World of Wort-craft

After talking about home brewing for a year or so (okay, a few years) it’s finally time to put my money where my mouth and liver are.

Heart set on purchasing a kit, I tromped on down to my local brewing store Prairie Vintner’s & Brewers, who were critical in helping me understand the different types of brewing kits. Like any astute padawan learning a new skill, I built an analogy around the concepts to improve my understanding. This is what I took away from the conversation.

There are a few different difficulty stages in home brewing. Let’s call them “levels.”

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Level 1

Like any good video game, home brewing will make you think you’re moderately good at something to rope you into a complicated universe.

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Apparently they do.

This is as easy as home brewing gets – other home brewers may refer to this as the Easy Bake Oven (EBO) of beer making. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I made some badass nachos 20-some years ago in my EBO. Do they even make those things anymore?
The beer kit contains 15L of unfermented barley juice (a.k.a. “wort”) that’s already been bittered and flavored. All you need to do is pour it into a carboy and add the yeast. This is probably where I should have started, were I entirely new to the home brewing game. But then again, I stood around and watched while a buddy of mine made a batch from scratch, so I like to think I’m a step above the typical beginner*. I don’t really do anything the easy way. Let’s skip ahead to level 2.

*I’m probably not.

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If this is where you’d like to start, Brewhouse and Northern Brewer make a variety of beer styles to suit any home brewing virgin.

 

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This villain looks like your best friend. Except that he’s purple!

Level 2

Level 2 isn’t too much different than level 1. It builds on your previous successes, and might add in a boss with a few extra horns or something. Maybe it flies. Who knows!

In this type of beer kit, you’re usually provided a packet of yeast and a tin of malt extract that has the hop flavors pre-added. The only other ingredient you’ll need here is a kilo of corn sugar (or “dextrose” if you want to sound smart), though some equip you with this as well. And let’s not forget the all-purpose sanitizer – because no one wants to drink a can of fizzy band-aid flavored water.

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$25 HME + $5 dextrose = 23 litres of beer

All you have to do for these kits is boil up the hopped malt extract (HME) with some water and corn sugar. Once it’s cooled, toss in the yeast and let ‘er ferment. Expect more detailed instructions once I’m struggling through these steps on my own.

This is the level that I chose to start – mostly because I’m a penny-pinching skinflint. A tin of HME will cost you about $25, even in Canada’s crappy economy, and will make 60-70 bottles of beer. The level 1 kits will cost $50-80 dollars.

 

Level 3

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Keep grinding (not that kind of grinding).

Maybe you’re bored of using the kits, but aren’t quite ready for the big league. Not to fear – there’s still plenty you can do with a kit before jumping in the deep end.

Consider this the “mini games” section of your video game. Maybe you tried to beat the big boss and failed miserably. Maybe you’re afraid of failure. Now’s the time improve your skills and confidence before trying again.

Use this time to experiment. Keep using your malt extracts, but maybe add in a few grain adjuncts. Dry hop your beer with some cascade, or start playing with oak. Do what you want, I’m not your Mom.

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Or just sit in a vat full of hops and contemplate the meaning of life. That’s cool too.

Level 4

Time to face that lvl. 50 Paladin, yo! Now you have the skills to extract the yummy malt flavor from the grains yourself. This tends to be cheaper than using HME, and you also have more creative control. Plus you have substantially greater bragging rights.

I imagine the internet has a few recipes. Or if you’re from a generation that still uses paper books (like myself) check out your local library! I’m quite impressed with the innovative blends in Brooklyn BrewShop’s the Beer Making Book by Erica Shea and Stephen Valand.

Is that it? Have you beat the game? I doubt it.

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Expansion Packs

Unless you’re quite confident you have created the most wonderful beer imaginable, there’s always room for improvement. Even if you have, consider the following:

  • Have you crafted your own signature recipe?
  • Can you keep up with the latest beer trends? I certainly can’t.
  • Have you made a caramel latte flavored beer yet (like Calgary’s Last Best)? That actually tastes good?
  • Do you grow your own hops?
  • Have you tried roasting your own malt?
  • Have you started your own brewery? If so, please send me some beer so that I can give you rave reviews. Or give you some “constructive feedback.”
  • Does your aforementioned brewery also incorporate a pub?
  • The list goes on.

 

If you said no to any of the above questions, your brewing journey is far from over. You can do better.

 

References

Passion for the Pint. http://passionforthepint.com/what-are-the-different-types-of-home-brewing/