Sunday, June 14, 2009

LARBing: Live-Action Role Brewing

Just finished my first brew session of the summer and the first in a different spot than the traditional 84 Hope Street in Providence (also the first solo brew, without my usual brewing partner, the incomparable Eric LoPresti). Yup, I spent an afternoon up here in balmy New Hampshire boiling a syrupy concoction that will hopefully be a tasty Belgian golden ale in about four weeks. The beer should taste like a crude, blue-collar version of Duvel, the renowned ale from Belgium that tastes like the nectar of the gods (or the Devil, since that's who it's named after). It looks a lot like god piss, too. I brewed this batch as a test-run in anticipation of my brother's wedding celebration in late August. He commissioned me to brew an IPA and a Belgian Dubbel, so I thought I'd do a little practicing. Wouldn't want a houseful of puking party-goers, now would we?

Here's how I brewed this particular beer with a bit about the general homebrewing process, not including fermentation, bottling, or conditioning (I'll get to those in time):

First, the ingredients. I used 3.3 lbs light malt extract, light candy sugar, .375 lbs pale grain malt, 1 lb dried wheat malt extract, 1 lb dried extra light malt extract, 1 lb dried light malt extract, 1 oz Czech Saaz hop pellets, 1 oz Northern Brewer hop pellets, 1 oz Styrian Golding hop pellets, and 1 packet Fermentis T-58 ale yeast. This makes no sense to most of you, I know. I'll explain.

To begin, I heated up some water and steeped the pale grain malt for about 20 minutes to make a sort of 'grain tea.' "Malt" is barley that is soaked in water and allowed to germinate slightly. At the right moment, germination is ceased by drying, or kilning, the barley on heated floors. Allowing the barley to germinate releases enzymes that help break down the barley's starches into simple sugars that feed the yeast during fermentation. Barley can be kilned lightly or heavily, giving beers more delicate or roastier flavors and lighter or darker colors.

I then added this malt tea to a bigger pot with near-boiling water. At this point I added all the malt extracts (in both syrup and powder form - they're essentially the same thing) and the ounce of Northern Brewer hop pellets, and I brought this stew to a boil. This made the kitchen smell like popcorn, according to other members of the household. Chris Duffy, if you're reading this, I guess you've been vindicated. Apparently, brewing beer can smell like popcorn, crescent rolls, or rice pilaf. I dunno. Anyway, boiling will help to further break down starches into sugars and denature proteins that should settle out of the boil or fermentation vessel. That statement may not be entirely accurate, but... just keep reading. Hops are added to impart their bitterness, which balances the malt's sweetness, flavor, which can range from piney to citrusy, and aroma. Bittering hops are added at the beginning of the boil; aroma hops are added near the end.

After half an hour of this bubbling, steaming boilfest I added the ounce of Saaz hops and boiled for another 10 minutes or so. Then it was time for the candy sugar! Candy sugar is basically rock candy, and it adds more sugars for the yeast to munch on as well as a slight residual sweetness and oomph to the texture, or "body", of the beer. It's usually reserved for Belgian beers. Back in the olden days, Belgium was the world's foremost producer of rock candy, as monks would fill monastery cathedrals with huge vats of sugar water, tie hemp twine across the top, and boil away. During WWII, Belgian troops received half a pound of rock candy as part of their rations.

Enough lies, back to the brew. After stirring in the candy sugar, I added the last ounce of hops and shut off the heat. When this liquid (called "wort", not beer yet) is cool enough, it can be poured into the fermentation bucket and yeast can be added. To get the wort cool quickly (to prevent bacterial infection), I used a copper coil that carries cold water through, but not in, the wort. My wort chiller is leaky, so I had quite the Rube Goldberg-esque contraption.

After the wort was chilled and poured into the fermentation bucket, I added the Belgian yeast and sealed the deal. I'll let those yeasties go to town for about a week, then bottle that shiznit. If any of you are around in four weeks and brave enough to drink a pint or two, stop on by! Blueberry pies accepted as donation.



  1. Looks like quite the process ...and I bet it ends up tasting mighty tasty :). What temperature do you have to keep the room you are storing the fermenting beer in?

  2. well, for an ale (which is all i've done so far), it's surprisingly warm, like between 65-80. lagers require an extended period of cooler fermentation, between 40 and 55 or so.

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  4. I knew that I was right all along. To think that anyone ever doubted my crescent roll smell! I guess it's not Jeff Manian that's the super-smeller, but me, after all.