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.


  1. “Beer, it’s liquid bread, it’s good for you.”
    -They Might Be Giants

    “Beer. The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”
    -Homer Simpson

    Beer. Is there anything it can’t do?


  2. Son Of Slam

    I’m not going to defend the taste of the big 3 brewers, but I just want to clarify (so to speak a few things.)
    1. Beer doesn’t have to be made out of barley. It certainly can contain wheat, oatmeal, or other grains.
    2. The use of rice in American lagers is due to the higher protein concentration of American barley. Rice and corn are used as clarifying adjuncts, to make it look and taste more like European beers.

    Ok, I need to make some beer now.

  3. Anonymous

    Great maker article.

    You should submit it to

  4. Matt Penfold

    I liked the post but must take issue with you when you say beer should not contain rice or wheat. There is a whole subset of beer, found mainly in Germany that is made entirely from wheat. In the UK some the decent breweries also add wheat in small amounts in order to provide a crisper finish. Some Scottish beers can contain oats as well.

  5. Hmmm, corn and rice in beer being defended. I never thought I’d see the day.

    I can understand with certain specialty beers having these additional ingredients. I like oatmeal stouts, and wheat beers are nice from time to time. But the substitution of barley for rice and corn in American beers led to a bunch of tasteless and boring products being pushed for a generation. It wasn’t for the goal of creating a unique taste or better beer, but to find cheaper materials for mass-production of piss-water.

    I think a little pro-barley snobbery is therefor justified to try to swing the pendulum back the other way.

  6. Matt Penfold


    No argument from me about the use of cereals other than barley just to cut costs. The beers I like that use other cereals are “proper” beers.

  7. I don’t think anyone’s defending rice and corn in beer. They’re defending weizens. Unfortunately, American wheats taste like crap. More dunkelweizens, please.

  8. Um, I think the last photo was put up after the fermentation, and subsequent testing. Either that or your own specific gravity is at right angles to everyone else’s.


  9. Matt Penfold


    I can think of one beer that contains rice and is pretty decent and that is Cobra. In case you do not have it where you live it is a beer designed for drinking with spicy food and does actually taste of something, and something nice at that.

  10. Who Cares

    1) Up to a few years ago Germany had a Reinheitsgebot (purity law) for beer. Before that time most normal types of beer were only allowed to contain barley malt, hop, water and yeast. This is a good start to consider what a decent beer should be made of even though it can contain other types of grain (outside Germany before the change).
    2) The fact that due to the change of the Reinheitsgebot Budweiser is now legally allowed to call itself a beer around here doesn’t make it so. Also a high protein content is a piss poor reason to make the kind of insult to beer that most rice beers are (I don’t know Cobra so I take Matts word on that). It takes some work and experimentation but you can make very decent (probably a bit stronger then most people are used to though) beers out of high protein content wheat and barley.

  11. Oops, it is a little sideways aint it? I’ll fix it.

  12. mark, you know i have had a lot of beers in my day and my professional opinion is that there are times that a simple american lager is the perfect beverage – like after working a 16 hr shift making wine!

    there are, of course, endless beverage-time-place combinations so I’ll save you the list. suffice to say any quest for “purity” might be satisfying in the moment but is inevitably a dead end and every beverage you make and enjoy is natural and valid – even bud light!!

  13. Good stuff! I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the variety and quality of beers on sale in the US when last I visited.

    there are, of course, endless beverage-time-place combinations so I’ll save you the list.

    Is cherry beer appropriate when reading denialism blog?

  14. Two quibbles.

    One, hops is not essential to beer making. One of my favorite beers, brewed by a friend, uses juniper berries for bitters. One of, if not my least favorite beers, made by another friend, uses wormwood for bitters (J’s insane about the wormwood). Apparently there are several other plants that work as bittering agents, my old boss and the brewer of the best triple ever (better than any Belgian you can get in the states, on a par with Abbey triples you can get in Belgium), has a great book that describes many ancient bittering agents. His brewing club (uber-serious about beer type people) had a contest for the best non-hopped beer. J’s wormwood brew won the worst of contest, someone who brewed with a obscure Chinese herb I can’t recall, won. Unfortunately, I missed that meeting and missed out on tasting the winner. The juniper beer I liked took second.

    My other quibble is about the grains. The only brew I ever made more than once, was an oatmeal stout with rye, mainly because it was the only one that I actually liked. I also managed to brew an (apparently) really good weizen, for my first brewing attempt, using home grown (someone else’s home), organic wheat and organic brown rice syrup (not home grown). I hate piss beer, if I can see through it and it has to be served cold, it’s not generally my thing, but it took first place at the piss-beer meeting and they are blind contests so it wasn’t a winner because it was my first (I should admit that I had close guidance from my then boss, who is a awesome brewer).

    I should add that an apparent advantage of using juniper for bittering, is that I am told that it will dissolve the pertinent bits of the marijuana. Honestly, I can’t say for certain how accurate this is. I did get pretty stoned, the evening that came out at a party, but I was also smoking a lot of the aforementioned additive. But the guy who brewed it, swears up and down that it works.

  15. PeterG: I have a friend that drinks MGD (Miller Genuine Draft) during wine crush. What is it with vinters drinking piss beer?

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