HOME BREWING with Melissa B

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Although Chili and Beer go great together, this is not the same Melissa featured in my Chili Cook Off Contest post.  I met this Melissa at a Media Beer Ladies event at Yards Brewing Company.  The Media Beer Ladies (facebook page) run by Brooke Penders is a club which combines two beloved traditions: girls night out and drinking great beer!

With our Yards tour and tasting complete, we each selected a full glass of our favorite beer (mine the dark, chocolaty Love Stout) and sat down to get to know each other.  Melissa revealed that she recently began brewing her own beer at home.  Something she figured as a Microbiologist, she should be able to tackle.  

I asked her if she'd be willing to share her home brewing experience on Tinsel & Tine and she readily agreed:

T&T: In the pictures you sent me there's a little ball of fur watching over the homebrewing procedure, let's start with him.

MB: His name is Sammy Saccharomyces.  (Saccharomyces cerevisiae (click for audio pronunciation) is the type of yeast used for many beers, so that's where part of his name comes from. I also featured Sammy in my tweets about brewing.

T&T: How and why did you get started?

MB: I enjoy craft beer.  I thought it would be a fun hobby.  I felt confident that my skills as a microbiologist would allow me to jump in to homebrewing pretty easily.  (So far, so good.)

My first step in brewing was to read "How to Brew" by John Palmer.  It starts with an overview of homebrewing but quickly dives into some hardcore information about the process.  The book has lots of photos of equipment as well as lots of equations.  Knowing algebra will help you a lot when using this book to brew.  I read this book until I felt familiar enough with the brewing process to buy equipment.

T&T: Note to parents - if your kid says algebra doesn't matter in the real world, so who cares if I get a D. You can now retort, but you'll need it to brew your own beer!

Melissa explained to me there are two methods of home brewing - "extract brewing" and "all-grain brewing". Extract brewing takes less time, and requires less equipment because it uses an extract that contains sugars and flavors from the grains, in a syrup.

Melissa went hardcore and chose the all-grain method which requires extracting the sugars from the grain yourself.

MB: I went to Keystone Homebrew in Montgomeryville and bought all of the equipment and supplies I needed to get started.  It was a huge pile of stuff. 
  •  Mash tun (actually an Igloo cooler with a spout), 
  • 10 gallon brew pot
  • Propane burner, 
  • Wort chiller, 
  • Fermenter bucket 
  • and lots of accessories for cleaning, stirring, and measuring things.  I also got an ingredient kit to make a Belgian White beer.
I had to do lots of preparations before brewing.  There was a lot of cleaning to do to get the equipment ready.  I also had to make a device to measure the amount of liquid in the brew pot.  I used a wooden yardstick that I then graduated based on having 1 through 9 gallons of water in the pot.  I thought through the process as a "dry run" to make sure I wasn't missing anything, and also so I felt pretty comfortable with the process.  I decided that, as a scientist, I was going to need a digital thermometer (not a meat thermometer) because I needed the measurements to be as accurate as possible.  Since my calculations said I needed water at 166 degrees F, I knew I was going to want to have a thermometer that would be able to give me pretty accurate numbers.

So, then it was time to brew using the all-grain method.(I followed the recipe provided with the beer, but I filled in the details by referring to How to Brew):
  1.  I heated water on the stove, then added the water to my mash tun (a cooler that contained my crushed grains). 

  2. The water and grain were mashed for an hour, with stirring every 15 minutes.

  3.  After that, the lauter and sparge process was started.  Basically, these steps include draining the sugar water (wort) from the mash tun and recirculating it before collecting it in the brew pot. Sparging adds some fresh hot water to get more sugar out. 

  4. After the wort was in the big pot, it was taken outside to the propane burner.  
  5. {It's possible to do this step on the stove, but you have to have a lot of space for the pot, and your burners have to be powerful.  On the propane burner, you have lots of heat.  So, the wort is brought to a boil. Takes about 20-30 minutes on my burner}. 
     5. Then, the bittering hops were added.
Belgian White Beer requires a small amount of hops.  After boiling for 50 minutes, I added crushed coriander and bitter curacao (orange peel) for flavor.  The wort was boiled for one hour total.

    6.  Chilling The Wort - This needs to be done as quickly as possible.  I did this using a wort chiller.  This runs cold water through copper tubing to transfer the heat out of the wort.  It needs to be chilled to below 80 degrees F, because the next step is to add yeast, and they will be killed if it's too hot.

  7.  Fermentation -Once the wort was chilled, it was transferred to the fermenter (which was sanitized to reduce the chance of any other microorganisms growing in the beer).  After the boiling, it's always important to use sanitized or sterilized tools and containers.  

Once the wort was moved into the fermenter bucket, the yeast were added  Some of the liquid is moved back and forth between the bucket and pot to add air.  The yeast needs air to do the fermentation.  The yeast I used for the Belgian White were provided in the kit, in a nutrient pack called a smackpack.  It gets them happily growing before being added to the bucket.  

Then, the bucket was sealed, the airlock inserted (allows gas to escape) and set aside. Fermentation can take just a few days or two weeks.

8. Waiting and Carbonation - I watched for bubbling in the airlock.  Once there was no bubbling for a few days, I figured it was about done.  I tested the beer with my hydrometer (measures the gravity of the beer) and it looked right.  I also tasted the sample of the beer from when I tested it - it tasted like beer!  Success!  This first batch was ready on a weeknight, and I wanted to package it in a simple way, so I used mini-kegs instead of bottles.  I added some fresh sugar to the beer and put it in the mini-kegs.  The fresh sugar is used by the yeast to make more carbon dioxide and that carbonates the beer.  That takes about two weeks.  So, my Belgian White had another week or so until it was ready to drink.

9. Becoming a Home Brewing Expert - Since brewing the Belgian White I've brewed two more batches!  I made a raspberry wheat, and an oatmeal stout (since I too love stouts).  The raspberry wheat is already bottled.  It had a lot of floating material, probably from the raspberry puree added.   The oatmeal stout brewing went smoothly, and it started bubbling nicely in the fermenter.  Next on the schedule is a pumpkin ale!  Not in season, but I love a good pumpkin beer.

T&T: Wow Melissa! You've explained the process wonderfully, but obviously this is not a hobby to jump into lightly.  For anyone thinking of starting to homebrew their own beer, what would you say was a rookie mistake you can warn other newbies about?

MB: Well, I didn't realize how much volume would be lost in the boil (which is an hour), so my first batch had very little volume after the boil.  I had to add water to get it close to 5 gallons before adding the yeast and starting the fermentation.

Another mistake - make sure you check to make sure you know where all of your components are before starting.  (Same as what you'd do with cooking or baking.)  I thought I was missing the hops for my second batch, which I didn't check for until it was almost time to use them.  But, it turns out I didn't see them in my kit of supplies, so I ended up having to add them to the boil late.

After I get the hang of brewing with the all-grain kits, I plan on developing my own recipes.  I'll start with the styles of beer that my friends and I like (which seems to be anything but the really hoppy beers).  I think I'll be working on some wheat beers and stouts or porters first.  Sammy is looking forward to making more appearances as we continue to brew!

Melissa B is not only a microbiologist and a microbrewer, but she's into microsprint racing. Her three favorite movies in 2012 were: Skyfall, Batman: The Dark Night Rises and The Muppets.  Her favorite Foods with beer - I love Iron Hill's nachos with beer, or a really good burger and fries. 

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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