So, you like craft beer and have heard about homebrewing. Why not give it a try?
I feel confident that the brewers of all your favorite beers started out as homebrewers. It is not a big investment and if you can cook, even a little bit, and can follow some basic directions in a recipe, then you’re suited to enter the glamorous world of homebrewing. You will create your own one-of-a-kind beers with the favorite flavors you choose to put together.
Making beer uses similar concepts as making stew, by layering in different ingredients at different times and simmering it all together. There are a few steps afterwards to get the concoction to ferment, but nothing too arduous.
I will only summarize homebrewing basics and leave room in the newspaper for my esteemed column colleagues’ topics, but I’ve included some resources to learn more information and details at the end of the column (including emailing me).
• Rule No. 1: Cleanliness is next to godliness! Clean everything thoroughly that will come in contact with your beer while it is being made!
• Rule No. 2: Relax! The godfather of homebrewing is Charlie Papazian and his book encourages you to “Relax, Have a Homebrew,” while you’re brewing. The reasoning is (and I to this can attest) as long as you adhere to Rule No. 1, the rest is straightforward and, even if something in the steps I list below doesn’t go perfectly, the odds are in your favor that your homebrew will turn out just fine!
The Basic Steps
1. Buy brewing equipment and ingredients (grains, malt, hops, yeast)
2. Clean all equipment (twice)
3. Add the grain ingredients to a metal pot and steep in warm water
4. Remove grains and add malt extracts and hops
5. Boil ingredients (you’re making “wort” now)
6. Cool and transfer to a large bucket
7. Add yeast (so far, up to this point, these steps would take about four hours your first time)
8. Wait patiently (your beer will take one to two weeks to ferment)
9. Bottle your beer (wait another one to two weeks for carbonation)
10. Enjoy your beer!
Some notes on the items above
• Cleaning: Honestly, cleaning equipment and bottles is a bit of a pain but of maximum importance. I first use B-Brite cleaning powder followed by Star San Sanitizer liquid.
• Equipment: A onetime purchase is about $140 for a starter kit, which sometimes includes ingredients for your first beer. Hi-tech is not a thing here as it is a lobster-style pot for boiling ingredients, along with a few plastic sealable buckets for fermenting and bottling, and some tubes for siphoning. Check out the 5-gallon homebrew starter kits at one of the places I listed below.
• Ingredients: Think of beer flavors and styles you love and find a recipe using one of the resources provided below or do a Google search of homebrew recipes. Aim for a prepackaged ale “extract” kit of a beer or style you enjoy, which will provide all the premeasured ingredients (grains, malt extract, hops, yeast) with explicit and detailed brewing instructions. And, remember to relax and enjoy a craft brew while brewing!
Though I have been brewing a long time I am by no means an expert, there are advanced steps to homebrewing, such as all-grain mashing, for instance, which takes the place of buying premade malt extract and gives you the satisfaction that you lived off the land, so to speak, and created your homebrew with only raw ingredients. In addition, ale style yeast ferments at our Northeast region’s room temperature of 68-72 degrees, and ales are my go-to style. There are, of course, also delicious lager-style beers you can brew, but those require colder (about 50 degrees) and consistent temperatures during fermentation.
For me, I have a good homebrewing rhythm with five to six batches a year using the simple methods, for the most part. Where I do spend most of my brewing brainpower is thinking of creative flavor combinations to try (more on that below) and you will, too, once you’ve got a batch or two under your belt.
Resources for more info
I’ve provided a summary to wet your thirst for homebrewing, but here are some other places to check out:
• Google “homebrewing steps.” There are plenty of homebrew how-to’s on the internet.
• The famous homebrewing book is from Charlie Papazian called “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.”
• Northern Brewer: northernbrewer.com
• Midwest Supplies: midwestsupplies.com
Both of the places above have many ways to contact them listed on the website, including a live chat to get guidance during ordering or when you’re in the midst of brewing and have a question. I have used this resource a few times.
I’ll also be happy to answer any questions you have via the email at bottom of column.
Some Recipe Inspirations
Now that we went over the rather dry instructions, let’s get you inspired to make some good homebrews.
First off, there are “clone beer” recipes. Homebrewing a clone beer is a great way to start and means you’re using the recipe of a commercially available beer that you like. I think my first was a clone Newcastle Brown Ale. A Google search of “clone beer recipes” will provide sites to grab those recipes, and if you go to northernbrewer.com and search “clone,” you’ll see a page called Clone the World’s Best Beers with 20 well-known beers with full recipes and corresponding ingredients ready to order.
After a few batches of homebrewing, following recipes, you’ll want to make your own mark on the brewing industry and create your own flavor profiles. I followed this same path and now use basic recipes as a starting point using premeasured ingredients but dream up and add creative ingredients to see how it turns out. Here are a few that worked out well:
• Notorious RBG IPA (9.2%): Rhubarb Ginger Double IPA. I looked up a Sip O’ Sunshine double IPA clone beer recipe onnortherbrewer.com and found their clone version called Swig of Sunbeam (creative, eh?). The citra-style hop is part of this recipe and helps to give all the “juicy” beers their juice characteristics. After the brewing process and before bottling, I improvised by steeping the beer with some rhubarb ginger tea I found on Amazon. The real RBG would be proud.
• Cool as a Cucumber Saison (5.8%): I had a delicious cucumber Berliner weisse beer at the Westchester Beer Festival a few years ago from Millhouse Brewery in Poughkeepsie, and decided cucumber would be a nice homebrew addition to a saison-style beer (lighter, effervescent). I’ve referred to both Stillwater Artisanal Stateside Saison (6.8%) and Goose Island’s Sofie (6.5%) in prior columns, which are both great examples of the style. I used a saison recipe that includes Pilsen, Munich, and wheat malt, which provide the lighter color and body along with a saison yeast. I froze the cucumbers, cut them lengthwise and dropped them into the beer post-fermentation and let them steep for a few days prior to bottling. A delicious, crisp, refreshing, homebrew ensued.
• Green Hornet Chocolate Stout (9.2%): I’ve always liked Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra Belgium brown ale, which is made with green raisins, and thought that flavor would work well with a stout (it was wintertime). I used standard stout recipe (like Guinness), which includes roasted barley and coffee malt to give it that awesome roast-i-ness that stouts are known for. I added chocolate and cocoa during the wort boiling (Step 5 above) and, post-fermentation, added green raisins that had been soaked in rye whiskey. A true winter warmer!
Here are a few other examples of ingredients I’ve successfully used: Belgium apple, blood orange and lemongrass, tangerine, juniper berry, banana, bourbon, coffee, maple syrup, smoked cherrywood, macadamia nut, chestnut, cherry, vanilla, chocolate, coriander and orange blossom honey.
So, in conclusion, relax and get comfortable with the homebrewing process, and then the only limits are your imagination to dream up the next award-winning homebrew!
• Hudson River Craft Beer Festival: Saturday Sept. 14, 12:30-5:30 p.m., Riverfront Park, Beacon, general admission ticket: $45. Enjoy a showcase of more than 200 releases from some of America’s best craft breweries in an atmosphere filled with live music, delicious food available for purchase, and great vendors. More info: beerfests.com/events/hudson-river-craft-beer-festival.
*Please reach out with upcoming beer or related events as I’m happy to spread the word.
On a final note: I certainly do enjoy delicious craft suds, but I love Mrs. KBM infinitely more. Hoppy anniversary, darling!
The Katonah Beer Man