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What Is Home Brewing?

In the Untied States, in all states, home brewing beer was taxed until 1979, after which, home brewing beer, in small amounts became exempt and caught on rapidly. Many states soon allowed the brewing of beer. Brewing wine in the home was allowed after prohibition was repealed, but still taxed and allowed in some states.

Jimmy Carter signed the bill into law in 1978 - 26 USCS § 5053(e) provides exemptions from federal taxation for beer brewed for personal use. Of course we all remember, “Billy Beer,” don’t we? The infamous younger brother to the President, and who’s, “Billy beer,” was a collector item for several years? The legislation spawned an ever growing industry of home brewing recipes, supplies and information.

Home brewed beer is an ancient human produced beverage, dating millennium BC. Home brew beer beverages were enjoyed culturally worldwide. Beer has been home brewed, made in the home, until, medieval times, when brewing became production, with pubs and monasteries brewing their own beer for local trade. Workers during this time could be paid in beer.

Almost any substance containing sugar or starch, can be fermented, mainly malted cereal. And among malts, barley malt is the most widely used owing to its high amylase content, a digestive enzyme which facilitates the breakdown of the starch into sugars.

The Building Blocks of Beer
Beer is composed mainly of water. Hard water is more suited to dark beer such as stout, while very soft water is more suited for brewing pale ale and pale lager.

Hops are used in beer as a bittering agent to counter the sweetness of malt and contribute aroma which can be flowery to herbal. It has an antibiotic effect that favors the activity of yeast and aids in "head retention," the foam created by carbonation.

Strain’s of yeast are chosen depending on the type of beer being produced, mostly, ale and lager yeast and some others, in home brewing. Yeast will metabolize the sugars extracted from the grains, and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide as a result. In Chaucer’s time, the action of yeast in ale was so mysterious that the foam was named, “god-is-goode,” because its powers were perceived to be a miracle. Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Latin for "beer sugar").

Many styles of home brew beer are brewed in the United States, style, matches, the expectation of the brewer in home brew beer. Characteristics are color, aroma, taste and amount of carbonation and alcohol strength. Most newbie’s, create many brewing batches, before they perfect a desirable and enjoyable home brew beer.

Alcohol content in home brew beer average about 4.4% to 8% (abv) and pale lager averages 5%, is what most home brew beer contains. Yeast does not reproduce and therefore cannot produce alcohol above 12%. More recently, yeast strain’s have been  developed, which can go higher. Champagne yeasts, can be used to artificially increase the alcohol content.

The Home Brewing Process
The process for home brewing beer is very straightforward, which is five easy steps, but for beginner home brewing, combining the fermentation and conditioning or aging can make it much simpler. However, the exactness with which a beginner selects, measures and processes the ingredient’s, determines the outcome and success of their endeavor. Most mistakes are made in the combination error of poor quality and quantity of ingredients, which produce batch failure.

Many production beer brewers have claimed that successful brewing begins with the quality of water, other’s, use various grains, hops and mash ingredients as their claim to fame. As a home brewer you can succeed in making quality home brew beer using the right equipment, excellent ingredients, sanitary environment and conditions and the patience to work through the steps.

Since this is an article on “Beginner Brewing,” we will forgo the lingo of brew making, the volumes of information on each step, supplies and equipment and focus on a simple beginner’s first home brew, four step recipe and process. Once, you’ve finished your first batch, bottled and aged, and tasted your result, you can move up to the more exacting recipes and process.

STEP ONE:
Home brew beer is produced by boiling water, malt extract and hops together in a large kettle and then cooling the resulting wort. The wort is always boiled for a minimum of 15 minutes. It takes an hour or longer to remove some volatile impurities, dissolve the character of the hops, and break down some of the proteins. The wort is then cooled down to pitching temperature ( 60° F is best). Quick cooling and isolation from the ambient atmosphere is needed to prevent early bacterial contamination or oxidation of the wort. The use of thermal heat exchanger’s cools the wort, which usually consist of copper tubing, immersed in the wort, through which cold water flows. A less effective method is to immerse the pot in a sink full of ice water.

STEP TWO:
The wort is poured into the ferment jug, rapidly, to aerate the wort, oxygen is needed for yeast's growth. The yeast is poured into the wort. Dry yeast may be used and must be activated prior to mixing or liquid yeasts, that offer flavor characteristics, for various beer styles.

Fermentation takes place in a large plastic, food-grade bucket, which is sealed, it is stoppered with the carbon dioxide gas produced venting through a fermentation lock. During this time temperatures should be kept at optimum, for the fermentation process. For ale, usually 65-75° F and for lager, around 50° F. Fermentation takes place, starting within 12 hours and continuing over the next few days.

During this stage the fermentable sugars (maltose, glucose, and sucrose) in the wort are consumed by the yeast, while ethanol and CO2 are produced as byproducts by the yeast. A layer of sediment, appears at the bottom of the container, composed of heavy fats, proteins and inactive yeast. A sign that fermentation has finished is the foam head falls.

STEP THREE:
Often, the beer is then siphoned into another container, for conditioning or aging. This is done to separate the batch from the impurities, which can give the beer an off-flavor. It also helps separate the beer from sediment. During this time, some chemical byproducts from the primary fermentation are digested, which considerably improves the taste. This process can take from 2 to 4 weeks, sometimes longer. So, in our beginner method we’ll keep the batch in the primary container, for the entire process. The potential drawbacks include added sediment in the finished product and risk of off flavors. This eliminates the need for a second container, reduces labor, and reduces the likelihood of contaminating the batch with bacteria, or oxidizing it, during transfer to the second container.

STEP FOUR:
Two methods of carbonation. The first is more time consuming. About 3/4 cup of corn sugar (dextrose) is added to the beer, which is then transferred to bottles and then capped, or placed in a keg. Fermentation of  priming sugar by left-over yeast suspended in the beer creates carbon dioxide, which then dissolves into the beer. This takes 1-2 weeks.

We’ll choose the second method, which involves pressurizing carbon dioxide into the beer into a special type of keg, like the kind in restaurants for soda storage, or a pressure barrel. Canisters of carbon dioxide, or soda chargers, can be released into the pressure barrel directly. The carbonation process then occurs almost instantaneously.

Once the bottle/keg conditioning phase ends, the beer begins aging. Aging typically rounds out any rough edges in the beer and can remedy many imperfections. Some beers such as wheat beers are considered best with little to no aging, while bigger, higher alcohol beers can benefit from age for years.

Enjoying your first batch:
New home brewers are anxious to crack open their first bottle of home brew beer. However, this is where impatience meets failure. Tasting a home brew beer batch, before its time, is disaster you can taste. Most beginner home brewers, wait the needed time period to allow for full maturity.

Information and supply sources abound in the art of home brewing beer and a beginner will have an easy time of learning the process and perfecting their style in today’s information age. Those of the ancient world, downed a far different brew, than the one you will produce and enjoy.

Ready to Start Home Brewing?

Published: March 22, 2011

For additional information on home brewing or homebrew topics please visit our home brewing article center.




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