When I was doing my 40/40 Tour, I got to talk to one of the owner’s of the Boxcar Brewing Company in West Chester. I asked him what he loved about brewing beer and he said it was fermentation. He got a look in his eyes normally reserved for those deeply in love with something or someone. Affection and awe would be two good descriptive words for what I saw in his eyes that day. He has a faraway look in his eyes. Sigh.
This dude’s background was that of a winemaker in California so he was well-acquainted with fermentation in regards to beer’s cousin, wine. He had come eastward to brew and Boxcar’s operation is in some dinky Industrial Park in West Chester. No frills and puffery. The beer-making was machine-like without being an industrial petroleum refinery. But, certainly not as tony as the vineyard and the vats. I like wine but much prefer beer, particularly well-crafted beer. The best wines and the best beers share much in common in terms of the process of creating an alcoholic spirit and the primary actor is yeast.
Today’s piece about homebrewing is the yeast. I really admire yeast; it lives to die. After it does its duty of converting sugars to alcohol, like an old soldier, it fades away. Yeast has many strains, all of which pull different flavors out of the ingredients. Some yeast strains are so proprietary, especially Belgian, that the breweries go to great lengths to protect their yeasts. I have heard Brewery Ommegang kills its proprietary yeast after the main fermentation is complete and then adds a second more generic strain to finish the process of carbonation. Pilferers can backwards engineer yeasts and create their own stock and once that code is cracked, it is kind of analogous to learning how to enrich uranium. It is only a matter of time that your adversary has the bomb. So, it pays to be secretive…because a good deal of what makes a beer the type of beer it is IS the yeast. Some strains go back hundreds of years and it boggles the mind to think how that historical age has made that particular yeast so specialized and refined at what it does.
When I went to brew two Saturdays ago, my yeast pack was all raring to go. I had punctured the sugary packet inside the yeast solution a few days previously and it was fuller than junior’s bladder on a cross-country car ride after drinking a 48 ounce soda. Giving the yeast a head start helps it hit the wort running. I hope to bottle the Belgian Wit to be today (if the gravity is OK…not having the right gravity can explode the bottles). So, respect and don’t trifle with the yeast. It is powerful stuff.
After concluding my 40/40 Beer Tour last summer, which was like an extended research field trip on good beer, I was itching to try and brew some of my own. Chances are of the people who will ever read this blog are already brewing their own beer…and a good deal of them know more than I do. Me brewing three times from a kit no more makes me an expert than a dude who makes three cakes from a Betty Crocker Cake Mix is a craft-like cake maker.
For those who have brewed before know that homebrewing is hardly rocket science..and for those who have not, be assured that if you can read and follow directions, you too can brew. And, you will probably make a decent beer, a good beer, as long as you abide by the parameters of the process. The difference between making a good beer and a great beer, that last 20%, is quite a challenge. And that is why the heavy players in craft brewing like Troeg’s and Victory can charge what they do for a case. They have the know-how, the ingredients, and the equipment, to brew at a high level. You can approximate their craft beer quality, but in the end experience, ingredients, and equipment matter.
The photograph above is a picture of the components of the Belgian Wit kit from Williams Brewing. It is not like I have worked with many other homebrewing supplies companies, so I again am no expert. However, I have found this company to by prompt and professional in both their service and their product.
In the upcoming weeks, I will walk through the brewing process of this kit from start to finish. Better to break it down in stages and in steps in different blog postings. This blog is totally just a labor of love and not something that I expect or anticipate is going to be my life calling. In order to do it cheerfully and consistently once a week, I only expect myself to offer something of interest to the readers of 40/40. No massive Tolstoy tomes like “Beer and Peace.” People who write long ponderous blogs had better be profound, otherwise reader interest is just a click away from concluding.
Today’s message is if you have thought about Homebrewing and have not yet done so, go ahead and give it a try. If you like what you did and enjoyed drinking what you made, then think about doing it again with some better equipment. You are on your way to developing some experience and who knows, one day you might blog about it.
I ordered some hops rhizomes today along with some 2 row barley seed. I have some open space in my garden and want to see what I can learn by trying to brew from scratch. Here is some more information about hops.
This falls into the for what it is worth category (not sure it is the best thing to be the darkest shade of blue….kind of like Russia and Vodka):
This week I am taking a bye on doing a long post. Yesterday, I brewed a Belgian Wit. I am looking forward to writing about the experience next week. Stay tuned!
The New York Library recently has publicized the beer recipe of George Washington. 30 gallons of homebrew? Now, that is enough beer to keep the Continental Congress libations going while debating issues of independence from Britain in Philadelphia! Yards Brewery makes a rendition of this recipe that it is served down at the City Tavern Restaurant, a replica both in style and food of a Colonial Era establishment. The place is quite nice and not at all hokey and touristy. The brew, as I remember, was quite good….befitting the Father of our country.
Philly Beer Week this year is June 3-12. It is the premier beer event in the United States yearly. Last year, during my 40/40 Tour, Philly was crucial in accomplishing my goal. I happened to be there during Beer Week. Longer than a week but who is counting. Along with Pittsburgh in late June, I was able to hit several breweries in a day for several days to get the job done. And it did become a job of sorts…although it was hard to try and garner sympathy from others concerning the arduous task of hitting 40 Pennsylvania Microbreweries in 40 days. Not exactly times that try men’s souls.
Besides drinking good beer all over Pennsylvania, meeting cool people, listening to a collection of my favorites CD’s while on the road, and reconnecting with family and friends joining me on the journeys, one reality became apparent in the microbrewing movement. It is a reaction to the hegemonic homogeneity of neutered big brews. Frankly, these sovereigns put out a poor product and treat men like morons….expecting that we will continue to drink sucky beer because that is what the sexy girl in the commercial wants us to do. I am enough of a Contrarian to refuse to drink the carbonated Kool-Aid. I will watch your stupid commercials and it will have no effect on my purchasing…my George Washington’s are going elsewhere whenever and wherever possible. I am declaring Independence. Don’t tread on me.
We were in New York City and Hoboken for most of the weekend and just returned a few minutes ago. I had some of the Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout last night at one of those bars where you look at the bill and do a double-take because of the $$$ amount. Gulp…and not from the brew.
Most assuredly, too many glasses of these Old Rasputins would put Czars under the table for good. Although not made by Pennsylvania Microbrewery, I have to give it a shout-out. It packs a wallop. 9 percent alcohol…what is this stuff….Vodka-infused? Even though brew is strong, it surprisingly mellow. It was rated “Superlative” by the Beverage Testing Institute, Chicago. By my counting, it looks to be evaluated to be the 7th best beer made in the USA. That was a special edition of the Old Rasputin. That is quite an accomplishment.
The Beer Advocate writes, “Inspired by brewers back in the 1800’s to win over the Russian Czar, this is the king of stouts, boasting high alcohol by volumes and plenty of malt character. Low to moderate levels of carbonation with huge roasted, chocolate and burnt malt flavours. Often dry. Suggestions of dark fruit and flavors of higher alcohols are quite evident. Hop character can vary from none, to balanced to aggressive.” The Old Rasputin is ranked by Beer Advocate as the top Russian Imperial Stout in the U.S.A.
Although the historical Rasputin came to a cold and chilly end, the beer itself–when served and chilled–portends of future happiness in a glass.