Sunday, August 25, 2013

something's brewing.

This weekend, R and I tried our hand at something I think he's been wanting to do for a very long time: we home brewed our own beer! We are serious craft beer lovers around here. In fact as of this weekend, R has toured 27 breweries (he's been to more, that's just the official tour count!) and I've been to about a third of those. In addition to going to breweries and making pilgrimages to highly rated beer stores around the country, he also frequents beer rating sites to profile and rate the new beers he tries. Somewhere along the line, he lured me into the world of good beer and I've slowly been morphing into a bit of a beer nerd myself. 

So, making our own beer just seemed like the next logical step! R finally decided to take the plunge and get a home brew starter kit from Northern Brewer when we were visiting Milwaukee. The kit gives you everything you need to brew a five gallon batch of beer. You can choose from three different starter recipes and we chose the Irish Red Ale. So Friday afternoon, we put on some good music, poured ourselves a beer, and started brewing our very first batch! 

It all starts with some water. 

Some recipe kits come with specialty grain, which give the beer color and aroma. You steep the grain like tea in a mesh bag. 

R emptied the grain after steeping it and casually mentioned that there are all kinds of recipes for using the spent grain. I did a little research and came up with something. More on that later. Back to our beer! 

After steeping the grain, you add liquid malt extract. Beer is really only four basic ingredients; water, malt, hops, and yeast. (Remember this for your next beer tour, class!) People who know their stuff brew with all grain malt, but beginners tend to use the liquid malt extract as a way to cut down on equipment and steps. We are beginners, thus the jug full of liquid. 

Then comes the important addition of hops. Hops are what give beer it's distinctive taste and they are an important ingredient. This red ale isn't too hoppy, but R's next batch may be an IPA which is much hoppier. More hops usually equals more bitterness. After this, the young beer is called wort until you add yeast, then it gets to be called beer. (Feel free to write this down and impress the tour guide at your next brewery tour with all your knowledge. But if you get a free pint out of it, then you owe me one!) The wort has to boil, which gave me a little time to look up those spent grain recipes and play with the camera a little. 

I found a great recipe for spent grain dog treats on the blog 17 Apart, (which also had lots of other great recipes of all sorts and lots of beautiful photography and shots of their sweet Weimaraner, Basil, so check them out!) I love spoiling Beau and I had yet to try any homemade puppy treats. I figured since it was the weekend of Beer Firsts, I may as well make some spent beer grain treats. 

Speaking of Beau, this picture has absolutely nothing to do with beer, but I wanted to show the world one of Beau's weirdest/cutest little habits. Sometimes, if I'm just standing around, Beau will come stand in between my legs. He just calmly stands there for a few minutes between my knees, then walks away. It's weird and precious and it's why I love that dog. 

I think it's an unwritten rule that when you are making beer, you must also be drinking beer. We don't write 'em, we just follow 'em around here. 

This warning is on the side of the bottling bucket. Don't let your baby drink the beer? Don't get your baby drunk? Don't get drunk and brew your baby? 

Okay, so maybe Beau and I were relaxing on the job a bit. No worries though, I didn't get drunk and brew Beau. 

After the wort boil, the most important ingredient gets added: yeast! This is really where things get cool and science-y. (That's an insider term, class. Science-y!)

Once you add the wort and the yeast to the fermenter, all the magic happens. Basically, the brew you've created is just malted grain and hops; the yeast is what makes it beer. 

The beer magic happens when you hide the fermenter away in a cool, dark place for a few days. While it's hiding in your office closet underneath R's dress whites, the yeast wake up and eat all the sugars in the malt. They fart carbon dioxide and poop alcohol and voila! Beer is born! It's a little crass, but it's actually really cool to see the airlock on top start bubbling and foam form because millions of actual living organisms are hanging out in your closet making beer for you. Very science-y, indeed! 

After we finished brewing the red ale and it was safely in the closet, I made small one gallon recipe kit that we also picked up. This one is a honey ale, but not just any honey ale! It's the recipe used by the White House kitchen staff after President Obama asked them to try their hand at home brewing! The official White House release is really interesting and if you've got 5 minutes, watch the video, which shows the White House chef making the exact same beer I'm making in this picture! I mean, if that doesn't taste like sweet American freedom, I don't know what does! 

So I made my little batch and nestled it into the closet next to R's big batch and in a few weeks, we'll bottle. Home brewing is a test of patience because the bottles need to sit another couple of weeks before we're able to crack them open and drink the beer we worked so hard for. 

In the meantime though, I was able to use the spent grain from the big batch to make the dog treats! I dried the grain in the oven while we brewed, them mixed them up today with a little peanut butter, eggs, and flour. I rolled them out and cut them into hearts and baked them.

They're all natural and apparently, pups love the grain flavor. Beau tested some for quality before we packaged some up and tomorrow I'm shipping them off to some of his friends and cousins around the country. The spent grain from the little batch of honey ale is getting made into honey almond cranberry granola bars tomorrow. So, out of two batches of beer, we also get dog treats and people snacks. Not too bad for first timers!

I'll keep you updated on our first batches progress and other beer recipes we try. It was such a fun way to spend an afternoon and I think it's the beginning of a great new hobby for us!


  1. You guys are too cool. I'm curious how you made the granola, sounds tasty. Last time we tried it was really hard (like, hella crunchy / hard to eat type hard).

  2. I was just going to start doing stuff with my spent grain as well! I was thinkin some kind of muffins...I will let you know if I find a recipe I like :)