Home brewing – stage one

Glenn: You do realise that this is the beer making equivalent of a packet cake?
Me: Of course I do (no idea)
Glenn: It’s about discipline..
Me: Oh (dammit)

Even though Glenn is my favourite person in the world, we are not one of those couples who cook together because someone will always end up spitting it. I happen to know that this is not at all unusual. If you’re lucky enough to have harmony in the kitchen, congratulations! But generally Mr Dickson and I tend to stay out of each other’s way in this area. It is much safer and everyone is much much happier.

So we’re heading into dangerous territory here because home brewing is basically cooking.

Until now I’ve never really taken much notice of the home brewing that goes on around here or up at the other house. All I knew is that I occasionally drank the beer and then the shelves refilled themselves as if by a magical (bearded) beer fairy.

My beer fairy now has about 20 batches of home brew under his belt and to his credit has only thrown one out. This makes him the official expert in our house and I was reasonably committed to not pissing him off in case he abandoned me and I messed it up.

All I needed to buy for my home brew were the ingredients as we already have the actual beer barrel, stirring implement and barrel heater (you need this. It’s winter). You can pick up the necessary equipment for around $100.

Ingredients – These were purchased from the Home Brew shop in Moonah. I love a Pale so I’ve chosen Cooper’s Indian Pale Ale ($18), one bag of light malt ($9) some black lids (ooh posh) and a packet of Copper Tun finishing hops. All up it was around $35. One barrel makes about 30 long necks of beer. Economical!

The (hopefully) magic ingredients...
The (hopefully) magic ingredients…

The most important thing is to sterilise everything carefully and to start with a clean dry kitchen. Things to avoid – detergent and anything that will scratch the barrel while cleaning it or the utensils. The soap in detergent will kill the potential bubbles in the beer and scratching the barrel inside will give germs a place to hide. Glenn was completely bossy about this. “Don’t let let anything touch the neck of the barrel when you’re stirring” and “did you just touch that?!” and “why are you frowning?” (haha I was frowning because I was concentrating really hard on not being an apparent grot). I let it slide though. What a good student.

The instructions that come with the kit are fairly easy to follow. In very very basic terms you need to combine the can of home-brew mix and the packet of malt in the barrel. You then add first boiled water and then cold water to bring to the right temperature. If you heat the can in some hot water first it will pour out easier as it’s very treacly. The Cooper’s instructions recommend a brew temperature between 21 – 27 degrees celsius. The hops can either be added at the end or boiled with the hot water and then strained. I did the latter.

Lots of stirring with a long armed instrument. It needs to be thoroughly dissolved. There’s a temperature gauge on the outside of the barrel. When it hit about 25 degrees I scattered the yeast on the top (under the watchful eye of my coach). The lid was then popped on which has a seal and an airlock. Now it’s just a waiting game really. That and monitoring the temperature. I’ve got mine sitting in the shed which is not ideal as the brew needs to keep warm to ferment. There’s a special heating strap wrapped around the base of the barrel, keeping it hovering somewhere around 25 degrees. Glenn says in summer he only uses the heater at night, if at all. I’ll pop back out later tonight and see how it’s faring. Just read on the instructions that some people use towels for extra warmth.

I’m happy to report that stage one has actually been completed without incident. Both parties were very well behaved. Me in particular!

There she is. I'll be wandering in and out of the shed, giving her pats of encouragement. Go beer!
There she is. I’ll be wandering in and out of the shed, giving her pats of encouragement. Go beer!