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Homebrewing

Q: How is American Beer similar to making love in a canoe?
A: Both are fucking close to water!

That little joke (yes, ``stolen'' from Monty Python's ``Live at the Hollywood Bowl'') reflected the truth to a sad and even frightening degree until relatively recently (the early 1990s), when micro breweries finally began to reappear in the United States in numbers to revive the art of brewing a great variety of quality beers, often for no more than local consumption.



Index

  1. A Brief History of Brewing Beer
  2. Common Questions About Home Brewing
  3. Some of my Brews
    1993-1996
    Walrus Geyser Stout
    Walrus Icebreaker Ale
    Walrus Tusk Porter
    Walrus Hoppy I.P.A.
    Walrus Titanic Icebreaker Ale
    Walrus Bitter
    Walrus Hoppy I.P.A. ('96)
    2000-present
    Better Baby Bitter Brew
    Chocolate-Nut Imperial Stout
    Steel Hammer Wheat
    Rocky Raccoon's Crystal Honey. . . Ale
  4. The Unix-to-Unix Beer Protocol (UUBP)
  5. Links to Other Resources

A Brief History of Brewing Beer

(With a focus on the United States of America)

The brewing of beer is a tradition begun by the Babylonians over 6000 years ago. We know this because the Babylonians left us a beer recipe. The art of brewing eventually resulted in thousands and thousands of delicious variations of beer across the world, each style reflective of the brewer, the drinker, the region, and the ingredients found there. Beer is intimately tied to the very nature of our planet-wide culture.

Alas, ever since the days of the Prohibition, when a great idiocy bubbled up and swept this Land of the Free, the brewing of beer by individuals was and remained illegal (because of an omission from the documents that repealed Prohibition) until February 1979 when President Jimmy Carter signed a Congressional bill from November 1978 into law. Still, because brewing beer had been illegal for nearly sixty years it was difficult for home brewers to obtain quality ingredients. It took about fifteen years for the situation to change sufficiently that the phrase I brew my own beer at a party no longer caused raised eyebrows and a surprised question Is that legal?

Yes, in the United States, it is legal to brew your own beer. You definitely cannot sell it (you'd need an alcohol license for that) but you can have your friends and neighbors over and share it. For each adult in a household you may brew up to 100 U.S. gallons (387.5 liters) of beer each year. That amounts to about three bottles per day per adult.


Common Questions About Home Brewing

Is it legal to brew your own beer at home?
Absolutely! So long as you're old enough to legally buy beer, you can brew up to 100 U.S. gallons (387.5 liters) of beer per year. That's twenty 5 U.S. gallon (~19 liter) batches of homebrew. You'd be brewing a new batch every 2 weeks. That's a lot of beer!

Does homebrewed beer actually taste good?
Better than you may imagine! Your first batch may not be the delight and envy of all your friends (although my first one did earn me praises) but much as with fine cooking, you get better with it the more you brew, and you'll be surprised how truly good your beer can be, how fresh and how tasty real beer can be!

How difficult is it to learn brewing beer?
Once you get past any possible mystique, it's not difficult at all. It's a lot like cooking, in fact. The only really important thing about brewing beer is that once you are finished boiling the wort (the ``pre-beer'' that comes out of your brew pot) you have to be careful about sanitation.
What does it cost to get started?
The startup costs for the equipment can run you anywhere from US$30 to US$120 depending how serious you consider yourself to be, and how much trouble you want to avoid from the start. I spent about US$100 on equipment. I could have done with US$70 but chose to get a few extras to make my life easier.

And what does each batch of beer cost to brew?
It depends greatly on the type of beer you want to brew. I tend to spend between US$20 and US$30 on a batch of beer. That gets me just about two cases (each 24 bottles of 355 ml) of beer. If you brew exotic fruit beers, you could spend much more. If you go all-grain you might only spend US$10 to US$15 on a batch of beer.

How long does it take to brew?
I tend to spend about 4 hours on a batch of beer, including the time to cool the wort and pitch the yeast to get fermentation going. After that it stays in the fermenter for a week or two, goes into the bottles (perhaps 1 hour of work) and is usually ready to drink one to four weeks after that (depends on the beer). All in all, five hours of your time and two to three weeks, perhaps more, to enjoy your first bottle of homebrewed beer.

