Brewery tours are a golden opportunity for brewers to educate visitors about the art of brewing. But any brewery employee who has been assigned tour guide duty has seen the confusion on people's faces when you describe the brewing process. To the visitor, brewing can sound like a return to high school chemistry-with some alchemy thrown in.
The process of brewing coffee, I discovered, was a good way to relate the brewing process to people who do not understand zymurgy, the technical term for making beer. This became more than a useful analogy: with familiar kitchen equipment, you can repeat the steps of the process that goes on in breweries large and small-and make a very small batch of beer.
For this mini-homebrew, you'll need the following kitchen equipment:
An electric drip coffee maker with a water-heating compartment and a hot plate (Mine is a West Bend Quick Drip, and all the measurements here are based on that machine.)
A wooden rolling pin (marble is too heavy)
One coffee filter
A saucepan, larger than 2 quarts
2 1-quart canning jars with lids
2 6-inch squares of cheesecloth
Two rubber bands
1/2 gallon filtered-not distilled-water
Brewing ingredients, from a homebrew supply store: 1 1/4 cups malted barley. You can use all "base malt," such as 2-row or pilsner. Base malt provides the sugar content for fermentation. Or use 1 cup of base malt and 1/4 cup specialty malt(s), such as crystal or chocolate malt, which will provide added color and flavor.
5 to 7 hop pellets, which are the cones of the hop plant compressed into little nuggets. Hops add bitterness to the flavor of beer, and help preserve it. The variety is your choice.
1/2 packet of champagne yeast (or you can even use baker's yeast)
Before you begin: cleanliness is a huge concern with brewers, because any unwanted microorganisms or residual chemicals can taint the beer. Make sure everything you are using is as close to sanitary as possible. Use a dishwasher if you have one. Set the drying cycle to heat dry with no rinsing agent.
In brewing-whether coffee or beer-parts of a plant (coffee beans or grains of barley) are steeped in hot water to extract soluble material. To make this extraction more efficient, you grind the coffee beans, or you mill the barley grains.
Measure 1 1/4 cups of malted barley. Using the rolling pin, gently apply just enough pressure to the grains to crack them. You do not want to make flour.
Place the cracked grains into the coffee pot. Place 2 cups of filtered water into the coffee machine and turn it on. The temperatures of the water-heating chamber and hot plate-170 degrees F and 150 degrees F, respectively-are perfect for brewing! Let the coffee maker do its thing; it will keep the water/grain mix at a constant temperature for about an hour before it shuts off.
This is called "mashing-in." Enzyme activity in the grain breaks down starches and complex sugars into simple, fermentable sugars.
Strain the liquid through the coffee filter, and place the filter full of grain into the filter basket. Pour the strained liquid back into the water-heating chamber. Add 1 cup of water to the strained liquid in the chamber and turn the machine back on. After the liquid flows into the coffee pot, turn off the machine and pour the liquid back into heating chamber. Repeat five times, adding another cup of water each time. Keep a close eye to make sure it does not overflow.
This is called "lautering." Lautering is the process of washing hot water over the grain to extract the simple and complex sugars. The higher temperature stops the enzymes from breaking down the grain any further.
Now you have a sugar-rich liquid called "wort" (pronounced "wert"), or sweet liquor. Place the wort into the saucepan and get it to a rolling boil. After 20 minutes of boiling, add 5 to 7 pellets of hops, boil for an additional 30 minutes, then turn off the burner.
Stir until you have a whirlpool. This will pull leftover sediment into the center of the pot. Carefully pour the wort into the canning jar, pouring down the side of the jar without splashing. Splashing hot wort would allow unwanted air-borne organisms to get established.
Next, you need to bring the temperature of the wort down to a level where yeast-the organisms you want in your wort-will thrive. The brewery uses a wort chiller or heat exchanger; you just place the jar into a sink filled with cold water.
Let it cool until the liquid reaches between 60 and 70 degrees F. Screw the top on the jar and shake vigorously; this aerates the wort. Take the top off the jar and add yeast.
The jar is now your fermentation tank. Place a piece of cheesecloth over the top of the jar and secure it with a rubber band; the cheesecloth will keep stuff from falling in your wort, and the carbon dioxide produced by fermentation should keep out other contaminants.
Place the jar in a cool, dark place. The sweet liquor will become beer in five to seven days. Wasn't that easy?