Friday, February 27, 2009

Homebrew, sweet nectar of the gods

Since college, I've been more of a wine-drinker than a beer-drinker. I never liked the usual cheap fare - Budweiser, Miller, Coors. Even the micro-brews weren't as good as a nice Shiraz. That is, until my husband got aboard the Peak Oil train with his new home-brewing hobby.

Homebrew Zen (See the yin-yang?)

My husband got a beer-brewing kit for Christmas, 2007. I think the equipment cost about $100. He saved up Sam Adams bottles for his brew for a few months, then received an awesome gift of some German beer bottles that have built-in, re-usable caps. At that point, he started brewing his first batch. Since then, he has brewed five batches of brew at about 50 beers each. Each time, he tries something new. A porter, a peach wheat beer, a nut brown ale. Each one seems better than the last, but each one is unique and delicious. I still have fond memories of that first porter.

Beer has a long and interesting history, having been brewed for over 9000 years. The Mesopotamians worshipped Ninkasi, the goddess of brewing. The monasteries of Europe brewed (and still brew) beer. Breweries in America originally brewed beer as strong as the beer common in Europe. When Prohibition in America forced most breweries into bankruptcy, bootleggers began watering down beer to increase profits, resulting in the much weaker beers that are popular in America today.

We have been buying beer "kits" from a local brew shop. The kits have everything but the tools and the bottles - including the malt extract, hops, priming sugar, and bottle caps. They cost about $33 - $40 each, to make about 50 beers. Less than a dollar each - I think it's a reasonable price for top quality beer. We joke about how many kits we need to stock to have enough beer when TSHTF. Maybe we're not joking.

The local brew shops make it very easy to get started. The proprietors are usually very helpful, sometimes even holding classes for beginners. When first reading a beer making book, the process looks complicated. But if you just take it step by step, following the instructions in a kit, it isn't hard. The process takes three or four hours one day to brew the beer, then about an hour to transfer the beer on another day, then finally another hour or two to bottle the beer. Four to six weeks later, we have bodacious beer.

Eventually we'd like to start making beer from scratch - using real wheat and home grown hops (which were already planted last fall!). Until then, I think home brewing is an economical and ecological winner, even using the kits. First of all, you re-use the bottles over and over, instead of sending them off to be recycled. Much better to re-use than re-cycle. Secondly, although the kits do have to be shipped in from who knows where, the shipping weight is much less than the equivalent of 50 beers. Third, we CAN store the kits, whereas beer stored for very long would go bad and take up a lot of room. And finally, it's a distributed and local process, so it builds resilience and self-reliance. Way to go, husband!

I'll admit I didn't know what to expect when he first started. I was prepared to be disappointed, as I've heard that results can be inconsistent. Now I am a huge fan of his beer. Often, I would rather drink a beer from his latest batch of brew than a glass of wine (although I still drink wine!). I definitely prefer his brew to any beer you can buy in a store - except maybe Chimay. But I can't afford to buy Chimay all the time, that's for sure. On second thought, it's every bit as good as that pricey monk-brewed beer!

Hubby has even gotten several of his friends at work to start the homebrewing hobby, and they recently held a head-to-head competition between their brews and the store-bought beer. Hubby's beer won! Congratulations to his Nut Brown Ale, the clear winner. I took a few sips of the "comparable" beer that the hosts bought and was really surprised by how much better the homebrew was. Bah, I hope I never have to drink beer from a store again.

Homebrews are nice to have on hand - you never have to run to the liquor store (cuts down on carbon emissions). Just throw a brew in the fridge when you want one. BTW, homebrews make great housewarming gifts or contributions to a potluck. You never have to go to a party empty-handed! Remember, make sure to get back your bottles before you go home. Those suckers are gold.
I wonder how hard it is to make homemade wine?


MN_homesteader said...

mmmm, beer. I have a batch I need to brew and then reminded of just that.

Chile said...

I have friends that make their own beer and wine. Never tasted it but they have fun.

I often find those beer bottles with the permanent lids at thrift stores. You can get new gaskets at the home brew supply places quite cheap.

Green assassin Brigade said...

sigh, my wife drew the line at making homebrew, she can't stand the hops and malt smell. For me nothing is like that wave of hops as it hits the hot water.

I also found that home made hard cider can be so nice compared to that apple pop crap they sell in bars.

If you like bubbly stuff like champange, take a cider kit or recipe add 2kg of extra sugar and champagne yeast instead of bear yeast. You get 11 %cider with a finish like sparkling wine or ginger ale.

Sarah said...

Wine is even easier to make than beer, but you have to wait longer before it's drinkable.

We like good beer but are not connoisseurs. So we've been experimenting with using malt syrup bought in bulk from the food co-op instead of buying kits. More sustainable and very cheap!

TheCrone said...

Naturewitch is the lass to see about wine making ;)

Lewru said...

I'm impressed that he has such consistent good luck with each batch, as the homebrewers I knew were very hit and miss...Then again, I'm not sure if they used a kit for each batch or just mix-matched ingredients. Maybe that was it? I can attest - his homebrew is DELICIOUS!!!

Michael said...

Dear Hausfrau,

I am really excited to find your blog, which I navigated to via Sharon Astyk's website. I'm enrolled in her Adapting In Place (AIP) class for March.

I've lived in Seattle for 20 years, but I am originally from OKC and my parents and sister now live in Edmond.

I am going to send your links to them and encourage my sister, especially, to get involved with Transition Town OKC.

I'll keep an eye on your blog and try to arrange my next visit to coincide with a Transition Town event so that I can meet you and other "Transitioners" in OKC.

Thanks, and keep up the great work!


Tara said...

This is quite timely, as I just started looking into home wine making. I had some friends who used to make beer from kits, and their results were inconsistent, too. That was easily 15 years ago, though, so maybe the kits have improved? Home wine making appears to be quite cost effective. Equipment kits seem to run anywhere from $115 to $225, depending on what's included, so more than a beer kit. If you have your own fruit, then that's all you need (plus bottles and corks). I don't, so I'd have to buy the juice concentrates for now, which are rather expensive - they start at about $85 and go up from there. It's my understanding that a concentrate kit makes 6 gallons of wine, which I think is something like 30 bottles. I did the math and figured that the first batch, with cost of equipment, would cost me somewhere around $6.50 per bottle and go down from there. SO, to make a long story short, it does seem very cost effective, but it seems like a fairly large sum to cough up up front, and I'm nervous about the results. I'd be extremely unhappy if I spent upwards of $300 and wound up with 60 gallons of swill. I'm afraid to take the plunge!

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Tara - I've heard of some people going in on a batch together and splitting the proceeds. It's probably a fun little weekend activitity to do with a group of friends. And maybe one of the friends could bring the fruit!

Wendy said...

My husband just started his first batch of homebrewed beer, although he's been making hard cider for a couple of years, and so we had all of the equipment we needed.

I'm looking forward to tasting the beer, which should be ready to bottle this week, and ready to drink the first of April.

I do have to second what Green Assassin says, though, with regard to the cider. Ours is much more like a medium white wine in taste. It's really good, but at 14% alcohol, it has quite a kick. One glass is plenty!

We've made two batches of cider. The first time, we used an electric juicer and juiced the apples from our neighbor's tree (which would have just rotted on the ground). My husband added honey to boost the alcohol content, but no yeast. It was really good. The second batch was made using cider from a local orchard, but this time, my husband added a wine yeast and sugar. It was also very good, but not as sparkly as the first batch.