Beer Brewing Basics, by Doctus

Thursday, Nov 11, 2010

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."” - Benjamin Franklin, 1779 letter to AndrĂ© Morellet

Beer has been a coveted drink from time immemorial.  It has witnessed the rise and fall of many great nations.  It has been the start of relationships and the ruin of marriages.  It is full of memories and yet causes selective amnesia.  Beer is ingrained in us and in a certain sense is a part of our humanity.  Despite ones personal feelings for the fermented beverage, one cannot deny its longevity and enduring quality.  In our own county, even during Prohibition, beer flowed like the waters of the Mississippi.  It is here to stay and will endure into a post-TEOTWAWKI world.  Beer will be a comfort drink in the difficult times and a celebratory drink in the happy times.  The skill to make beer will be a sought after talent that will provide security and income.  To put it plainly, brewing beer is a specialty skill that any prepper can acquire and would do well to acquire. A couple of years ago, I received under the Christmas tree a home brewing beer kit.  It was the perfect gift for someone who really enjoys the hand crafted specialty micro brew beers.  I immediately delved into the world of home brewing and have since made a few beers that are certainly marketable to the wider beer drinking population.   Some may or may not have the ability to win a medal, but they all have the ability to be enjoyed.  I indulged in a hobby and gained a post-TEOTWAWKI skill. 
Beer and alcohol in general has gained a bad reputation over the years as being the devil’s drink.  Like all things that are good, it can be misused.  I advocate reasoned, responsible, and legal drinking in all circumstances. 

With the disclaimer out of the way, beer is a wonderful drink with many health benefits.  A few years ago, I ordered from Netflix the PBS television series “Colonial House”  It’s a wonderful series documenting a “colony” of pilgrims coming to the new world and building a colony.  The overarching theme of rugged primitive survival with stored rations gives us a peek into what a post TEOTWAWKI life might be like, sans the camera crews.  There was one scene I remember, where the governor of the colony called for a celebration and allowed double rations of beer to be doled out.  The mood in the colony quickly changed from over worked depression to exuberant celebration in zero seconds flat.   For the overly soft modern Man, a life of strenuous hard work is taxing on both the body and mind.  If, after a long day of surviving, we have no way to unwind, burn out mode will quickly set in and all our TEOTWAWKI preparations might be for naught.  Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it slows the heart rate and produces a relaxing and calming effect in the brain.  It is a perfect release in stressful and hard times.  The other main benefit of beer is the calorie and vitamin content.  Americans generally live a sedentary lifestyle with very little actual physical labor.  Our day might include an hour trip to the gym or a three mile jog in the evening, but that hardly constitutes as an active life style.  Our calorie intake must be watched since we generally don’t burn as much as we eat.  If presented with a life situation where every calorie counts, the now empty calories of beer will become important to meeting our survival needs.  Beer does fill you up and it does contain calories.  On an historical side note, medieval monks, famed for creating some of the world’s best brews and enduring recipes, brewed a stronger beer during Lent to supplement their restricted diets because of the Lenten Fast.

Another health benefit of beer is its vitamin content.  Yes, beer does contain vitamins.  Researchers say that the average 12 oz. beer contains 25mg of sodium protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and vitamins B, B2, and B6.  Not bad for a single glass of fermented liquid.  Beer is also said to help prevent heart disease and improve circulation.  In ages past, dark beers (stouts in particular) were recommended for nursing mothers because it helped increase milk production.  A friend of mine’s wife recounts that after the birth of their second child, her mother arrived to the hospital with a six pack of Guinness.  Beer also contains essential minerals which come from the water used.  The general rule of thumb is the harder the water the better the brew.  When you brew porters and stouts, often times you have to add brewing salts because filtered municipal water or bottled water do not contain enough minerals.  The best water for brewing is natural spring water or well water because of their mineral content.    If you want to find out other health benefits, I would recommend a Google search.   Peruse the different articles and read about all the benefits.

