Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Beer Making 100: Kolsch

It sure looks like beer...but the verdict is still out on the taste.  Stay tuned for an update.  I titled this post Beer Making 100 because the photos should walk you through the steps, and will hopefully convince you the process is really fun and easy, but you'll definitely need Beer Making 101 (not found on this gardening blog) to really gain the confidence to make your own.  This post is simply an account of my project.

So just for some very quick background, in lieu of multiple gifts exchanged, my husband, sister, and brother-in-law have been doing a Secret Santa type gift exchange for the past several years. The gift must be homemade and should be inexpensive - about $20 or so. Part of the reason I pushed for this Secret Santa activity to begin with was to cut back on the ideas I have to generate for presents for my husband. I count my lucky stars about this guy, but honestly, after so many years, I'm plumb out of bright ideas. Of course, I repeatedly draw his name in our Secret Santa hat year after year!

This year, I decided to try my hand at brewing beer. The man likes his drink, and though the drink of choice is "beast", I decided a Kolsch (info at the very bottom) seemed a little step up. Then again, what do I know, I am not a beer drinker!

Homemade beer making is expensive. Though I knew I wouldn't stay in the $20 range, I didn't want to break the bank either (plus, we should probably start saving now for Scamp's next big veterinary adventure). This whole thing almost didn't happen, but serendipitously, my awesome friend Grace's awesome son Donn was awesome enough to loan me a carload of his awesome beer-making equipment! When Grace and I lugged it all to my car, I was like, look at all this stuff, doesn't it look fun?! Grace quickly replied no. The photo above shows just half of the equipment. The other half that I'll need once the beer is fermented is in my car. 

For the ingredients, I bought the kit above from Donn's favorite online supplier, Williams Brewing, and read then reread, and then reread, and then reread the instructions. I sorted through the equipment and found all these extra pieces I could not figure out what to do with. Who knew making beer would require so much tubing? I really need to stop hassling my husband when he ends up with extra screws and bolts after putting together the IKEA furniture.

This wouldn't be the new canine-loving me without sneaking in a photo of scamp.  But I do have a point that relates to this post.  The point is, stage your beer-making in a kitchen or other area that can get wet, and don't allow animals in the area because you want your area to be as clean and bacteria-free and as dust/dander free as possible.  Scamp is an exception to this rule because he's a sweetheart and won't bother nobody.  

I "smack" the pack of yeast. I paid extra money for this special kind of yeast because I thought the idea of smacking the pack and the two liquids activating was so fun - like those glow bracelets you crack and shake. Supposedly it takes 1-3 days for the pack to swell up, indicating that the yeast is active. Glad I read the instructions before beer-making day!

First snag. The super cool piece of shit yeast packet is not swelling up (update: the yeast pack did end up swelling, but not until about a week after beer-making day). I scour the Internet and luckily there's a beer-making supply store reasonably close (about 45 minutes away). Maryland Homebrew is like a homebrewer's heaven. It's pretty darn amazing, and the people who work there are really helpful. I didn't mind sounding like a total idiot. They helped me figure out what I needed - which was a glass vial of yeast from the yeast fridge. I also had a few questions - in Donn's supplies were a plastic bucket (fermenter), a plastic bucket with spigot (the thing you use just before you bottle - duh, that make sense), and a glass "carboy" - like a glass water cooler jug. Turns out, my instructions were for a more simplified process but I had the equipment to add another step to produce a clearer beer! Yay! So the salesperson said a hydrometer really was pretty necessary to determine if the beer is done fermenting and ready for bottling. I didn't see one in Donn's supplies, so I bought one. I asked how far you're supposed to stick the thermometer-like thing in there and he said you're supposed to pour some beer into a graduated cylinder and put the hydrometer in there. I asked, well can't you just hold it in the bucket so it doesn't fall? He said no, you put it in and don't touch it. OHHHHH!! I get it now. The thing bobs freely in the beer and it sort of measures the density of the liquid. Or something like that.  Point is, it tells you that the beer is ready to be bottled.

Anyway, I get home with the yeast vial and hydrometer and get down to business. Everything else runs pretty smoothly. The water boils and I add the giant bag of heavy, sticky, malt (in first photo below). Five minutes later, I add bag #1 of hops. 50 more minutes later, I add bag #2 of hops. So far, it does not smell like beer and I'm concerned, but whatever. I'm sitting next to the stove, stirring occasionally and totally engrossed in Room by Emma Donoghue (highly recommend it). 

I cool the wort (that's lingo that we homebrewers use to describe the stuff in the pot) by putting it in the sink with cold water. Hours later, when cool, I sanitize all the rest of the equipment I'm going to use tonight and then slowly pour the wort into the plastic fermenter leaving the sludge at the bottom of the pot. I top it off with water until I have 5 gallons of liquid. I add the yeast (and notice it now instantly smells like beer) and stir. I put the lid on and add the airlock to the top. I fill the airlock with water and then hope for the best! Apparently I'll start to see bubbles in the airlock in a day or so, indicating that the beer is fermenting.

