Every time we have a homebrew event, we have a different mix of people. This time we were lucky enough to have a nice mix of beginners and intermediate brewers who know their way around a bag of barley.
We talked about the most basic elements of beer: Hops, Barley, yeast, grain, water and heat.
Hops are added as a preservative and also for flavor and aroma. They flower on a fast growing "bine" that flourishes in Idaho and is often used decoratively. The cascade do very well in our region. Growing hops is like killing two birds with one stone--you are planting something pretty that creates a barrier between you and your neighbors and in October you can harvest them and use them in your home brew.
Barley is one of the main ingredients in any beer, and Idaho is a prime barley growing region. Upwards of 80% of the barley grown in Idaho is used by Budweiser. When you are driving past the "Amber waves of grain" that dominate our region, you are looking at potential. Barley goes through a process of drying and roasting, and that is how we get different malts. The darker the malt, the longer it has been roasted.
Rocky Mountain Homebrew gets a lot of its malt from the good folks in Victor, but we have recently come in contact with a local man who is creating his own, we anticipate that this will lead to a more local flavor in our brews.
Wheat is another locally grown crop that is used for beer. Wheat is added primarily for head retention, but it also adds a lighter flavor that seems to be more popular with the ladies who brew at home.
Yeast is the powerhouse of the beer brewing process and you can buy it either powdered, in a snap pack or liquid. It eats the sugars out of the mash and its lifecycle creates frementation. After it has worked on mash for a couple weeks, it leaves spent yeast at the bottom of the fermenting bucket. This mass is called "trub" (rhymes with either "scrub" or "boob" depending on your region) and it should not be transfered during bottling. Jesse Neff told us that the trub can be reused to make another batch. He won some ribbons at the state fair and the bourbon barrel beer he brought to share at brew school prove that the man knows what he is talking about.
Brewing beer can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. You can brew it on your kitchen stove, or you can create a man cave complete with a propane stove and a personal water source. Rocky Mountain Homebrew Supply has a nice assortment of beginner kits that only require a large pot and a themometer. For those who want to get a little more advanced, we have adjuncts and grains and recipes and for the truly devote, we have the kit to turn a garage sale refigerator into a keg cooler complete with tappers (you will have to add your own stickers and artwork).
In a couple weeks we will be bottling our Poorboy Pumpkin Ale. The most important part of bottling is sterility. Boil your caps. Wash your bottles by hand, then sterilize them in your dishwasher. We are going to be using the wand bottler which is an almost mandatory addition to a homebrew kit: it allows you to bottle from the bottom up. This means there is less waste and less mess. Speaking of less mess: if you bottle on the door of the dishwasher, all of the drips will be caught and you won't have to break out the mop.
What tips and hints do you have for us? We have been brewing for quite a few years and have a base knowledge of what it takes to make a good homebrew, but we don't claim to have all the answers. Any hints, tips or suggestions that you have would be greatly appreciated. Share your expertise with us, and we will share ours with you.