Every brew day starts and ends with a ritual of cleaning and sanitizing. It can not be stressed enough on the importance of this ritual. I have learned to love and embrace it as part of making the wonderful, alcohol filled, fizzy beverage we call beer.
Beginner home brewers find out very quickly that a brew day is 70% cleaning and 30% brewing. If they don’t take care to kill off all the potentially harmful critters to their beer they find out four two six weeks later what they can do. Even when your brew day is over there is another hour or two in cleaning.Its because of this reason that many people don’t try or give up on home brewing after one or two batches. They just don’t see the reward for all the work.
Contamination is one of my biggest fears in brewing. I worry that all my work to make 5 gallons of beer could be lost because I didn’t sanitize or clean something properly. In order to make sure I don’t have this happen I created a routine that I follow each and every time. It may take time but you will eventually know exactly what you will need on brew day and what does and does not need to be sanitized. I almost don’t want to jinx myself but to this day as long as I follow that routine I have not had a contamination. My cleaner of choice is Star San (Don’t fear the foam!).
So, to sum this up I encourage you to create a ritual and good routine that you follow each time you brew. Tweak it along the way until your getting consistent result, then set it in stone. Don’t give up on brew just because you don’t like cleaning. Learn to love it. Your taste buds will thank you.
Reinheitsgebot : The German Beer Purity Law.
A brief explanation and history of the The German Beer Purity Law.
On November 30th 1487 a man by the name of Alber IV Duke of Bavaria put in to law that beer could only be made from three ingredients, Water, Malt and Hops.
Just like the Germans to be Nazi about what you can put in beer. Joking set aside, the law also set the price of beer and was in effect till 1993 when it was replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law. Up until 1993 German beer could only contain those three ingredients. No wheat, rye and or can sugar. The earliest documented mention of beer in Germany was in 974. Emperor Otto II was granting a brewing license to the church at liege known now as Belgium.
Yeast was not mentioned in the the original law. Yeast had not as of yet been discovered. It wasn’t till the 19th century that they new yeast existed and what role it played in creating beer. Brewers would have used sediment from previous batches to start the fermentation process. If they didn’t have any they would set up several vats and rely on natural airborne yeast. I sometimes wonder what they must have thought was happening.
Hops were added to the law to prevent the use some medieval ingredients used to preserve beer. Many of the old ingredients were proven to be problematic. Some of these include soot, fly agaric mushrooms, and “gruit” herbs. Hops add flavor and bitterness but they also act as a natural preservative.
The true reason behind the law was to prevent price competitions with bakers for wheat and rye. By limiting the grains to just barley they ensured the price of bread would not rise. Today beers are once again being brewed with wheat and rye.
Violators of the law would have questionable barrels confiscated and could risk having there brewing license provoked. Many breweries in Germany still abide by this law and are very proud of it.
Cutting the cost on yeast is one of my new adventures this year in home brewing. I accomplish this by, in a sense, farming yeast.
The process of taking a small amount of yeast and making a large amount that can be split into small batches is actually fairly simple.
A brief look at yeast. Yeast are actually a type of fungus. They are asexual being that require no sun light or oxygen to survive. They love to feed on dextrose / sugar. When they eat this sugar they produce alcohol and release CO2 gasses. The reason they produce alchol is to kill off any competition. Yeast sole purpose in life is to replicate. The sugars they eat give them the energy that is need to multiply. Now I wont go to far into how they do this. I will save that for a future post.
So back on track. Now that we know that yeast sole purpose is to eat, kill , be marry and multiply, How do we get them to do that? We make a small batch of wort ( sugar water for the non brewer ) and we add a small amount of yeast to it. Those yeast then begin to eat up all the sugars and multiply. In a matter of two days they will go from 35 billion to 92 billion. We have almost tripled are count. That is a good starter for one batch of beer but we are not in it for one batch. We are looking to make enough yeast for 4 or 5 batches. When your yeast are all done eating and doing their business they settle to the bottom and go dormant. We want to put them back to work making more yeast. How do we do that? You guessed it, we feed them more sugar. You remove the beer they have created and you replace it with more wort. Your yeast are pretty happy and ready to start back up quickly the second round.
You should now have enough yeast that you can split them up into 4 jars each becoming the next small amount of yeast that needed to make a good starter for you brew day. they say that you should only clone your yeast 5 or 6 times. I have read of people doing it many more and still having success.
