The Beer Story or What Did You Do Last Sunaday (Part II)
As I have mentioned before, Stephen and I brew beer, hence “brewer burns,” the name of this blog. We brewed beer last Sunday and I wanted to share with you the story of our first brewing experience.
When we started dating, Stephen told me how he brewed his own beer, first, as an underage college student in Ashland, OR (you couldn’t buy beer but it was perfectly legal to buy homebrew supplies), and then as a graduate student in Fairbanks, AK. At this point in time I had graduated from law school and was studying for the bar exam. I would get up each morning at 6:00 a.m. and start studying (memorizing verbatim the contents of my BarBri outlines), continue until lunchtime when I would eat and shower, then continue until seven in the evening, usually throwing in some practice exams in the afternoon. Needless to say, I was not entirely mentally stable at the time.
Since I was really interested in the beer brewing thing (I also really like to bake bread from scratch) and I had no free time on my hands but was still completely crazy we decided that we should brew some beer. Stephen still owned all the equipment needed to do it (pretty much) so we went on the internet to find a suitable recipe for a pale ale (it being July and all.) We didn’t actually find a recipe that appealed to us but we did learn enough to create our own recipe. So that’s what we did. We named it 703 Sierra Juliet. Why? 7: July (the month we created the recipe), 03: 2003 (the year we created the recipe), Sierra: aviation code for “s” (Stephen), Juliet: aviation code for “j” (Jennifer.)
So, a week and a half before the bar exam started, we brewed the beer. Then, during the second day of the exam, while I was in a Bellevue hotel room trying to remember what my name was, Stephen bottled it. And it turned out fantastic. In spite of the fact that we made up the recipe, bottled it under subpar (at best) conditions (stephen did it alone while his tiny rental house was suffering from a spider infestation,) and I had never brewed before and it had been years since Stephen had, it is was still a wonderful pale ale with a flowery, crisp taste, that is ridiculously clear.
And on Sunday that’s what we brewed: 703 Sierra Juliet.
Now, there are lots of pictures above documenting the easter Sunday brewfest (did I mention that early 70’s music seems to go best with brewing? I recommend Bonnie Raitt, Give it Up and Van Morrison, Moondance) so I thought I would give a short explanation of what’s going on up there:
1. First you fill a very large (like 2.5 gallon) pot with water. Let it come to a boil (this takes about an hour.)
2. Add the malt (in our case this means a powdered, sugary substance)
3. Blow and stir the malty water like your life depends on it until the boil “breaks” and is no longer in danger of boiling over. The malt needs to boil for an hour in order to break down the sugars into yeast friendly bits.
4. Sooner or later, depending on your recipe, you add the hops (in a mesh bag.) Hops are what make beer beer. Without hops, you can definitely make alcohol in your kitchen, but you’re not making beer.
5. Forty five minutes into the boil you will add irish moss to the mesh bag as well. Why? Because it helps to clarify the beer.
6. When the wort (malty, sugary, hoppy water that you’ve been boiling) has boiled for an hour, you pull it off the stove. Then comes the fun part. You have to chill the wort down to about 90 degrees (depending on how much cold water you will be adding to it) from 212 degrees before adding the yeast or the yeast will die. Dead yeast=no alcohol. And you want to do that as quickly as possible to limit the amount of time that the wort is exposed to the possibility of (or rather, the grim certainty of) bacterial contamination. This is where the wort chiller comes in. The wort chiller is a device made of copper tubing which you stick in the hot wort and hook up to your sink faucet so that cold water can run through the coils and cool the wort. Neat, huh?
7. Once the wort is cool enough you siphon it into the carboy (that’s the glass jar thingy) and then roll it around on the floor a few times to oxygenate it.
8. Then you add cold water to fill up the carboy, mix it around a few more times.
9. Then add the yeast.
10. Then wrap the carboy in a towel (light will degrade the beer), stick the blow off tube in the top of the carboy, and stick the other end of the blow off tube in the blow off bucket (filled partially with water, keeps the aforementioned bacteria out while also guarding against the dreaded “wort explosion” that will occur if you don’t allow the wort to vent excess gasses as it ferments.)
Soon, there will be beer. Did