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Winemaker's Journal — Hot time for beer

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It's nearly 7 p.m. It's still 100 degrees and I'm beat. I don't know about you, but I'm going to crack open a cold beer.

Sometimes it's just too hot for wine with dinner. Sometimes it's too hot for dinner. I generally drink less wine — particularly red wine — during the heat of summer. A cold beer and easy to prepare foods — salads or something off the barbecue —seems just right.

One thing I do cook in summer is beer. Actually, I cook the ingredients of malted barley and hops and water to make a style of beer that I prefer. The process is pretty easy, inexpensive and fun. Best of all, unlike with making wine, you can drink the results of your labor in a couple weeks.

Yeah, I know that's still more work and more time than going out and buying a six-pack. You can do that too. In fact, I think there's a law somewhere against making beer or ale without drinking some. So if you don't have any of your last batch of brew ready to drink, you have to buy someone else's.

But I like to make things, whether it beer or wine or whatever. My son, Zak, and my daughter's boyfriend, Roy, were interested in making a batch when they were up visiting last month. Zak is an accomplished brewer. But Roy had never made beer before.

I had planned ahead for the event and purchased all the ingredients we needed in advance at Stan's Merry Mart. I've made beer for decades, so I also had lots os supplies on hand. Stan's, if you're not aware, have a great aisle of both beer and wine making supplies.

Because of the heat and lack of air conditioning in my old farmhouse, we used a propane stove outdoors for the brewing. I made up the recipe on the spot from prior experience, but there are plenty of books at Stan's and recipes on line to use if you want to try this yourself. I called the dark, hoppy stout we made that day Levi's Stout, in honor of my nearly 2-year-old grandson, who accompanied Zak and wife Tara on their visit from Berkeley.


Levi's Stout

Ingredients — makes about 2.5 gallons (about 22 12-ounce bottles)

3 pounds amber DME (dried malt extract) — double this if you're making a 5-gallon batch. The rest of the ingredients can stay the same.

0.5 pound crushed 60# crystal barley malt

0.5 pound crushed chocolate malt

0.5 pound black patent malt

1 ounce Williamette dried hop pellets

1 ounce Northern Brewer hop pellets

1 ounce Cascade hop pellets 

1 package of Safeale or other yeast


Fill a 3 or 4 gallon pot with 2 gallons of cold water and heat to 150 degrees (use a thermometer). Pour crushed crystal, chocolate and patent malt barley in a cheesecloth bag and steep, like a teabag in the 150-degree water for about 20 minutes. 

You can skip this entire step of using the crushed malt and just go on to the DME if you want to keep things simple, but I like the more complex flavors that the added malt offers.

Remove the bag and sparge with cool water over the pot to save those good sugary flavors. Turn up the heat and bring the wort — that's what the sweet liquid is called at this point — to a low boil. Very slowly added the dried malt (you can also use canned malt syrup) with lots of stirring with long-handled wood or metal spoon. Keep stirring to keep the wort from boiling over and making a huge mess.

Once the foam subsides, add the first ounce of hops (in a small cheesecloth bag. I wrap the pellets in a paper coffee filter and staple it shut) and then bring the wort to a slow boil and let it cook for about 40 minutes, before adding the second ounce of hops. I add the third portion of hops 10 or 15 minutes later. 

Turn off the heat after an hour. Now you have to cool the wort as quickly as possible to reduce the chance of infection by bacteria or an unwanted yeast. There's many ways to do this including use of expensive copper coils filled with cold water. We kept things simple by setting the wort pot in a larger plastic bin that we partially filled with cold water and ice.

Once the wort has cooled to 70 or 80 degrees, you can pour it in a fermentation bucket, something that you can put a lid on with an airlock. I use a 5-gallon glass or plastic carboy with a narrow neck. You can add water to bring the wort to about 3 gallons in volume. 

Once the wort is completely cool, sprinkle in the yeast or add liquid yeast. Fermentation should start within 12 hours. I fit my carboy with a stopper and tight-fitting plastic hose. The free end of the hose I submerge in a quart jar of water. This allows the gas created by fermentation to emerge without letting air into the fermentor. 

Place the fermentor in a cool, dark place and forget about it for a week or two. The yeast should have converted all the sugars to alcohol by then. You can chill and drink it, or read up elsewhere how to bottle or keg it with the kind of bubbles you like. I plan to bottle Levi's Stout this weekend. It will be ready to drink a week or two after that.

One important thing I should add is that bacteria can spoil all your efforts and fun. Everything you use, particularly after the boil, must be sterile. Carboys, siphon tubes, spoons, bottles and thermometers should be sterilized in a weak bleach solution (and then rinsed) or a commercial cleaning agent from the brew store.