There’s nothing more satisfying than tasting an ale from your own stovetop (even Obama’s doing it). With a home-brewing boom underway, there’s never been a better time to make the plunge.
“I feel like this is cheating,” said my brother-in-law, Brian, screwing up his face at a box of malt extract in a Brampton homebrew store. We were assembling the ingredients for our first venture into making beer at home, and award-winning Toronto homebrewer Brad Clifford (who went pro earlier this month, opening a nano-brewery in Get Well bar at 1181 Dundas St. W.) advised us to start with malt extract. This way, we could skip the time and cost of grinding malt ourselves.
But we went whole hog. I was in this to learn all I could about brewing, with two of my brother-in-laws—one a chef, the other a foodie and jack-of-all-trades. Neither cuts corners.
So a few weeks later, we were grinding up pale barley malt in my kitchen.
We’re part of a growing number of Torontonians fermenting beer in bathtubs, swapping recipes, and waxing poetic on hop varieties and head retention. Zack Weinberg saw the need for a local homebrew shop last September, and opened an online store with 50 products at torontobrewing.ca. A year on, he has over 500 products.
“The best homebrews don’t take a back seat to any of our local microbrews,” says Weinberg. Plus, making your own beer can save you money. Our brew works out to about 65 cents per bottle, after we pay off the start-up costs ($250-$400).
A couple of hours into cooking our first brew, we experiened a quality control issue. Standing over a five-gallon pot of wort (barley water) on my crappy stove, we were willing it to get to a “rolling boil,” as per John Palmer’s How to Brew guide. There wasn’t enough oomph in the old stove, so we went against the guide and covered the pot (condensation can create off-flavours).
It wasn’t the first time our set-up had failed us, and it wouldn’t be the last, but there’s plenty of room for error. There’s also a lot of waiting around, which means plenty of time for drinking and gossipping. The social aspect can’t be underestimated, so choose your partners wisely. For me, homebrewing is the only time I can ply my brothers-in-law for family dirt, away from their spouses.
Here’s a basic recipe for a classic pale ale:
- Sanitize everything with the acid sanitizer and water.
- Heat three gallons of water to 73 C in the boiling pot. Crush malt with the grain mill and place in the brew kettle.
- Slowly pour one gallon of the water over the malt, for an oatmeal-like mixture. Slow, don’t splash! After one gallon, take temperature. Should be 65 to 68 C (add cold or hot water to adjust).
- Pour in rest of water (don’t splash!) and stir every 15 to 20 minutes for an hour.
- Drain a bit into a quart jug. Rinse and repeat until the wort (sugary barley water) is clear. Then drain into the boiling pot until only an inch of water is left atop the malt.
- Time to sparge. Add five gallons of 80 C water (no splashing!). Now drain everything into the boiling pot.
- Boil one hour, lid off. Once foaming stops (about 15 minutes), add Columbus hops. For aroma, add half-ounce of Cascade hops ten minutes before the end of the boil, and all remaining hops five minutes before.
- Cool down to 26 C within 30 minutes. (A bathtub full of ice should do it.)
- Move the wort into the pail (but leave the green gunk at the bottom). Splash away! Yeast needs oxygen to do its thing.
- Add the yeast. Rock back and forth to mix.
- Close with an airlock. Leave in a cool (18 to 24 C), dark place for about two weeks.
- Bottle. Wait another two weeks(ish).
What you’ll need:
(Try Toronto Homebrew Supplies at torontobrewing.ca)
American Pale Ale ingredients
9 lbs 2-Row Pale Malt, $12
1/2 lb Crystal Malt, $1.80
1/2 lb Light Munich Malt, $1.50
1 ounce Columbus Hops, $2
1 ounce Cascade Hops, $1.75
½ ounce Citra Hops, $1.50
1 vile California Ale Yeast, $10 (Pro Tip: Don’t buy cheap yeast—it’s the most essential ingredient, White Labs is a good ’un)
Basic grain mill, Corona style, $70
7.5 gallon stainless steel boiling pot with lid, $120
Brew Kettle (basically a 10-gallon false-bottom pot with spigot, $395)
6.5 gallon food-grade pail with spigot, $28
Auto siphon, $15
Bottle capper, $20
100 bottle caps, $5
8 oz. bottle of star san (acid sanitizer), $15
Bottle brush, $3.50
Hydrometer with jar, $17