Posts Tagged ‘Hops’

A stock photo of me brewing beer in my basement brewery!!

A stock photo of me brewing beer in my basement brewery!!

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

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Welcome to the new year! 2010 is history and the start of the second decade in the new millennium is underway. Here is the second installment of On Beer and DIY Home Brewing Basics and I am going to be writing about the raw materials that go into making your own beer. Knowing about your ingredients is a good place to start when we are talking about the nitty gritty details of home brewing. Just like cooking good food, home brewing starts with a working knowledge of not just the process and a good recipe, but how the ingredients interact with each other. The first beer ever made was most likely an accident; a bowl of grain was left out in the rain, sat out in the warm temps for a few days and collected wild microbial critters (yeast) from the air, and proceeded to ferment and become the first ancestor to what we now call beer! What kind of person would have looked at that foamy, stinky bowl full of grain and rain water and thought it would be a good idea to drink it. Somebody who didn’t waste anything; they were probably mad enough that they forgot about that bowl of grain – now it was ruined, but wait, there is something appealing about that bubbling mass of liquid. Nobody is looking, “I’ll just have one sip!” Well that one sip changed history. Like I mentioned in my previous post, human desire for that unique and wonderful beverage changed history forever. Specifically, our relationship with agriculture and the growing of cereal grains.

Pilsner malt on the left, and home roasted Munich malt on the right!

Those first grains that lured people away from their nomadic life styles were wild grasses that have continued to evolve even into the present. The most common brewing grain used in the western world today is barley. Other common grains include wheat, rye, oats, maize, rice and many others specific to individual bio-regions. The majority of grains used today for brewing are first malted, which is the conversion of starch into sugar – remember, yeast loves to turn sugar into alcohol. The malting process has individual books written about that subject, so this will be a very brief overview – the grain is first soaked for a certain length of time (we will say 2 days). At that point, the wet grain is drained and then spread thin to dry and sprout. When the grain has sprouted it is allowed to grow, once again, for a certain length of time. When the maltster has decided it is time, the sprouted grain is killed by a controlled heating called kilning. In the old times that was achieved over an open, smoky fire. That process has changed and developed over the centuries, and now there are giant facilities dedicated to malting grains. The grain is now ready to use, it’s starch has been converted to sugar and is now called malt.

Hops from my garden!

People started drinking this simple grain beverage and, because of the curious nature of humans, started to experiment with other ingredients. Different herbs and flowers eventually found their way into the brew kettle. Some were used for magical purposes, some for preservation, and others just because they added pleasant flavors. Some examples include heather, juniper berries, and all sorts of culinary and medicinal herbs. The introduction of humulus lupus, or hops (the main “herb/flower” used today in brewing) most likely started in Europe and was recognized for its superb preservative qualities and pleasant bittering flavors. Because a beverage made with just malted barley is so sweet, people have always tried to balance that sweetness with a bittering agent. Hops are that plant, and are perfectly evolved for their use in beer. Hops contain many chemical compounds that play many different roles in beer, but the main one that I will discuss is alpha acid. Alpha acid is a measure of bitterness in a hop. It is what helps preserve beer and is a natural anti-fungal and anti-microbial. The amount of alpha acid in a certain variety of hop can help you decide on how much to add to a batch of beer; it will have different aromas and flavors, and ultimately it will determine how bitter the final product will be. The alpha acids in hops also contribute to the head retention in a beer, think of a big burly IPA with a thick, creamy head that will not go away. Some people really like hoppy – bitter beer, others prefer one more balanced where there is still a malt character that shines through.

Coriander and bitter orange peal are traditional ingredients in Belgian farm house ales!

What ever kind of palate you have, there is a hop out there that will please your taste buds; but just because hops are the dominant bittering herb used nowadays in mass produced beers, don’t let that stop you from experimenting with some of the older ingredients. The book Sacred and Healing Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner delves into the history of pre-hopped beer. Not your traditional home brewing manual, this book is packed with history on ingredients, recipes and many other aspects of ancient uses of alcohol. Another great resource on brewing, but also information on different malts and hops is Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing, probably my all time favorite book on brewing.

The foam on top is yeast doing it's job, making alcohol!

This brings us to the last two ingredients in beer, yeast and water. Yeast is what makes beer and wine alcoholic. Yeast eats up the sugar; whether that sugar comes from malted grain or from fruit, and turns it into something magical. Yeast contributes many flavors and aromas, and in an unfiltered beer or wine, protein, minerals, and vitamins. Yeast is also what makes an unfiltered beer a living food. Yeast is a single celled fungus, it is alive and multiplies and grows when it is given the right conditions. Yeast is also why in the ancient world fermentation was considered an almost magical or religious event. Nobody knew what was happening – what was causing all the bubbles and foam to appear? Well now we know, it was yeast. Finally we come to water. Beer is ninety percent water, and it plays a very important role in the final outcome of beer. The chemistry behind water and how it reacts with the malt, hops, and yeast is beyond my knowledge, but here are the basics. Obviously you want to start out with good, clean water. Most commercial breweries use there local city water. It is reliable, relatively clean, and very consistent as far as mineral content goes. Filtering the city water to remove chlorine and other chemicals is advisable, but I have made beer straight from the tap with no problems. The mineral content of water, how hard or soft it is also plays a role. Traditional ales from England typically used harder water and it impacts how the hops come out in the finished brew, where as in the city of Pilsen (the home of Pilsner beer), the water is very soft with almost no mineral content and that makes for a very smooth, crisp brew.

