As of late, I have found myself up on a blogging soapbox quite a bit, and thought it would be a good change of pace to get back into the nuts and bolts of what it means to be an Urban Homesteader. Two years ago I started a short series of posts on DIY home brewing and have not visited that topic since – time to talk about home brew again! Brewing beer is a hobby that is dear to my heart and unfortunately I don’t get to participate in it nearly as often as I would like too. There always seems to be a project that is a bit more important that needs to be finished, or gardens to tend too, or simply a lack of time and energy. Lately it has been finishing the interior of our new room – lots of cutting, staining, and nailing wood trim. I have been in need of a break from all this carpentry work, and found myself with the house to myself for a night, so I decided to brew up a couple of batches.
To be honest, I knew I was going to have the night to myself and had done some prep work in advance. First, two days before brewing I added a bit of sugar syrup to the Bavarian lager yeast to get that active and moving. Second, I got all my grain crushed for making a Pilsner, and got all my equipment set up. I left open the option for possibly making two batches of beer depending on how the first one went, and also how tired I might be by the end. The Pilsner was moving along great, I was feeling good and decided to go for it. So while the Pilsner was boiling away being bittered by the hops, I assembled and crushed the grains I would need for making my Black Rye lager (BRL) – basically a rye Porter, but fermented with the same Bavarian lager yeast used in the Pilsner.
So you may be noticing a common thread thus far, both beers I made are lagers. There are plenty of other websites and books out there that can tell you the fine details about yeast, so I will just leave it at this – lager yeast can ferment at cooler temperatures. Being that it is now winter in Minnesota, my basement cellar temps are in the low 50’s (Fahrenheit) , the perfect temp for lager beer fermentation. This also fits in perfectly with the Permaculture mantra “ Turn the problem into the solution”. I am partial to ales – Porters, ESB’s, Siasons, Wits, all of which prefer warmer temperatures for fermentation. So instead of using an electric heating pad to keep the active temperature of the beer higher for ale fermentation, using a lager strain of yeast removes the added input of electricity and keeps with the idea of seasonality. Lager beers in the winter, and ales in the summer – works for me!
Only once before have I ever made more than one batch of beer in the same day. There is a good reason for this. When you are an all grain brewer like myself, you are looking at a minimum of 3-4 hours for a five gallon batch. You need to figure in equipment setup, prepping all your ingredients (malted grain, hops, yeast, water), time allowed for heating water to various temps, at least an hour for mashing the grains, at least another ½ hour for sparging (washing the grains), an hour for boiling (this is when you add hops), another 15-20 minutes for cooling down the wort, and time for cleanup. Needless to say, there are many variables that play into the efficiency and total time of any particular batch of beer. Surprisingly, making more than one batch consecutively is one of them.
Here is why. When I brewed up two batches of beer one right after the other, I ended up doing less total work. I only had to setup the equipment once. While the first batch was on its one hour boil, I was able to stack jobs and get the grain prepared for the BRL. All the water used to cool the Pilsner was saved and was used in the production of the BRL, and all the water used to cool the BRL was reserved for cleaning, watering the chickens, and wetting down the compost (in the summer it would have watered plants in the garden). Finally, I only had to clean up and put away equipment once. So while it was still quite a bit of work, I was able to finish up two batches of beer in about 6 hours, not too bad!
One last point to take away on brewing two batches of beer on the same night. Without being able to tell you the exact amounts, a significant amount of both water and propane were saved by brewing two batches instead of just one. When cooling the wort of the first batch, the water that would otherwise go to gardens, chickens, compost piles, and cleaning gets diverted to food grade buckets and saved for the next batch. This water is hot, so barely has to get heated, if at all, to be used again. Right there you are saving on water, and a lot of extra propane. Doing the same thing at the end of the second batch also gives you about 10 – 15 gallons of hot water to do all your cleaning with. All in all, I figure I used about 22 gallons of water total to make 10 gallons of beer, that is pretty damn good.
Even the most green, resource aware craft brewer would be hard pressed to make numbers like that. It comes down to the fact that even if a company cares about energy and resource usage, the industrial process by its very nature just uses more of everything – water, fuel, chemicals, etc. There are tons of small, local brewers out there that are making kick ass beer, and we should support these people, but remember they are still making a product that you can make at home for less money and fewer resources than they can, and still have it be a great brew!
Hopefully I will be able to get a few more brewing sessions in this winter before things get crazy again in the spring! It is a great hobby, and one that truly has a wonderful outcome. If you have never brewed before, don’t be intimidated, anyone can do this! Read some books, start small, roll up your sleeves, and don’t be afraid to make a mistake or two! And if that advice isn’t good enough for you my friends, listen to the words of Home Brew guru Charlie Papazian- “Relax, don’t worry, have a home brew!” Peace & Cheers