Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some wort for the road?

Lately, I've been brewing some beer at home, ably assisted by

The Complete Guide to Beer and Brewing, a natty little guide by Laurie Strachan.

Brewing beer, as it turns out, is a simple process. To brew beer, all you need is a tun. The tun is what you perform the mash in. The mash, as everyone knows, is how you produce the malt and the dextrins. After you have performed the mash and produced the malt and the dextrins, you just have to sparge the grains. This is another obvious bit, as everyone who already has a lauter tun will know what sparging is. By the end of this process you'll obviously have a fine wort, which you work with to precipitate out the trub. What the trub is will be immediately, not to mention right away, clear to absolutely everyone and anyone, so I won't go into that. Anyway, you precipitate the trub out of the wort while gradually adding the hops, after which you use a counter-flow chiller (I certainly don't need to go into that), so you are able to get your wort to the temperature at which you are able to put it into the fermenter and pitch in the yeast. At this point the hydrometer comes in and... well, no need to go any further into this process, which is so simple, obvious, and clear that it has been used for many centuries by brewers the world over. More or less.

Contrast this simple, obvious and clear traditional process with the sophisticated, complex ritual we have to go through in order to get beer in a pub: you go up to the bar, you say the beer you want, and you pay them money. I don't have the space or the knowledge to explain in detail the minutiae of each of these steps, but really, it makes you wonder why we ever left the simple old ways behind.

Just by the by, on the working with yeast bit, do you know how frightening that stuff is? It's... it's... well, as they say in the old black and white movies at the top of the tower in the middle of the howling storm after a thunderbolt has struck, causing the nameless thing on the bench to rise up and reach it's horrific arms out - it's alive. If you chuck it in some water, and turn your back for a few seconds, all of a sudden it will have fizzed up. If you add the water and yeast to some flour, and go away for an hour or two, it will have risen and be well on its way to doubling in size. If you add it to a barrel with some wort and hops at a specific temperature, and go off to work, by the time you've come back the whole concoction will be fermenting away and producing alcohol and carbon dioxide and doing your household accounts while studying the finer points of the Greek lexicon on the side. If you like you can harvest yeast off the top of a fermented barrel of beer, but every time you use it to make a new bunch of beer, the Complete Guide advises, it will have mutated. Oddly, for a Complete Guide, the details about how the yeast will have mutated, and what it will have mutated to, are rather incomplete. Given that you have to store this mysteriously mutated yeast somewhere, in a sealed and sterilised jar, in a fridge environment, you would be forgiven for feeling a little edgy and nervous while having it around the house (just as you might feel edgy and nervous at having an axe murderer around the house).

Beer brewing is simple, fun, rewarding, and, if you do it in the right way (by which I mean the wrong way) will leave you with bottles exploding every half hour, and scattering glass all over your laundry. And of course you don't want to be wrong, right? Wrong.

I've certainly been enjoying the whole brewing process, although I admit that up to now I've skipped the bits involving the tun, the lauter tun, and the counter-flow chiller, as I don't have any of those, or the bits involving the mash, and the sparging, as I've never done them before, or some of the other bits as I get a little scared by them. Actually, I'm mostly doing it out of cans, which give you a wort and hops that have been pre-mixed for you, but I certainly mean to work my way up to doing all those other things, more or less, sooner or later, if you know what I mean. (Strachan's certainly not intimidated by the tuns and chillers and spargers and what not. He has this way of referring to all these steps in the process with the verbal equivalent of a casual wave of the hand in statements such as 'I do mine in a...' or 'I use this...' or 'I plug up the sparger with a...') I suppose to some this might mean that I've taken up every part of brewing except brewing.

So. Beer brewing. It's simple, obvious, fun, it leads to exploding bottles, the yeast does your accounts and can learn to conjugate in Greek, and I might even try it someday. And what have you been doing lately?


Anonymous said... there's a word that's due for revival. To make home brew without exploding bottles would simply be wrong...but,Tim, you have not told us whether you are brewing ale or lager or wheat beer etc..

TimT said...

The first was a kind of lager and the second was a ginger beer. Or a beer with ginger flavours (disappointing, actually, as the mix they gave us included malt and hops but apparently no real ginger). Another reason to move on beyond cans, methinks.

Steve said...

I believe home brewed beer is easier than home brewed sake, for which you really should try and "polish" each rice grain to remove the outer, fatty part. I am going by memory here, but yes, I think there is a " fatty" part on a rice grain.

TimT said...

Sounds like picking the skin of mushrooms or broad beans - annoying but doable.

If someone really wants to be a hard core beer nut, of course, they have to learn to mash the barley grains themselves - ie crush them (but not too much) and then cook them at certain temperatures in a certain way in order to wash out the malt. There's always a way of making the process more complicated.

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