I’m not a beer snob. In fact, gimme a Budweiser and I’m happy. I love Miller Lite. Less filling, tastes great. Really, that’s kinda key for me. Beer makes me feel all bloated and full. The most beer I’ve ever consumed comfortably in one sitting is like, three. I inevitably switch to the hard stuff. However, with age and experience, and a Dr. Who-loving, gadget addicted, beer-curious significant other (Dr. Audio is what we’ll call him from here on out), I’ve found that there is a world to be explored filled with wheat, hops, malt, and yeast.
I used to sell kimchi (Skimchee, duh) so I’ve got my share of fermenting under my belt. My man made a home brew about a year ago and I was literally in the other room watching Rupaul the whole time, meanwhile, there were three Cambros full of rotting, spicy vegetables in the kitchen. I just couldn’t be bothered when the end product wasn’t something I was super-stoked about. Strong, hoppy beer? No, thank you. Smells like skunk. (As a kid, for a few years, I lived in Blacksburg VA, a rural college town, and I will never forget the smell of skunk road kill. It was everywhere. Needless to say, I’m not feelin’ the hoppy/skunk beer.)
So, a month ago, we had plans to go down to Richmond, VA, to make fun of my cousin graduating college. He’s a self-professed redneck who keeps a case of Miller Lite in his truck (because you never know!) but who also appreciates a fine brew. It was Dr. Audio’s idea to present a home brew for his graduation gift. I said, wellgotdamn, that sounds like a GREAT idea! We went to the local brew shop and picked up a few items: grain, hops, yeast, threw it in the minivan (shut it, it’s practical, I run a food business) and went home to get started. Our first Amber Ale, partially selected because my cousin has some ginger/amber hair going on which we embarrass him about from time to time.
Let it be known that we are not experts at this and certainly do not claim to be. Those of you who have done this a few times or run your own breweries, correct me, please, but don’t crucify me for my ignorance. Be gentle. I don’t inherently know what the difference is between barley wine and mead. That’s why there’s Wikipedia, Holmes.
I’m not gonna bore you with the exacting details but I’ll highlight the funnest parts.
First things first - sanitize everything. Basically, you make a grain tea. This is called “wort”. Then you add your flavor. We added malt extract and a few different kinds of hops which, by the way, are in the same family as weed and you’ll recognize that as soon as you rip open the pouch. Give it a stir and it looks like the Bog of Eternal Stench, minus the puppets. At this point, the wort must be chilled quickly. We used a copper wort chiller which was super effective (buy online or at your brew shop). When the wort is around room temperature, transfer it to a sanitized fermenting bucket and top off with water. This is when you add your yeast which often comes in what they call a “smack pack” because you have to beat the hell out of it to get the micro-guys to start waking up. After this step, seal up your bucket and wait. And wait. Again, depending on the type of beer you’re brewing, there will be a specific temperature range at which it must stay. Generally for ales, it’s 55˚-78˚F and for lagers, 46˚-58˚F.
I left for London to work an amazing event, Something I Ate/ OPSH, while our Amber Ale did it’s magic. When I returned, we still had a week of waiting. Dr. Audio had done even more research while I was away and concluded that we needed another week for the yeast to be consumed by the sugars milling around in the bucket. So we waited again.
Finally, the day before we were to leave for Virginia, we tapped the good ol’ fermentin’ bucket and set to bottling. I had already designed a cute label for my cousin so we were all printed and ready to go. We called it “Bachelor’s Brew”, mostly because he was receiving a Bachelors of Science but also because he’s a dude without a needy, young girlfriend to weigh down his growth, i.e. a bachelor. The main label resembles a diploma riddled with my sense of humor while the collar has a picture of him as a kid wearing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajama pants, grey cowboy boots, leaning on a BB gun. I added a graduation cap, of course. Super cute, I must say.
He loved it. He was drunk the whole weekend so I hope he knows he got the best gift he’s ever gotten - his own beer, brewed and named for him.
That being said, the first bottle of the batch has been opened and jesus, it’s really good. Pat on backs, pat on backs! It reminds me of the Prohibition Ale that we serve at Lucky Strike, one of my DJ gigs. Like I said, gimme a Budweiser and I’m a happy girl, but I was really impressed with the Prohibition. I’d like to say ours was better… more heart, more purpose.
I’d equate home brewing to baking. Unlike savory cooking where a little of this, a dash of this can actually work, baking takes a recipe and steady hand. I’m not saying you can’t be liberal here and there, I’m saying, you’d best know what you’re doing or the brownies will be more like cake. If you are an adventurous cook or baker, I would recommend making your own beer. It’s been a unique learning experience for me, an old rickety chef (not really, I’m 33), and I feel like I can wrap my head around the whole process. After doing this, I don’t feel like such a foreigner in the land of esoteric brew speak. I’ll still drink my Miller Lite, though, trust.
Butter Pork Mussels
by Sam Kim