Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Mill's Microbrewery is Open for Business

My homebrew kit arrived this past week – in a giant ass box filled with 20 cubic meters of Styrofoam peanuts. This was a birthday gift from Jaimi. I love it, but I’m not sure she realizes what she’s gotten herself into. Instead of 4 or 5 little beers in the fridge, there’s going to be gallons of beer taking up space in the kitchen. Or the closet. Or the even the bathtub. It all depends on how well things go.

From here on out, our apartment is officially a craft brewery – registered, licensed, and fully bonded in the state of New York. Actually, I’m not selling the stuff – and it remains to be seen whether or not the first few batches will be drinkable. Or technically, even qualify as “beer.” So let’s leave the state of New York out of it for now.

After unpacking the aforementioned giant-ass box, I surveyed the inventory. Jaimi had ordered the complete beginner’s brewing package from Midwest Supplies. Supposedly, it comes with EVERYTHING I’ll need to brew and enjoy 5 gallons of delicious beer, right out of the box. Of course, not everything is actually included. You provide the tap water that actually comprises 99% of the beer, and the mouth and stomach to consume the beer once it’s ready. None of this is included in the box. False advertising? We’re talking to some lawyers about it.

Anyway, everything else you need is actually included. The beer bottles and caps, the fermentation chamber (big plastic bucket), the bottling bucket (another big plastic bucket), the ingredients kit, instructional DVD, hydrometer, sanitizer, etc., etc. I chose to make the Irish Red Ale for my trial run. I hope that it’s a forgiving style of beer for the novice homebrewer.

So yesterday, I studied up on the included “Beginner’s Guide to Homebrewing” and watched the instructional DVD. Production quality was fairly low, but the presentation of techniques, and the fine gentleman providing instruction were both top notch. In no time, I had a kettle on the stove, and a nylon bag of crushed barley steeping in the hot water. It was like making tea – if you were to make it 2 gallons at a time. With barley.

So far so good.

Next, it was time to boil the malt extract and hops in the “barley tea.” This takes about an hour, and requires careful monitoring to avoid boil-overs. Or so I was warned. I don’t think it was ever close to a boil-over. But I was so frightened by the instructional DVD’s warnings, that I essentially stared at the bubbling brown liquid the entire time. Better safe than sorry.

After that, it’s time to cool the mixture, or “wort” as it’s known in the beer biz. You see, I can use words like “wort” now because I’m a member of a very exclusive club – those who want to save money and avoid taxes on alcoholic beverages by making their own at home, and who often pretend like what they’ve made is good enough to drink when in reality it should be fed to livestock or burned for fuel.

So I’m cooling the hot wort in a sink full of ice water. And I’m stirring with a sanitized spoon every 15 minutes. And we’re going to be late for our dinner reservations and a show. But if I skip a step, or carelessly add the yeast before the temperature is below 100 degrees, then all of this terrible trouble would be for naught. So I insist upon waiting a few more minutes – the yeast has to rehydrate in order to activate, goddamnit!!

In the end, the wort is cool, the yeast is happy, and the bucket of near-beer is shoved into the corner where it will remain for the next 2 weeks.

For any ATF officers reading this, that sign "cold beer sold here" is simply a novelty sign made in China. I do not sell beer. Yet.

20 hours later, I can see bubbles in the airlock. And so I’m happy to report that the little yeasties appear to be eating up the sugary solution and converting it into magical alcohol – in a process known as fermentation, for those of you who didn’t make it through grade school.

Bottling the stuff will probably be a huge pain in the ass. But the first stage wasn’t too bad. If this stuff is even remotely drinkable – no stomach cramps, vomiting, and only mild hallucinations - then I’ll be pretty happy with the experience.

Of course, there will be more updates to follow.

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Anonymous said...

Good luck with the brewing thing. If you need any help remember that I was a brewmaster at one time in my life at Schmidt's of Phila. Can't wait to taste The Mill's Brooklyn Beer.

The Mill said...

Thanks Anonymous Guy. I hope to bottle the stuff pretty soon.

Depending on the odor, color, and anything growing on the top of the beer, I should be able to tell pretty quickly if it's likely to be at all drinkable.