HOMEBREWING: Brewing beer the old fashioned way — in your kitchen Story and Photos by John Cropper
On a cold day, few things compare to a cup of something warm. Coffee, hot chocolate, apple cider, tea. All are winter mainstays. But beer, a drink most often associated with hot days and summer nights, can both get your circulation moving and keep you busy on a lazy winter day. That is, if you brew it yourself. Brewing beer at home is a lot like keeping a garden, baking bread or knitting a winter scarf;You put effort and time — five weeks, in this case — into making something that can easily be found during a 10-minute trip to Walmart. But like a homegrown tomato, a beer brewed in your kitchen tastes better, costs less and satisfies that primal urge to make something by hand. So for now, forget that a credit card is easier to wield than knitting needles. Instead, do it yourself. Even though Christmas has passed, it’s never too late for a Christmas Ale, known by its notes of cinnamon, orange spice, cardamon and ginger. During the holidays, we’re especially fortunate to be Ohioans, given the stellar Christmas Ale made by our state’s leading craft brewery, Great Lakes Brewing Company. (It sells out a month before Christmas each year.)
In this article, I’ll teach you how to make your own Christmas Ale using not much more than what you can find in your kitchen and a specialty brewing store.
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In mid-November, I spent an afternoon brewing a batch of Christmas Ale with my brother and family brewmaster, Aaron. A seasoned homebrewer, Aaron wanted to take a stab at his first Holiday Ale which he planned to serve at a New Years Eve party he was hosting the following month. A little more than five weeks later, we tasted it.
In its most basic form, beer is what you get when you boil water, hops and malt together and then add yeast. Those four ingredients are the only ones essential to the drink. The type of beer you want to make determines how much and which kind of each ingredient is used. Additional sugars and spices can be added to the mix to change the beer’s flavor and alcohol content, and most brews you would make at home will require some extra ingredients. Our Christmas Ale, for example, will need four different spices and sugar in addition to the main ingredients. While there are dozens of beer varieties, each individual style falls into one of three categories: lagers, ales and lambics. Like wine, certain styles of beer are better suited for the season. Winter tends to favor darker beers like porters, stouts, and dark ales, while wheat beers and pale ales are popular in the spring and summer months. In America, more than 70 percent of the beer consumed is a type of pale lager known as a pilsner (think Budweiser, Coors, Miller, etc.), according to the Brewers Association. But from a global standpoint, pilsners are a fraction of the beer market. The process of making beer is surprisingly simple, whether in a brewery or in your own kitchen. A few hours on a given afternoon is all the time it takes to prepare the pre-fermented mix, known as the wort. But before we delve into the numbers and specifics of making your homebrew, let’s start with the equipment.
HOMEBREW EQUIPMENT Stainless steel brew kettle, 5 gallon
$39.95 Plastic or glass fermenter, known as a corboy, 5 gallon
$18.95 - $28.95 Bottling bucket
$12.95 Muslin boiling bag -
$0.65 The main pieces of equipment you will need are all containers, both for “cooking” the wort on your stove top and for holding the beer while it ferments. The first is a stainless steel cooking pot. Anything less than a 5 gallon pot is probably too small, as you could risk the liquid boiling over onto your stove and all over your kitchen. Two other containers you will need are a fermenter and a bottling bucket. The fermenter stores the beer during the fermentation process, and the bottling bucket is where you will transfer the beer when it’s ready to be bottled. The rest of the equipment needed can be found at hardware store or the nearest brewing store. Below is an example of the supplies you will need, and at right is an equipment list and each item’s cost, according to Midwest Homebrewing and Winemaking Supplies.
