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Brewing your own brewskis

By Staff | Sep 30, 2010

It is that time of the year when seasonal beers start to fill the shelves at your local grocery store. Starting in September with the early arrivals of Oktoberfest to the pumpkin ales in October and finally the winter brews that help warm the long winter nights, this is a beer lover’s high season.

The best news is, with a small initial investment, you can readily make your own seasonal brew for about half the cost of your favorite beer.

Unfortunately, there are some small pitfalls for you to avoid also.

Start with a good guide, or an “Obeer-wan Kenobi,” to teach you the ways of the brew. You will need equipment and supplies and a good introductory home brewing book, or a friend can help you through the first steps until you are ready to brew on your own. If you are the adventurous type, head to the nearest homebrew supply store and just ask for help. Home brewers always want to help others get started.

Once you have the equipment, the single most important aspect of brewing is cleaning all of the equipment before using it.

The yeast converts the sugar in the malt to alcohol. Unfortunately, so do many other microorganisms that may be living in your equipment. These organisms sometimes produce more than just alcohol from the sugar.

If you are lucky, you get a beer that is “slightly Belgian,” as one friend put it (Belgian brewers sometimes add other microorganisms to impart different flavors, sort of like with cheeses).

If you are not lucky you get “skunky” beer. I learned this one time when my batch of beer started fermenting before I added the yeast and I ended up with six gallons of lawn fertilizer.

Once you have the equipment, brewing can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. I still use mostly malt extracts rather than whole grains just because it is less work.

One bit of advice: start simple before attempting the complex.

I made one batch of ale and decided to try a lager for my second batch of beer. Ale yeast ferments at room temperature, while lager yeast does so at about 50 degrees; so you need to cool everything down for the yeast to work.

Mine fermented, all over the bottom of my refrigerator. It took a couple of hours to clean up. Once you are ready to kick it up a notch you can either start to tweak recipes on your own or you can hit the Internet and search for your favorite beer. Chances are someone has tried to replicate it and posted their recipe.

All in all, home brewing is not complicated and you can get two cases of really good beer for about $30. You just need to wait two weeks for it to ferment and carbonate. Oh yeah, as long as you remember to add all of the ingredients. In that case you have two cases of really good cooking beer (it made a really good base for beef stew).

In any case, just keep in mind the words of Charlie Papazian, “Relax, have a home brew.”

Contact James at letters@graffitiwv.com