With a bottle opener grasped firmly in one hand and a cold, label-less bottle cradled in the other, I’d never been so nervous to open a beer.
The beer I was holding was technically about two months in the making, really though, it had been more than a year since Dad had bought the supplies we’d need to brew a batch of our own craft beer.
Surrounded by friends and family, I opened the bottle and poured the amber liquid into a pint glass. Once six glasses were poured, and the foam died down, we lifted them high, clinked them together, and I thought …
What if it was undrinkable? All that time, money and effort–would we just end up pouring it down the drain?
I brought the glass to my lips …
Since we’d waited so long to brew, we had to pick up some new ingredients. I went to Northern Brewer on Highway 100 and purchased an amber ale that approximated Lakefront Brewery’s Fixed Gear American Red Ale. They were very helpful, answering all my questions and providing insight. Nate, Dad and I gathered at my house at the end of November to make the beer. Ingredients included specialty grain, malt syrup, yeast, hops and several gallons of Milwaukee tap water.
The first step was to put the specialty grain, contained in a mesh bag, into the 2.5 gallons of water and steep for 20 minutes. One of the things that had been mentioned to us about home brewing was that the smell was overpowering. I found it pleasant throughout brewing day, but especially this first part, when we awakened the crisp, friendly smell of the grains.
Next, we mixed in nine-and-a-half pounds of malt syrup. It oozed out really slowly, but once Nate stirred it in, we had what is known as wort.
Once the wort was boiling, it was time to add the hops. We added three kinds of hops during the 60-minute boil; Columbus, Chinook and Cascade. The hop pellets were just as pungent as you would imagine. I loved them!
After the boil, it is important to get the wort to 100-degrees as quickly as possible. This process was made more difficult by the fact that Nate and Dad were trying to fix my sink while we were making the beer and, as Nate and I tried to rapidly drop the temperature, Dad was at Home Depot just up the block buying sink supplies. Once the wort was at the right temperature, we combined it with several gallons of water in a large bucket. Nate added the yeast.
Two Weeks After Brewing Day
After two weeks of primary fermentation, we gathered on Sunday, December 9, to move the beer into the secondary fermenter, where it would remain for two to four weeks.
The siphon worked really well. It was really interesting to see all the sludge that had accumulated while the beer fermented.
One Week Before Bottling Day: Dry Hopping
This was the easiest step. Basically, I had to open the airlock on the secondary fermenter and pour in two additional packages of hops. The two hop-styles were Chinook (again) and Citra.
These are the hops just after I dropped them into the beer.
We bottled our beer on January 16. The most laborious task of the entire process was washing out the bottles. Everything needs to be sanitary, and washing 50+ bottles was a time-consuming task.
We siphoned the beer from the secondary fermenter into the bottling barrel, then poured priming solution (warm sugar and water) into the barrel as well. This carbonates the beer.
It sure smelled and looked like beer at this point.
The spigot on the bottling barrel made it pretty easy to evenly fill the bottles.
Next, we used the capper to firmly affix the bottle cap to the bottle.
Our yield was 46 bottles of beer.
Drinking Day: Dad’s Birthday
We went over to Dad’s on Super Bowl Sunday for his birthday brunch. We enjoyed a delicious spread courtesy of my step-mom, Cheryl, and then headed down to my Dad’s basement man cave for the moment of truth.
I removed six bottles from the fridge and lined up six glasses.
When the liquid hit my lips, relief washed over me. It tasted like beer! And good beer at that: hoppy, robust, medium- or full-bodied. I loved it. Nate, Dad and I were pleasantly surprised–though Cheryl didn’t love the beer. Michelle and Dad’s friend, Sut, were impressed.
I had purchased a six-pack of Fixed Gear, for comparison’s sake. We poured our beer in one glass and the Fixed Gear in another, and we took turns trying to decide which was which. I picked ours out easily, but Nate picked ours as the Fixed Gear (though, to be fair, he had no reference point). Everyone else got it right. I actually liked ours more, but I’m biased.
Quickly, we noticed the alcohol-content of our brew must have been pretty high. One or two in a sitting was enough to feel pretty warm.
Later, dressed warmly in Dad’s garage, we discussed our next brew while enjoying some excellent cigars that I picked up while in Mexico. Drinking the beer was great, but brewing it was better–we enjoyed several weekends of boiling kettles, bacteria-free bottles and family bonding.