Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Art of Brewing at Home

Since moving to Pittsburgh and patronizing fantastic local craft breweries as well as sampling outstanding imports from countries like Germany and Belgium, I have come to enjoy beer in the way others enjoy fine wines. Perhaps it was inevitable that I would be drawn to homebrewing. If you are curious about trying it yourself, here is a rundown of my forays into the art and science of brewing.

The first beer I brewed was a Belgian wit; I used a “no-boil kit” in which the wort—the mixture of malts and adjuncts that eventually ferments into beer—was already created and sold to me in cans. All I had to do was add water and yeast, then wait. While easy and fun, it was not true homebrewing; I had very little control over the strength of the beer, the types of hops being used, and the strains of yeast. The science was already done. Like a paint-by-numbers creation, no-boil homebrews can be a great place to start but are not something you would show to your friends as an example of your artistic skill.

After a year or two, I bought a full set of supplies (a brewing vessel, a bottle capper, some measuring devices, and other such items) and prepared for my first real homebrew. Again, I bought a kit with a recipe, but the wort had to be created from scratch this time. I steeped my grains, mixed in liquid malt, added the hops, and timed my boil to ensure the mixture was properly prepared for fermentation. Three weeks later, I had two cases of a homebew Oatmeal stout. It wasn’t fantastic, but friends and family enjoyed every last bottle.

I have done three batches since then, all of different styles: a Belgian Strong Pale Ale, an Imperial Stout, and, my most recent composition, a Bavarian Dunkelweizen. All are ales, which require a week or two for one fermentation cycle at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with the yeast fermenting from the top of the beer down. In contrast, lagers require colder temperatures and longer fermentation periods, with the yeast fermenting from the bottom up. To do lagers (eventually), I will need a refrigerator devoted to nothing but brewing.

For now, I am very satisfied with ales. It is fun to try to recreate the tastes and appearances of some favorite beers while also adding my own little touch. For my Dunkelweizen—a German or Bavarian ale that uses wheat along with or in place of barley as the main malt—I created an experimental recipe. Here is a step-by-step view of the two-week process , with a few recipe secrets.

Homebrewing requires a lot of patience, but pays off when you open the first bottle of a new batch and find it to your liking. Depending on the strength, your beer can be stored for months or years. Because a small amount of yeast remains in suspension in homebrewed ales, it is a “live beer” and its taste can evolve over time. Very strong beers can change drastically over the course of a few years. So I try to put aside a few bottles of each batch, letting it mature (fingers crossed) like a fine vintage.