God may have rested on the 7th day, but from now on, I'll be spending a lot of my 7th days brewing beer.
Yesterday was "my first step into a much larger world." A world where one doesn't necessarily have to go to the pub, corner deli, beer distributor, or state store to purchase beer. In this world, all things are possible, including making your own brew.
Nate Green, who's been home-brewing for a number of years, showed me the ropes yesterday. Brewing seems to be a combination of art and science, and as a neophyte, a lot more art in my case. We steeped grains, waited, made wort, put in the malt, waited till it came to a boil, dropped some hops, waited, dropped some more hops, put in the yeast, cold-broke the wort, and finally, poured the concoction into the fermenter, a.k.a. the plastic bucket I had bought six hours prior. Quite a lot of steps, but all in all, not that difficult. As you can see, it's a lot of waiting, but we passed the time shooting the breeze, and oh, drinking.
Home brewers rank up there with the Masons in terms of brotherhood and secrecy. As good a friend as Nate is, he was a bit reluctant to bring me into the club. But apparently the background check was clean, and begrudgingly, he allowed the profane (me) to enter the temple. After a tasting of the first batch, Nate will determine if I'm worthy enough to continue, at which point he'll show me the secret handshake.
Want to start brewing? Aside from the obvious (stainless steel pot, fermenters, thermometers, etc.), here's what you need:
1) Somebody that knows what the hell they're doing. For me, that was Nate, renaissance man extraordinaire.
2) Beer to drink. It's an unwritten rule and part of the "ritual," to use Mason-speak, that you have to drink beer while you brew. And be prepared. Getting the wort ready to ferment takes a few hours, so you'll be drinking over an extended period of time. You have to bring your A game. And related to that--
3) Have pop-off bottles ready. You can reuse commercial bottles for your brew, but they must be pop-offs. Better that they're brown bottles too, because brown lets in less light than green. (Wort/beer is photosensitive, but not as bad as I am at the beach without a shirt on.)
4) Time. Most of brewing is waiting, but as long as you have something to drink and somebody to rap with, it's time well-spent.
Knowing that I would eventually need pop-off bottles, Nate and I stopped at the beer distributor in the hopes of finding a beer that a) we could drink while brewing, b) came in a brown bottle, and c) used a pop-off cap.
"Do you know which beers are pop-offs?" I asked Nate.
"Can't think of any off the top of my head. But most of them aren't," he said.
No joke, but we started our own Quixotic quest by wandering the aisles and looking at the cardboard cases to see if we could determine whether the bottles were pop-off.
I asked Nate, "Can you tell if any of these are pop-offs?"
"About as much as I can tell if they're twist-offs. Maybe we should look inside."
So we took to furtively opening the cases or reaching through the hand-holds to feel the bottle caps.
"Do you have any idea?"
"No," Nate said, chuckling.
Realizing how ridiculous we were being, we tried to figure out what beers would most likely be pop-offs.
We hovered around the specialty beers for awhile, assuming this was our best bet. We tried using the Force, but to no avail. Obi-Wan would be so ashamed. Dejected, I was about to purchase _______ (EDIT: removed to protect the innocent) but stopped when I saw it was $37 a case. I'm a man that loves his beer, but even that's a bit steep for me.
Very discouraged and now wearied, I decided to just buy anything we could drink and worry about finding the elusive perfect bottle in the future, but, to both our lucks, my eye caught a case of Amstel Light. I know, I know. It's light beer for sure, but it does taste good. I couldn't remember if it was pop-off, so shamefacedly, I carried it to the counter and asked the cashier if it was.
"Just try to open one up," he said.
So we could have just asked the whole time.
But we made out well: decent beer stored in brown bottles with pop-off caps. In our defense, we are men, which means we're programmed to exhaust all other options before we resort to asking anyone for help. We can't help it.
Hopefully, in about four or five weeks, I should have a nice red ale. If not, the Masons will kill me and throw my body into the Potomac.
4 days ago