Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Brother Can You Spare a Brew?

One of the several activities in what turned out to be a rather busy weekend-about-the-house was getting the latest batch of beer bottled.

Generally speaking, I homebrew because I enjoy the process and because I like the beer I make myself better than most of what I can find on the store shelves. However, it occurred to me recently -- while staring at the beer section and realizing the only six packs that looked good to me were priced at $7.99 and above -- that I should step up my production of standard cold-one-when-you-get-home-in-the-evening type beer, because it really is so much cheaper to brew your own than to buy.

This seemed like as good a challenge as any, and so the batch just bottled is Recession "In The Red" Ale, a fairly light (4-5% alcohol) red ale. Recipe as follows:

White Labs American Ale Yeast

7 lbs Extra Pale Malt Syrup

1 lb Crystal 120 Malt
1 lb Munich Malt
4oz Chocolate Malt

1oz Saaz hops (bittering)
0.5oz Saaz hops (flavor)
0.5oz Saaz hops (aroma)

(priming sugar, caps, etc.)

Bring the water to 150F, turn off the heat and let the grains steep for 30min. Remove the gains, bring the wort to a boil, add the malt syrup, bring to a boil again. Add bittering hops, boil for 45 minutes; add flavor hops, boil another 13 minutes; add aroma hops, boil 2 minutes. Pour into fermentor over ice, add cold water as needed to reach a little over 5 gallons, pitch yeast.

The goal was to bring the batch in under $35 total, which nets out to $4/six pack of finished beer. I hit the cost target right on the nose. And from the sample I tried today while bottling, it should be a solid hit in the flavor department as well -- well rounded maltiness well balanced with the refreshing Saaz hops. (Saaz is a Czech variety which you'd normally find in lagers.) It's also a very pleasing deep red/copper color.

To add to the thriftiness of the whole operation, and because so many of the good things in life involve grain and yeast, when I moved the beer from the primary fermentor into secondary after a week, I scooped out a half cup of the yeast/hop sludge at the bottom and mixed it in with a cup of flour and two cups of water to produce a starter. You keep the starter exactly like you do a sourdough starter -- scoop out half a cup or a cup to leaven a batch of bread, then add water and flour, let the starter sit out over night (covered) and then return it to the fridge. It doesn't have the sourdough taste, however, being brewer's yeast rather than wild. However, if you do as I did and start out with a full cup of the yeast/hops sludge from the bottom of your fermentor, you'll get a bit of a hops bitterness in your first batch or two of bread. The best way to work with this is by using some whole grains and such. Here's the recipe I used for the first batch:

2 cups rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 cups white bread flour
1.5 tsp salt
0.5 cups beer starter
1.5 cups water

This makes a thick dough, so you need to kneed it thoroughly. Then leave it out overnight to rise. It should have risen noticeably by morning, and it will continue to rise more rapidly through the day. 2hrs before you're going to bake it, lay it out on a pan or peal on a sheet of parchment paper, and shape it into a nice round loaf. Use a razor blade to slice a couple of slashed in the top. Spray it with a bit of oil, cover with plastic wrap, and leave it to rise for the last two hours. Then bake.

I can't speak clearly to the temperature, since I put the baking stone on the grill, set the grill to medium low, and baked the bread with the lid down (after it had taken 15min to get up to heat) for about twenty minutes. Which, incidentally, is a great way to bake during the summer, though it takes a little getting used to in order not to burn the bottom of things. Some day, in the future where I have lots more space and money to play with, I'd love to actually build a brick outdoor oven, but given that we're rapidly outgrowing out house, this does not seem to be the time for that.


Art Deco said...

Did you remember to amortize the cost of your equipment in doing those calculations?

Darwin said...


There is equipment cost -- the total cost of the equipment I have at this point was probably about $150, but all of it was bought more than two years ago at this point so I'm taking it as being a fully paid-off set of assets.

A $1 per six pack equipment charge would probably be a responsible accounting method, paying off equipment costs in 16 batches, which is 2-3 years worth of regular brewing depending on your dedication.

Andy said...

Nice. I used to homebrew quite a bit. I bought a conical plastic fermenter here: It really cut down on prep time, but I once poured some too hot wort into the fermernter and melted the seal. I couldn't ever fix it and haven't had the inclination to drop another $200 to buy a new one.