Last Saturday I did something completely new for me. I began my first attempt to brew my own beer(a Chipotle Porter). The event was called Brew School, and the feature of this event, was brewing stouts and porters. The Brew School is one of the projects of Savour Winnipeg. Savour Winnipeg is all about D-I-Y food and beverage production. Savour Winnipeg is the same group that I went with last year when I tried to learn a little bit about foraging.
My future is looking like lit will involve a lot more food production. While beer isn’t going to be part of it, I want to get more educated as to how processes such as fermentation work. So, when a notice for this event showed up in my email I decided I would sign up and give it a whirl.
Gathering To do Some Brewing
Ben Benton, who lead the foraging expedition was also the instructor for the beer making afternoon. The session was held at the Irish Association on Erin Street. There were a total of 13 of us gathered, along with Ben, around four tables. The one disappointment with the event was there were no proper introductions, so I can’t tell you anything about the other people that were taking part in the brew school. Although, there was quite a range of experience. Some people hadn’t really tried beer making before, while others made their own beer on a regular basis. There were four choices for brewing, from the email.
You’ll have the chance to become the brew master as you make your very own, take-home growler of any of these tested and trusted recipes:
- Milk Stout
- Imperial Stout
- Chipotle Porter
- Traditional Dry Irish Stout.
Chipotle Porter Mashing In:
Once everyone had arrived and gathered around their stations we got to work. Although there is a lot of time spent waiting while making beer, it’s a very time sensitive process as well. So, the first thing we did was we emptied our barley into the pots and stirred it around. We stirred it to make sure that all the barley was moistened and that there were lumps where so barley might remain dry in the middle and so reduce the quality of the final product.
Getting Started on the Chipotle Porter
One thing that noticed right off, is that all the elements that were going to go into making the beer were packaged in such away that there was need for us to handle any of the raw material. This meant that even without an industrial kitchen, we were sill able to maintain a high standard of hygiene. Keeping the liquid uncontaminated throughout the process is an important part of making the beer.
After putting the barely into the water, Ben came around to test the temperatures to make sure they were within the acceptable range. Right after this we were given tasting spoons and encouraged to taste the wort. While the flavour wasn’t strong, it was surprisingly sweet. We let the mash sit, and while it was sitting, Ben gave us the history of beer making, along with how we got porters and stouts. Of the latter it was that in London on the Quays, they needed a hearty and sustaining brew to keep the porters satisfied. We also got a bit of the history of how Guinness became the best known beer in the world.
The next step was sparging. This involves pouring hot water over the mash mixture to make sure that the sugars, which have been loosened from the barley get washed away into the wort. It’s the sugars that produce the alcohol in the beer. In this part of the process I ended up pouring about 3 litres of water over the mash. This pour over is meant to be done rather slowly, but in continuous form. The closest thing I can compare it to is going to a coffee shop and asking for a pour-over.
Bringing it to the Boil
After the sparging came the boil. By the time we finished the sparging the amount of liquid in the pot was about double our starting liquid. Cutting that amount in half is our next step. The boil is also the time when we added the hops. The hops were a bit of a surprise. In any pictures of them I’ve seen they look almost like mini, green, pine cones. It is only the female hops that produces material that is used for making beer. The definition below gives a better description than I could:
hops The dried female inflorescences of this plant, containing a bitter aromatic oil. They are used in brewing to inhibit bacterial growth and to add the characteristic bitter taste to beer. (thefreedicitionary.com)
As a result of the need to conserve when processing and transporting, the hops are turned into dense pellets. I only got a picture of the container tops, but the totality of the hops could have been been fitted into a large soup spoon. The Chipotle Porter I was making required three additions of hops, and here’s where I ran into a little trouble.
Keeping an Eye on the Wort
When the wort starts to boil, it really starts to boil. So while trying to keep if from boiling over, trying to open the container of hops, and trying to listen to Ben’s instructions, I accidentally put the second set of hops into the mix rather than the first. I got a chance to bring it to Ben’s attention when I added the first set, where I should have added the second set. Ben told me it might make a bit of difference to the flavour, but shouldn’t be too much of a problem. On my station we added hops at the start of the boil, at the forty minute mark, and just before the boil came to a finish.
Then the beer has to cool. Here again, the emphasis was placed on making sure that we did everything as hygienically as possible. The stock pots were first put into an ice bath. Then Ben took some ice packs from a sanitizing solution(one that is safe for humans) and stuck an ice pack into each pot. This helped bring the wort down to a temperature that is safe for when entering the next step, which is fermentation.
Readying for Trip Home
After the wort had cooled, we transferred our worts to sanitized, food grade containers to take home. For the fermentation section Ben added a little activated yeast to each of the pots. He activated the yeast first, so that we knew that the yeast was working. So we wouldn’t have to wait two to three weeks for the fermentation to complete then finding it didn’t work.
One of the things I really liked about the event, is that we made enough wort to produce about a gallon of beer(roughly five 12 oz cans). I enjoy a beer, but I don’t drink all that much, so that I’m glad that I won’t find myself stuck with a whole lot of beer when this come to maturity. Plus if it doesn’t turn out fantastic, I don’t feel a whole lot will go to waste.
Easy to Learn Brewing
Another thing I liked about this class, it’s clear you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to make your own beer. The basics are:
- a 2L stock pot,
- The strainer,
- The bag to hold the mash in the pot(they are washable and reusable),
- A spoon for stirring(ours were a little short, another couple of inches above the water line would have been nice),
- food grade bucket,
- Most important of all is the digital thermometer.
The last is to make sure that the temperatures are kept in the right range. That way pathogens don’t develop. All of this can be done in a regular kitchen. You simply need to do the right steps at the right moment. Then, you can still work on other things in the kitchen.
The Real Waiting Begins
The ingredients are pretty simple too: Barley mixture and hops. Then add anything such as the chipotle peppers that you may want to add at the end of the boil. Right now my wort is sitting in my basement, where it will remain for the next two or three weeks. At the end of that time, I will transfer it to the growler(Ben recommends the plastic ones because they are virtually indestructible), add the carbonation tabs(compressed sugar designed to help make sure the beer is bubbly), and in another couple of weeks, Hopefully I will have some delicious beer, and if it’s not something I particularly want to drink I’ll try and cook with it. I’ll let you know, either way, how it turns out.