Sunday, August 26, 2007

Homebrewed Beer

I have been brewing beer since last October, and it's been a lot of fun. And the beer hasn't been half bad. In fact, of the five batches we've tasted so far, all have been praised by those who tasted them.

The work involved isn't too bad. There's work on each batch three times over the course of 3-4 weeks. I have so far been using pre-measured kits from Midwest Supplies in Minneapolis. First, on brewing day, you actually make the beer, which involves steeping grains for about an hour in a couple gallons of lukewarm water, then bringing the water to a boil, and adding malt extract and various hops. This process takes another 1-2 hours, after which the wort (beer without yeast) needs to cool down before the yeast can be added along with extra water to make about five gallons of beer. Then the beer sits for about a week in a food-grade pail after which it gets transferred to a glass carboy for conditioning. The transfer and cleanup can be done in about 45 minutes. Two weeks later the beer can be bottled. This takes 1-2 hours depending on the size of the bottles (less work with larger bottles - 5 gallons needs about 50 regular 355 ml (12 oz) bottles). Then the beer sits for 2-4 weeks before it can be enjoyed. So, it doesn't take that much effort, but you have to be patient.

The initial equipment purchase was around $100, and the ingredients for each batch will run around $30-$40 including shipping. The cost per beer is definitely higher than regular canned beer from the grocery store, but only about half the cost of specialty and imported beer, which is what it should be compared to. If all you want to do is drink Miller Light, then don't worry about making your own beer, but if you enjoy Bass, Newcastle Brown Ale, Guiness, and any other great tasting beer (especially ale), then you should give homebrewing a try.

Right now, I have two carboys in the basement. I'm hoping to be able to bottle the Fuggles brew today (we need it ready before we run out...). The other is a Holiday beer that was brewed back in June and will need another month or so before bottling. Then it will sit about 6 weeks in the bottle before it is ready in time for Halloween. It should be a Happy Holiday this year!

When you brew your own beer, there are two environmental benefits: First, you can reuse the bottles, which is far better than recycling (it takes quite a bit of energy to turn glass into glass...). Second, only the ingredients need to be transported (10-15 lbs), and in my case only from Minneapolis, as opposed to shipping both bottles (40 lbs), and water (42 lbs) from a brewery that's much farther way. Some of the styles of beer you can make with homebrew, could otherwise only be obtained from imported sources, so the transportation would add significantly to the equation.

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