Wortin’ Weekend

November 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

This weekend I took on my first home brewing attempt. They say making beer is pretty easy and just requires a bit of time. I used a Fat Tire Amber Ale clone kit so it was fairly easy to follow the directions to make the wort, which is the liquid extracted from the mashing process that will then be fermented into beer.

As easy as it turned out to be it was a little daunting looking at all of this equipment. Luckily when you mention you’re brewing beer you often run into people who have tried it themselves and Matt, who I’ve gotten to know from the Boulder Wine Merchant, was nice enough to come brew with me and show me how it’s done. He walked through the process beforehand so I had an idea of each step. It’s also just nice to have someone to hang out with when brewing. It’s a lot of waiting and not unlike watching water boil.

My one mistake was not following the directions on the back of the yeast packet. This stays refrigerated until you use it and I opened it thinking the packet was inside. No harm, no foul though since it ended up working fine.

After bringing about 3.5 gallons of water up to 160 degrees we added in grains for flavoring and coloring. The smell transported me back to horseback riding as a kid and the smell of the horse food in the barns. It is pretty much like brewing up a big pot of horse food tea at this point.

The kit I used already had a malt extraction which saves time in the process and also simplifies things a bit. It’s a good way to go when you’re starting out. It’s essentially the sugary liquid you typically extract from the grains in an all grain brew. Matt has just graduated to all-grain after a couple years of brewing.

In all-grain brewing, the malt is made from dried, sprouted barley. The malt is ground into grist. The grist is mashed, that is, mixed with hot water and steeped, a complex and slow heating process that enables enzymes to convert the starch in the malt into sugars. At set intervals, notably when the mixture has reached a temperature of 45 °C, 62 °C, and 73 °C, the heating is briefly halted. The temperature of the mixture is usually increased to 78 °C for mash out. Lautering is the next step, which simply means the sugar-extracted grist or solids remaining in the mash are separated from the liquid wort. (thank you Wikipedia)
Another important step to take in brewing is making sure everything that will be coming in contact with the wort is sanitized properly. It’s a little cumbersome in a kitchen sink.After adding in the malt extract, an hour long boil begins and hops pellets are added in at various intervals for flavor and then at the end for aroma. My house smelled very hoppy to say the least. After an hour of boiling, it’s time to cool down the wort as quickly as possible. I strained the 3.5 gallons of wort out into the sanitized fermentation bucket in an ice bath in the sink and then filled it up to the 5 gallon mark with cold water. For a little more $ you can get a wort chiller which is probably a good idea. It took awhile to cool down the mixture without it. After getting the temperature down to 70 degrees I added in the yeast and then made sure the lid was on tight. The kit also comes with an airlock valve. Matt gave me the tip of putting vodka into it instead of water. The water/vodka keeps bacteria out while allowing the yeast to breathe.

I was happy the next morning to see the valve bubbling. The wort will ferment in there for a week and then I will transfer it to the glass container for secondary fermentation for another week. Then I’ll bottle it and let it ferment for a couple weeks further.

All in all home brewing was a pretty interesting project. I can see it being a really fun thing to do with friends for an afternoon while partaking in a few already brewed beers together. Boulder has a lot of places locally for brewing inspiration and it’s the kind of community that likes to help each other out. We’ll see how my beginner brew turns out and maybe I’ll graduate onto more complicated brews.

Hop to It, Boulder

November 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

Through this project I’m always finding interesting places in Boulder. I’ve driven by this little shopping center a hundred times and never noticed there was a full service home brewing store just waiting for me to discover. It’s a good thing it was there since I would have been in trouble otherwise. I had bought a kit a friend suggested and unfortunately it arrived with 4 components missing from it. I may have uttered a few choice swear words when I discovered that.
For about $55 (including shipping) I bought the Chocolate Maple Porter kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop. It seemed like it would have been a great starter kit from the directions. It makes about 10 bottles of beer.

Unfortunately without all the proper tools I had to come up with something else. Maybe the person inspecting it had been sampling a little too much of their own product at the time?

They have a number of seasonal kits available that looked good. You just have to take your chances on the full kit showing up.

I ended up visiting my local store, Hop to It, which is even handier.
One of my new friends, Matt, from the Boulder Wine Merchant met me there since he is an avid home brewer. He offered to help me figure out what I needed to get started which was a huge help. He also came over and helped us along with our first home brew which I will write more about later. Many thanks to Matt!

I decided to make a little bit more of an investment in a 5 gallon equipment kit that cost about $160. I also purchased a 5 gallon Fat Tire Amber Ale clone kit for $35 plus the activation yeast. They have a lot of clone kits of popular craft beers. My husband was showing interest in brewing as well, so I figure it will be a good investment and it will fuel many fun poker nights with friends.

