Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Boston Homebrew Patriot Pt.3 - Deluxe Homebrew Kits

"Beer snobs drink beers brewed by billion-dollar multinational corporations with obese marketing budgets. Beer patriots drink beer from independent breweries or make it themselves."

Did you know the founding fathers brewed hard cider? Here's a great article on Slate all about it.

The Slate article reminds me of Edwort's Apfelwein Recipe - quite possibly one of the easiest, tastiest and booziest recipes for any beginner homebrewer. At 8% ABV, Apfelwein is no sissy beer alternative. It's the burly, hoochy, hairy-chested uncle (from your dad's side) of sparkling wine.

After dodging a bullet and not buying a Mr. Beer kit, I stalked around on Craigslist for a while until I found an all-inclusive "Deluxe Homebrew Kit." Regardless of where you buy one from - your local homebrew store, or online - all homebrew kits are basically the same.

You get a primary fermenter (6.5 gallons to allow for 5g of beer + foam or "krausen"), a secondary fermenter (5 gallons), airlock equipment, a "bottling bucket" which is essentially a bucket with a small spigot to pour easily, a bottle capper and an auto siphon. Here's a good example of a classic beginner's kit.

Turns out you need even less than the "deluxe" kits. The modern consensus seems to be (according to forums - which are a GREAT homebrewing resource) that you don't need a secondary fermenter. Once thought to help clarify a beer and further ferment your brew, nowadays most homebrewers opt out of secondary fermentation and simply leave their beer in the primary fermenter for 3 weeks (disregarding whatever the directions say), then keg or bottle it. This is what I do and it's worked fabulously. It's also a much easier method :-).

So, if you do have a 5 gallon secondary fermenter, throw a batch of Apfelwein in it. Apfelwein creates very little kreusen and is a perfect beverage for 5 gallon vehicles.

A quick aside: don't be turned off by the plastic "Ale Pales" - plenty of veteran homebrewers use these primarily. As far as convenience, you can't beat it: easy to clean, no smell, easy to pour into and out of. If the idea of fermenting in plastic gives you the willies, go for all glass, but you should know that there are no adverse tastes/smells from brewing in plastic.

To make a good beer all you absolutely need is some no rinse sanitizer, a big pot, a 6.5 gallon fermenting vessel, and an airlock. Oh, and barley, hops, yeast and water. Or just an extract kit.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Boston Homebrew Patriot Pt. 2 - Mr. Beer

Mr. Beer dominates the entry-level homebrew market for good reason. At a $30 price point, you can get started on your first batch of beer and avoid the larger financial burden and scary looking tools the more serious kits come with.

I spent a solid week reading up on the Mr. Beer kit - one of the best resources is a thread over at HomeBrewTalk.com - and learned more about the pros and cons. In the end, I decided not to buy one.

Business profitability-wise, the Mr. Beer kit is ingenious: they're selling you a 2.5 gallon plastic barrel with a spigot and a lid, and if you spring for the "premium" kit, you're buying some plastic PET bottles (2L soda bottles) as well.

The ingredients to Mr. Beer kits are mysterious. It's sort of like the instant-soup of beer making. They even boast, "Easy to brew, just add water." Refill kits run $15 a pop, and produce 2.5 gallons or roughly 20 beers. That's $0.75 a beer, which is cheap assuming the product is high-quality ($4.50 a six pack). Supposedly the beers are ready to drink in 14 days, which in hindsight I find hard to believe.

You're married to their kits with this system, meaning you can't just go buy yeast, hops & malt extract from your local homebrew store (LHBS) and whip up a batch. Since it's all instant, you also don't learn anything about the beer making process. For me, that education has been one of the most rewarding parts of homebrewing.

In the end, I decided to dive right into the deep end and purchase the $100 starter kit. I figured, why start with a mediocre method that could make me lose interest, when for a little more money I could start brewing like the pros?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Boston Homebrew Patriot Pt. 1 - Introduction

Fact: I am a Sherman. Before undertaking any new large venture, we Shermans (Shermen) do hours of research, pro con lists, and meditating on the subject.

Making my own beer was always an interest of mine, but one that was stayed on the backburner for a long time.

I love beer, and in looking through my receipts for tax day, I realize my bank account doesn't. I don't drink every day, in fact I only drink on weekends. Even so, with taxes, Boston prices, etc., a six pack of good beer (Harpoon, Sam's, Magic Hat, etc) runs $10 at least. Take $10 - $20, week after week, month after month, and it really starts to add up.

On many occasions it also forced me to sacrifice beer quality for price (I'm looking at you, PBR). So, I decided to take a stand!

In the spirit of localism, thriftiness, hobbying, slow food and amidst the bleak Boston winters that leave little options for outdoor activities, I decided to start making my own beer. Maybe not all the beer I drank, but at least some of it, would come from my own labor and work.

The first stop for my homebrew journey was the same as it is for virtually everyone else: Mr. Beer.