It all began last August, with grapes. Yes, grapes. A couple of local gardeners had excess Concord grapes and I was allowed to pick, and pick, and pick some more. I canned jars and jars of grape juice. I still had more grapes. Then I recalled that a good friend of mine makes her own wine. Hmmmmmm.....
We picked up the wine-making supplies, got our instructions from my friend, and were on our way. When visiting our nearest wine brewing shop, my husband began perusing the beer-making supplies. Well, why not? Another challenge. Something else we can make ourselves. We're all about self-sufficiency these days.
Since I'm the one who enjoys research, I began with our local library system. Have I mentioned before, maybe at least 10 other times on this blog, how great it is now that our library has partnered with about 100 other libraries? The access to materials is unbelievable! I had at least a dozen beer-brewing books in my hands within a week or two. I read. A lot. And I passed on info to my husband, and had him read a few excerpts. Enough to grasp it. He was ready.
This would be a great off-season project. The farm gardens began slowing down dramatically in September, so we didn't need to spend as much time at the farm. It would only get slower at the farm and then die back to nothing by the end of November. Perfect time of year for us to learn how to brew beer.
He brewed his first batch in early September, ready in late October, and it was delicious. A dark European-style Bock...the best beer I've ever had. Next, he made a batch of dark Pumpkin Beer using our homegrown pumpkins. By now I'm truly enjoying his new hobby. I'm not a big beer fan, but I will have one once in a while. But this beer is actually good! Not only is it awesome beer, fresh and comparable only to a small, local microbrewery, but even better because...well, hey, he made it himself! The Pumpkin Beer was brewed for Thanksgiving, and he brought it to his family's meal. I think his family enjoyed it most of all - we came home with empty bottles.
His next batch, a Cherry Stout (yep, I'm really looking forward to that one) is now fermenting. Most beers take at least 6 weeks of fermenting before they're ready to drink. Some take longer.
Beer making can be done by buying a kit or using individual ingredients. He's made it both ways, and we've found that it's simply cheaper and easier to buy a kit. Especially if you can find a good, inexpensive supplier. We started at a nearby city's brew shop, but have since found a great online supplier - Northern Brewer - http://www.northernbrewer.com/. They offer $8 shipping on your order, no matter how large the order is.
Beer brewing begins with a giant stock pot. We had a few of these already. You'll need some food-grade buckets and a few other tools, such as a siphon, hydrometer, secondary fermenter, etc. You can buy all of these items in one box, including the bucket and glass fermenter, from any brew shop or online beermaking-supply store.
You cook the ingredients to a certain temperature, adding things at specific times. I won't go into a lot of detail, but there are a lot of books out there that you can get your hands on. Check your library.
The beer then cools. You can allow it to sit and cool naturally, or you can become industrious and build yourself a homemade wort chiller like my husband did.
Then you pitch the yeast and let it ferment. You rack it (this just means siphoning it from one bucket to another fermenter) every week or two.
Then after a few weeks, once the yeast is done working, you bottle it (have your friends start saving their empty bottles for you (the pop-off top type, not the screw off lid). You buy new caps but just reuse the same bottles every time (another way for more reuse and recycling!). The beer has to sit in the bottles for a couple of more weeks before it's ready to drink.
It's a great hobby, and the cost can be very low. If you find a kit for around $25 or less, snatch it up. One kit typically makes about 5-6 gallons of beer! This fills about 50 bottles. This comes out to about 50 cents per bottle. Of high-quality beer.
Now, the next step for us... What do homebrewing vegetable farmers do? Well, we're planning on growing our own organic hops next year, of course. :-) Hops are an ingredient in beer. We won't grow them at the farm, because that is rented land and hops are a perennial. (This means they grow back every year.) We'll try to fit them somewhere in our small garden here at home. Or fit them into the landscape. They're very pretty, vining plants that can reach about 10 feet in height.
Hope I've inspired you to check into this.
We did make the grape wine as well, it will be fermenting all winter, and ready in the spring... fingers crossed.
Happy New Years Eve! We'll be celebrating with a homebrewed Cherry Stout beer. Cheers!
Thanks for reading the All-Natural Mama blog, http://all-natural-mama.blogspot.com/, home of Wishful Acres Organic Farm!