The Quest for Beer

Okay, making my own beer might sound a little obsessive. But I guess that I am obsessed with DIY food – I think it’s a great thing to be able to know how to do, and I enjoy it. And what hobby is better than one where you get to consume the output?


I have a catalog called The Northern Brewer, and it’s a wish book for people who want to brew their own beer and wine. They sell starter kits, all manner of supplies (siphons, bottles, brew kettles, taps – you name it), beer or wine kits as well as the truly DIY option of raw ingredients (hops, yeast, grape concentrates – all that jazz). It’s lovely to browse through.


I’ve read a couple of things that have gotten me interested in brewing my own beer, the first of which is a zine put out awhile ago called Brew Not Bombs by a Baltimore, MD group of the same name. It’s filled with some great info to pique your interest – a basic guide to getting started with brewing, history of beer, labels created by DIYers, beer recipes, some interesting essays, etc. I also have the Book The Homebrewer’s Companion by Charlie Papazian – and it is extremely comprehensive.


When I first brought up the idea of homebrewing to the husband, he immediately dismissed it as too expensive and complicated. So I went on an education campaign to convince him otherwise. You can get started with basic brewing equipment and the necessary ingredients for under $100. Add a few bells and whistles, like a glass carboy (basically a 6 gallon jug) instead of a plastic bucket and you’re still only at $125. And that’s buying the pre-fab kits and bottles from a supplier. Scrounging together your food-grade bucket, plastic tubing for the siphon and bottles yourself will cut some serious cash off the end price. This setup will allow you to brew five gallons of beer, which fill up about 48 bottles (that’s eight six-packs). The first brew will be your most expensive, since you have to offset the initial investment in the equipment. So your first beer will cost you about $2.60 per bottle. Subsequent brews, where you only need to purchase the ingredients (which run about $25 in kit form) will cost you only about fifty cents per bottle! That’s $3.00 per six pack, which is comparable to the cheap/mass market beer you can buy at the store, and about half the price of good quality/craft brews. So really, beermaking at home shouldn’t break the bank. And I really recommend recycling bottles for your brewing – it’s perfectly safe (when you sanitize them and remove the labels), it’s thrifty (two uses out of the beer you purchased!), and it’s better for the environment.


And learning how to make a good, basic beer doesn’t sound that complicated. In its simplest form, this is what you do – boil malt extract with some hops. After an hour or so, add some more hops to what is now called the wort (which is apparently pronounced “wert”). In the last five minutes of boiling the wort, add some more hops. Take it off the heat and put it in an ice bath to bring the temperature down. Add a few gallons of water to your carboy then add the wort. Then top off the carboy with water, leaving some headroom. When the wort in the carboy has come down to room temperature, add some yeast and fit the carboy with a stopper and airlock. Let it sit for a few weeks, then bottle. Let the bottles sit for another 2-4 weeks and then it’s ready to drink. Yes, there are a few intricacies to the process, such as timing, amounts of ingredients, prepping your supplies and whatnot, but as you can see, it’s not incomprehensible. With a good recipe to follow, I think anyone (including myself) can do it.


So, husband said that after we’re settled into our new apartment, let’s brew some beer! We glanced over the catalog together, and settled on two beers that are in the running as our first brew- Cream Ale or Extra Pale Ale. The Northern Brewer describes the Cream Ale as “An ale version of the light, fizzy American lager style… medium-bodied and smooth, gold in color and low in bitterness”. Extra Pale Ale is one of their most popular kits, and described as “clean, dry and very hoppy”. I’m more inclined toward the Extra Pale, and husband is more inclined toward the Cream. I guess we’ll have to rock scissors paper for it.


If all goes decently with our first brew (and even if it doesn’t – try, try again) there are many more beers that I’d like to try making – Nut Brown Ale, Breakfast Stout, American Wheat Beer, Bourbon Barrel Porter, Oktoberfest, and someday when I’m decently experienced – Oatmeal Stout, which instead of malt extract uses the real deal – grain. It’s takes 6-8 weeks to do a beer from start to finish, so I hope to have our first one done by the middle of September, and the second at the end of November. So we’ll probably try the Nut Brown Ale or Breakfast Stout for our winter brew. And who knows? If it turns out inherently drinkable, maybe you’ll find yourself with some home brew for a Christmas present this year. J


4 thoughts on “The Quest for Beer

  1. Couple thoughts for you (as a DIY enthusiast and long-time brewer):

    6-8 weeks is a long time for a beer – if you make Brown Ale or Pale Ale you can turn it around in 3-4 weeks if you are chomping at the bit.

    The Oktoberfest will have to wait – it needs months of cold storage and lagering techniques. Work with ales first – they are less finicky.

    You can make a fine Oatmeal Stout with Extract (although I much prefer all-grain brewing -if nothing else you get incredible compostables out of it). Just use some specialty malts like oatmeal in a mini-mash or steep them before you add extract. Really, the best beers will always include at least some grain… Exctract & hops alone tends to be kind of pedestrian. Papazian covers this stuff…

    Hope that helps!

  2. I’d like to recommend to you the SCA – Society of Creative Anachonism. They’re a Middle Ages renacting/researching group. You’ll get DIY up to your eyeballs on everything from brewing to basketweaving. Well, maybe archery to zoology would be more encompassing, but you get my drift. Plus, you get to play dress up and what girl doesn’t love that?

  3. I’m not sure where you are located, but I’m across the Mississippi from Northern Brewer! My bf and I started brewing about a year ago. We got one of NB starter kits as well as a little hand-me-down equipment from my aunt and uncle who got bored with winemaking. We’ve made over a dozen batches of beer in the last year and it’s awesome. We put in some hops at his parents house this spring as NB also sells the rhizomes. Our little contribution to the world-wide hops shortages! Best of luck in your brewing adventures. We’ve only lost one batch – it’s that easy. Of the ones you’ve listed we’ve done the EPA more than once. It’s yummy. We’ve also done the Breakfast Stout (middle-of-the-road) and the American Wheat (one of my favorites). Be careful, though, I had pictures of the bf brewing on my computer and that got us searched and questioned coming across the border once. They let us go after a strong talking-to, even though we did nothing wrong. boo!

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