Homebrewed Beer: The Results
When I left off, our beer was sitting in a carboy. In total, it spent 14 days there. The first several days were fascinating to me — I liked hearing and watching the yeast do its work. The color of the beer changed and the bubbles gradually stopped. After the beer had done its time in the carboy, it was time to bottle. Here is where some real work came in. From start to finish, it took us three hours.
The bottles had first been soaking in Oxy-Clean, to remove labels and give them an initial cleaning. We pulled them out, rinsed them, and put them in a drying rack. From there, we formed a small assembly line (just the two of us) and washed each bottle with a brewing cleaner, Straight A, and a bottle brush. Then they were rinsed with a Jet Carboy and Bottle Washer faucet attachment, dipped into a sanitizing solution called Star San, and set onto a bottle tree to drain. We then took each bottle off of the rack and placed a carbonation drop (which looked like a white lemon drop, made of corn sugar) in each bottle, in preparation for filling. The drops give the remaining yeast just the right amount of fuel to carbonate the beer. Many homebrewers instead dissolve about a cup of corn sugar in hot water and add that to the bottling bucket before racking the beer into it to achieve the same result, but our supplier sold us the carbonation drops as a simpler method. It certainly was simple.
Filling and capping the bottles was definitely the most challenging part, in my view. First, we “racked” (siphoned) the beer from the carboy into a bottling bucket. We quickly determined that I was not the best candidate to put the caps on, which required a little more arm strength, so I was the filler. The challenge of filling the bottles was getting the siphon tube started, which is pretty tricky to do — keeping in mind that sucking on the tube is not recommended, due to potential bacterial contamination of your bottled beer. One end of the tube is attached to a “racking cane” and inserted into the beer. To the other end is attached a bottle filler tube with a little trigger valve. After we got the beer flowing, I gently pushed the mechanism on the tip of the tube to the bottom of the bottle, which allowed the beer to flow, filling the bottles. Then I would hand the bottle to my husband, and he would cap the bottle and put it in the beer box.
Though Charlie Papazian’s book recommended at least ten days in the bottle to allow for carbonation and clarifying, our first taste-test took place at the 6-day mark, exactly. We were dying of curiosity. The results? Well, first let me drag this out a little more to torture you. To back up a little, I have always considered myself to be more of a “wine” person than a “beer “person. I like the complexities of wine, for instance, detecting the fruit flavors, varying degrees of spiciness, its finish, etc. I never got that from beer.
So, the result? Homebrewed beer, prepared correctly, is FANTASTIC. I tell you, folks, this has got to be one of the most fun home hobbies, ever. Let’s start with the color. We made a pilsener, but with an ale yeast, due to our room-temperature brewing. I would describe the color of the beer, when poured, as a sort of tawny amber. (I had been expecting something lighter, based on true, commercial pilseners I have bought at the store.) I had not expected the beer to have a malty, creamy, flavor to it, but it does. There was another factor I had not anticipated: complexity. It’s interesting. It is not the beer of Super-Bowl parties I have attended. It was, though, even better after the ten-day mark. The carbonation was of a finer quality and the brew seemed more rounded.
In my previous post, I mentioned that homebrewing was a great male bonding experience. One of my commenters lamented this statement as sexist, and I can now reassure her that it’s just a fun bonding experience, period. We had a great time, although at moments it did get a little tense, due to our inexperience. At one point we were sitting on the dining room hardwood floor, both trying to figure out how to get more comfortable and yet keep up our little assembly line. We had to laugh at ourselves.
One other item I want to point out: there is a large world-wide homebrewing community out there — and what a supportive group! I have a lot of hobbies, but have never before experienced the degree of helpfulness and instant camaraderie in learning how to do something that we have experienced in getting into homebrewing. My original post commenters were great — I received helpful e-mails — and the purveyors of equipment and supplies we’ve met and spoken with on the phone are supportive and positive. We just missed our island’s homebrewing competition, but you can bet we will be there, next year, for fun.
Finally, the cost. The original estimate for equipment was $180. After our difficulty with the siphoning process, we bought an “auto-siphon” to get the beer out of the carboy, and we bought a spigot for our bottling bucket. We also bought a “bottle tree” (my husband made the first bottle drying rack, because both local homebrew shops were out of them). The cost of these items was $60, bringing our investment to $240. Our theory, when embarking on a new project, is that if you don’t have the right equipment, it makes the project more difficult — and less fun — so you aren’t as likely to do it again. If you buy the right equipment, which makes the job easier, you are more likely to do it. We used this approach with canning and gardening and it has been borne out by our experiences.
What’s next? Tomorrow, we start a lager. Also, as some previous post commenters suggested making hard cider, my husband decided he’d give that a try, having sampled those and enjoyed them in the past. Tonight we will give a party and share beer with the neighbors who worked so hard to empty bottles for us.
All in all, I would definitely recommend homebrewing. The product can be superior, it can be cost-effective over the long-haul, and it is really fun. As Charlie Papazian writes in The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, “Relax! Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.”