My boyfriend Doug had been pining for a brew kit for months, so I got him one for Christmas for about $80 from our local Brew ‘n’ Grow. (Yes, that’s really what it’s called. It’s for home brewers and folks into organic gardening and growing hydroponic, um, plants.) The kit came with almost everything Doug needed, except a brew kettle ($40 for a 5-gal. kettle on fermentrationtrap.com) and a glass carboy, i.e., a fermenter, which he got for $35 from the Brew ‘n’ Grow.
Once we had the all the supplies for actually making the beer, we chose a Dunkelweizen ingredient kit to brew first. While more advanced home brewers may gather their own ingredients, Brewer’s Best’s beer ingredient kits are great for novice brewers who need to familiarize themselves with the brewing process before getting too adventurous, much like novice chefs need to understand basic cooking techniques before they can create their own recipes. A Dunkelweizen is a darker version of the German wheat beer, hefeweizen, and it’s one of my personal favorites. It’s dark, but drinkable, and full of flavor. Since I bought the kit, I got to choose the first beer we brewed—it was only fair :). These brew kits contain ingredients for what is called extract brewing, which means you’re using malt extract in place of some of the grains you would normally use in the brewing process. These kits are helpful for those with small kitchens because you can use a 5-gal. brew kettle instead a larger pot.
With all the ingredients and supplies splayed on the kitchen counter at Doug’s apartment, he and his roommate Ian dove headfirst into brewing their first beer. The process itself is not difficult, but everything—and I mean, EVERYTHING—must be sanitized at all times. Just like in food service, cleanliness and sanitation in brewing are key to producing a delicious and safe product for consumption, so extra care and precautions have to be taken along the way.
The brewing of the Dunkelwezien went over without any obvious problems … until the boys went to read the beer’s gravity, a measure for alcohol content, a few days later. The beer was way below the expected alcohol by volume (ABV): It was reading at 3% ABV instead of 4.75–5.5%. This was going to be a very light Dunkelweisen, and the boys realized it was because they hadn’t bloomed the yeast (let it bubble and foam in warm water) before pitching it (adding it to the cooled wort) and fermenting the new beer. Oops! Lesson learned.
The boys put their new knowledge to the test almost immediately. The night they bottled the very light dunkelweizen (loved by many of my girlfriends), they got out the brew pot to brew one of Doug’s all-time favorite beers: a Belgian tripel. The Belgian tripel style doesn’t date back as far as many people think; although it’s a product of the Trappist monk community, the tripel wasn’t incepted until after World War II when the monks at Our Lady of Sacred Heart in Westmalle, Belgium, produced the first batch of this deep golden brew.
According to the Alström Bros., the founders of Beer Advocate magazine, “the name tripel actually stems from part of the brewing process, in which brewers use up to three times the amount of malt than a standard Trappist ‘simple.’ Traditionally, tripels are bright to gold in color, which is a shade or two darker than the average pilsner. Head should be big, dense and creamy. Aroma and flavor runs along complex, spicy phenolic, powdery yeast, fruity/estery with a sweet finish.”
Below is a list of the ingredients used to make this particular Belgian tripel, as well as a breakdown of the steps in this particular brewing process. The brewing process is essentially the same across ale styles (lagers are brewed slightly differently) and the variation in taste mostly comes from choice of ingredients. There is a wide selection of malts, hops, yeasts, sugars, spices and flavorings that can be chosen to create a unique brew.
After watching them do it a few times now, the brewing process reminds me a lot of serious home cooking—it takes time, patience, and passion, but you’re always rewarded with a delicious homemade product and a great feeling of satisfaction. It’s funny watching Doug fall in love with brewing like I fell in love with cooking—he’s always got his nose in a brewing book or magazine, purchasing hard-to-find beers and raving about his newest find, or randomly inserting beer comments into our daily conversations. And you know, I don’t really mind ceding the kitchen one night a weekend. It’s fun being on the opposite side of the table, watching someone else create.
Brewer’s Best Belgian Tripel
This tripel contains light Belgian candi sugar to create a high-gravity beer that’s golden in color with a creamy, white head. The hops create a mild, spicy character. You need a 5-gallon brew pot or larger to make this recipe. IBUs: 24–30; ABV: 8.5–9%; Difficulty: Easy; Color: Deep Golden; Original Gravity: 1.083–1.086; Final Gravity: 1.017–1.20. This recipe produces enough beer to fill about 50, 12-oz. beer bottles.
3.3. lb light liquid malt extract (LME)
3 lb. Amber LME
3 lb. Pilsen dried malt extract (DME)
1 lb. Light Candi Sugar
8 oz. maltodextrin
4 oz. Aromatic grains
2 oz. Bittering
.5 oz Aroma
1 sachet dry ale brewing yeast
Sanitize. Gather all your ingredients together and sanitize all of your tools, including the brew kettle, fermenter, and stirring utensils.
Prepare grains. Pour 3 gallons of clean water (preferably bottled) into your brew pot and bring to the appropriate steeping temperature (150˚F–165˚F). Pour the crushed grains into a grain bag and tie in a knot.
Steep the grains in the water, then remove the grain bag and let the liquid drain back into the brew pot. The water is now wort.
Start boil. Bring the wort to a boil, and add all of the LME, DME, maltodexterin, and candi sugar. Continuously stir until the wort returns to a boil.
Add hops. Sprinkle the bittering hops into the wort and boil for 50 minutes. Add the aroma hops and boil for 5 more minutes. Terminate boil. The type of hops and boil duration for each variety depending on the style being brewed and the desired final taste.
Cool wort and transfer. Cool the wort to approx. 70˚F by placing the brew pot in a sink filled with ice water (making an ice bath). Once it’s cooled, siphon the wort into a sanitized fermenter. Avoid transferring the heavy sediment (called the trub) into the fermenter.
Bloom yeast. This step will depend on which type of yeast you are using (dry or liquid) and it is best to consult the manufacturers’ directions to properly prepare the yeast for pitching.
Add water. Add enough clean water to the fermenter to bring the wort to approx. 5 gallons and thoroughly stir. Make sure to monitor the specific gravity of the wort as you add water. Using a hydrometer, measure the original gravity and record it.
Pitch yeast. Add the yeast and stir well with a sanitized spoon or paddle. Firmly secure the lid on the fermenter. Push the airlock, partially filled with water, securely into lid and move to cool, warm location typically between 65-75 degrees depending on the style being brewed.
Monitor and record. The wort will begin to ferment within 24 hours and CO2 will release from the airlock in the form of bubbles. When fermentation is complete (no bubbles for 48 hours, about 4 to 6 days later), use the hydrometer to read the final gravity on the beer. Record it where you recorded the original gravity. The best way to determine is fermentation is complete is to take readings of the gravity several days in a row. If the gravity measuring does not change, its safe to assume the fermentation is complete.
*Second fermentation. Transfer the fermented wort to a 5-gallon glass carboy (secondary fermenter), taking care not to transfer the trub. Some brewers believe that moving the beer off the trub helps to improve the taste and color of the final product. Leave it in a cool, warm place to ferment for another 2 weeks or so. Then proceed to bottling.
Bottle the beer. Siphon the beer from the carboy into clean and sanitized bottles, and use capping mechanism to cap each bottle. Let bottles sit in a cool, dark area until carbonated, about 2 to 4 weeks. Oops I forgot to take pictures of this step!
Drink your homebrew! After two weeks, test one of the beers to see if it’s carbonated. If it’s ready, serve and enjoy! If not, wait a few more days and test again.
*This step is not essential, but it’s used by some homebrewers, including Doug, to improve the taste and clarity of the beer.