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The art of beer:

Homebrewing on the rise

October 12, 2009
By MIKE HUGHES, The Scene

Depending on the historian, the art of brewing beer can be traced back 6,000 years to the Sumerians.

But the modern incarnation is generally accepted as beginning in the early 9th century in Bavaria, where monks established the first brewery at Fohring, near Munich, Germany.

In America, we've been brewing our own beer since the first settlers stepped foot on the soil of the New World.

Article Photos

T-L Photo/MIKE?HUGHES
Brent CARSON of Westlake stirs the wort and prepares to add the first round of hops to a pilsner beer he began brewing. Carson has been brewing beer in his home for more than 12 years.

And while the advent of commercial breweries like Budweiser, Coors and Miller provided readily-available alcoholic beverages for the masses, it didn't completely alleviate the desire to make one's own beer.

After all, where did the beer recipes of people like Adolphus Busch, the co-founder of the Anheuser-Busch company come from if not from carefully crafted family recipes handed down through generations.

But the home brewing craze in this country really began in 1978.

When 21st amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933, negating the 18th amendment, or the Volstead Act (National Prohibition) a provision that allowed the private citizen to make wine and/or beer left out the ''and/or beer'' part.

And while plenty of Americans continued on with their brewing practices despite the clerical error, the illegality of beer brewing made it a difficult task to pursue.

In 1978, this mistake was finally taken care when Congress signed into law a bill that stipulated citizens over the age of 21 could produce at least 100 gallons of beer per year without taxation.

The number of people brewing at home, as well as the quality of brew being produced, has grown increasingly since then.

But why brew your own beer when it's just as easy to head to the local bar or tavern, or down to the supermarket and pick up a six-pack or case?

The answers are as varied as the people who take up the spoon and kettle in kitchens and basements across the country.

Some do it because it's cheaper to brew your own beer than buying something of similar quality at the store. Some do it because it's a way to reconnect with their heritage and history. Some do it for the satisfaction of making something from start to finish and basking in their hard work paying off. And some do it just for the plain fun of it.

But whatever the reasons may be, the fact is more and more people are taking to making their own beer.

Brent Carson is one of those people.

A resident of Westlake, Ohio, Carson has been plying his craft for more than a decade and has made more than 80 batches of beer since he first started in 1997.

He and his friend Ted enlisted the help of another gentleman they knew experienced in the art of home brewing to help guide them through their first batch.

Carson admits that there are a lot of technical terms and techniques to be used, but as time wore on and his experience grew, it became easier and his technique less stringent.

When he first started, he purchased a copy of the brewer's bible, the ''The Complete Joy of Homebrewing,'' now it its third edition, by Charlie Papazian.

He also purchased a binder to keep detailed notes of each batch he brewed.

Those first few batches, his notes were extremely thorough. Carson listed all the ingredients used, the temperature of the boiling water, the gravity levels he recorded with his hydrometer. He did pretty much everything by the book.

While making a batch of Pilsner in his basement, he laughs while skimming through his binder that he stopped recording in around batch 48.

''Look here, I went from all of these detailed notes to it simply reading Pilsner,'' he said with a laugh. ''When you first start, there are a lot of technical terms and directions that it sometimes scares people off.

''But it's stuff you learn over time.

''A purist will take readings, but to be honest, I've only had two batches that have gone bad, and the one the beer tasted fine, but it was overcarbonated.''

He admits that too a purist, his methods might seem offensive, but you can tell he puts a lot of thought and love into his craft. You only need to look at his basement setup to realize that.

When brewing in the family kitchen became a problem because of space constraints and post-brewing cleanup, Carson erected a brewing station in his basement.

Outfitted with counter space, cabinets, a sink, a gas-fired cooktop and a fridge for lager-beer fermentation, it's the perfect setup for any home brewer.

Like most crafts, the process looks much easier watching a seasoned brewer show you the steps as opposed to reading it out of a book.

For his latest creation, he began by heating the grain to a boil (Steeping) in a stainless-steal pot, making sure to continually stir the mixture to prevent the grain from burning.

After boiling, he poured the mixture into a bucket, straining off the grain and returning it to the stainless pot. After boiling again, he added the powdered malt extract, as well as the first round of hops, called boiling hops.

Later he added flavoring hops and finally aroma hops during the last stage of the boiling process.

This final mixture is called the wart.

He then transferred the mixture to a 6 gallon glass carboy to begin the fermentation process after adding the liquid yeast.

There are two stages of fermentation and you have to transfer the beer from one carboy to another for the second stage, a process called racking.

Finally, when it comes time for bottling, he adds a cup of corn sugar to act as a priming agent to activate the yeast again. This allows the yeast to build of CO2 in the bottles while it digests the small amount of sugar which naturally carbonates the beer.

The whole process takes around two months for lager beers and between 4-5 weeks for ales. Lagers must be cooled around 55 degrees, so he uses a temperature regulator for his refrigerator. Ales, which also include porters and stouts, can be cooled at room temperature and the fermentation process goes more quickly.

He also is currently making his own wine, a process that he admits is far simpler than brewing beer. An added bonus? He found a glass carboy that his great grandfather used to make wine from the vineyards on the family farm not far from his current home.

In that, it's a way for Carson to connect with his family's history and bring together his past and present.

 
 

 

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