yeast into the brew and covered it securely. The pic above shows it happily bubbling away the next day.
Once again, absolutely everything used in the process must be sanitized. As well, the more often you open the container to check on things, the bigger chance there is that airborne microbes will get in and spoil all your hard work. (Which is what I suspect happened to this batch.)
Something happened between day 4 and day 5…all was well, and then it wasn’t. I’ll spare you the gory details and end the story by dumping the contents of the bucket in the compost and airing out the house.
I turned a couple of cups of the leftover mash into dog biscuits along with an egg, 1/2 cup of peanut butter and enough flour to make a cookie dough. I baked them in a 350 F oven until dry and crunchy.
Our dog is pretty small, so I threw the bulk of the mash onto the compost pile.
I still have enough malted barley to try again. I hope to start the next batch early this week, to have it finished in time for our departure.
You see, we’re going to Scotland! Two weeks in the Highlands is in my immediate future!
Any tips for sightseeing, or home brewing for that matter? Please leave a comment below.