How long can I store beer?
If you keep beer at relatively cool temperatures, let's say 50-60F (10-16C), the beer will stay fresh for many months. Some people report finding a six-pack in the garage after years and discovering it to be superb! Homebrew will continue to age in the bottles (yes, like wine!) and some styles can take many months, even years(!) before coming into their prime!
        Just yesterday (Jan 14, 2001) I found a last bottle of a beer I had brewed in the Summer of 1996 (my ``Titanic Icebreaker Ale'', which wasn't all that good back then): while still my worst brew ever, it was a drinkable beer and had certainly improved(!) since the time when I brewed it, well over fifty months ago. Imagine that!
        As a rule of thumb: alcohol and hops act as natural preservatives in beer. The more of each your beer has the better it is likely to do in storage. And don't fear your ``old'' home brew: it may have ripened into an enviable beer; at worst it will no longer taste good. Never throw away a bottle of home brew that you found, covered with dust and cobwebs. :-)

Can I make money with my beer?
No! Unless you have a license to sell alcohol, you cannot sell homebrew. Of course, you can share your homebrewed beer with friends, give some bottles as a gift, or trade your brew against theirs.

Some of my Brews

I began home brewing in late 1993 when my friend David Wooden introduced me to this hobby. I spent about $100 on equipment and together we proceeded to turn my kitchen into a disaster area. ;-) Let's just say that the old proverb is right: ``A Watched Pot Never Boils''.

There were about three years (1997-1999) when I did not brew any beer. I had never given up home brewing; I simply had other things going on and brewing was not a priority during that time.

What follows is a list of the beers I've brewed, along with some comments that serve me as a record and which may be helpful in some way to you, the interested reader:


1993 Walrus Geyser Stout
Named for a violent over-boil during brewing

My first beer was based on Charlie Papazian's ``Toad Spit Stout''. I ``messed up'' and got Wheat Malt Extract Syrup instead of Dark Malt. . . I worried needlessly: the stuff came out wonderful! Good body, nice head, and in some ways surprisingly close to how I remember Guinness Extra Stout from my last trip to Ireland.

And this one is still my mom's favorite, too. She waxes poetic over this one, and judges every one of my beers by its memory. Let's see if my Chocolate-Nut Imperial Stout can beat this record!



1994 Walrus Icebreaker Ale
Named for its strength (6% alc. by vol.)

Based on Papazian's ``Holiday Cheer'' recipe, this one is brewed with fresh ginger, cinnamon, orange peel, etc. When I first tried it the ginger was overpowering, but as the beer is supposed to age for many months (brew it in the summer, enjoy it during the end-of-year holidays) that was no surprise.

I served this beer in April 1995 on a first date with Kristy (now my wife). She joked for a long time after that the love potion was beginning to wear off and I had better brew again soon. :)

Drank the last two bottles in June 1996, 20 months after brewing. It remains at the very top of my favorite home brews!!


Walrus Tusk Porter
Named mostly in an attempt to remain with the ``Walrus Theme''

My third beer is a significant variation on Papazian's ``Sparrowhawk Porter'', and thereby my first attempt to deviate a lot from a beer recipe. I exprimented with four different hops for bittering, aroma, and bouquet.

The beer came out of the fermenter almost perfectly enjoyable and within days began rounding out quite nicely. I had a great difficulty restraining myself from drinking a bottle or two every night. Needless to say it was gone before I knew it.


1995 Walrus Hoppy I.P.A. (say it aloud!)
I said the name to myself so many times it became silly. . .

This beer is a bitter and highly hopped I.P.A. (India Pale Ale) wich has been behaving a little ``funny'' in the fermenter, but smells quite wonderful. I've experimented with dry hopping and a long secondary fermentation before bottling.

When I first bottled it the smell of hops was almost overwhelming. It's bitter and sweet at the same time. A really powerful combination. The toasted malt gives it a very intense red colour. Two weeks after bottling it had settled into a delicious, but not overpowering hoppiness. I never had such a hoppy brew. Incredible!