The beer world is vast and expansive.  Home brewing is a wonderful hobby with a growing popularity.  But with any specialized hobby comes a lexicon of terms.   For those who read this article with only a cursory knowledge of beer, let me help you out by giving you a brief glossary to help you through some of the terminology:

There are two types of home brews, all grain and malt extract.  Brewing using a malt extract is a common and easy way to begin familiarizing yourself with the brewing process.  Malt extracts come as either a dry power or liquid syrup and cuts the brewing time by more than half and makes the entire process much easier. 

Extract Brewing [Note that the following instructions are designed for a 5-gallon batch of beer]

Step 1
Gather your utensils: brew pot, metal spoon, carboy, and ingredients.  At this stage make sure you sanitize the spoon and carboy with boiling water.  You can buy packets of One-step Sanitizer which makes this part super easy. Warning:  If you’re using a plastic carboy, make sure you do not melt the plastic.

Step 2
Fill your brew pot with gallon of water and bring to a boil.

Step 3
Add the can of Malt extract to the boiling water.  Boiling the wort at hard boil causes foam to form on the top.  Make sure you adjust the temperature to prevent a boil over while keeping it at a hard rolling boil.  Boil the extract for 45 minutes to an hour. 

Step 4
During the last 10 to 15 minutes of the boil, add your hops.  I add the hops in a hop sack to avoid having to strain the wort.

Step 5
Cool the wort to room temperature (about 72°).  The quicker you do this, the less likely your wort will pick up any air born bacteria, fungus, or yeast.  If you don’t want to spend the money to get the wort chiller, I would recommend placing the pot in a sink with ice water.   This step will take a little bit of time.  Make sure that you stir your wort while cooling, using your sterilized spoon. This helps cool the wort faster and also helps to oxygenize the wort.

Step 6
Pitch the yeast, i.e. add the yeast to the wort.  If you are using dry yeast make sure you activate it before adding it to your wort.  If you are using liquid yeast follow the manufacturer’s instruction.  I have never successfully used a liquid yeast before so I really can give much advice on this particular thing. After you pitch the yeast let it stand for 5 minutes then give it a vigorous stir. 

Step 7
Pour the beer into the sanitized carboy and seal it with the air lock top.  The air lock top is a special cap which allows for the gasses to escape while maintaining the air tight seal of your carboy.  Place the beer filled carboy in a dark place with a relatively even temperature.  Note: UV rays from the sun will spoil your beer.  Fermentation will begin almost immediately.  You should begin to hear the clicking of the air lock only a few hours after you seal the carboy.  If you do not, then you most likely have a problem with your yeast.  This happened to me the one time I used liquid yeast.  I reopened the carboy and pitched it with dry yeast.  While my beer did not suffer any ill effects, I probably violated a million home brewing laws.  Oh well, I still made beer!

Step 8
The primary fermentation can take up to two weeks or as little as one week depending on the type of beer you are brewing.   You will know when the beer has completed fermentation when you no longer hear the gas escaping from the airlock.  Once fermentation has finished you can bottle your beer.  However, some beers need to condition after fermentation.  The flavor of beer will change the longer it sits.  Different flavors will become more pronounced while others will become more subtle. This past summer, I made a Belgian wit bier (think Blue Moon).  After the initial fermentation, it had a very distinct orange flavor from the orange I used in the brewing process.  After about a month of conditioning, the orange flavor mellowed and the coriander and hops became more pronounced.  Needless to say it was a really good beer that ended up being the hit at all my summer cook outs.

