It’s raining today, so I can’t take Thing 1 out for a training run (Thing 2 won’t bike along in the rain, and he’s too young to be left at home alone). I can’t work in the garden. And I don’t have a hearing tonight.

Which means I have an opportunity to brew, so we’re going to start the Apple Honey Ale recipe kit that I picked up at the Brewer’s Apprentice. I had gone there intending to get a kit for something like Boddington’s Pub Ale, but this one caught my fancy.

The cast of characters.

The cast of characters.

The kit included a mixture of magical grains, amber malt extract, a jar of honey, Hallertau Hops and Irish Moss, apple flavoring, priming sugar, and Nottingham brewer’s yeast. I’ve already got bottles, caps, and sanitizer for my equipment, so the total out of pocket for this 5 gallon batch is $36. That should work out to about $0.75 a pint for a premium craft beer. Hard to beat that.

Step one is to bring 2.5 gallons of cold water up to 160-170 degrees. This step always takes far longer than I expect.

The grains as they steep.

The grains as they steep.

Step two is to place the grain in a cheesecloth sack and steep them in the hot water for 30 minutes, trying to keep the temperature level between 160 and 170. The can be tricky, as I tend to wander off and not mind the thermometer as well as I could. So tonight I stayed in the kitchen working on dinner (inspired by Sixth Street Masala from The Three Dollar Dinner Cookbook) while the grains were steeping. I also put the malt and honey in a hot water bath to warm them–this helps them pour out much easier.

Step three is taking the bag of grains out, letting most of the liquid drain back into the pot. This bag of used grains gets discarded, and into the pot goes the malt extracts, and honey. After a thorough stirring, this comes to a boil, and the bittereing hops are added. Now the brew is called a wort.

Step four is to boil the wort for 60 minutes, added the flavoring hops in the last 15 minutes. I have to stay really close for this hour to prevent the whole lot from boiling over. Wasted wort makes me cry.

During this long hour, I sanitize the fermenting bucket, a big funnel with a strainer built into it, and the airlock parts. This takes about 10 minutes, which leaves a lot of time to get distracted.

Happy wort in it's ice bath.

Happy wort in it's ice bath.

Step five is to remove the pot full of wort from the heat and set it in a bath or ice water in the sink. I stir it once in a while, and wait for the pot to feel warm (but not hot) on the outside. This takes about 20 minutes.

Step six is where we move things to the fermenter. First I put a little more than 2 gallons cold water in the fermenting bucket. Then I pour the wort into the bucket through the funnel. If you keep your hops in a grain sock or cheesecloth bag, you might not need to do this. If you are unlucky like I was today, the grain sack will open and let the hops roam free throughout the wort, which means there will be a lot of green sludge in your wort. Once all the wort has made the transfer, add enough cold water to reach a total of 5 gallons.

Step seven involves pitching the yeast. When the wort is around 75 degrees, it’s safe to let the yeast have at it. Most nights my wort has magically been at 75 when I moved it to the bucket, but tonight it was 82, so I had to wait for it to cool a little before stirring the little beasties in. I like to agitate them for a good 5 minutes at this point to get lots of air into the mixture. You can do this by putting the lid on and shaking the bucket roughly for a while, but tonight I’m tired so I just used a big spoon and stirred it like mad.

The hydrometer doing it's thing.

The hydrometer doing it's thing.

Step eight is not optional. Not at all. This is where I use my hydrometer to measure the potential alcohol of the brew (6.5% potential alcohol by volume for this brew ). In about a week I’ll take a second reading, which will let me know how strong the brew is and if it’s finished fermenting. Never skip this step. Plus, playing with test tubes is just plain fun.

The final step is to put the lid on and install the air lock. In the past I have filled the air lock with sanitizer, but that was when I was using the no-rinse stuff. This time I have s different sanitizer, and I don’t want to risk any back-washing into the brew. So I filled the airlock with vodka this time, just to be safe.

Once that’s done I summon the hubby to carry the heavy bucket to the bathroom, where it will stay secured in the bathtub for about a week as it ferments. I’ll let you all know in a few days when the airlock starts bubbling, which is a good sign that there’s happy yeast turning my wort into beer.

The fermenting bucket sitting the the bathtub where it will not explode.

The fermenting bucket sitting in the bathtub where it will not explode.

I used to joke that I pu the brew in the tub just in case a batch exploded…and then I had a batch blow it’s top off, spewing foam all over the place and leaving a stain on the ceiling where the airlock made impact. If it hadn’t been in the tub, clean up would have been brutal, but as it was all that was needed was for someone to take a shower. Now they all go in the tub, and we ask the blessing of the cream stout stain as it watches over the fermenting brew.

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