More about brewing

Since people seem interested, here’s more about my homebrewing experiments.

The basic process that I use is pretty simple. I started with a traditional Finnish recipe and refined it to my taste through trial and error.  Here’s the way I do it now:

First, I put 4 and a half liters (a little more than a gallon) of water in my big kettle, the one I use for canning, cooking lobsters, corn, etc.

To this I add 1 cup of malt. I’m currently using a light barley malt which I ordered from Amazon. When that runs out I may try ordering some different varieties of malt to see what effect that has on the results. It’s a thick, sticky liquid slightly more viscous than molasses, so measuring it out and getting it into the kettle is always tricky.

I bring this to a good rolling boil for a few minutes, then turn off the heat and let it cool down to lukewarm (takes an hour or two).

When it’s lukewarm, I stir in ¼ teaspoon of yeast and let it sit for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, I sterilize my four stoppered 1-liter glass bottles with boiling water, then pour off the brew into them through a funnel. I stopper them tight and let them sit out at room temperature for about 12 hours, after which I move them into the refrigerator.

So far, I’ve had inconsistent fermentation times. Some batches have been ready to drink after one night in the fridge; others have taken a week to mature. I’ve also been experimenting with slightly different processes and combinations of ingredients. Now that I’ve worked out the basic recipe described above the results will hopefully be a little more consistent from here on.

As I said, it’s a simple process, and I’ve kept it that way for a few reasons. For one thing, I didn’t know at first whether this would be any fun or the results any good, so I didn’t want to go investing in any special equipment. (As it turns out, it is fun and the results are good, so maybe one of these days I’ll look into some proper brewing equipment). The only gear I’ve bought so far specifically for brewing is the set of stoppered bottles (from Ikea). Also, this project was inspired by my interest in trying to recreate a historical beer from the Roman Iron Age, which was probably made using a similarly simple process– boiled in a bronze kettle and fermented in wooden barrels. In keeping with that spirit, I’ve tried to work in much the same way. The beer is made as one big batch, then fermented in the bottles, with the yeast staying in the bottles. The carbonation comes solely from the fermentation process. (For a real proper recreation, I would have to use a wood fire and wooden barrels, and probably rely on atmospheric yeasts rather than adding my own– to say nothing of malting the barley myself. Maybe someday if I really want a challenge; for now I’m content with trying for a rough approximation. And not everything I do is aimed at historical recreation; sometimes I just brew something I think I’ll enjoy drinking.)

Sometimes I just make the basic recipe above, which makes a slightly sweet brew, but I usually add something more to the brew for flavor. The flavoring typically goes in at the same time as the malt. The choices have come from historical inspirations or my own whimsy. Flavorings have included lemon juice (makes a nice, tart, sparkling brew), honey (adds a richness and sweet undertone), cocoa (not good– was just casting about for something bitter to try, won’t do that one again), cranberries (tart with a fruity flavor), and mint (was okay, but not something I’ll try again). Honey, cranberry, and mint are all attested as being used in brewing in the iron age and early medieval period; lemon and cocoa were just my experiments. I haven’t tried cherries before, so we will see how that one turns out. I have not so far used hops, partly because hops wasn’t widely used in brewing until the twelfth century, well after the period I’m interested in recreating, and partly just because I don’t like the taste of hops.

Future experiments may include trying different varieties of malt, different kinds of yeast, different flavorings, and maybe someday some proper brewing equipment. It’s been a fun project to play with and the results have (mostly) been good, so I expect it’s something I will keep at for the foreseeable future.

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One Response to “More about brewing”

  1. Lii Says:

    Thanks, E – a fascinating read!

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