Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How NOT to make Beer

One of my hobbies, which I haven't done in quite some time is home brewing my own beer.  A very long time ago I started brewing with a long-time friend of mine, way back when I lived in Tallahassee Florida.  We were inventing our own recipe, and so we decided to get about 9 lbs of malt, a combination of light powder malt, and canned amber and dark malt, plus some cracked crystal malt, and hops and yeast (I don't remember what kind).  My buddy had a huge spaghetti pot that we brewed in, holding about 4.5 gallons of liquid.

We filled it to our usual depth and started to add the malt.  But we usually brewed with about 6-7 lbs of malt, and this time we had over 10 lbs, and well, it just didn't fit.  Which we discovered about 2/3rds of the way into the process.  So, in a panic, we grabbed a smaller pot, and began bailing.  Then we tried to mix the malt together in a way that would make sure that both pots had the same content.  At the stage where we were adding hops, the challenge of two pots was trying to figure out how to keep it even, or not.  We figured out that it didn't really matter, and so put most of the hops (of one kind) in the larger container, and the remaining smaller amount of the other in a hop bag in the other.

Once we finished, we transferred the contents to our 5 (actually 6) gallon wart container.  I came back the next day and we pitched the yeast.  We moved the just pitched beer into his study (which in that rented house had long ugly shag carpet) where it would bubble away while he and his wife went away for the week.  Now, this was in Florida, and it got hot, and we had more wart than usual in our bucket.  So, needless to say, the airlock was blown off the wart when the heat/lack of space caused significant over-pressure.

He came back to an interesting smell coming out of his study, but most of the fermenting beer was still in the bucket, so he recapped it.  The next weekend I came over to help move it to the glass carboy where the yeast could settle from the beer.  So, we siphoned the beer from the bucket into carboy.  That worked great.  Then we went to put in the rubber stopper, and I don't remember who, but I think it was my friend, who slammed it in so hard that it went down through the neck into the bottle.  So now we had this little floating rubber ship in the glass bottle that was meant to keep the carboy closed.  It was college days, and we had only one rubber stopper, so we figured out how to get it out.  It took some sterilizing solution and some hangar wire.

After that bit of bobble and a few weeks settling, it was time to bottle.  So we had to first siphon from the carboy back into the bucket to keep the sediment out.  My friend started the siphon, and managed to get way too big a mouthful ... and so he spit it out into the bucket ... that we were actively siphoning into.  It wasn't intentional, he was just trying to keep from drowning in not quite finished beer.  We looked at each other, and laughing said almost simultaneously:  "No known pathogens grow in beer".  Lots of nasty things could grow in beer, but nothing that could harm us (especially at the alcohol levels we brewed with).  So, we added a bit of priming sugar and bottled, and then set the bottles back into the study to be stored for a little while until they were ready for drinking.

I did say it was Florida, and that it was warm right.  So again, my friend wound up with beer on that shag rug after a couple of the bottles exploded.

A few weekends later, it was time to test our work.  Amazingly, it was fantastic.  We had tried to write down the recipe, but really, with everything that went wrong, and with all of the unreproducable additives, there was no way we could ever reproduce what we called "Scary Beer".

Now, Scary Beer was a fantastic beer, and met all of our requirements.  It had lots of malt, and alcohol, and these were much in demand.  It worked because even though we had a miserable process, there were too many other things that made it nearly impossible to fail.  The fact that we were making beer, which is somewhat self-purifying, made up for a lot of our failures.

But, this is not a process I would try to repeat, and frankly, it was unrepeatable.  We lacked a certain discipline in writing down how we did what we did, and as a result, have never really been able to repeat it.

The moral of this story is that a successful process is not necessarily a repeatable one, especially if you didn't keep good notes.  In some cases, as in this one, its not one I would even think desirable to repeat.

I'll let you apply that lesson where you will.  I think right now, I'll go have a beer.

1 comment:

  1. I remember the beer well...one thing I wonder about is if it tasted extra good precisely because it was such a pain to make.

    (On the other hand, we won a local beer tasting with it, so it must have been reasonably good.)