HOME brewing has come a long way in recent decades. Whether you use basic kits or mash with malted grain, the results are likely to be better, and cheaper, than average commercial beers. Home brewing doesn’t take up a lot of time, and the gear you buy should soon pay for itself. But be warned: having a lot of good beer at home can lead some people to imbibe a bit more than they should.
WHEN I started brewing in 1980 it was in a big bucket using Saunder’s malt extract and sugar from the supermarket, hop essence from a health food shop and yeast that had been smuggled out of a brewery.
Against everyone’s expectations the beer was not only drinkable, it was good, and so my beer-loving father-in-law started brewing immediately. It was the smuggled yeast that made the difference, because at that time only baker’s yeast was available to brewers and the result varied between revolting and disgusting.
A year or two later the beer kits appeared, and they produced a beer that rivalled the amber fluid sold by pubs and, when Coopers produced its range, a fluid that could be significantly better. I used these kits for years, later adding hops, crystal malt and powdered malt to produce beer with oomph.
A decade ago I began mashing grain to make beer and I did that, to my wife’s horror, in the kitchen using a variety of pots and strainers and Eskies. The beer was magnificent.
A couple of years ago I moved to a new way of mash brewing usually referred to as ‘‘brew in a bag’’. A bag made of a synthetic material holds the malted grain in a 40-litre urn containing water at a certain temperature, and when the mashing – the conversion of the grain’s starch to sugar – is complete, the bag containing the grain is removed.
The liquid in the urn is then boiled with hops, which are added at different times for different effects, for an hour or so; then the hot wort is run through the urn’s tap into a plastic container to cool before being tipped into a fermenter with yeast to become beer. I use a glass fermenter, and my beer is brewed in a temperature-controlled fridge.
Apart from mashing, I believe that controlling the temperature of the fermentation is the biggest improvement a home brewer can make to the result.
My beer is better than magnificent, breathtakingly so, and I would say my best beer is a tastier, fuller version of Little Creatures Pale Ale. If it wasn’t in such high demand I’d be delighted to share a bottle with you.
I’M an all-grain, brew-in-a-bag home brewer.
I use a 40-litre yabby pot to boil my beer in.
It has an insert which I put the grain bag in and which can be easily removed during the process when required.
I use about 6kg of crushed grain and generally about 100g of hops per brew.
I follow clone recipes which I get out of magazines or off the web.
I usually aim to make three cartons per brew.
My process, dictated by my rustic equipment, is pretty basic.
I pour about 30litres of hot water into my pot.
That water is about 72degrees out of the tap, and cools to the required range of about 66degrees once I dip the grain bag in.
Once all the grain is submerged, and mixed up, I put the lid on, wrap it in my insulated barbecue cover and leave it for an hour to mash. Then I hang the grain bag above the pot to drain.
I’ll sparge about six litres of boiling water through it to get any more goodness out of the grain. Then I’ll bring the pot to the boil, add my hops and boil for an hour.
Depending on the sugar extraction from the mash, I may add a bit of dextrose to up the alcohol level.
Once boiling is done, I cool the mash by resting my pot in my swimming pool.
Once cooled I transfer the wort to my fermenter, take an original specific-gravity reading, add yeast and ferment for however many days it takes, usually seven to 10.
I know it’s done when the bubbling stops, and/or the final specific gravity hits a prescribed level.
Then I transfer the wort to a second fermenter, which I’ve primed with sugar in preparation for bottling.
To bottle about three cartons I find about 500g of sugar works for mass priming of 27litres.
By moving it to the second fermenter I aim to avoid all the crud that rests on the bottom of the first fermenter. Then I bottle, cap and store.
Best results start to emerge after about a month of maturing.
But curiosity dictates I’m often in there earlier monitoring the journey of the brew.
BREWING your own beer is the ultimate in blokey, hunter-gathering concepts.
How much more self-sufficient can a man be than to pump out 60bottles a batch of his own, lovingly nurtured amber ale?
The whole process is fun. It’s a cross between cooking and a science experiment, and you end up with consumable alcohol – hopefully – at the end. And it’s cheap.
My brother-in-law got me into it.
I’m a partial extract brewer, which means I use both tins of malt extract as well as boil grains and hops. It’s the best of both worlds and you can achieve really good results.
My favourite concoction is a dunkelweizen – that’s German for dark wheat beer – that was inspired by a trip to the famous Munich beer hall. I’ve knocked out Belgian beers, IPAs, chocolate porters, honey wheat beers and kolsch-style beers as well.
Most people find after a while they’ve got a few personal favourites that they know they can more or less reproduce, but the thing with home brewing is you rarely reproduce exactly the same taste twice. There’s just so many variables.
When it comes to what you can make, the sky’s the limit.
If you taste a commercial beer you like, you get in and clone it – experimentation can get you everywhere.
And patiently waiting for things to mature in the bottle is the key.
I just produced a ‘‘Left-Over Ale’’ that pretty much cleared the drawers of lurking grains, hops and dextrose.
After a taste on the way from the fermenter into the bottles I’m wondering if it will be renamed ‘‘Legless Ale’’ down the track.
Ask for a beer at my place this summer at you own peril.
?Mark’s Home Brew at Islington (ubrew.com.au) supplies basic kits through to “beer-in-a-bag” mash equipment. Owner Mark Galletly is a Newcastle icon in craft-brewing circles.
?Check if there is a home brew club in your area.
?To take the guesswork out of making your own beer, and the cost of buying equipment, the franchise Brew-By-U at Cardiff is an option (brewbyu.com.au).
It is a micro-brewery where you choose from about 160 beer clones and do most of the work yourself. The only thing you have to supply is your own bottles (you can buy them there). You have to make a minimum of 50litres a brew and it works out at about $20 to $28 a carton. I’ve tasted the results and they are excellent.