By Jessica Kirby, Senior Editor –
I’ll tell you a little something about beer: it’s not what you think. It’s actually better. If you aren’t a fan of the golden, bubbly nectar of awesome, well, I forgive you. But, I’ll bet you didn’t know beer boosts brain health—studies show a 20 percent decline in the risk of mental decline in people who drink beer. Beer-drinkers enjoy a 40 per cent lower risk of kidney stones; 20 to 40 per cent less risk of heart disease, and lower cancer risk, especially in dark beer drinkers, thanks to antioxidants and flavonoids. If that isn’t enough to inspire you, don’t forget it tastes delicious and has a 5,000-year-old history of bringing people together for social and relaxation purposes.
At the heart of the beer drinking matter is a big choice—buy big, buy small, or brew your own. If you’re contemplating which of the first two options is best, I implore you to check out this article in TheGreenGazette http://www.thegreengazette.ca/whats-brewing-in-bc/ for myriad reasons smaller is better. If you are thinking about taking a swing at home brewing, read on.
Of course, the most important benefit to brewing your own beers is total control and understanding of what goes in the brew. Because you can control your batches and volume, you don’t need an elaborate cocktail of preservative chemicals—in fact, once you get the hang of home brewing you’ll feel like a rock star if you can keep it on the shelf or in the cellar for more than a month, thus forever negating the need for preservatives.
Yeast has some wonderful vitamin B goodness you won’t want to pass up, but that is usually removed by the filtering process in large commercial breweries. Although fresh, homemade beer offers nutritional benefits from the grain content, this also tends to be lower the larger the brewer, making big batch brews less nutritious.
When you make your own, your kitchen (or brew lab, if you’re super keen) is your oyster, a fresh palette for experimenting with flavours and ingredients. Everything down to the sugar can be top quality and pristine from chemicals when you are completely in control of the process. Did you know you can include super foods in the grain portion of your mix and create something delicious and body-boosting? The possibilities are almost endless.
And although moderation is the key to safely enjoying any form of alcohol, it is worthy of mention that the second-best way to defend yourself against the dreaded hangover is to brew your own, since the higher yeast content and vitamin B naturally reduce the effects of hangovers.
Then there is the act of brewing. Like cooking, mixing, creating, experimenting, succeeding, failing, and learning are therapeutic. There is a sense of satisfaction in accomplishing a nice brew and a deep gratitude in being able to share something handmade with friends. All of this adds up to immense passion and care in the brewing process, which improves overall health and happiness.
Ready to get started on the home brewing experience? The best thing to do is have someone show you—brewing is an art and a science and the internet is sometimes fantastic and sometimes tragic when it comes to directions. In the absence of a trusted mentor, there are several books on the subject that loyal home brewers swear by.
Once you have your method sorted, there are some pro-tips to keep in mind that will keep your brews looking and tasting amazing. Don’t forget the best ingredients, however, are trust, patience, and a little love.
Plan ahead. You should have a good idea of what type of beer you are after and the correct way to make that vision a reality. I mentioned books, and there are also brewing journals and websites (verify your sources!) offering some great tips. There is even software you can by to help plan the style, colour, notes, and flavour of your favourite brews. Check out http://beersmith.com/ to get started.
Most importantly, use quality, fresh ingredients. Liquid yeast, hops, dry malt, liquid malt, and crushed grains have a limited shelf life—choose these for the liveliest tastes and the most control over your final product.
Keep it clean—sterile, actually. Your mind may be a mess of ideas, but your work area must be clean and tidy and everything that touches your brew after the cooling process begins must be thoroughly sanitized. Bacteria are most likely to latch on in the period right after the beer cools and before the yeast begins to ferment.
Wort is the is the liquid extracted from the mashing process. It contains the sugars that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to produce alcohol, and crucial amino acids to provide nitrogen to the yeast as well as more complex proteins contributing to beer head retention and flavor.
Several tips for great home brew hinge on how you treat your wort. First of all, boil the wort for 60 to 90 minutes – the actual time will depend on the lightness of your brew – and boil your entire wort batch to maximize the benefits of the longer boil. This sterilizes it, vaporizes various undesirable components, releases bittering oils, and prepares the proteins and tannins for fallout during cooling. Speaking of which, cool it quickly. Doing so increases the fallout of those proteins and tannins, which can harm your beer.
Control your fermenting temperature and use glass or steel fermenters, as they are much easier to clean and provide a 100 percent effective oxygen barrier. Plastic fermenters can and do break down around the top of the bucket and can leak. To improve fermenting, consider using a yeast starter, rather than pitching from a package or tube. While both methods are effective, using the starter will ensure a quicker start and a more reliable flavour.
Think long term. While it is fine to start with a kit, if brewing beer is your passion, it pays to think long-term when you buy your permanent gear. Go for the big pot, the more functional chiller, and the glass fermenters. You will save money, time, and trips to the supply store in the long run.