I am writing to you while sipping on a bottle of homemade beer, which I endearingly call the Commencement Bay Brewing Co. Inaugural IPA. It's hoppy and crisp. I'm so happy... and getting a little tipsy. There's a correlation.
Amanda, Mom and Steve went in on the homebrew kit for my (cough) 30th (cough) birthday after I had some success with the paint-by-number Mr. Beer kit Scott bought me this past Christmas. Encouraged by that success, I really wanted to try to make beer the "real" way and had been eyeing beer gear at Mash, a new homebrew supply store near our house.
A few days after receiving the birthday present, I went into Mash to meet with the owner, Jason, to get a recipe and learn how to use all of my new toys. They all just look like parts of a science experiment project to the Average Paolo.
Jason was generous with his time in walking me through the process and writing up a recipe modeled after the Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, a favorite of mine. I thought I followed most of his direction as we talked through it, but I knew that I just had to jump in and get my hands dirty. (That's really the wrong phrase. Everything about brewing is about being OCD sanitary.)
The first step was steeping the grain, similar to putting a teabag in hot water except on a larger scale. We struggled a bit with keeping the temperature consistent when we needed to -- a challenge with an electric stove -- and I had my first panic attack about steeping the grain too hot. I recovered and we added the malt extract, which is a bit of a cheat but recommended for a first go-around.
I watched many YouTube videos walking through the home brewing process. As they all warned, chilling the wort proved to be most difficult and time consuming without a fancy wort cooler that runs cold water through copper tubing. (I should also mention I read a lot on HomeBrewTalk.com throughout the process. That's a great forum.). To keep costs low, we opted for the less-fancy method of putting the pot of wort into a large container of ice with salt. After the ice melted, we scrambled and grabbed booze out of the freezer to try and keep things chilled.
We made a couple of mistakes at this time. First, we pitched the yeast too hot and killed it. This didn't prove to be such a big deal (though it was the catalyst for my second freak out) and Jason told us just to pitch more yeast the next day, which worked out. Second, we didn't take the gravity reading of the cooled wort to help a later equation that identifies the alcohol content of the finished product.
We boiled up some sugar in water, added it to the wort and stirred that up. From there we just filled and capped the bottles. Then we had to wait another couple of weeks for the yeast to eat of the sugar and carbonate the beer in the bottles.
FINALLY, we were ready to drink a cold, carbonated homebrew and it tasted SOOOOOOO good.
Next up, I have a full grain lesson with Jason (thanks to Nina and Jeff for the gift) to learn more about the science of homebrewing. I think I'll try a Pale Ale next.