Look What I Can Brew

Julie Vitto takes a deep dive into the world of homebrewing and ups her beer IQ (and her BAC). Read her full feature, Beer Quest here. This month she’ll be providing in-depth updates on what she’s learning in a series called Look What I Can Brew

Some say “don’t drink alone.” I say “don’t homebrew alone.” Especially if it’s your first time.

I’ve got Christian Quinlivan of Liquid Hero Brewery to vouch for this. I sat down with him over a Double IPA recently to get some pointers on the craft and he was more than willing to share his stories. He says his first attempt at homebrewing involved just him and an instruction manual. The second attempt was with a friend which, he says, was the smarter choice.

As someone who appreciates good beer, but hadn’t a clue how to brew it for myself, I decided to go on a beer quest of sorts and try my hand at making the stuff. So, I enlisted the help of my friend and homebrew hobbyist, Zach Zawisa, for a crash course in brewing at home.

We went with a Belgian Whitbier recipe from Beerrecipes.org called Honey My Basil. At about 5.3% ABV, it’s made with honey, organic lemon peel and basil picked fresh from the garden. The taste will be a nice reminder of summer as we notice everything turning into a pumpkin lately.

Beer-Quest-Beer-Making-1015CBefore jumping into it, we had to clean and sanitize the equipment. I learned that removing visible dirt and residue won’t remove the living organisms in and on the equipment. This can really throw off the beer’s flavor. Anything that touches the beer gets sanitized before and after it’s used. This includes the fermenter, lid, airlock, rubber stopper, thermometer, funnel, siphon – everything. The bottles will need to be sanitized, too, but that can wait until bottling day.

After everything got a nice soak and a rinse, we filled a large pot with two gallons of water, put it on the stove and brought it to about 152 degrees with a thermometer as our guide. Then, we steeped the grain inside a sackcloth in the water, tying the open end around the handle so it didn’t fall in the pot. About a beer and a half later, we removed the grain bag and brought the hazy, golden beginnings of our beer to a boil.

Beer-Quest-Digital-Scale-inset-1015CAt this point, we added the malt extracts and hops in separate stages over the course of about an hour (or another beer and a half). Next, we turned off the heat, added the lemon peel and basil to a sackcloth and steeped for ten minutes. A tip I learned about adding flavor ingredients to beer is that, like with hop oils, the longer the ingredients boil, the more their subtle flavorings are removed.

While the deep brown mixture got acquainted with itself, we attached an immersion wort chiller to the pot to help speed up the cooling process. Maybe it was that beer and a half, but somehow, a screwdriver ended up falling into the mash when making an adjustment to the copper tubing.

On the edge of your barstool? Stay tuned for next week’s installment to find out what happened next.


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Posted in Articles, Craft Corner

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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