Look What I Can Brew: Part Two

Writer Julie Vitto takes a deep dive into the world of homebrewing and ups her beer IQ (and her BAC) by learning how to brew her own beer and talking to local brewers who began their careers in basements before going pro. This month, she’s reporting on her experience as a first-time homebrewer in her series Look What I Can Brew. Get all the facts, and then you can participate in National Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day on November 7.

In last week’s installment, technical difficulties caused us to drop a screwdriver into the mash. This week, you’ll be glad to know we fished it out with some tongs and carried on with the cooling process. For this task, you can either hook up an immersion wort chiller to your faucet or chill the kettle in an ice bath to around 70 or 75 degrees. We did both.

Once the thermometer told us it was go time, we aerated the wort into a 6 gallon fermenter bucket. They say to shake the fermenter vigorously to aerate the wort, but we just poured it from the kettle to the bucket and stirred in 3.5 gallons of water. This brought it up to a 5.5 gallon batch that will ultimately yield 5 gallons.

And now for some cool brewers’ lingo: “pitching” the yeast is the first step in the fermentation process. Basically, it just means that you add the yeast to the fermenter, but it sounds good, right? We used a Belgian Wit ale yeast that came in liquid form in a little vial. We sealed the lid with a clear plastic airlock in place like a little chimney. This allows the wort to pass gas quietly in a corner for the next two weeks.Beer-Quest-3-1015C

Zach recommends going to Europe while the wort ferments, but we can’t all be so lucky. Instead, why not visit a ReHAB (Regional Harrisburg Area Brewers) meeting, take some classes to up your game or read up on what makes your favorite beers taste the way they do? You could even start a second batch while you’re waiting for the first one to ferment.

While Zach and his lovely wife were frolicking through Amsterdam, Germany and Belgium drinking the world’s finest beers, I learned that in 1978 homebrewing became legal in the United States for the first time since Prohibition put the kibosh on it in 1919. So in the spirit of legal fun, I paid a visit to the 3rd Annual Liquid Hero Homebrew Contest to report on this year’s winners and to see how a strawberry wheat beer Zach had entered fared in the competition.

Unfortunately, it didn’t place. But I tasted some new and exciting beers made by local homebrewers. The experience opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities of beer making. There are so many styles, flavors and happy accidents that make every batch as unique as the thumbprint of its maker.

Tune in next week to find out what was waiting for us under the lid of our homebrew experiment.

Have you ever experimented with homebrewing? Let us know what kind of beer you brewed in your basement.


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Julie Vitto is a freelance writer and photographer for Fly Magazine. She has a B.A. in English from Temple University with a concentration in creative writing and SEPTA rail map reading. When she’s not proofreading financial statements at her day job, she can be found watching documentaries, collecting 60s soul and R&B records, and working her way through the take-out menus of neighborhood restaurants.

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