Just Brew It!
By: Karin Gipple
Chemistry 101? Cooking with yeast? No! It was an entertaining and educational afternoon learning the art of brewing beer which, contrary to popular belief, is a lot like chemistry and a lot like cooking. A group of over-21, adventurous Fantastic Friends got together for an afternoon to brew a Czech Pilsner. First, everyone put on our beermaking t-shirts which were donated by the American Homebrewers Association. All participants got a printed guide covering the ingredients used in making beer and step by step instructions with pictures about the beer brewing process.
Soon, everyone knew that water, grain, hops and yeast were needed to make a batch of beer. Folks tasted chocolate malt grains and passed around whole hops to feel and smell. A beer sampling was conducted to see how different yeasts, grains and hops affect the taste and smell of the beer. Olivia was the lone wild card preferring the very “hoppy” taste of Troeg’s Hop Knife beer while many of the others liked DuClaw’s chocolate peanut butter Sweet Baby Jesus beer. Kevin, who may have a very bright future as a brew master, had endless suggestions for creative beer blends including seaweed beer and marshmallow beer.
The first step in the beer process is to make some sweet water or “wort” which we did by heating ground grains in water to a temperature of 162F. We called this a mash. Everyone got to learn how to read a digital thermometer and record the measured temperatures in their guide books. Everyone tasted the wort and were amazed at its sweetness. This is due to sugars being pulled from the grains. Sparging was next. This part of the process separates the wort from the grains. The wort is then boiled for 1 hour. Hops are added periodically during this part of the process. Everyone had to help with stirring, timing hop additions, adding the right hops at the right time and enjoying the wonderful aromas pouring out of the boil kettle.
It is tradition, during the boil, to feast on brats and sauerkraut. Our meal was finished off with brownies and a Happy Birthday song to Ronnie. Soon, the boil was complete. Five gallons of wort were quickly cooled to 75F, and poured into a fermenter. Once in the fermenter, the yeast was “pitched” which means the yeast could be added to the wort. The wort has to be cooled because the yeast is happiest over a small temperature range. The yeast feeds on the sugars extracted from the grains and multiplies to a population of billions – which everyone found both fascinating and disturbing. During the final step of fermentation, the yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The result is beer! This takes about 2 weeks.
The finished beer will be kegged, chilled and carbonated for all to enjoy. Ronnie summed up the day perfectly with his take on the four ingredients of beer: “love, heart, cook it and relax.”
**Special thank you to the Gipple Family for volunteering to host this educational and fun activity with GiGi’s Playhouse Fantastic Friends!