Step 9
Bottle your beer.  Before you bottle your beer there are a few things that you must consider.  First, you must have the correct type of bottle.  When you carbonate your beer in the bottle, which is the process I will be explaining in this step, screw top bottles will not work.  They do not have enough of a lip on the mouth of the bottle to create the proper seal.  When collecting bottles make sure you get the ones where you had to pry the cap off.  Generally, the imports and microbrews like Guinness or Fat Tire have the right kind of bottle, while Bud and Bud light all have screw tops.  Finally, you have to consider the color of the bottle.  While most bottles are brown, you will have the opportunity to collect clear bottles (from Corona) or green bottles (from Yuengling or Heineken).  Brown bottles will protect your beer from the suns UV rays and prevent your beer from becoming skunked.  There is no such guarantee from clear or green.  Bottling the beer can be tricky at first.  But once you get the hang of it, it will go very quickly.  You must make sure that all your bottles are properly sanitized before bottling.  You can either boil the bottles or use the super easy one-step sanitizer again.  I prefer the one-step sanitizer.  Add to your bottles ¾ tsp – 1 ½ tsp of corn sugar (not corn syrup) for secondary fermentation, i.e. carbonation.  White granulated sugar will work, although it’s generally not recommended. Use a siphon tube and siphon your beer into the bottle, filling it with 12 oz of beer.  Using your nifty store bought capper, cap your bottle with a new cap and gently (let me stress the word gently) shake the bottle to mix in the sugar. 

Step 10
Store your beer for a minimum of one week, preferably two week, allowing your beer the time to fully carbonate. In my opinion, this is hands down the HARDEST step.  By the end of the two weeks, I have enough built up anticipation that I make a child on Christmas morning look like a stoic Buddhist monk. Chill your beer and enjoy!!!

Grain Brewing

All grain brewing is virtually the same as extract brewing, except that instead of buying the concentrated wort, you will be making the wort.  You make the wort by converting the grain’s starches into sugars and sparging the sugars out.  This requires the use of a mash tun.  While you can buy a mash tun, why not build one.  I made my mash tun using the instructions from this web site.

It works, it’s easy, it’s cheap, and best of all, you can make it at home! 

Step 1
Crush your grain into grist and add it to your mash tun.  If you already have a grain mill for post-TEOTWAWKI milling, you can use it pre-TEOTWAWKI to crush grain for beer.  Don’t mill the grain into flour, just crush it enough to make it a coarsely crushed grist. 

Step 2
Heat your strike water to about 170° and add it into your mash tun.  Your mash should steep at a temperature of roughly 155°.  When you add the strike water to the grain, it normally will cool the water to the proper temperature.  Be careful not to overheat the strike water since over heating the water will kill the enzymes that convert the starch into sugar.  Stir the grain thoroughly, close the lid and cover with blankets.  Let the mash steep for about an hour. 

Step 3
Collect the wort by draining the mash tun into your brew kettle.  Add heated sparge water back into the mash tun.  Drain the sparge water from the mash tun into your brew kettle.  This flushes out any remaining sugars left in the grain. I’m told that the remaining mash is very healthy to eat.  It is my understanding that soaking grains before consumption helps you digest the grain and allows you to absorb more nutrients than you otherwise would if you consumed un-soaked grains.
Finish your batch of all grain brew by following steps 3-10 from the previous. Enjoy your all grain home brew!

The world of home brewing is vast.  Every home brewer has his special process with his own particular steps.  It is what make home brewing a hobby.  There is always something to tweak.  There is always something new to try, making each batch unique and enjoyable.  What is today a fun hobby for a lazy Saturday, might be a sought-after skill post-Schumer  By learning now how to brew, you will be able to testify to “God’s love for mankind” post-TEOTWAWKI and probably make a few bucks in the process.  So bottoms up, cheers, and happy brewing!

JWR Adds: Needless to say, beer brewing brings with it the moral responsibility of controlling who gets their hands on your product. Obviously, minors, idiots, people with addictive personalities, malcontents, and anyone who is irresponsible should be entirely "off the list." In a societal collapse, there will be many who will be tempted to drift into alcoholism, squander their resources, and fail to provide for their families. Do not contribute to their downfall!

You also need to consider that if gain a reputation as the local brewer that some locals will assume that you keep a lot of beer on hand--regardless of whether on not that is a fact. So this could give your home a higher likelihood of burglary or armed robbery.

Lastly, depending on where you live there are tax, licensing, and health code/inspection requirements if you sell beer for profit.

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