Look, ma! I'm a hophead now!


Walrus Titanic Icebreaker Ale
The ill-fated remake of the '94 Icebreaker Ale

Boiled over twice (the stove was an unmitigated disaster afterwards, hence the ``Titanic'' in the name), but it never boiled long enough to achieve a definitive hotbreak. Had a lot of precipitate, even in the bottles. A rather thick, heavy, and sweet concoction that reminded me of some Barley Wines.

Needless to say it turned out very different from what I had intended, but if the previous version was any indication then its character will continue to evolve.

I found a last remaining bottle of this brew in January 2001. It had still not become a terribly good beer, but it had mellowed and rounded a lot. There remained a distinct edge to the taste that was at first unpleasant, but after about half of that liter was gone I found it increasingly enjoyable.

I'm now convinced that I screwed up with sanitation: the odd taste resulted from bacteria influencing the taste. Don't worry about bacteria in your beer, though: the alcohol that the yeast produces from the fermentables in the wort will effectively kill the bacteria. The only reminder of those critters is from the off-taste. :-/


1996 Walrus Bitter
A variation on an English Bitter

When I put the bittering hops into the brewpot the smell of hops exploded through the kitchen. In a happy daze I rushed to the refrigerator and took out another ounze of hops. Before I knew what I had done there were at least 50% more bittering hops in the beer than the recipe (an English Bitter) had called for.

When I first tried it, about a week or so after bottling, it was so bitter as to make my cheeks pucker! I'm glad that I did not write this beer off, however, as it only required about three weeks from bottling to become one of the most drinkable and refreshing beers in memory.

This goes to show you: experimentation is a good thing. If you keep the sanitation under control you cannot go wrong if you remain in the realm of reason. :)


Walrus Hoppy I.P.A.
A remake of my '95 Hoppy I.P.A.

The only real difference from last year's version is the fact that I did not dry hop this one. It didn't come out as hoppy, therefore, but my friend ``Hoover'' from Germany loved the stuff when he visited us, and he has since taken up home brewing on his own (and that in a country where you can find great commercial beer at every street corner!)


2000 Better Baby Bitter Brew
A ``Vild und Vacky Variant'' of the Walrus Bitter

I brewed this in preparation for the birth of our daughter Veronika, and because Kristy didn't (shouldn't, mustn't) drink during pregnancy and should have something special to enjoy after the birth.

The beer was done fermenting after three or four days in the primary but spent about two months in the fermenter (sitting on the trub!) because the situation at work was crazy (70 hour weeks, yuck!) and I simply had no time or mind to bottle this stuff. Even so, this beer came out fantastic!

The secret? More hops, more hops! Can't get enough of those hops (play a little jingle in your head as you continue. . .) They preserve the beer, they make it fresh, then add bouquet, they taste great, they do wonders for the beer overall. The Bitter is a superb base for such a beer. Go crazy, knock yourself out!


2001 Chocolate-Nut Imperial Stout
Return to the Dark Side

It's been a few years since I brewed a stout. With the cold winter days finding no more homebrew in the cellar, and having had a taste of Victoria Brewing Company's ``Storm King Imperial Stout'' (see the resources section below), I decided that after nearly seven years it was high time for a stout to come out of my brewpot again.

Click here for the recipe of the Chocolate-Nut Imperial Stout.

This one is based on 10 U.S. pounds (4.54 kg) of malt extracts, 1 pound of chocolate malt, and pound of toasted malted barley (for a hint of nut).

The beer achieved an original gravity of 1.072 and is expected to reach an alcohol content of about 7%. It's still in the fermenter, having spent about two days bubbling violently. I tasted some of the (bitter) overflow and was delighted with the taste. More information to come after bottling and tasting of the beer. . .

It came out extremely tasty; full-bodied but not heavy; the chocolatey taste is slightly more than a hint: noticable but not overwhelming by any stretch of the imagination. Round and full and so good that it's almost gone now! And at 6.5% it was just the thing in front of the fire. . .


