I apologize for the lack of posts within the last year; it turns out that one Oklahoma teaching salary alone does not quite fill the budget gap to allow me to stay home with the boys. We had to make the tough decision at the beginning of last school year for me to go back to work. Fortunately, Gideon and I were both able to get jobs in our little town and had a great year giving back to our community!
We are working behind the scenes to diversify our earning potential, and I will be posting as things go forward. In the meantime, and now that I am on summer, I hope to get back to some fun blog posts and show you all what is happening on our little hill!
First up... BEER!!
Yes, you heard me right! Beer! Though I don't drink beer myself, my husband is quite the aficionado and has been brewing his own for the last seven years. He has written a guest post about the process and the hopes of one day being able to help support the family with this endeavor! We are still working on a great name for the brewery... comment if you have a suggestion for us! Enjoy!
I have been brewing now for about seven years or so, and have appreciated good beer for much longer than that. In Oklahoma, good beer is not an easy thing to come by. With strange regulations left over from the prohibition era such as 1) alcoholic beverages over 3.2% are prohibited to sell in grocery stores, 2) liquor stores are prohibited from refrigerating their stock (UPDATE: This law JUST got changed a few months ago), and 3) liquor stores MUST be closed on Sundays, voting days, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. So, if you are planning on doing something over a holiday weekend, make sure to get your REAL beer or adult beverage of choice on Saturday!
In addition to finding good beer conveniently, I have found that the beer that is sold here tends to be really expensive! Mostly, that comes from taxes imposed from the State "sin tax." Additionally, in Oklahoma all sales of alcohol have to go through a distributor. What this means is that small, local craft brewers or wineries can't sell their products directly to the public (or for that matter sell directly to a liquor store). They must go through a licensed distributor. However, this costs money, and of course, the distributor adds a percentage on top of whatever the brewer is charging. Thus, by the time your beverage of choice gets to the shelf, there have been several additions of taxes and rate hikes.
All this to say, Oklahoma has driven me to drink! Or rather, driven me to MAKE my own drink!
One of the things that I really enjoy doing is learning how to do something for myself: make bread, grow vegetables, make ice cream, sew, build things, fix things, work on my own vehicles... I have my dad to really thank for this trait/mindset. He is definitely someone who I look up to, who has always tried to figure out how to do things on his own. Between my dad and my stepdad (who has always found creative ways of doing things), I was doomed from the beginning to start my fiddling and meddling and puttering days early on!
Initially, I started brewing as most people do: with extracts. Malted barley (or other types of grain) is allowed to soak like tea at 155 degrees for an hour. During this time, a process called sacchrification takes place where the complex carbohydrates break down into simple sugars. In order to make an extract, this solution is boiled down in factories and made into a syrup.
So, I used these syrups with good success for several years. It was effective, allowed me to make beer at home, and was faster than the "all grain" method. However, the more I brewed, the more I saw the cost difference between extract and all grain. Due to the processing, extract brewing is more expensive. Also, while it does allow you to shorten the brew time by a couple of hours, it does limit the control you have over the viscosity of the beer. In all grain brewing, the brewer keeps the grain at 155. However, if you change that temperature, you can also change the viscosity (or mouth-feel) of the beer.
So, it wasn't long before I began to look into brewing with all grain. I have now been brewing all grain for about two years, and I love it! I wish I had done it sooner! While it does take a bit longer, I can make my beer significantly cheaper, and with a great deal of control.
For those of you who might think about getting into brewing, here is my current setup:
The beauty of brewing is that at its heart, it is truly simple. The key is to keep things clean. By God's grace, I have never had a beer that has been bad due to contamination. I have made beer that I have been less than pleased with, but that was due to me being adventurous in a recipe, and the recipe not turning out as good as I had hoped.
While my brewery is not yet complete, it works very well as is, and produces good results. The hot liquor tank (big pot on the left) also doubles as my boil kettle. Essentially, I boil a lot of water and then transfer that hot water into the mash tun (the water cooler). Next, I add the crushed malted grain to the hot water and wait an hour for the sacchrification process to take place. Meanwhile, have a beer. Then, I begin to slowly drain the wort out of the mash tun and into another vessel (eventually I will get a separate boil kettle for this step. In the meantime, I transfer it into a bucket and then back into the hot liquor tank to double as my boil kettle). Once I have 6 gallons or so, I can begin the boil.
(Inside the mash tun--grain and hot water)
(Here I am sparging (draining and straining) the wort from the grains directly into my boil kettle)
(That is a lovely color!!)
(My goodness that is a dark beer! Like a good Imperial Stout, it sucks the light out of the room!!)
So, with six gallons of wort on the stove, the boil begins. This is where the fun happens... You can change the characteristic of beer by adding different ingredients. Hops are almost always added for their preservation properties, as well as their bittering flavors. By adding hops at different times during the boil, the brewer can achieve different characteristics. For example, if you want to add the bittering flavors of the hops, add them at the beginning of the boil. If you want to add the flavor of the hops (the flowery, citrusy, or piney flavors), add the hops during the middle of the boil. If you want only the SMELL of the hops in the beer, then you add them right at the last. None of the flavors or bittering will be imparted to the beer.
Some of my favorite beers are the Belgian variety. They will add coriander, orange peel, candied sugars... all sorts of things! This is the creative cooking part of making beer where you can really play with recipes and have fun. So, for one hour the wort is boiled with the hops added at specific intervals. Over the hour, about a gallon of water evaporates, leaving you with approximately 5 gallons of beer.
But, this is one of the most critical parts... The boiled liquid must be chilled to around 70 degrees. But this must be done quickly in order to minimize the possibility of contamination of bacteria or wild yeast. This is where I use a wort chiller. Essentially, it is a long copper tube that is immersed in the wort. I then hook up a hose to one end of it, and run cold water through it, thus chilling the wort. It is simple and pretty effective. Once the beer is around 70-75 degrees, I transfer the beer into a sanitized bucket or carboy. At this temperature range, it is safe to add the specific yeast for the style of beer that is being made. I like Wyeast and have had really good results with their products. I am sure there are others, but their consistency has been top notch. A water lock is placed on top of the carboy or bucket that allows gasses to escape, but does not allow anything in.
(Here is a picture of my carboy with Peach Porter Wheat beer. Notice the water lock on top)
It takes about a week for most beers to complete the krebs cycle to break down the sugars into alcohol. Most beers benefit by transferring again to another carboy and waiting another week. It allows for a full fermentation and flavors to settle in. After the two weeks, it is time to bottle (or to keg). There is still active yeast in the beer, and to bottle condition the beer, I usually add 3/4 cup corn sugar solution to the beer. This will activate the yeast and allow for just enough carbonation to take place. I then transfer to bottles, cap, and wait another week or so. Then, chill, crack open, and enjoy!
My kind family has encouraged my hobby and all members truly have supported it! My brother and wife have helped with my kegging setup, my dad with my mash paddle, my mom with special glassware, and everyone else with drinking it! :) I hope to continue brewing and improving and expanding. Maybe one day soon I can do it on a larger scale. However, for now, I am very pleased with what I can make, and will continue to brew on our Little Hill. Cheers!