Like all other aspects of brewing, if you want more knowledge about water and how it plays a role in beer, there are plenty of resources out there to help you out. So if you got this far in the article you probably have a little bit better understanding of the main ingredients that go into making beer. A lot of this information just touches on the basics, but it is enough to get started, and to also make some damn good beer. In the next chapter I will be talking about equipment and the actual brewing process and present an actual recipe for a batch of beer. Until then remember this – Beer has food value, but food has no beer value! Cheers!

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 Beer is as old as human civilization, and probably one of the main reasons we as humans decided to settle down and become farmers. Upon that first taste of fermented grains and the effects bestowed upon the imbiber, humans have had a very intimate relationship with beer and the brewing process and realized they could not have this wonderful beverage by remaining hunters and gatherers. Everything from farming practices, plant genetics, religion and early tax codes were influenced by the production of grain and the malting and fermentation processes. At first beer was considered more of a food, rather than just a beverage that made you feel better (although that was a nice side effect). Being that early beer was laden with yeast, protein, minerals and vitamins, beer literally was liquid bread, and also a vital source of clean water due to the fermentation process. Beer was used as a means of paying common laborers as much as it was used in celebration in the halls of kings. Throughout history beer has played an important role in the shaping of our society and communities, and to this day it is still inspiring governments, corporations, and poets alike.

Until recently (recent being the last couple hundred of years), beer was mainly a cottage industry, brewed within the household or small community and consumed by those same people. There have always been exceptions to that rule, larger breweries have been around for a long time usually coinciding with a larger urban area (think London). With the advent of the industrial revolution and the harnessing of coal-powered steam engines (for the factories and the railways), breweries were able to exponentially grow and provide beer to an ever larger segment of the population. This one point in history can be looked at as the start of the decline of the original home brewing cottage industry. Sure there were households that held onto family recipes and continued to homebrew, and the rare small town brewery that was able to survive, but the majority of brewing switched to highly efficient, urban breweries producing millions of barrels of beer per year. This is essentially where we are today with a few exceptions. Anyone reading this blog who lives in America knows that up until the last ten or twenty years, beer in America was pretty awful. Gigantic corporations were and still are brewing beer that has no flavor or unique characteristics that are meant to appeal to a mass amount of people. Budweiser, Michelob, Coors etc… are all essentially the same piss water that most people think is beer. Thankfully, starting in the mid 1980’s and continuing to this day there has been a craft beer revolution. It started very small with breweries like Anchor and Sierra Nevada out west in California, Summit and Boulevard in the Midwest, and a handful of others throughout the nation. That revolution has now grown and you would be hard pressed not to find some kind of craft beer in your liquor store or local pub. For as welcome and wonderful as those well crafted, flavorful beers are, my preference in beer still lies with home brew.

I brewed my first ever batch of beer when I was a failing, eighteen year old college student. A friend of mine gave me some very basic home brewing equipment and ingredients, so I thought I would give it a try. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was eager to learn so I brewed up that first batch in the common kitchen in the dormitory basement. I fermented the batch that spring in my dorm room closest, flunked all my classes except for level one canoeing, and got a job on an organic CSA. I cracked the top off my first bottle shortly after that and was surprised that it actually worked. It tasted pretty good, had carbonation and I think I probably caught a buzz. I wish I could say that I have been brewing ever since, but sadly that is not the case. Through a number of moves, that original equipment was lost and about four or five years passed before I brewed again. Since then I have learned an awful lot about beer and some of the chemistry behind it, I have built up a nice collection of brewing equipment, and have developed a greater and more mature appreciation for the beverage we call beer. This is the first installment of posts that I am going to dedicate to that holy beverage and it’s production on the small, home brewing scale. Cheers!

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Second year Saaz hops that are already growing strong!

It is that time of year when homebrewers who grow their own hops start to get excited.  I am one of those people.  I caught the hop addiction about four years ago, and I caught it bad.  Humulus Lupus seemed like such an appealing plant to grow when the hop shortage really first got going.  Hops are easy to grow; put the rhizome in the ground, provide it with rich soil, and vertical space to climb, and you will have hops within the first two to three years.  Four years into this addiction and I now have thirteen varieties of hops.  They are still fun to grow, but the glamour is starting to wear off a little bit.  So this brings me to the main point of this post, any readers who might want to try growing your own Humulus Lupus plants should contact me privately through e-mail.  Autonomyacres@gmail.com.  Send me a line and we can work something out.  As of right now I have Goldings and lots of Hallertau available.  In the next couple of days I should have a few more varieties split up and ready to go.  Hops are fun to grow  and home brewing is even more fun with a home-grown ingredient.  Give it a try.

Goldings, Hallertau, and a few Chinooks and Cascade hop rhizomes that want to be planted!

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