For any home brewer looking to do this there is plenty of information on the net to get you started. Of course with all things brewing make sure to sanitize everything your wort and yeast will come in to contact with. Most people boil the mason jars but I find you can get the same results by soaking them in star san.
Bottom line is its cheaper and making beer can bring great joy. Anyone that says home brew doesn’t taste as good as the major craft beers just hasn’t had the right home brew yet. Home brew, if done right can taste just as good if not better than some major craft beers on the market today.
So how much cheaper is it?
In the beginning I will admit, its not. You have the cost of equipment and you usually start out with what is called Extract brewing. You will most likely buy your ingredients in a kit and extract kits average $35 – $50. If you buy them online your looking at about $7.99 – $13 in shipping. The cheaper part will come after time and experience. Home brewing is like any other hobby, there will always be cost involved in equipment upgrades and experiments. The cost savings will be in the per batch / per bottle cost. I look it like this, if I wasn’t brewing I’d be doing some other hobby with cost and I would still be buying a great deal of craft beer. Home brewing will help you reduce your cost on the craft beer part.
OK, I’m in. What do I need to get started.
Buy a book. I recommend The complete joy of home brewing by Charlie Papazian. Two other books I recommend are How to Brew by John Palmer and Designing great beers by Ray Daniels. These two are intended for more seasoned brewers and you will want them later in you brew carer.
DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT, BUY A MR BEER KIT.
If you got it as a gift then smile and say thank you. Place the kit in the closet and keep the Mr. beer jug for another day. If you find you love home brewing you can use that jug for another purpose later in your home brew career. Why not Mr. Beer? Because you will end up with a flat beer that taste like Sh#! and it will turn you away from home brewing.
Start small. Shop online and find a small equipment kit. I advise against plastic bucket kits as some beginners have ill results starting with these and you don’t really get to see the brewing process. Stick with glass or PET carboy kits. Northern Brewer offers a great 1 gallon starter kit for around $80 or $90 and it comes with a recipe kit of your choice. This is a great way to find out if home brew is for you without too much cost involved. Don’t expect the best beer you have ever had but don’t expect the worst and always remember good sanitation is the key to success. Don’t take sanitation lightly. It is very important in brewing beer. This is just the beginning. If you get hooked you will start doing more advanced brewing and you will start making awesome beer.
I’m hooked. When will it save me money?
If you haven’t already done by now you will want to upgrade your brew pot to a larger capacity and I recommend a outdoors propane burner. Once you get a few extract brews under your belt and you start to feel comfortable with the process your going to want to build yourself a mash tun and move on to all grain. By the time you get here you will know what a mash tun is and how to make one from a 10 gallon cooler. Switching to all grain is your first cost saving. You will save on average $5 – $10 on a 5 gallon batch.
next cost savings is re-use your yeast.
You will use the same yeast in a great deal of your recipes. Price of yeast can be $7 to $10. Yeast re produce when they eat sugars increasing in the billions when they ferment beer. Just because there done making beer doesn’t mean they are done working for you. One batch of yeast can be split and re-used up to 6 times if not more. I have read of brewers using the same yeast 10 or more times with great results but they recommend not using them more than 6. So at an average of $8.50 a pitch you can save up to $42 in the long run.
I’m done with kits and ready to buy bulk.
This is a major cost savings. If you buy enough grain and hops in bulk for 5-6 5 gallon batches you will have saved on average $20 per batch. Now if your reusing yeast and your buying bulk you will save up to $100 if not more on 5-6 batches of beer.So so far I have been talking about the cost saving on changing the way you brew beer but what about the cost saving of buying professional craft beer vs brewing your own. Average cost of a case of craft beer is $50. If your buying in bulk and re-using your yeast than the your spending an average of $26 on a case and a half. The average of a case and a half of craft is $75. After your recoup cost in start up and learning you will be spending around $0.72 cents per bottle of beer. Go to your local distributor and see if you can buy a bottle for that price.
If done right you will make beer that is just as good as the beer you find in the store. You also will have a great feeling of accomplishment and then a bit of a buzz and then if you really like it the room might start to spin. I am by no means telling you to stop buying craft beer. There is some amazing beer that took years to craft and perfect. Keep buying them and drinking them because your supporting the little guy. As you advance your skills and equipment you will essentially be making beer the same ways the craft brewers do. When you start spending more time creating your own recipes and refining you craft you will make beers that will win composition. Most if not all modern brew masters started in their kitchen or garage. One last time I will say start small. Learn to walk before you run.