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Homebrewing for Skiers

Cheaper than a thirty-rack of flavorless beer.

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Don’t settle for another can of PBR, Keystone Light, or Schlitz. If you’ve been shreddin’ pow or hucking cliffs all day, you deserve better. How can…

Don’t settle for another can of PBR, Keystone Light, or Schlitz. If you’ve been shreddin’ pow or hucking cliffs all day, you deserve better. How can this mythical beverage be obtained? By making it yourself, of course.

Beer is simple. With only four basic ingredients (grains, water, hops, and yeast) it is difficult to mess up, yet the combinations, flavors and possibilities are endless. The variety, quantity, and quality of each component all lend different character to your beer. The exact same recipe brewed in two different houses can make two very different beers – the time you take to sanitize, how closely you follow the recipe and wild yeast or bacteria in the environment all will change the flavor. It is the variables that you can’t control that keep things exciting, and regardless of what might go wrong you’ll eventually end up with a product you can be proud to call your own. No matter what happens just keep the brewers’ mantra in mind, “Relax, have a homebrew.”

If you’re new to this you may want to start brewing with malt extracts, which are condensed sugars, pre-extracted from grains for your brewing…

If you’re new to this you may want to start brewing with malt extracts, which are condensed sugars, pre-extracted from grains for your brewing convenience. But, if you feel like going gonzo, or if you’re a control freak, try your hand at all-grain brewing. When picking your grains keep in mind the type of beer you want to make. Do you want a light or dark beer? What flavors do you like? Ask for advice at the homebrew store or find a good recipe to start with. You then will need to mill (crush) the grains to crack the husks and get at the starches and sugars hidden inside — this is what will be converted to alcohol. Most homebrew stores will have a mill you can use.

Mashing is basically steeping your grains in order to activate two enzymes that will break down the starches into sugars. You’ll want to hold the mash somewhere between 145 and 158 degrees, with higher temperatures yielding heavier-bodied beers with a shorter mash time, and lower temperatures yielding lighter, more alcoholic beers with a longer mash time. After the mash is done sitting you want to use some sort of straining contraption (a mesh strainer, a straining tube built into your mash-tun, etc) to drain the liquid from the mash into a large pot. You then will use three to five gallons of water, preheated to 170 degrees, to “sparge,” or wash the excess sugar from, the grain, allowing this liquid to drain out through the strainer as well. You should end up with about 5.5 gallons of liquid, which will become your beer.

Next you need to condense and flavor the wort (this pre-beer liquid), which done by bringing it to a boil and adding hops according to a “hopping”…

Next you need to condense and flavor the wort (this pre-beer liquid), which done by bringing it to a boil and adding hops according to a “hopping” schedule. The hops that are added earlier in the boil contribute a bitter flavor and acidity to the beer, while the hops that are added later or at the end of the boil contribute to the aroma of the beer. Hops add more than just flavor; they also are a natural preservative, and promote head stabilization. Gypsum and Irish moss are also added to the wort during this stage to improve the clarity of the beer and reduce suspended sediments.

The variety and type of hops you add should compliment the type of beer you’re trying to make. American hops with high alpha acids and floral or citrus flavors, such as Centennial or Galena, are used for bitter beers like IPAs. More mellow and earthy hops, like Goldings or Fuggles are used in English ales, while mellow herbal hops like Saaz compliment Pilseners. 

From here on out everything needs to be sanitary. The beer will be sitting at room temperature for at least a week, probably more, and the only…

From here on out everything needs to be sanitary. The beer will be sitting at room temperature for at least a week, probably more, and the only organism you want alive in it is your yeast. Bacteria and mold can infiltrate if you’re not diligent about your cleaning.

Once your boil is done you want to cool down the wort as quickly as possible. The easiest way to do this is to put your pot in a cold bath and let it sit, covered, until it’s room temperature. Next, siphon the wort into a sanitized bucket, leaving hops and sediments behind. This liquid then needs to be aerated so that the yeast you’re about to add will have oxygen. You can do this by pouring the liquid back and forth between two bucks 10 times or so.

Now you’re ready to add the yeast. While yeast is available from brewing stores the best yeast you can find will come from a brewery. Just bring a sanitized water bottle to your local microbrewery and ask for the type of yeast you are looking for. Make sure the yeast is also at room temperature before you add it to the beer.

Once the yeast has ceased to bubble on the surface and it begins to collect in a thick layer on the bottom of the container it is a good idea to transfer your beer to a new container. More fermentation time yields higher alcohol content, better flavor, and clarity, but letting the beer sit with the accumulated yeast can produce off flavors. The solution is to siphon all the liquid out into a new carboy, leaving the yeast behind (you can collect this to use in future beers). You can also dry hop your beer at this stage if you want a more delicate hop aroma. 

Once all fermentation has ceased you need to bottle the beer. Before you siphon the beer into your sanitized bottles it needs to be primed, meaning…

Once all fermentation has ceased you need to bottle the beer. Before you siphon the beer into your sanitized bottles it needs to be primed, meaning you need to add more sugar to the beer so that the yeast can carbonate the liquid (they are now producing CO2 in a closed container, forcing it to dissolve into the liquid). To prime your beer boil ¾ cup of priming sugar with a pint of water then add this to the beer once it has been siphoned out of the carboy and into a bucket. Now you can bottle. Be sure not to splash the beer as it is put in the bottles and leave ½ inch of air at the top, a bottling wand is handy for making this process easier and cleaner. Use a bottle capper to seal each beer with a sanitary cap. Give the beer a week or two to carbonate and mellow. Start drinking. 

Before you go and convert your fridge into a keg-cooling-apparatus you’ll need a lot more help, equipment and information. You should go to your…

Before you go and convert your fridge into a keg-cooling-apparatus you’ll need a lot more help, equipment and information. You should go to your local homebrew store to find the necessary ingredients and equipment. Ask the knowledgeable staff for tips and recommendations to get you started. Another valuable resource is your local brewery. Small brewpubs are usually started by former homebrewers, who are happy, relaxed people that are more than willing to share valuable knowledge, tips, and their extra yeast in the name of good beer.

 

Alternatively, there are many online brewstores if you can’t find one in your area:

–       Midwest Supplies: midwestsupplies.com

–       Northern Brewer: northernbrewer.com

–       The Homebrew Store: thehomebrewstore.com

 

Another invaluable resource is The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian (a.k.a. the bible). He provides excellent instruction, advice, and complete lists of ingredients and equipment.