Making Booze II!

Also this weekend we also made beer. So it’s time for another alcoholic photo-essay, this time on beer homebrewing and a brief history of beer in America.

It all starts with a beautiful mixture of malted barley. Here’s about 20 lbs of barley, in Rick’s recipe there is a mixture of light and dark grains, all imported from Germany, in a Rubbermaid cooler which homebrewers have found handles hot temperatures well. Beer is made from 4 ingredients, water, malted barley, hops and yeast (though not part of the final product – used for the fermentation).


In this country, before prohibition, there were 1600 breweries in this country and in the late 1800s breweries peaked at about 4000. Basically, whichever immigrant group settled your area made beer. There was incredible variety and tradition in beer. Then prohibition came. Psychotic zealots like Carrie Nation ran around with axes attacking innocent cannisters of booze. People think alcohol is the cause of all of life’s problems and forget that it is also the solution to all of life’s problems.

Since beer is mostly water you also need a big pot to heat some in- here’s a modified keg being heated by a big propane heater.

Rick tells us at this point that Anheuser-Busch beer is good for one thing – providing kegs to serve as cooking vessels.

After prohibition ended, only the the big brewing companies survived, and the small local breweries, long driven out of existence, did not return. Beer was now a major industry, with only a few players. Many breweries reappeared after prohibition, but then died off in the face of competition from the mass producers. In 1950 there were about 500 breweries, in 1960 there were 230. Beer comes in cans, not bottles.

More below the fold…

Once the water in the keg hits 168 degrees, we add about 6 jugs full to the barley to make the mash.

It bubbles and smells like oatmeal.
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This mixture is stirred to break up all the clumps and make sure everything is smooth. 168 degrees was the perfect temperature to start at in this recipe because you want the mash to be at about 154-156 degrees to activate enzymes in the barley so the sugar in the barley breaks down and goes into solution.
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Once everything is mixed up we let the reaction sit for about 90 minutes. We ate steak and an omelet thingy with potatoes and onions that Connor makes.
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By the early 80s less than 50 beer companies operate in the US. The market it dominated by beer like Budweiser (6 companies own 90% market share). Calling it beer is charitable. Beer is not supposed to contain rice, or wheat or corn, the crap that goes into many macro-brews. I think it should be re-labeled “beer-product” or “dilute sake”.

However a revolution has quietly begun.

The 90 minute incubation is now up, and we get ready to strain the sugary wort (say “wert”) through the barley and into the boiler. At first the wort is cloudy.

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We add this back to the barley until the solution becomes clear (there is a strainer at the bottom of the rubbermaid cooler – eventually the mix acts like a big filter).

Now this part is slightly complicated. You want to strain all the sugar-water out of the barley mash, but you don’t want particulates, and if you just dump water on top of the mash it will make a channel straight through and you get poor yield. So Rick has rigged up a sprinkler system in the top of the Rubbermaid container that distributes water evenly over the mash.

The bar in the middle spins as water is put through it. Also there is the white-tube for re-adding the cloudy wort, and a Styrofoam bob to makes sure the level doesn’t go down. You’re aiming for a constant volume of water in the tank while you drain it, and we add hot 170 degree water as we drain the mash.

Most people attribute the re-emergence of real beer in this country with the purchase of the Anchor Brewing Company by Fritz Maytag in 1965. In about a decade homebrewers would start branching out their small operations and making inroads into larger distribution networks. By the 1980s, the homebrewers of the 70s were now entrepreneurs, trying to change the taste of American beer from dilute rice-wine to more the more traditional styles of Europe as well as uniquely American tastes.

Once the wort no longer contains any more sugar, it’s time to start the boiler. Rick measures out his hops.
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and tosses them in the boiler.

Hops are really just little dried flowers. They smell pretty, and stabilize beer while giving it a bitter taste (that I like – especially in IPAs). They grow all over the place but the best in this country come from Washington. Depending on their relative concentrations of alpha and beta acids, they will affect the taste of the beer to make it more or less bitter, while adding, hopefully, a flowery aroma.

This mix is then boiled, allowed to cool a bit, then run through a heat exchanger to get it to pitching temperature – the perfect temperature to throw in the yeast and get the fermentation started.
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You are now ready for fermentation.
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The yeast do their magic, and after a while you have beer!

These days craft brewing is back and it’s big. We’re almost back to having the same number of breweries today as we did 100 years ago (over 1400). Beer is once again a matter of taste and tradition, and everybody can make it, come up with a great recipe and start their own microbrew.

More on wine tomorrow.