Thursday, October 30, 2008
Brewing up with Paul, part 2
A few weeks ago, on my personal blog Caterwauled, I posted about a Friday night visit from my friend Paul Rousseau who is a hobbyist brewer of amazing beers.
He promised to demonstrate to me how he made those beers, and to help me brew a batch of my own. It's a special invitation that he extends to only a few of his friends, one at a time (because his kitchen, where he brews the beer, is relatively compact). Last night I got my chance at the barley and the hops.
Paul already had the water boiling when I arrived at his Plumb Road home at 5:30 pm. He handed me my pre-packaged kit and told me to read the instructions, which I did. I had several questions and he answered some immediately, but told me the other answers would be revealed in the brewing.
He had chosen a double-IPA (India Pale Ale) kit for me. He was going to use his own recipe with some leftover grain, some malt he had purchase on sale at It's Only Natural, a few bottles of Agave nectar, and some yeast he'd been nurturing for a few weeks.
We steeped our grain mixture for fifteen minutes, and the strong steamy brewery scent filled the tiny kitchen. I was assigned the task of making sure that the pots didn't boil over while Paul assembled the vats and tubing needed for later steps in the brewing, and sanitized each one to prevent any beer spoilage (a tearful disaster when it happens).
After the grain is steeped, the grain is removed, and the sugars (or malt) is added, stirred until it's dissolved, then boiled, at a rolling boil, for an hour, during which time hops are added at intervals, for flavor. There is an intermittent danger of overboiling, and my task again was to watch the pots.
Paul assembled bottles and siphon to bottle a brew he had made weeks earlier. He poured five gallons of a beer which had been fermenting for weeks from a glass container to a plastic "ale pale" with a convenient spout, and we took turns bottling and capping.
We managed to prevent any boilovers, and after an hour, the wort (the brewed beer), was taken from the fire and submerged in an ice bath to rapidly cool it so that when the yeast is added, it will not be killed. After the wort is cooled, it's diluted to fill a five gallon container, tested for it's original gravity (which indicates sugar content, and ability to yield alcohol), and capped with an airlock which allows the fermentation to take place.
It would take three months for my double IPA to ferment in the cask and the bottle before it was ready to drink.
At the end, the kitchen was a mess, the floor damp, brewing implements everywhere, but Paul showed mercy. He knew I had risen at 4 a.m. for my radio show, and while I offered to stay to clean up, he handed me a sixpack of the beer we had bottled, advised me to give it three more weeks in the bottle before I drank it, and sent me on my way.
I came away with an appreciation for the attention to detail it takes to make good beer, and with the notion that it was not something I would try to do with one of those starter kits people put under the tree at Christmas.