From Gear to Beer in 5 Weeks!
As a fledging craft-beer enthusiast, perhaps you not only refuse to drink anything other than a microbrew, but you are genuinely offended when someone offers you a green-bottle import that tastes and smells like Pepé Le Pew’s armpits. You may have even started collecting bottles and bombers of the rarest treasures released, deeming this collection “The Libeery.” Maybe you even embarked on the epic journey to become a cicerone (that’s an officially certified beer guy to the rest of us).
Congrats, sir or madam; you have achieved greatness in the beer subculture and have become a true Craft-Beer Ambassador! Now what? The good news is that you can continue your craft-beer voyage, and it will be neither extremely challenging nor tremendously expensive.
To find out exactly what’s involved, a few of us at JR Cigar decided to visit a home-brew shop called Cask & Kettle Homebrew, located in Boonton, NJ, to investigate just how difficult brewing beer would be for the average enthusiast. What we found was quite unexpected.
When we arrived at the store, we spoke to owner and fellow craft-beer devotee Joe Verzi. Cask & Kettle has been operating for close to four years and sells everything that one may need to brew and dispense beer. Joe is extremely passionate about his business, which he built from the ground up (during a recession, mind you) and which seems to be continuously growing. Of course, it helps that the number of home brewers has increased approximately 20 percent over the last three years.
Before stores like this, an amateur had to turn to the dangerous jungle of online forums or large manufacturers that offered little to no customer support. According to Joe, that support system, combined with a little innovation, is what allows his store to keep up with the colossal online merchants of today. “Brick-and-mortar stores can compete in today’s market; the idea that they can’t is shortsighted and archaic,” he confidently declared.
Joe walked us around Cask & Kettle, pointing out the wide array of inventory that one will find at a proper
home-brew shop as well as some items that are exclusive to his store, such as his handmade cigar-box stir plates (we saw that he likes the El Rey del Mundo and Genuine Counterfeit Cuban brands). Hops, grains, yeast, countless pieces of brewing equipment, and dispensing gear littered
the walls and shelves of this beer utopia.
Joe could see that we were slightly overwhelmed by the variety of options offered to the home brewer, and eased our concerns by directing our attention to one single item. This Pandora’s Box of brewing magic was a fairly inclusive kit made by Brewer’s Best, and it contained everything a beginning brewer needs to make beer except a five-gallon boiling pot, ingredients, bottles, and caps.
As for the ingredients, Joe highly recommended Brewer’s Best recipe kits, which are sold complete with every ingredient a brewer needs, plus in-depth step-by step instructions. But remember, no matter which homebrew shop happens to be in your neighborhood, you should always be able to depend on its employees—or owner, in Joe’s case—to field any questions you have before, during, and after brewing your beer.
Many historians believe that beer has been brewed since prehistoric nomads roamed the earth. Ancient civilizations utilized the art of brewing, and this carbonated, fortified beverage leaked into every nook and cranny of their cultures. Although the exact process has changed slightly over time, the general idea remains the same. Sure, we at JR Cigar are lucky to have Joe Verzi and his Cask & Kettle Homebrew crew to assist us with all of our beer-making needs. But if you can’t find a retailer in your area, simply search for a homebrew club that will steer you in the right direction.
As we were leaving Cask & Kettle with our brains full of brew knowledge, Joe left us with a simple yet poignant idea. “Remember,” he said, “you don’t overthink cooking beef stew; don’t overthink brewing beer.”
By no means is this article intended to be used as an instruction manual for brewing beer, but it will give you a succinct overview of the techniques that you are about to use.
Step 1: The most important aspect to brewing beer is cleanliness. Every piece of equipment that may come in contact with your beer before it is bottled must be completely sanitized!
Step 2: Next, move on to the simple process of steeping the grains. Basically, you are making a large pot of tea by placing the provided grains into a socklike bag and allowing them to bathe in a covered pot for a specific time at a specific temperature.
Step 3: This grain tea is called “wort,” and must now be brought to a boil. Once you have achieved a gentle rolling boil, it is time to add the malt extract that was provided with the kit. Make sure you stir this concoction because, although a watched pot never boils, an unwatched wort will burn to the bottom of your pan.
Step 4: Once the wort has returned to a gentle rolling boil, it is time to follow the hop schedule. The total brewing time for most beginner beers is 60 minutes, and during that hour you may have to add several different types of hops at specific times.
Note: Some people waste this time by cleaning or other such nonsense. I, however, take this one-hour reprieve as the chance to unwrap, cut, and enjoy my brew-day cigar. I recommend a Romeo y Julieta 1875 Bully (see page 1).
Step 5: After the boil, the wort must be chilled to approximately 70 degrees. To avoid unwanted bacteria growth, this process must be done as rapidly as possible.
Step 6: Once the wort is chilled to 70 degrees, it is transferred via siphon into a sanitized fermenter.
Step 7: Add water to the wort until the fermenting vessel is full.
Step 8: It is now time to “pitch the yeast,” which will begin the fermenting process. Simply sprinkle the yeast into the fermenter and stir well. Seal the fermenter and store it in a dark, warm area with little to no temperature fluctuation.
Step 9: Fermentation will begin with 24 hours; within four to seven days, the bubbling that is caused by this process will stop.
Step 10: Once you no longer see any fermentation activity for 24 to 48 hours, it is time to bottle. The general idea is that you combine priming sugar and the beer in a sanitized bottle and seal it. Your beer bottles should then be stored for roughly two to four weeks to allow the priming sugar to add carbonation.