By Adam Slight,
Contributions by Paul Vegas
This week is Ontario Craft Beer Week, where Ontario celebrates its craft beer brewers and microbreweries, and enjoys a pint or three in the process!
I’d like to take this opportunity to describe my own craft beer brewing experience, and encourage you readers to try brewing yourself (it’s a lot of fun!), or at least try a craft brew yourself (they’re delicious).
Several weeks ago, friend Paul Vegas offered to teach me how to brew beer from scratch in his kitchen. Given that the American Brewers Association defines a “craft brewer” as a “small, independent and traditional” brewer that produces “6 million barrels of beer or less” a year, I think our 5-gallon batch of beer qualifies as a “craft brew.”
Brewing beer at home evidently requires special equipment, supplies, and ingredients—however this part is really not all that difficult or expensive. For those just starting out, the supplies can be purchased as part of a kit for about $100. The ingredients are where the magic comes in: malted barley, hops, and yeast, as well as any other flavours you may want to include in the beer.
You can also buy your ingredients and supplies at http://store.defalcowines.com/ here in Ottawa. If you’re looking for something more exotic, http://www.homebrew-supplies.
Designing your own flavour of beer is really the fun part. I can see how this can become an infectious hobby. There a number of factors that go into putting together a recipe, and this really determines how the beer will taste. I’m a big fan of rich and flavorful dark beers, so we decided to go out on a limb and create a dark lager that was aimed at tasting like “a night at the movies.” To do this, we boiled down red Twizzlers and popped popcorn, and attempted to create a “cinema” extract that we would mix into our brew with a dash of fountain Coke. This may sound a bit a bit weird, but we were confident that this would pay off for our taste buds!
2.5 lbs “Marris Otter” malted barley
2 lbs “Crystal 70” malted barley
3 lb Breiss Dark Dried malt extract
1 lb Breiss Amber Dried malt extract
1 oz Northern Brewer hops
1 oz Cascade hops
1 L coke
About 10 twizzlers
1/3 C popcorn kernels, popped and dark toasted
1 tbsp irish moss
Safbrew T-58 yeast
When choosing what to add, most brewers start with an end goal in mind – the type of beer they want to brew. Calculating the outcome isn’t always straightforward – but online tools like http://beercalculus.hopville.
Since I was kind of learning as I went along, the recipe below is just a rough outline. If you’re interested in making your own just follow one of the many guides online!.
The procedure involved in brewing a batch of beer is quite rustic and traditional. We began by using rolling pins to crush several pounds of malted grains with our hands, a process that brewers making larger batches usually mechanize with a grain mill. The cracked grains were then added to 2.5 gallons of water, and steeped at 155 degrees for about 45 minutes. This hot barley tea is called a “mash,” and serves the purpose of dissolving the
sugars and starches in the grain so that is can be eaten by yeast later on. Managing the temperature at this stage is a delicate process that requires you to pay attention to the temperature of the boiling brew – too hot, and tannins start to be released, making your beer taste bitter and astringent.
After straining out the grains and giving them a rinse (or “sparge”), we heated up the mixture to a rolling boil. This is the point where we added dried malt extracts (additional sugar, basically), two varieties of hops, and of course the popcorn and Twizzler extract and the fountain coke. After an hour of boiling, we added some Irish moss, which is a dried seaweed that helps proteins to settle out of the brew, making the end product clearer and crisper.
After letting the brew cool for about an hour, we added water until we reached the desired volume and sugar concentration, pitched the yeast into the mix, and stirred vigorously. Altogether, the process took about 5 hours.
After the brew was done…well…brewing, we poured the 5-gallon mix into a large sterilized tub. I made the mistake of grabbing the tub and lid the wrong way beforehand, so Paul had to re-sterilize it (I’m such an idiot…but it goes to show how sterilized the tub needs to be). Our brew would be stored away for several weeks in this air-tight tub where the batch would ferment. During this process the sugars from the grains would be digested by the yeast, producing alcohol and CO2 in the process. Any sugars in the batch will eventually ferment to form alcohol (Paul tells me that because we added Twizzlers and Coke to the brew, the alcohol content will be pretty high – around 6.5%!).
I’m told that our batch will be completely fermented this week, so I’ll be heading back to Paul’s kitchen to taste and bottle our home-made brew! I’ll be sure to let everyone know how it turned out!
In the end, I will come away with half of our brew (2.5 gallons), for about $25 of supplies. This is really not a bad deal!
If you check out beercalculus.hopville.com, you’ll notice that there are endless combinations of hops, malts, and yeast that can produce delicious beers. You will also notice a rather lengthy “Misc” ingredients section, which lists off suggested additives to your brew, including peanut butter, marijuana, and chocolate just to name a few. The possibilities are endless!
Paul and his colleagues have made a habit of producing unique flavours of beer, my favourite being “The Great Canadian Breakfast” (beer made with oatmeal and bacon!)
This process was a lot of fun, and opened my eyes to the work that goes into making a good brew of beer. What really got me was that this strange and delicate process was formulated thousands of years ago, and hasn’t really changed much since. If you are an enthusiast of beer-drinking, I highly recommend trying this out!
In the meantime, I invite you to share your dream beer recipes in the comments section below! (And please, get creative! If any sound particularly delicious, we’ll try them out next!)
So after a few weeks of fermentation, the beer turned out awesome. The entire batch filled about 40 bottles of varying sizes. We put a carbonating solution of sugar into the batch and pumped the beer into individual bottles. Each bottle was capped and is required to sit and carbonate for a few days. I’ve including an inspirational photograph as well of me capping the beer bottles.
Nice post Adam! I never in a million years would have EVER dreamed of brewing beer with twizzlers, coke, and popcorn. Nice job, hats off to you and Paul.