My friend Tom has a number of interesting past times, one that I particularly enjoy is brewing. He’s a member of a brew club and often prepares beers for special events to fit the theme. He once dedicated a brew to Lieve and I, and named it “Ring of Fire”. I’ve spent the day brewing with him a couple of times, and enjoyed the fruits of our labor. In my opinion, all young people should learn to brew beer, as the process requires cleanliness from start to finish.
Last week we had a number of tasks to accomplish, and although my job is usually to stand by and call 911 if something explodes, I do enjoy observing the process, turning water into beer.
Tom creates his mash in a re-tasked cooler. He places a mesh stand and cheesecloth in the bottom, then fills it with milled barley. One time the barley had been milled too finely and blocked the cheesecloth, we had to siphon the fluid (wort) out. If you drink beer, and have some level of discernment, you are most likely aware that one of the more ingredients is the water. It’s mentioned in advertising less these days due to the way that national brands tend to be brewed at multiple locations, and there is no “Rocky Mountain Spring water” in Georgia. Tom uses water that he brings home from his parent’s spring in Upstate New York.
The water has to be heated to a precise temperature. Brewing is, among other things, chemistry. The correct temperature allows the proper enzymes to break down the barley. Then it has to steep for the optimum time, maintaining that temperature. After the wort is ready, it is transferred to a larger pot where it is boiled, this is essentially where the “cooking” takes place. There is no unimportant step or ingredient, and you can destroy the product at any stage, but this is where the beer maker places his signature most boldly. Time to “get hoppy”, during the boiling, hops are added (in cheesecloth). Specific hops, at specific times, in specific amounts. This is often a secret part of the recipe.
Now the wort is ready to be fermented, but yeast requires much lower temperatures. Tom ferments in glass bottles, which are first meticulously sterilized. Brewing is also agriculture. Anything other than yeast growing in the wort can produce a variety of results, from bad flavors to poison. Yeast, like the hops, barley, and water, is an element that creates the beer, not only flavors but appearance and feel. Specialized strains of yeast produce different brews.
Once the yeast is working, it’s time to allow the fermentation to take place. The yeast grows and eats the sugars and other carbohydrates in the wort. it produces carbon dioxide (the bubbles) and alcohol. The yeast falls to the bottom of bottle, and the bear is siphoned into a container in which it can age. This is when the beer can be tasted! It’s not finished yet, but there’s an indication of it’s direction. We had a previous beer at this point the other day.
In a few weeks, the beer can be served. Tom doesn’t usually bottle, he serves from home in a “kegerator”, a refrigerator with a tap to the beer kegs. He transports small quantities in “growlers” a half gallon bottle.
There are a variety of words that can be used to describe making beer. Brewing, building, creating, and cooking are all parts of the process. Some people do it for fun, some do it for the science, some do it for the art. It’s an interesting process, typically performed by interesting people.