Monday, September 19, 2011

Double bubble toil and trouble

Today I declare my independence from breweries.  I have taken a stand against the craft beer movement.  I reject the over-priced, over-hopped, uncreative beers.  I refuse to pay 9 dollars for a six pack.  I refuse to choke down another bitter, sour, generic beer with a showy label.  I refuse to be a part of it any longer.  Today I make my own beer.

That's right, I am now brewing beer.  Malting hulled barley didn't work so well, so I bought some malted barley from a brew store.  It was cheap, about a buck a pound.  So roughly the same price as hulled barley from Whole Foods.  I have a lead on some whole barley from a feed store, but that is a project for another time.

The process is really basic (so easy an ancient Sumerian could do it).  Just cook the sugars out of the malted barley.  You may want to cook the barley a few times to get all the sugars out.  Can you believe they came up with a stupid name for cooking the barley a second time?  They call it sparging.  My wife calls it spooging.  You can tell if there is a lot of sugars left in the barley by eating a few grains.  After cooking it a second time most of the sweetness was gone, and it was enough to get the specific gravity to 1.040 (though I will add some brown sugar for that gingerbread sweetness) but more importantly enough to get a gallon of juice.

Then the barley juice is boiled and here it is like wine making.  With wine it is called must, with beer it is called wort, but it is the same thing.  Boil it and add ingredients to taste.  I added the smallest amount of hops possible and it altered the taste considerably.  I also added the quadrafecta of pumpkin pie spices:  cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.  It is going to be a harvest beer in time for pumpkin pies and spiced apple cider.

Cooking beer or wine is a lot like cooking any food dish.  Taste it, taste it, taste it.  I am surprised when I read the home brewing forums how few people taste the stuff before they start fermenting.  They seem like a bunch of engineers measuring the yields and conversions and whatnot and less like artisan chefs cooking something delicious.  Like fine dining, brewing is a little of both.  You know how the flavors will change; the yeast will impart a yeasty flavor and reduce the sweetness.  So just keep that in mind as you add spices like hops and cinnamon.  One caveat:  some spices will become more pronounced as it ferments, especially cloves.  Go easy on the cloves because they will taste stronger in a month.

Pro tip:  fill up your jug with the hot barley juice and put the jug in a bucket of cold water to drop the temperature down quickly.  If you have enough ice, put ice in the water.  I find ice most effective at dropping the temperature once it has already gone below 100.

So I am down on the craft beer movement for a couple of reasons.  One, it is damn expensive.  Let me tell you, grains are cheap.  Historically, grains have always been cheap.  Grains are still cheap today.  I figure that most of the cost of beer is advertising and distribution costs.  In theory a beer that does little to no advertising and is shipping less than 100 miles should be cheaper than the big beer competition shipped a few states away and running Superbowl ads, right?

Two, after a while, these craft beers all start to look the same.  The lineups are identical:  a super hop charged ale, a super hop charged pilsner, a wheat beer, a stout, and an IPA.  Beer genres.  Bah.

And, thanks to Sam Adams, all beer must now have a ridiculous amount of hops.

After this commercial aired we saw Miller start with triple hops beer and the micros come out with a huge assortment of super charged hops beers.

No hops are not the soul of beer.  Barley is the heart and soul of beer.  Hops were not used in beer production 1,000 years ago.  Hops are slightly toxic and therefore a natural preservative, but does not kill the yeast, which is why they were widely adopted.  You know, before refrigeration.  They impart a bitter citrus flavor, which can be nice sometimes but does it always have to taste that way?  I reject the idea that all beer must be a bitter mouthful of super charged hops.  I even question the necessity of a homebrewer using hops at all.  They tell me it will be too sweet.  Really?  Sweeter than Pepsi?  Surely not.

My ingredients cost 8 dollars and will make a bit less than 4 liters of beer.  However, the most expensive ingredient was the yeast, which I will be able to reuse.  So the cost of the beer was really more like 4 dollars for maybe 3 liters.  A bottle of beer has 12 ounces.  A 6 pack is therefore 72 ounces.  72 ounces is a little more than 2 liters.  So I should get maybe 9 bottles of beer for around 4 bucks, or around 40 cents a beer.  That is cheap.

My beer doesn't fall into any genre. This time the malt was a mix of 2 pounds of pale malt, 1/2 pound of crystal malt, and 1/4 pound of rolled oats.  In the future I will probably cook 3 or 4 different types of malt separately and mix them together into the wort one bit at a time so that I can gain total control over the flavor profile.  This batch I am shooting for a flavor profile like gingerbread or cinnamon oatmeal cookies or some other baked autumnal treat.  The key thing is getting the right mix of malted barley and spices.  Stay warm

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