Saturday, December 02, 2006

The various joys of making beer in your very own kitchen.

So, in July, at Capital Brewery's Cheers to a Cure event, Josh and I won a beer-making kit from Madison's own Wine and Hop Shop. I say that Josh and I both won this kit because, even though it was my money that purchased the raffle tickets, it was Josh's hands that put our five magical raffle tickets into the mix so late in the game, ensuring they would float, ever so enticingly, on the surface of all the other raffle tickets.

So anyways, we won the raffle, and I was SO EXCITED, because I've always wanted to brew beer. I figure, "Hey, I drink enough of the stuff, shouldn't I at least know how to make my own?" I mean, you never know when a nuclear holocaust will come along and obliterate all the good microbreweries and you'll be left to your own devices. A smart, modern woman covers her bases in this, and all, areas. Plus, the very idea of a budding Sober Brewery sets my marketing sensors a-salivating. Who wouldn't jump to wear a t-shirt espousing Sober beer? It's GOLDEN!

After winning the raffle, and getting our starting setup in July, we were put into a necessary but unfortuntate limbo due to Josh's current and impending exam. Sure, I could've gone ahead and tried a first batch without him, but it just seemed wrong. I promised I'd wait for him, so we didn't actually foray into this brave new world until the weekend of November 11, when we finally broke into the kit and brewed our very first batch of beer. It's called Warbler Pale Ale, and is supposed to end up tasting very much like a British ale, e.g. Boddinton's Pub Ale. So, in the interest of chronicling the process for those who haven't yet had the pleasure of brewing beer, here's what we did:

Firstly, we needed to make sure we had everything we needed. Well, thanks to the kit we'd won at the Capital event in July, we already did. Easy enough. After discerning that piece of information, all that was left was to break into the kit and follow the instructions, which were largely straightforward and very easy to follow. In short, the actual process of brewing beer is ridiculously easy. You boil some stuff for a while. What takes attention and effort is making sure all your equipment and any equipment that might touch, look at, or talk to you equipment is appropriately sanitized! This is because, what you're really doing when you make beer is to create a sugar-rich slurry where yeast, a single-minded, single-celled organism, can have a rollicking Bacchanalian orgy of sex and farting all while totally unimpeded by any buzzkill chaperones. Well, that's all fine and good, but if you're not careful with your sanitation practices, you can have party crashers in the form of uninvited, horny, troublemaking single-celled organisms (read: BACTERIA) and they make your beer taste funky. So, what you're trying to do is be a sort of parental chaperone to the party, but only let YOUR kids have unprotected sex, not the neighbor's kids', and certainly not the kids from the next town over. It's controlled civic irresponsibility, really.

So, Josh and I did the initital brewing on November 11, which resulted in a plastic pail (our primary fermenter) sitting full of a sugary, dark brown liquid in my closet, and my house smelling pleasantly not unlike a brewery for a couple days. After that, it sat for about three days before I exercised my yet-unexercised siphoning abilities and moved the baby beer from the primary fermenter into the secondary fermenter, a glass jug called a carbuoy. After that, it sat for about two weeks while Josh and I celebrated our Thanksgiving holidays with our family and totally did NOT think about how the beer was progressing, which I think is exactly how it would want things to progress. I'd imagine that good beer would eschew too close of supervision. Gotta give it room to breathe and everything.

And then, today. Today was bottling day, a full 18 days after the little beer's entry into secondary fermentation. Not to worry, though, from what I hear, certain book-writing brewers regularly keep their beers in secondary fermentation for up to six weeks prior to bottling. I refuse (hear me, World!), to feel like a neglectful parent for letting my beer stew it its own sex-slosh for an extra eight days. I will not be ashamed! So, Josh and I made a trip to the Wine and Hop Shop to pick up a bottle washer and filler, as well as a bit more sanitizing solution (the Holy Grail for beer brewing, we're finding) and 24-pack of empty bottles, and chat up the super-helpful, adorably hippie brewer staff named Ben. I loved Ben -- he was totally cute, and you could tell he's a total homebrew-head. Ben told us which bottle washer to buy, and then pointed toward us some potential next kits for our second batch of brew (maybe a Brown, maybe an Amber?), and oh-so-cutely-hippily sent us on our way.

When we got back to my place, we proceeded to bottling our brew, and I have to say it went very well. I can't even remember one hiccup, save the fact that we will NO LONGER invite either Heineken or Bell's Oberon beer to our bottle reuse party. They are just entirely too ornery and high-maintenance. I mean, really, if it takes a half-hour to remove your label, who exactly do you think you are? Stop obfuscating the recycling process, boneheads!

And, can I just mention? The bottle washer we chose (based on Ben the Hippie's generous recommendations?) Genius! Pure genius. I need to figure out more ways to use this thing, because it's just awesome. I couldn't help smiling while using it, that's how genius it is.

So, eventually, Josh and I got our burgeoning brew moved from the secondary fermenter back into the primary fermenter (for segregation from the sediment and addition of the corn sugar, for carbonation) and then from the primary fermenter into the bottles. We only lost the siphon once, and have since vowed that we'll get a racking tube to avoid the totally irritating phenomenon of a siphon tube allowing its curved self to peek over the surface of the siphoned liquid and KILL THE SIPHON. Stupid siphon tube. Siphoning is hard, especially after you've had about three beers.

We ended up with 48 bottles. 24 apiece. Now we have to wait 7-10 days for bottle conditioning prior to drinking the little babies and seeing if they're worth sending to Harvard, or if they're more like DeVry material. In any case, you can bet we're going to drink them...we're just not sure how proudly, or in what brightness of light, or if we'll throw them a party or just have a quiet celebratory dinner at home. Like I said, though, one thing's for sure. We're drinking those puppies. They will go toward someone's drunkenness, by damn. It is their right as Americans.