I told you all not too long ago that I’d make a beer. And I did! Wanna see? Keep reading!
I decided that I wanted to make an apricot beer. So I gathered the ingredients I needed. Some of you out there are not familiar with brewing, and that’s okay. I was unfamiliar with it too, once. Here’s the basics:
A good place to begin is by drinking a beer that you’ve made already. My taps are currently bone dry, so a quality craft brew is an acceptable substitute.
Then you need some tunes to jam out with.
Then you need some fire.
Also, I guess you might need your ingredients or something. Like most beers, it uses barley malt, hops, and yeast. The barley is there to contribute tasty tasty sugar. The yeast is there to eat the sugar and turn it into alcohol. The hops are there to give the beer bitterness and beautiful flowery citrusy smells.
The very first thing you do is make sure everything is clean. I’m sanitizing every damn thing that’s going to touch my beer. Cleanliness is an ingredient, too.
Once you’ve got your cleaning under control, it’s time to start the mash. That’s basically when you add hot water to the malt. The water wakes up the enzymes in the grain so they’ll break the big starch molecules into smaller sugar molecules. If you want to try it out for yourself, put something really starchy in your mouth, like a saltine cracker. Chew it up, but don’t swallow it. Hold it in your mouth for a few minutes. The enzymes in your saliva will begin to break down the long chain starches and it will start to taste sweet. SCIENCE!
After waiting about an hour for the enzymes to do their work, we want to take the fruits of their labor. It’s okay, they’re not alive, so they don’t care! They’re sitting in a pool of sweet, sweet proto-beer, which we call Wort [pronounced ‘wert’]. To get the sugar, we rinse the grain with hot water. If we do it right, we end up with enough wort for a 5-gallon batch. Looks like we did just fine today.
Probably time for another beer.
Once we gather all the wort we can, it’s time to boil the beer. The boil usually takes an hour. We’ve been crafting with fire since we began this project. NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO STOP!
This is when we add the hops. There’s a trick to when you add the hops. If you add them right away, they’ll boil for the whole hour. When you do that, the flowery citrusy smells just evaporate away. But on the flip-side, the bitterness is better captured. So what you do is pick the hops you want for bittering and put them in right away. Then you pick the hops you want for the flowery perfume and wait until nearly the end of the boil before throwing them in. It’s the best of both worlds!
The boil is over. It’s been a couple of hours of thinking about beer, drinking beer, philosophizing, jamming to the tunes, and smiling at the folks walking by wondering what the hell you’re doing. Probably time for another beer.
BUT YOU’RE NOT DONE YET, LEROY.
Now is the critical moment. This is when you’re going to enter the danger zone. You see, you have to cool the wort down to a temperature that the yeast will survive in. If you pour the yeast into the just-boiled wort without cooling it, they will scream and die cursing your name, having been fooled into thinking they were going to be part of a greater whole, living their short, amazing lives in a tepid pool of sugar water. Instead you scalded their tiny cell bodies till they exploded. Do you want that? NO!
What I do is immerse a copper coil into the wort. Inside that coil is flowing cold water, carrying the heat away. It will quickly cool the wort down.
Here’s the catch. If yeast can live and thrive in this cool sugar water, so can pretty much anything else! You need to keep the lid on now, making sure that nothing blows into your pot that would carry any bacteria or wild yeast that would make your beer taste horrible, like old spongewater, or worse, like Old Milwaukee.
Okay, so you’ve got your wort cooled. Now you gotta get it into your fermenter. It’s helpful to get it in the fermenter as sloshy as you can. This is because at the very beginning of fermentation, the yeast needs oxygen to multiply their cells. So a sloshy, foamy pour will help oxygenate the wort. Once fermentation starts, you want to make sure that no more oxygen gets in. If it does, fermentation will fail, and so will your beer. That’s why we put on airlocks (which you’ll see in a second).
You’re very close to finished now. All you gotta do is make sure that you put an airlock on it and keep it in a dark place. That’s another law of brewing, by the way. Thou shalt not expose beer to light. (for any significant period of time, that is) Light is what skunks beer. It literally alters a chemical from the hops into the chemical that skunks make. That’s why brown glass bottles are the best (they block light the best). That’s why Heineken always tastes like tires (green bottles suck).
All I gotta do now is wait about a week for the fermentation to settle down, then I’ll add some apricot puree. You will be kept up to date!
If you have any questions, or if you know more than me and have corrections (quite likely, since I’ve been drinking a bit), please let me know in the comments!