Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Beer Brewing 101

My eyes went aglow Christmas morning, 2011, when I opened my final present from my endearing fiancé to find a brand-new brew-your-own-beer kit.  I have certainly tasted myriads of beers (regrettably more Natty and Beast than I’d like to admit) over my 26 years but this was my first opportunity to sample a brew of my own manufacture.  Thus, after returning to Hong Kong I set to work.

The kit’s accompanying guidebook is pretty lengthy considering beer was first brewed by illiterates thousands of years ago.  But as I only had an hour or two to master the ancient art I set aside a significant portion of my Saturday to peruse each page.  Among the chief concerns of the fermentation process are water quality, temperature control, and equipment sterilization. 

The guidebook recommends bottled mountain water (distilled water actually inhibits fermentation) but since this was my first (potentially unsuccessful) brewing attempt I decided to use boiled HK tap water.  Temperature control was my biggest concern, as the weather fluctuates a lot in HK and I don’t live in a centrally-heated/cooled apartment, so I compensated as best as I could by storing the keg in a dark cabinet.  Sterilization is pretty foolproof as the kit comes with a solution that does not need to be washed out of the equipment; I followed the cleaning instructions exactly as any rogue bacteria could ruin the whole batch.  With only 1½ out of 3 of these factors adequately addressed I was somewhat concerned, for it would take 6 whole weeks of fermentation before I knew whether the batch turned out okay.

With my prep work behind me I set about the straightforward brewing process.  Basically, beer contains a lot of sugar, and making wort (the first stage of beer) involves boiling lots of different sugar mixtures down.  I added extra brown sugar and a dash of chai spice because it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Finally I added my chai-spiced wort to the keg with 8 more quarts of water and a tablespoon of yeast and locked the mixture away for 5 weeks. 

Over this time we had a lovely vacation in the Philippines and I pretty much forgot about my mixture.  At the culmination of the fermentation process the batch was not looking good.  It poured very flat into the bottles and tasted a little off (Lauren thought it resembled soap but I tasted beer notes).  I wasn’t sure what carbonization would add to the flavor but went through with it.  After adding a little sugar to each bottle and filling it with the wort mixture I set the bottles back in the dark for two more weeks and Wow, really hoppy, fizzy beer rose from each opened bottle!

The head died-down while arranging the photo but it was excellent

Chai was undetectable in the finished product and thankfully so.  This wanton addition aside I'd like to think I'd pass beer brewing 101.  Can't wait to make another batch and I'll have to host a kegger because it's worth sharing.

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