Monday, November 8, 2010

Home Brewing with Dave & Josh

Dave has generously agreed to post about his latest adventures in home brewing. I think it is completely amazing that Dave and his best friend Josh are able to make incredibly good beer right in Josh’s basement. Clearly, I like to cook, but brewing makes home cooking look so JV. These guys combine culinary skill, chemistry and even  gardening to produce some seriously yummy beer. Take it away, Dave…

As I may have noted in my inaugural guest blog, I am a beer geek.  This geekery does not end merely at enjoying unusual and delicious beers.  For quite some time now, our friend Josh and I have been home brewing beer fairly regularly.  As you may know, beer is made with four main ingredients: Water, Malted Grain, Hops and Yeast.  Now for this particular batch of beer, we are using Cascade hops that were grown up the side of Josh’s house in Lansdale. 

Fresh hop cones
Hops are a perennial plant that has vines that can grow to be over 30 feet long.  They are grown commercially in the Pacific Northwest, but they can thrive in our climate here as well.  Hops serve several purposes in beer.  The provide bittering to balance the sweet sugary flavor of the malt, and they can provide additional flavor and aroma.  Hops also serve as a preservative.  We would typically use more than one hop variety in a recipe, but here we are trying to isolate the flavor and character of the local ingredient, so we are using only Josh’s Cascades.
I will not get too in depth on the technique, but I will give a brief description of the basics of homebrewing and I will lay out our ingredients. 

The Ingredients:
20 Pounds of Two Row Pale Malt
1 Pound of Crystal Malt 40L
1 Pound of Victory Malt
1 Pound of Rye Malt
15 Ounces of Fresh Cascade Whole Flower Hops
Wyeast 1332 and 1272 Yeast packs.

Homebrew 101:

Step 1:  The Mash
This is where you take the malted grain and steep it in hot water for usually 60-90 minutes.  The hot water, usually between 150 and 165 degrees, converts the starches in the grain into fermentable sugars.  In our case, the 20 pounds of pale malt are the “base malt”.  This is where the fermentable sugars will come from.  The Crystal, Victory and Rye are called specialty grains that do things like add color, body and hints of flavor to add to the complexity of the final product. 

Sparging the grain with hot water.
Step 2:  Sparge
After the 60 minutes are up, you sprinkle hot water over the mix and drain it out into a huge pot.  This is called sparging, and is the method by which you collect the Wort, which is what will become beer eventually. 

Step 3:  The Boil
Our recipe is for a 10 gallon batch.  So after sparging you will be left with about 12 gallons of wort.  Now we take this giant pot and boil it for about an hour.  During this boil, we will add in hops at regular intervals.  The amount of hops you add in and when you add them determines how bitter your beer will be, and how much hop flavor and aroma your beer will exhibit.  We are making an IPA, so which is a very hoppy tasting and bitter beer, so we are adding hops early and often.  Hops added at the beginning of the boil add bitterness for balance.  Hops added at the end of the boil contribute flavor and aroma.  We added about 2-3 ounces of hops every 15 minutes throughout the boil. 

Step 4:  Yeast Addition
Fermenting away
Once the wort is cool (about 75 degrees), we transfer the 10 gallons of beer into two 6 gallon glass carboys.  This is why we have two yeast packs, one pack is good for about a 5 gallon batch.  Yeast converts the sugar in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  We like to use two different yeast strains to see how the beer turns out differently.  In this case you can see that one batch is much darker than the other.  We are not entirely sure why that is, but the yeast is definitely a factor.  The yeast we use is made by a company called Wyeast – we used one strain called American Ale, and one called Pacific Northwest Ale.  Once the yeast is added, we seal up the carboys and store them in a dark, temperature-controlled environment.

Step 5:  Fermentation and Bottling
Primary fermentation usually takes about 1-2 weeks.  Once it is done, it is ready to bottle.  We transfer it to a food grade bottling bucket and then use that to fill the bottles.  Before bottling, we add in some priming sugar solution.  This will allow the beer to carbonate itself in a process called bottle conditioning.  After bottling, it is ready to drink usually in about 2 weeks.

Once we open up a couple bottles to test it out, I will post the results here! 


  1. Nice explanation of the process. I hope this is a good batch!

  2. I'm in love with your beer. When can I pick her up?