Plastic funnel, 5”
$1.95 Siphon tubing
$0.45 per foot Floating thermometer
$5.95 Airlock S-bubble
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You will also need bottles and caps if you plan on bottling your own. Aaron has a keg refrigerator — the fabled “kegerator” — so we didn’t need bottles to store it in. The list of equipment might seem like too much of an investment, but it’s a one-time cost for long-term savings. Brewing stores and online retailers often sell “homebrewing kits” which have all of the above items included. These are great places to start and highly recommended for beginners. Since this was our first batch of Christmas Ale, Aaron and I used the “Holiday Ale” kit from Brewer’s Best. The kit included the following ingredients: Two 3.3lb cans of Light Liquid Malt Extract (LME) 1 lb. of Golden Dry Malt Extract (DME) 1 lb. of corn sugar 12 oz. of caramel 80l (specialty grain) 4 oz. of chocolate malt (specialty grain) 4 oz. of black patent malt (specialty grain) 1 oz. Brewers Gold (bittering hops) 1 oz.Willamette (flavoring hops) 11 g. packet of Nottingham yeast The box also included a spice packet containing: 1 oz. of orange peel 1 tsp. cinnamon 1 tsp. cardamon seed ½ tsp. ginger Before you can begin cooking the ingredients, one of the most tedious and time consuming —and most important — tasks needs to be completed. The fermenter needs to be cleaned and sanitized using Oxi Clean Free, or a similar brewingapproved sanitizer. Below are four steps to make sure your equipment stays clean and free of bacteria, which can spoil your batch. Fill the fermenter with 5 gallons of distilled water and a ¼ scoop of Oxi Clean Free. Wipe off all residue in fermenter. Drain and rinse the fermenter thoroughly. Fill the fermenter with another 5 gallons of hot water and 1 oz. of Star Sans Acid Sanitizer liquid. Drain and rinse the fermenter.
Now that your containers are clean, you can start preparing the brew kettle by heating 2 ½ gallons of water on your stove. To save time, clean your fermenter while the water warms up. Below are the rest of the directions for preparing the wort: Heat 2 ½ gallons of distilled water on high until it reaches 165° F. Pour all of the specialty grains into the moslin grain sack and tie a knot on the end. Drop into water. Steep grains in water between 150-165° F for 20 mins. and then remove the grain. Add all of the LME, DME, and corn sugar and bring to a gentle, rolling boil. When boiling, add the bittering hops and boil for 40 mins. After 40 mins., add the spice pack and the flavoring hops and boil for another 15 mins. Remove the wort and place in a sink full of ice water and cool down until the temperature is 70° F. This should take approximately one hour. Add the cooled wort to the sanitized fermenter. Add enough distilled water until there are 5 gallons of liquid in the fermenter. Open the yeast package, sprinkle into the wort and stir vigorously.
JOHN CROPPER John is a Wilmington native and a reporter for the Wilmington News Journal. He is an avid writer, photographer and outdoor enthusiast, and aspires to be his family’s second leading homebrewer.
The labor-intensive steps of the beer making process are almost complete. The next step is to securely close the lid on the fermenter, add enough water to the S-shaped airlock and place it into the lid’s hole. Find a dark area of your home where the beer can sit undisturbed for one week. The next day, you should notice air bubbles bursting in your airlock — that means the fermentation has begun. After that first week, follow the same steps to sanitize your secondary bottling bucket. Using the siphon hose, siphon the beer from the fermenter into the bucket. Let the siphoned beer sit in the same, dark spot for another two weeks. Now, it’s time to bottle and store it. Or if you’re like Aaron, siphon it into a keg. But even when it’s bottled the beer needs another week or two to “bottle finish” in a warm, roomtemperature location to allow for carbonation to occur. Then finally, the beer is yours for the tasting.
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Homebrewing has seen a surge in popularity lately thanks to spendthrifts and D.I.Y. enthusiasts. Like gardening, canning and food preservation, making wine and beer at home makes sense economically and environmentally, and can fast become a hobby. So long as you don’t sell your bubbly creation, and you stay within the allowed 200 gallons a year per family, Uncle Sam approves. There are several specialty brewing stores in Ohio where the novice and professional brewer alike can find information and buy ingredients and equipment. The Winemaker’s Shop in Columbus, the Main Squeeze in Yellow Springs and the Pumphouse in Struthers all sell home brewing and wine making supplies. The Ohio Valley Homebrewers Association (http://www.ovha.net/) is another useful resource for southern Ohio beer and wine enthusiasts looking for kindred spirits, and the Midwest Homebrewing and Winemaking Supplies is one of the best online marketplaces to shop for the needed supplies. Oh, and our Christmas Ale? It was just right, warmed the heart and cost a mere 65 cents a bottle. On a blustery December night, it gave coffee a run for its money.