The “Art” of Home Brewing

Let me preface this by saying that what I do in no way constitutes “art”, nor do I claim to be talented at the craft.  Having said that though, I have made a few really good batches of beer.

I’ll leave all the SQL Server technical stuff to others for now, because I am borrowing from a Tom LaRock theme on blogging about whatever I want.  And today it is about beer.

I got into home brewing a little more than a year ago.  I dabbled in it years ago, but it was from kits, and my resulting beer tasted like, well, like it came from a kit.  Boil some malt syrup, add some hops, add some yeast, and a month later you have beer.  Not good beer, but beer.

I’ve upped the game since then.  I wanted to brew good beer.  I wanted to be able to share my creations with friends.  So, with a  couple hundred dollars in the initial investment (it could go a lot higher in the future, believe me), I bought the equipment.  I started out doing partial mash batches, i.e., a little bit of grain and some malt extract powder.  I made some good batches with that, but it was still not where I wanted it to be.  So, about six months ago, I started brewing all grain.  Let me take you through the process.

To brew two cases of beer, you need about 10 pounds or so of grain malt.  There are several different types, depending on what kind of beer you want to brew.  I have my grain milled, meaning the kernels are sent through a grinder so that the husks are crushed and the insides are exposed.  This allows for the enzymes to be extracted later on in the process.  You also need about two to four ounces of hops; again, depending on what type of beer you are brewing, there are many different varieties.  And, your yeast.  There are several different yeast varieties as well, again, depending on what type of beer you want to make (you can see by now that the possibilities are endless).

The first step is the hot liquor tank.  No, it doesn’t mean warm brandy, it’s just a fancy term for a vat to hold water as it is being heated.  Once three or so gallons of water is heated to about 165 degrees (some beers actually call for a slightly lower temperature), it can be added to all of the split grain in a vessel called a mash tun.  This can be as simple as a cooler with a spigot.  I use a 10 gallon Coleman water cooler with a false bottom – a screen filter that keeps the grains from draining later on.  Sealed tight, this sits for about an hour.

The second step is boiling the wort (pronounced “wurt”).  I drain the mashed water from the mash tun into my boil kettle.  I then add another three gallons to the mash tun for what is called sparging.  I drain this slowly off into the boil kettle.  This extracts more flavor and enzymes from the mash. Once it reaches a boil, I add some hops, about two ounces.  It boils for about an hour, and at 45 minutes in I’ll add the flavoring hops, usually another half ounce or so.  After it is done boiling, I have to cool it down.  I have a copper coil wort chiller that hooks up to an ordinary garden hose.  I immerse that into the wort and in about 40 minutes the wort is cooled enough to add the yeast.  Adding the yeast when the wort is too warm will do you no good, since the yeast will die from the warm temperature and your beer is ruined.

Once the yeast is added, I move the finished product to a fermentation bucket.  There it will sit for about a week or so, and if I decide to go secondary fermentation, I’ll transfer it to a 5 gallon glass carboy.  Secondary fermentation stirs up the concoction and re-activates the yeast.  It’s quite interesting in the early stages of fermentation to watch the air lock “bloop” as the yeast goes to town.

After about 3 or 4 weeks the beer is ready to bottle.  I add a bit of corn sugar so that the yeast can create the necessary carbonation.  I transfer the beer to my bottling tank, from where I sort of pipette the beer into 12 ounce bottles.  After another two weeks, voila, I have beer ready to drink.

Through all of this I am constantly cleaning and sanitizing.  Believe me, because it has happened to me, it is very easy to ruin a batch of beer because something wasn’t sanitized properly.

Home brewing is a fun hobby for me.  It’s not a cheap hobby, and if I decide to up my capacity, I can see another considerable cash outlay for better equipment.

I name all of the beers I make after the lakes my boat has been on.  Today I brewed another batch of Pipestone Pale Ale.  I have a Mendota Red Ale in inventory (named because the sunsets on Lake Mendota are so beautifully red), and a few bottles of Winneconne Wheat left.  I need to brew another Monona Golden Ale, the Despair Belgian Dubbel goes into bottles tonight, and perhaps a Pilsner is next.  Not sure what to call that one yet.

I’ve received praise on my Pipestone Pale Ale from another home brewer who has just opened up his own micro brew pub.  Compliments from your peers makes you feel good, and is educated feedback.  But heck, if anyone said they liked my beer, I’d be happy.  To reciprocate, I told him that his Pale Ale is by far the best beer I’ve ever tasted.  Seriously, it is that good, and I’d like to think I know a little bit about beer.

If you’re every curious about home brewing, let me know.  I love doing it, and as I said, I am by no means an expert, but I have fun and some of the batches ain’t too bad.

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About Gill Rowley

I live in Madison suburb, working as a Senior Consultant for Talavant. I like hunting, fishing, working out, my boat, playing with my rescued bull terrier Lola, and gourmet cooking. Oh, yeah, and I play men's fastpitch softball.
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One Response to The “Art” of Home Brewing

  1. Jeff says:

    Enjoyed hearing about your hobby.Sounds interesting.

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