This is how the project is being hidden during the fermenting process.  A cover on top read, "Do not open or Santa will not come".  I'm taking advantage of the fact that my 42 year old husband believes in the jolly old white guy.

DAY 3:  THERE ARE BUBBLES IN MY AIRLOCK!!!  THERE ARE BUBBLES IN MY AIRLOCK!!!  This is a really good thing.  A harbinger of proper fermentation.

There is really weird vocab related to beer-making.  On day 7, it is time to transfer the beer to the glass "carboy".  See the nasty ring around the bucket in the photo above?  That's also a good thing (really.  It says so in my directions).  That's another sign that the beer has been fermenting (and settling down).

I now see the benefit in transferring this stuff from container to container.  The transfer leaves a layer of (easily cleaned) sludge at the bottom.  Anyway, the beer goes into the carboy and then it's plugged with a rubber cap that has a hole in it for another airlock.  It goes back into hiding for another 7 days.  I'm not constantly checking, so I'm not sure if there are bubbles in the airlock.  It's supposed to still be fermenting, but at this point, I'm a little over the excitement of watching for bubbles.

The most time consuming thing about beer-making is sanitizing all the equipment.  There's a concentrated dark solution that must be diluted a gazillion times with water.  Everything that comes into contact with the beer must sit in (or be filled with) the solution for several minutes, then drip dried.  An easy way to do this is to fill the big buckets with solution and throw the cleaned equipment in there as well.  That sanitizes the equipment and the bucket.  Not rocket science, but something I didn't think of until the guy at the store explained it.  In the photo below, I have the bottles sanitized and am using the dishwasher racks to dry and hold the bottles until they're ready to be filled.  Another important thing to mention, the siphon thingy is a must-buy if you're going to make your own beer.  It has a little hand pump thing that starts the siphoning process and the bottom of the rod that goes in the full container has a little rubber cap on the bottom that prevents the sludgy stuff from being sucked into the new container.

So anyway, the beer in the carboy is siphoned into another plastic bucket.  This bucket looks almost exactly like the same one from the first step, except it has a spigot at the bottom.  The beer is beer-brown in color, but when I stir the priming sugar in, it immediately starts foaming.  Knowing the beer-brewing industry, I'm sure there's an interesting word for this chemical process.

After the priming sugar is completely stirred into the beer, I start bottling!  I bought these bottles from The Container Store.  I'm sure there's a more economical option, but for my purposes, there was a convenience factor to buying from the store down the road.  The beer basically needs to sit in a warmer place (my bedroom closet) for a week or so to build carbonation, then can be chilled.  You might remember that I bought a hydrometer, which was supposed to determine whether the beer was finished fermenting and ready to be bottled.  Well, I tried to avoid looking at the precise little tool sitting among my supplies because in the end, I was too tired to check (and worried that I would have to recap the carboy and clear my schedule for  another day to bottle).  I figured ready or not, this beer would be bottled on the designated bottling day.  Crossing my fingers and hoping for the best...

I'm not a beer convert, but I can say that there is definitely a not-unpleasant earthy/organic aroma to this beer.  It was actually very lovely compared to the canned shit (in my humble opinion) my husband typically drinks.  As I've found with just about any project, there's a specialness to homemade that doesn't compare to commercially manufactured.  Voila - the finished product - 3 of many, many bottles of my home-brewed Kolsch!

Info from the Williams Brewing website about this beer...
Kölsch is a pale, mildly hopped ale, with a unique soft fruitiness in the finish. Developed in the German city of Cologne, Kölsch has become increasingly popular in Germany in recent years, perhaps due to its unique quality of being an ale with the refreshing lightness of a lager, yet with the more complex, fruity finish of an ale. True German Kölsch is rarely seen bottled in the United States, probably due to German law which states Kólsch can only be brewed in Cologne, and only by one of the 22 licensed Kölsch breweries. Alcohol: 3.8%, IBU's 27.  William's Kölsch is an authentic rendering of this famous Cologne beer style, and can be either consumed quickly like an ale, or lagered (stored cold) after bottling for 8 weeks to develop the milder traditional flavor.

Long time no blog

Wow, it's been so long Blogger's interface has changed and I'm totally confused. All my usual options are gone...

Anyway, I have half a mind to start over with a new blog. It would be called "Scamp's Adventures: stories of a million dollar dog". BUT, my seed catalogs are in, and just as soon as I'm done (well, at least for a week) with this pesky thing called a full-time job, I'm sure I'll be back with all kinds of exciting reports on new varieties of vegetables I'm going to try this spring.

Until then, happy holidays to all!
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