As Black Friday sales draw to a close and the Christmas season beckons, it is an excellent time to reflect on what your annual shopping spree has achieved. Discounts on numerous gadgets? Check. Kids delighted with their new toys? Check. Inspired your significant other to make his or her mark in the world of craft beer brewing?
Wait - what?
In this article, I will argue that giving your loved one a homebrewing kit will kickstart a rewarding and fulfilling hobby. Setting up and running a small brewing operation at home is easy. Given the relatively low cost for starting out, gifting your partner a homebrewing kit is an investment worth your while. It is easy; it will enrich your lives, fill your cellar or basement (if you have one) and bring fulfilment to those who practice brewing as well as the lucky beneficiaries.
My brewing journey started when my girlfriend gifted me a brew kit. It was fairly basic. We were two PhD students abroad and broke, trying to make ends meet. I had to make do with two buckets, some hoses, an aluminium pan, bottles and caps. I remember making the journey to the only brew shop we could find in our neck of the woods, rural Ohio.
Physically locating the brew shop turned out to be the biggest challenge. Eventually, we found Brandon and his brew shop, in the basement of his house. Besides his role as a capable shop owner, Brandon would prove himself to be a great mentor and effective organiser of the local brew club. In the months that would follow, I brewed, got feedback and encouragement, brewed some more and got better. The monthly feedback, support and our annual brew days, helped me become a brewer with in-depth knowledge on beer styles, brewing approaches and techniques.
When I started out, there was not a whole lot of resources to tap into. I had to make do with the occasional call with Brandon or a visit to the brew club. We were all in it together but yet successful at it. My point is that brewing beer is not particularly difficult. The information and support available online have made the learning process a whole lot easier still. All you need is the basic kit, a willingness to follow the recipe, work cleanly and persevere.
How does it work?
In a nutshell, the brewing process consists of some fairly well-defined steps. The first is the preparation of 'wort'., the liquid suspension that mainly contains sugars along with other components that we extract from malted barley grains, hops and other recipe-specific ingredients. The malted grain (or their extracts) provide the sugars yeasts can convert along with the colour, flavour and feel of your beer. Additives such as hops, fruits, spices or juices give the beer additional depth in flavour and aroma. As you will know from your supermarket experience, there is a wide variety of beer brands and styles, all of which are underpinned by often unique recipes. These recipes not only specify the ingredients but also how we apply them during the boiling process. While we boil our wort kill bugs, we extract flavour, break up complex sugars set the stage for the second stage of the brewing process.
In the second step of the brewing process, we use Yeast to convert sugar into alcohol. The boil has produced a thick, sugary and flavoured liquid that we can inoculate with a yeast starter culture. While the Yeast grows, it consumes the oxygen in the wort and produces water and CO2. The rapid drop in oxygen levels prompts yeast cells to 'burn' sugar in a slightly different way, producing alcohol rather than CO2. This process is called "fermentation" and forms the basis of all beer brewing practices. The yeasts used, however, can vary greatly.
Two different types of Yeast
Broadly, there are two different types of Yeast that we use in brewing. The first group are the Lager yeasts.
Lager yeasts have the propensity to ferment at the bottom of the tank at lower temperatures. Lager yeasts typically produce lower levels of flavour compounds. Because of their use at lower temperatures, yeast metabolism, and growth is slow, which means that fermentation time is relatively long. The fermentation period can span up to months.
The second group of yeasts are of the top-fermenting kind. Top-fermenting yeasts are used at higher temperatures, shortening fermentation times by increased growth and fermentation rates. These yeasts, which we commonly use for Ale production, also produce more metabolites that influence beer flavour. In contrast to the lager yeasts, there is an enormous variety in top-fermenting yeasts, some of which associate with specific beer styles.
After fermentation, (home) brewers have two options. Package the beer into containers (this could be either cans or bottles) or transfer the beer into kegs. The beer is flat at this stage as it lacks carbon dioxide. To add back CO2, we add priming sugar (dextrose) to the beer during the packaging process. Yeasts still in the beer convert the added sugar into more alcohol and carbon dioxide, thereby carbonating the beer. We call this process conditioning. Alternatively, and when serving beer from kegs, we can force-carbonate our beer after transfer. We use CO2 cylinders for that.
This is all there is to it. Plot, cook, ferment and package.
Homebrewing is a popular past time or hobby, drawing in millions of enthusiasts around the world, backed up by a growing homebrew supply industry. Whether you look on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit, you will find large homebrew communities that lend support and expert advice to brewers on all levels. In addition, there is an increasing number of associations, publications, blogs and newsletters that serve the homebrewing community. Not surprisingly, numerous (online) brew shops have sprung up to service a rapidly growing and energetic community of enthusiasts.
The only question is; when will you present your partner with the gift that keeps on giving? The answer, obviously, is "now".
Edgar writes for The Beerologist. The Beerologist aims to power your journey as a brewer.
The Beerologist wants you to brew your best beer. Every time. It does not matter where you are in your brew journey. The Beerologist will be your bespoke brew support service, adding value to your brew-effort. Understand the science behind the beer-making process and use our knowledge to take your expertise and beer to the next level.