The Basics, Part Four

So! We've thought about germs, equipment and yeast. We've touched on water, and now it is time to talk ingredients and the part you've all been waiting for, putting all of it together.

The fun bit about the rest of the ingredients is the sheer, mind-boggling variety you have access to. In all seriousness, you could ferment, say, grass. In at least one medieval recipie, chicken is an ingredient for beer (we wont be making this here, but if you google 'cock ale' you will find plenty of recipies and innuendos). So..for the sake of my sanity as I write this, I'm going to use a simple recipie that will explain to you the basics of brewing, which you can then use to a; understand brewing so that future recipies make sense to you and b; so that you understand recipies and are able to make your own.

It should be noted at this point that in the equiptment section, I left out a few less basic items that could become usefull to you later. Most notable of these is the Hydrometer, which can be used to measure the amount of sugar in a liquid sample. By contrasting the reading you take just before you add yeast to later readings you can figure out the alcohol content of your drink. I must confess that I generally do not use a hydrometer, for two reasons. Reason number one is that hydrometers are fragile things made of glass tubes, and it seems that they break and need to be replaced more often than I use them. Reason number two is that I tend to let things ferment out to their maximum alcohol potential, and being that I brew mostly mead, the amount of alcohol in the end is nearly always more than enough to preserve the drink.

So! here is our first recipie!

You will need all of the basic equiptment listed before in step two, sanitized like I wrote about in step one, and your yeast of choice. You will also need about three pounds of honey per gallon of water ( I reccomend orange blossom, or someting local, or any other type of honey so long as you are excited about it. Just about any honey and indeed agave nectar and such will do.), spring water, a sanitized pot big enough to hold everything, a sanitized stirring spoon and a funnel or a very steady hand.

First, figure out roughly how much water you need to use. You want there to be a couple inches of air to float above the surface of your brew inside the carboy. If you are using a glass one gallon carboy, I suggest making your target amount of liquid enough so that it is a bit more than 3/4 of the way full, leaving the neck and an inch or so of space below that free.

Once you have that, pour the water you'll use and the honey into the pot, and put it on low heat. You want to heat the honey just enough to blend it easily with the water, but not so much that it bubbles or froths. Stir contstantly. skipping this step often means the honey settles on the bottom and might not be integrated with the rest of the brew. some separation is natural, but it's good to get the best initial mix that you can. This mix, wether it is wine, cider or mead, is called the 'must'. Unfermented beer is called 'wort'.

Once everything in your pot is feeling all groovy and one with itself, switch off the heat and let it cool. It's best to cool it quickly so as to limit the number of chances bacteria has to invade your brew. Most brewers either fill a sink with ice and set the pan on the ice, or they cover the pot and stick it into the fridge. Either way, when the temperature is around 80 degrees, you're ready for the next step.

Pour your must into the carboy. Whether you use a funnel or are good at pouring the contents of an ungainly pot into a bottle neck does not matter, just try not to spill. Once you get it in there, pour in a packet of yeast. Shake or stir your must vigorously, try to get the yeast swirling around really good and also try to get as much air into the must as you can. This is the first and last time you should encourage air to mix with your must.

After aerating and mixing in the yeast, fill your airlock, secure it to your carboy via a rubber bung/plug with a hole of the appropriate size drilled into it, set it in a cool, dark place, and let it be. I also grab a piece of masking take or sticker paper and label and date the carboy at this point. Your brew should be a-ok for the next few weeks, but do check in on it from time to time to watch the party your yeast are having. They'll be waking up and re-energizing soon, usually between a couple hours and a day. Depending on whether your strain of yeast is top or bottom fermenting, you may notice a foam called Krausen formng on the top of your must as it ferments. This will usually go away on its own, but if it invades the airlock you'll want to clean out the airlock and replace it, and you might want to put the carboy in a slightly cooler place and check in on it more frequently untill that stops happening.

Other than that though, we've entered the waiting game untill the next part- racking! Untill then, happy brewing!


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