By Mark Abell:
With all of the recent brewing news regarding initial steps to make craft brewing easier in NYS, I figured that it would be a good thing to talk to a local home-brewer to see how he got his start (in hopes that more people pick up the hobby).
Robert Turley Jr., a native of Williamsville, NY began brewing beer and apple cider in the basement of the Nickel City Cooperative house in Buffalo, NY two and a half years ago. The first types of beers he attempted to brew were pale ales and stouts followed by lagers and Belgian types. He is currently working on an American strong ale affectionately named "Pompous Jerk," which is his personal take on "Arrogant Bastard," which is brewed in Escondido, California by Stone Brewing Co. He works at The Village Beer Merchant, a craft beer store on Elmwood Avenue in town.
Overview of necessities and process:
In order to brew beer, an individual must have a soup-pot, a heat-source, a fermenter a.k.a. a closable clean vessel inside of which beer slowly becomes alcoholic. Crush the malted barley, soak it in water, drain the liquid out, rinse the barley, extract sugar from it. Wort is the sugary solution that is produced. Boiling the solution for an hour sterilizes it and causes proteins to lump together, settle out and clarify. Cool it off and add yeast to it which causes it to ferment. Yeast is the single-celled organism that eats sugar and produces alcohol. After two to four weeks you'll have alcoholic beer which will begin to clarify. Next, put the solution into bottles. The solution will ferment further in the bottle and the yeast inside will produce carbon dioxide which will carbonate the beverage.
Bottling is a time intensive process which can take as long as two hours to complete. Thus, if you are planning on having a couple beers per day, transferring the solution to a Cornelius keg which holds five gallons at a time is a better solution for carbonating your beverage in as quickly as fifteen minutes but also makes serving your beverage to guests much more convenient. However, you must choose one of two paths. The easier but more expensive option is to buy extract from a malting company in which case they have completed half of the process for you already. The harder but more inexpensive option is to work from scratch without buying extract. For this you will have to build a mash-tun which is a more work-intensive option. Turley thought that building his own equipment has been rewarding and it helped him gain more knowledge from the experience than he otherwise would have.
Materials list: the total should run below $100 or $200. Turley acquired a lot of his equipment second hand.
six gallon fermenter
air-lock siphon or auto-siphon (preferred)
bubble-wrap: to insulate the glass fermenters and to prevent cracking in handling
Cornelius keg: 5 gallon (easily acquirable at a scrap yard, Turley paid $15 for his at a local one)
Turley's "Simple IPA" recipe:
8lb pale malted barley
1/2lb crystal 20L malted barley
1/2 lb wheat malt
Crush the grains and soak in 2 gallons of water at 156° for one hour Run grain through strainer and gently rinse with 3 gallons of water at 170°, collecting about 5 gallons total Boil collected liquid a.k.a. wort for 1 hour with 1-2oz cascade hops, add 1oz cascade hops at end of boil Cool and ferment with ale yeast
Guide to making cider:
Take fresh apple juice, add yeast and possibly some spice. Unfortunately cidar takes longer to clarify than beer about six weeks to beer's four weeks.
Words of caution:
Make sure equipment is kept clean and don't cut corners while sanitizing-you have to sterilize everything that will touch the beer beforehand. Turley's first batch turned into vinegar because germs got into the batch. This situation can be prevented by adding a tablespoon of iodine to a five gallon solution and letting that soak for a few minutes which will kill most bacteria.
Patience: give the beer time to mature, beer gets better in the bottle if you give it an extra couple of weeks. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, it is acceptable to take chances and to go off of recipe. It's permissible to deviate from established recipes and to create your own instead.
Advantages to home-brewing:
It is cheaper to make beer than to buy it commercially. A 12oz bottle of good beer runs $2-4 in a store versus .50 to 1.50 to produce a 12oz bottle at home. In addition, brewing it yourself is more fulfilling and leaves you with a better understanding of what ingredients are in your beverage which is crucial at a time when health-conscious individuals are making an attempt to avoid additives and other unwanted ingredients. It also reduces petroleum consumption because beverages are produced and consumed at one's home instead of requiring the shipping of beverages over long distances.