I’ve been homebrewing beer, cider, mead, and wine for over 20 years, and gotten pretty damn good at it. These days I’m mostly brewing session pale ales, although I do make some darker beer (like the ESB pictured above) for the winter months. I also make an annual pilgrimage to Franklin County Cider Days to pick up freshly pressed apple cider for hard cider.
I’ve made many meads, too; my favorite was an acer mead made with maple syrup that I’d also collected from sugar maple trees.
My concoctions have placed first, second, and third in the 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013 Boston Homebrew, and the 2011 Spirit of Free Beer competitions.
Here’s a short photo essay of my setup and the brewing process for a 10 gallon batch of beer.
After acquiring crushed malted barley from the local homebrew store, I mix it with hot water in a 10 gallon water cooler and let it sit for an hour or two. This process activates enzymes in the malted barley that turn starches in the grain into simple sugars that yeast can eat.
I’ve outfitted the water cooler with a false bottom and a spigot. Next, I drain the barley tea (called “wort”) into a stainless steel keg that’s set on top of a high BTU propane burner. I add more hot water in batches to rinse more of the sugars out and into the keg until about 11 gallons of wort’s in the keg.
The next step is to boil the wort for an hour, adding hops at specific times for bitterness, flavor, and aroma.
After the boil is finished, I put a coil of copper tube in the wort. Cold tap water runs through the tube, causing the hot wort to rapidly cool so that any hop or barley debris gloms together and sinks out of the wort to the bottom.
Finally, the wort is siphoned off the debris and into large glass jugs. I add brewing yeast to each jug, and close them with a stopper and an airlock. This seals the jugs from any outside air so that oxygen can’t get inside and ruin the flavor of the fermenting beer.
After about a day the beer has started actively fermenting. Ideally, this beer would be fermenting around 68 degrees — at 76-78 degrees, it’s much too hot, so I wrapped each jug with a wet t-shirt to bring down the temperature and slow the fermentation. Higher temperature fermentation stresses the yeast, causing it to create protective compounds that create undesirable flavors in the finished beer.
After a few weeks, I’ll transfer this ESB into clean glass jugs and let it age for a month or two. After aging, I’ll siphon it into a soda keg, pressurize it with CO2, and then chill it to serving temperature. Done!