The Canterbury Ales: Chapter One (Brewing)

Husband and dog, master brewers
Husband and dog, master brewers

Over the last year, I have watched from the sidelines as my husband slowly ventured into home brewing. He began like most people with a Mr. Beer kit. His first beer was a pretty decent stout for St. Patrick’s Day. I helped him with about 15% of the process but it was completely his thing in my mind.

You see, I have never been a beer person. I didn’t really start drinking alcohol until I turned 21 and at the time, it was mixed liquor concoctions with billions of calories and equal amounts of sugar. I loved wine and I’ve been bridging the gap through many different ciders. I didn’t really warm up to beer until four years ago. I remember having to force myself to enjoy it because A) it’s cheaper, and B) my boyfriend liked it so I wanted to give it a go. Since then, we have visited several breweries and I’ve witnessed the beautifully artistic process that goes into making this stuff. I relished smelling the grains and sampling the recipes – even learning to properly wiggle my fingers at Sam Adams. It grew on me really fast, despite a very finicky and particular hops allergy that I still can’t figure out. (Beer drinking is like Russian Roulette for me, which I guess makes it a bit more thrilling.)

So when Markus asked for a proper brew kettle and equipment, I was interested. Fortunately for me, he bought his own brew kettle and I was called in to assist on an Autumn Red ale kit from Midwest Brewing. I helped him steep, boil, agitate, bottle; I helped through the process and I loved every minute of it. So when he asked for even better equipment for Christmas, it was a no-brainer and I bought out the list – it was a mutually beneficial gift!

Northern Brewer Chocolate Milk Stout Extract Kit
Northern Brewer Chocolate Milk Stout Extract Kit

Last night, I cracked open my own extract kit, the chocolate milk stout kit from Northern Brewer. I wanted to do it on my own, with his guidance, so I could begin earning my home brewing stripes.

Of course, the night we choose to start happens to be the one truly cold day in Florida – a whopping 40 degrees.

The kit itself is really wonderful. The instructions are very clear and even if you get confused, Northern Brewer is available by phone or you can look up all of the feedback on the kit itself on their website. Luckily, I had a brew mentor to guide me along.

There was something really magical about being in the cold, huddled around a 5-gallon kettle and burner, breathing in the smell of the hops, barley and malt – feeling the heat and watching the wort take form. I love baking and cooking in general, so brewing my own beer gave me a similar sense of accomplishment. As I added in the different hops, taking time to let them boil, I felt really proud of myself and knew that a new hobby was taking shape.

The most ridiculous part of the process was using our new wort chiller, but only because it was so cold outside. Someone needed to redirect the water going through the wort chiller (basically a snakelike copper pipe contraption that circulates cold water in order to cool the wort for the next step). Originally, Markus used a ton of ice packs in the sink and it wasn’t exactly ideal. Thankfully, the wort (what the beer is at this stage) did not take very long to cool down because I ended up with bright red (aka, COLD) fingers and a sniffly nose.

Adding the malt
Adding the malt

Once the wort was ready to go, I filled my sanitized fermenter bucket with Florida’s finest and the wort was combined. I then agitated the mixture to prepare it for the yeast. Once the yeast was sprinkled on (I felt like I was adding powdered sugar onto a cake), it was time to seal her away into the beer fridge for a one-week nap where the yeast would have a party. Sadly for me, it’s pretty cold in our garage thanks to the weather so I had to move the fermenter indoors temporarily so it can stay within the 64-75 degree temperature range for the yeast.

I’ll check on it in the next few days to make sure it’s fermenting correctly, and then I’ll start the secondary fermentation one week from yesterday.

So that’s it for my first chapter of “The Canterbury Ales” because if I can use my maiden name for something, I do it. Overall the experience was something I can’t wait to do again and I’m so thankful to have the support of my co-brewer to make sure I’m not screwing things up too badly.

Brewing Journal Notes

  • Music: Lindsey Stirling Pandora Station / Mass Effect
  • Drink: Ginger ale with a splash of Jameson
  • Outside Temperature (Brew Process): 43 degrees
  • Grains: 0.25 lbs English Extra Dark Crystal, 0.25 lbs Fawcett Pale Chocolate Malt
  • Yeast: Safale S-04
  • Gravity: 1.05

 

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