This Tea Tuesday, I’m mixing it up and writing about another brewed beverage — beer!
E’s sister, Farley, and a few other people at the farm are home brewers who regularly make beer for the enjoyment of the rest of us. It rained this afternoon, which meant working on the land wasn’t an option, so everyone decided to tap a keg instead (great work ethic here). When I asked Far about it, she gave me the beginner’s guide to brewing beer, and told me about the type we drank this evening.
Now, I’ve been on a few brewery tours, so I was aware of the basic fact that beer is essentially four ingredients — water, barley, hops, and yeast. In talking with Far, though, I learned that the process is more alike to brewing tea than I had previously thought.
Home brewers begin by purchasing (and/or growing) the hops, barley, and yeast that they want to use in their beer. There are myriad options for each of these ingredients and every one will affect the way the beer tastes, smells, and looks differently. The combinations are pretty much endless.
The malted barley and water get mixed first. “Malted” means that the barley has been sprouted, dried, and roasted. The water is heated, and once it reaches the desired temperature, the barley is added; it’s “steeping” at this point. Water temperature is of the utmost importance because the goal is to get as many sugars out of the barley as possible without releasing the proteins and starches (I’m sorry to any chemists reading this who are offended by my simplistic explanation). While this may sound much more exact than brewing tea, for a truly magnificent cup of tea, water temperature should be taken into account. Black tea is actually the only kind that can handle boiling water, while green, white, and herbal teas are better when steeped at slightly lower temperatures. Beer brewing is still more complex, but the steeping analogy is worth contemplating.
After the barley has steeped at temperature for approximately 1 hour, more water is poured over the top and the grain is strained out in order to rinse all of the sugars off of the barley. This leftover mixture is boiled for another hour, sometimes more, and the hops are added. Other ingredients, such as honey or fruit, can also be added during boiling in order to further alter the flavor. If hops are added earlier in the boiling process, the beer will be more bitter, but if they are added later, they contribute more to the overall flavor and aroma of the beer. For example, in order to make an IPA (India Pale Ale) — a notoriously hoppy style of beer — hops will be added consistently throughout the boiling process.
Once this mix is done boiling, it needs to be cooled down quickly before the yeast can be added. This not-yet-beer is called “wort.” Heat can kill yeast, which is why it’s important for the wort to be cooled. After adding the yeast, the mixture is placed into large bottles and left to ferment.
It takes at least two weeks for this fermentation process to occur, and different beers require different amounts of aging. During this period, the yeast is converting the sugar into alcohol, and making the wort into beer. The last step in home brewing at Hana Farms is to keg the beer and put it in the kegerator to carbonate and refrigerate.
Voila. Beer on tap.
Far described tonight’s ale as a “medium-bodied, American-style Pale Ale with a noticeable hop character.” It was made with three types of hops — Cascade, Willamette, and Amarillo — and a California Ale yeast strain. Yum.
Are you a homebrewer? Beer enthusiast? Would “Brewsday” be an interesting feature to continue on the blog or should I stick to travel writing and tea?