Hop to It offers brewing classes which I will look into, including an all grain brewing class which I will have to graduate to. For me, just figuring out the basics was enough for now using a kit. It was a similar feeling to being at my mechanics and not really having a clue what I would need to do with them.

In talking with one of the guys who worked there, I was asking him about their clientele and whether they get a lot of women. He said they get a ton of college students because there is no legal age limit to buying brewing equipment. You have to love American ingenuity in getting around the law.

Now that I have my first brew behind me, it will be interesting to explore what they have to offer further. It’s a great little store to have in your neighborhood.

Upslope Brewing Company: where snowmelt meets neighborhood microbrewery

November 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Colorado produces more beer than any other state in the US. In Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd refers to Aspen as a “place where the beer flows like wine”. We can thank some of the bigger operations like Coors but it also has to do with over a hundred microbreweries and brew pubs that have grown up since Boulder Beer got started in 1979.  You can’t get much better after a long day at work than pulling up a stool at your neighborhood microbrewery. You not only get higher quality hand crafted beer, you also get to know the people making it (and you can bike or walk home). Today I checked out Upslope Brewing Company located in North Boulder.

Like other microbrewers I’ve talked with they are quickly outgrowing themselves. It seems like anyone who is willing to put the time & effort into making quality, hand crafted beer would find a pretty great market for it. They’ve expanded their operations a few times now and still can’t keep up with demand.

Upslope came to the market with a Pale Ale and an India Pale ale. In 2010 their Pale Ale was awarded best Pale Ale and one of the 25 best new beers in America by Maxim magazine.

They brew their beer with Patagonian hops, high quality Rahr malts, snowmelt and yeast. Yes, snowmelt. That is technically where most our water comes from around here.  They also have a tap room that adjoins the brewery with a number of seasonal beers on tap. I plan to bring my friends in town over there tomorrow when they get in to get properly hydrated for their Colorado visit. I’m keen to try some of their darker beers, like the Imperial Stout.
One of the most interesting things they’re doing, that makes them truly local, is canning instead of bottling. You may or may not know that Boulder is a pretty active place. To see themselves as a true local brewery, they made their beer as portable as possible as well as recyclable as possible (another Boulder passion). I got to check out their custom made canner. There aren’t industrial canners for craft beers so these guys are tinkering with engineers to make their own.

I bought a little sample to bring home with me to help inspire me in my own beer making. When I asked them what someone new to brewing should look out for they said to “Be careful. It is addictive.” That seems to be the consensus with brewing your own beer.

I can’t wait to get started. The kit is in the mail and I’ve also found a great local supplier I am going to check out tomorrow.

I Heart Crystal Springs Brewing Company

November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tom Horst has what can only be described as a twinkle in his eye when he talks about brewing beer. He is a full time teacher of instrumental music at the local high school but on the weekends he is brew master of some highly sought after beer. As one of the smallest licensed brewers in the country, if not the world, he says he does have trouble keeping up with the demand. I was turned onto his beer through Cured, a special local grocery that also carries wonderful charcuterie and cheeses. I’m pretty sure it was by drinking his beer that my husband won our neighborhood Poker game last week.

Tom got into brewing back in the late 80s when his son, in college at the time, suggested they brew together. He’s been brewing ever since and as of last year officially started the Crystal Springs Brewing Company out of a converted garage on his property. He is already quickly growing out of that space.

He let me stop by this weekend to observe him at work, along with his brother-in-law who helps from time to time. They were in the process of mixing the mash for their upcoming holiday beer.

I asked him what he would say his style was and he replied “weird”. He makes beer that fits within a classic category, like porter or lager, but he also adds his own element to it to make it definitively his own. He said that’s one of the things he likes most about brewing in the US because there are not the same restrictions you find in other countries. You can not only make great beer but add your personality as well. He suggested the US is making some of the best beer out there right now (that’s right, you German readers). You can read more about his beers here. He gave us a taste of the uncut Russian Imperial Stout and it was pretty incredible. That is one to buy and age.

When I started out with this project there were a couple of goals I had in mind. I wanted to see what was happening in my community and I also wanted to learn from people who were fostering a craft of some sort. Crystal Springs is one of those special places you find when you stop being too busy and start looking around your community at the interesting things people are doing around you.

It’s great to see a personal hobby blossom into such a successful venture. Tom shared one of the best moments was when the Kitchen, one of Boulder’s better restaurants, started serving his beer on tap. He also now has calls from all over the country asking how they can get his beer. I have to say I’m happy he’s kept at it because I get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. We’ll see how my own concoction stacks up this week.

One of the things I’ve loved most with this project aside from learning a lot about where I live is getting to meet some talented and fun-loving people. I’ll leave you with some wisdom from the wall in Tom’s brewery: “A good friend will come and bail you out of jail…but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying ‘Damn…that was fun!'”

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