Steel Hammer Wheat
An Experiment

Brewed on the same day as the Chocolate-Nut Imperial Stout, this beer is my most experimental one yet: Inspired by a conversation with a friend at work who does all-grain brewing, I decided to try my hand at a partial mash; my first attempt at temperature controlled mashing finds me starting the mash at 70C (158F) (by appropriately mixing two volumes of water at different temperatures) and letting it go down from there on its own for 90 minutes.

I've no idea, really, how much of the starch conversion completed, or just what portions, because not only did I not calculate the effects on temperature of adding the grains to the mash, but I also forgot to take the temperature after the 90 minutes were over and could not plot a temperature-time scale to match the various ranges where different conversions occur.

But I did taste the mash before I took out the grains and brought the rest back up to a boil: It was very(!) tasty. The only real question I have is ``how much of that tasty wort was fermentable sugar?''

The recipe is entirely my own, based on 6 U.S. pounds (2.724 kg) of extra light DME, 3 pounds (1.362 kg) of white wheat, and 1 pound (454 g) of munich malt. It achieved an original gravity of 1.066 and is expected to reach up to 7.5% alcohol. This is a ``wheat beer'' that will hit you like a hammer! More to come when bottling and tasting time arrive. . .

At bottling time and in the weeks thereafter this beer turned out to have a lot of ``weirdness'' in the taste, as a result of me being tired after a long day brewing and in my haste and inattention killing most of the yeast during rehydration. This caused the yeast to take 48 hours to build up enough of a population which gave various unnamed bacteria a chance at my beer. Enough of really good taste came through, however, to tell me that it was only for that one mistake that my beer was not what it could have been.

End of May, about 100 days after bottling: all the ``weirdness'' is gone! This is one fine, fine wheat beer now, thoroughly refreshing and possessed of a rather delightful combination of flavours and nose. I'm definitely hanging on to this recipe to make another version of it soon. Goes to show that no bad beer is ever a waste until it has not improved even when given the chance.


Rocky Raccoon's Crystal Honey. . . Ale
The original is a lager, but fermenting with ale yeast at 70F (21C) does not a lager make

The recipe calls this a lager, meaning that it ought to be fermented with lager yeast and at lager fermenting temperatures. But given that I have no refrigerator to keep the beer cool (my wife would kill me if I usurped the one in the kitchen!) I've decided to ferment with ale yeast at a slightly lower temperature than what I usually do: the basement is somewhat cooler than the rest of the house, so we'll see how that goes.


The Unix-to-Unix Beer Protocol (UUBP)

If you don't ``get it'', then you're obviously not a home brewer with Unix experience.

UUBP(1)                Homebrewer's Manual                UUBP(1)

NAME
       uubp - Unix-to-Unix beer protocol

SYNOPSIS
       uubp [acefghlqy] site

DESCRIPTION
       uubp  allows the user to transfer beer, ale, or other fer-
       mented  grain  beverages  between  network  sites.   Using
       TCP/IP  (telecommunications  protocol  for  imbibing  pil-
       sners), uubp encodes beer from a local  file  system  into
       packets  suitable for FTP (fermentation transfer protocol)
       delivery at a remote IP site.

       Example:

            % uubp -c"AMBER" -f0.7 -y0 -q2 198.137.240.100

            Sends two six-packs (-q2) of  amber  ale  (-c"AMBER")
            with  a fizziness quotient of 70%, brewed using yeast
            of type 0 (saccharo-myces cerevisiae) to  IP  address
            198.137.240.100,  which  is  the  IP  address for the
            White House.

RESTRICTIONS
       Both source and destination sites must  be  running  uubp-
       daemon.  In  addition,  local  restrictions  exist in many
       areas for  the  transportation  of  alcohol  across  state
       lines.

       The  Electronic  Frontier Foundation is currently involved
       in litigation to ensure the  ability  to  distribute  beer
       through the uubp protocol according to the 21st Amendment.
       To support the SIG of EFF devoted to this cause, join  the
       Homebrewers  of the Electronic Frontier Engaged in Winning
       Electronic Independence and Zeroing Establishment Nonsense
       (HEFEWEIZEN),  or send mail to hefeweizen@eff.eff.org.  Be
       sure to include the entire text of this manual page.

NOTES

                           8 Dec 1993                           1

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