There are two things to remember if you ever get invited to a home brewers house whilst they are brewing.
1) Never turn down a beer that is offered.
2) One should endeavor to finish said beer.
Matt is a co-worker and is quite serious about both engineering and home brewing. We had gotten to know each other through various trials and tribulations at work, and soon after he discovered I was writing the whiskey book, let me know about his passion for beer.
Oh, in the picture above, Matt is the one on the right. Marc, his brew partner is the one on the left.
Over the course of the past year, we compared notes on fermentation and brewing techniques, with me coming from a whiskey aspect, and him letting me know of professional and amateur beer brewing ones. Once I decided the next book was to be about beer, he invited me along to witness what work is involved in home brewing. This is how I found myself standing outside in 32 degree weather for close to six hours this past Saturday.
While there both Andrea and myself witnessed two different beers being made, a maple porter, as well as an IPA.
Now I could go and discuss the particular home brewing process. But it’s fairly straight forward. You create a Mash out of various grains, mostly barley, and cook them with the intent of removing the flavor of the grain and instilling it in the water. Then you move the filtered liquid to the boil, adding some sparge along the way. It’s during the boil that the hops are added, making it the second flavor element in the beer. Then, finally, it’s transferred to a fermenter, where the yeast is added, and the magical process truly begins. But that last bit is done mostly out of sight of the brewers, as it’s a process that takes a while. From fermenter to keg can take as long as a month. So we didn’t get a chance to witness that part.
The above is a general idea of the process, and I will be sure to give a more in depth explanation of it in the coming months. But there are two points I learned that I really wanted to get across here.
For one, from at least how Matt and Marc do it, home brewing seems a very sociable activity. Yes, work needs done, and things have to happen in a somewhat precise manner. But a fair amount of brewing actually involves standing around and watch the pots cook or boil, depending upon where one is at in the process. And while Andrea and I played our roles of asking questions and keeping the talks going, Marc indicated to me that this is a common occurance with him when brewing, and brewing has often been a catalyst for friends and neighbors to show up, under the guise of just saying “hi”, but really wanting to see what was going on. Over the course of the six hours, no less than three separate neighbors showed up to talk briefly with Matt and Marc about beer.
The second thing I learned…well, not learned so much as had an idea validated, was just how much flavor variation one can get with different barley and other grains. Take a look at the different recipes Matt has on his beer page. When I’ve witnessed this process on an industrial level, the context of “recipes” seems to get lost in the enormity of the process. But when the pot is holding roughly a half-kegs worth of grain varieties, the idea of how much variation in taste and flavor one can get from the grain really hit home for me.
Ditto for the hops, where it seemed more akin to making hop tea with the barley water, as I watched the bags of hops roll in the boil. Some hops are added for flavor (or a level of bitterness), others were added to add to the beer’s final bouquet.
The day was quite informative. The better days in my life have almost always been ones where ideas clicked, and things started to make sense. That I had to have these experiences whilst laughing and talking around brewing while nursing an offered beer only made the day shine that much brighter.