Enjoy A Tasty Stout With Me… in 3 Weeks

Our really good friends Ted and Claire got me an unemployment present (what a great idea) of a beermaking kit from Fermentation Solutions, and I got to work on a stout.

We’ve made beer before from a Mr. Beer kit, complete with the little plastic barrel fermentation vessel and everything. By all accounts it was tasty, it was an ale that we modified, adding chai spices that transferred to the beer quite well. I’ll chalk it up to beginner’s luck. That was roughly 2 gallons worth.

The kit from Fermentation Solutions is a rightly sized 5 gallons. A quick bit of math makes that almost 54 12-ounce bottles. 9 six packs! The ingredients kit for the stout was $36, so we’re talking about $4/six pack. To put it into perspective, a quick look at Bevmo shows a six pack of Sam Adams Cream Stout at $7.

An interesting aside, last night at a retaurant I had a $5 beer…. and it was a Corona.

Anyway, this obviously won’t ever beat the price of a college drinking staple like PBR which makes the rounds at Bevmo at an unheard of $10 per 18-pack of bottles ($3.33/six).

Home brewing, though, is not out there to beat the Sam Adams and Gordon Bierschs of the world by price (though it may occasionally). The goal is to handcraft a flavor. To get that “I made this” feeling. To have a story and a tasty beverage to share it over.

My goal was to start around 9 and be done in time for lunch.. but it took a bit longer than that. I’m sure this is all just a matter of practice, but I didn’t get arranged until about 1030, maybe even 11. I’m not sure. Just laziness more than anything else.

First up was cleaning and sterilizing everything. Anything that will come into contact with the beer as it’s being made has to be cleaned with a mild detergent — mild so it’s easy to rinse off and not linger and get into the beer — and then sanitized to prevent any icky baddies of a bacterial or fungal variety. The only living thing you want in there is the yeast, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

There are a number of grains and malts that have to be soaked in pot of water much like a tea bag. This is the mash. This releases some flavors and the most important bit is sugars. Everything’s then boiled with the addition of hops which adds even more flavors, specifically the bitterness. Once everything’s been nicely boiled together, it’s rapidly cooled to settle everything out and the liquids are siphoned off to the fermentation vessel with the yeast. It’s now called a wort.

The vessel’s sealed with a one-way air lock–air goes out but not in. The air is produced by the yeast! That’s right… (mad scientist voice) It’s Alive! Ahem. The yeast organisms do all the heavy lifting in making the beer uhh.. beer. Every molecule of alcohol is a by product of the yeast taking the sugars from from the mash and eating them up producing carbon dioxide and some heat in the process. After a week or so after all the yeast is done with the sugars, it’s now called beer, and can be bottled or drunk.

All that work can be done in the home, given one has enough kitchen real estate to do everything and can store a large enough vessel of the beer for the entire fermentation process. In my case further sugar is added after the yeast is done with primary fermentation add more carbonation which is done in-bottle.

There are other tricks that can be done, but that’s the general process. With the rise of microbreweries and homebrewing, there are tons of variations. Beers can be “lagered” using a yeast that’s active at colder temperatures which requires the beer to be refrigerated during the process. Letting the sediment settle out will change the flavor character, so often beer is conditioned. If the conditioning happens in a cooled environment, the flavor can be further changed as certain compounds become insoluble with colder temperatures making more things settle out.

In my case, the recipe kit told me most of the things to do, and I did my best to follow it to the letter. I did have some slight problems, the initial pot I used for the mash was a bit too small, so I did two batches. Making sure the mash didn’t boil over was a lot of work: near-constant stirring for nearly an hour over an extremely hot pot with a spoon that’s just a bit too short. Still, it never boiled over, and I didn’t burn my hands. The rapid cooling was supposed to be done in the sink full of ice water, except I ran out of ice and resorted to dropping in the shipping and therapeutic ice packs into the sink to cool it. At least siphoning it into the fermenter went off without a hitch.

The one slightly troubling thing is I took the specific gravity and it was a bit too low — the recipe said it should be like 1.077. The final should be 1.022. Some fancy math and that makes the alcohol content of about 5.8. My starting specific gravity was like 1.056 which will make the beer be more in the 3.5% range which is kinda low for a stout. It will likely taste pretty hoppy… but there’s no way I’m throwing it out after almost 5 hours of work to get it put together.

I’m hoping for something pretty tasty. Fermentation should be one to one and a half weeks, so I’ll have an update then.

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