The Malt of Beer

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We tend to think of "malt" as a thing.  Of course there is the candy malt and there is the old fashioned "malted" that was the stable of 1950s "malt shops" which in our mind is more like a modern day milk shake.  But when it comes to beer, just about anyone, even people who are not involved in home brewing can list the ingredients as hops, malt, and grains.  So as part of our quest to become more familiar with all of the aspects of beer making, it’s a good idea to explore more deeply what exactly the malt in beer is all about.

When you hear the word "malt" in regards to the brewing of beer, the reference is actually to malted barley.  Malt is the outcome of the process of malting which starts with pure barley grain, the same grain you might use to make muffins or barley soup.  That is a good way to ground the concept of malting to something very familiar. 

But even then the term "malted barley" is not specific enough.  Malting gets right to the heart of how beer is made because the core ingredient of beer are what results when the sugars from malted barley are fermented.  Those sugars are scientifically named maltose, hence malt.  So the malt used to make beer is the outcome of fermenting the sugars from malted barley whereas the candy or desert form of malt are those sugars themselves, unfermented.  That makes good trivia for the new home brewers club meeting.  But what makes brewers malt so useful in beers is that there are a wide variety of types of maltose sugars that result from the fermentation.  And each of these can be brewed into a very unique beer. 

How malt is produced can make for even more interesting trivia.  And it gives you insight into how the malts you use in your home brewing come to be.  The process of malting barley begins with jump starting the germination process that is nature's way of preparing the barley plants to grow from seeds into sprouts.  The barley is soaked and then they are drained fairly soon so the seeds will be stimulated to begin to germinate.  The part of the germination process that is interesting to brewers happens when certain enzymes are released by germination.  These enzymes are powerful chemicals that convert the stored sugars and starches in the seeds which become food to power the germination and growth of the plant.  But it is those enzymes that the brewer is looking to capture.

The entire objective of malting is to activate those enzymes in the seeds and release them so the brewer can capture them for the brewing process.  So as soon as the germination process starts, the grain is quickly dried so the enzymes are captured in that raw state to be processed into malted barley.  Once the brewer has the malted barley in the condition we just went through, that malt is saturated in hot water.  This stimulates and activates the enzymes and puts them to work again.  Under the controlled conditions of the brewing process, the enzymes do their job of converting the starches in the barley to sugars.  And as those sugars go directly from conversion to be boiled with hops and then combined into fermented yeast, the result is this little thing we call -- beer.

Now this is all good information but most of us who are making beer at the amateur level.  For our purposes, malt extract that is sold by your home brewing supplier is a great way to have all of that skilled preparation at your disposal without you having to do all the work.  By buying the malt in extract form, it is ready to go into your boiling water and join the home brewing process in full swing.  As you add the malt, those enzymes will kick in and the chemical reactions needed to create great tasting beer will be well underway.

Maybe there will come a time when you will get more involved in the more complicated procedures of brewing or at least visit a brewery where the malting process is underway.  But since our love of home brewing is about learning all we can about how beer is made by making it ourselves, getting a feel or the malting process is both educational and fascinating as well.

The Fast Track Way to Making Beer at Home

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There are a lot of people who have taken the plunge to buy all the equipment and get started making their own beer from scratch at home.  But the odds are that just as many people are curious about brewing beer at home but are pushed away by the challenge of buying all this stuff and figuring out how to do it and then the problem of the mess and the storage of equipment and beer in different phases of fermentation and completion.  

For many, what is needed is an easy way to give home brewing a shot without having to go to all the effort of buying a complete set up of equipment, all of the ingredients and the bottles and storage just to find out if you like it.  What is not generally known is that there is such a fast track way to making beer at home.  By buying a simple device called a beer making machine, you can easily make a batch of beer right in the home

The good thing about a beer making machine is that it is basically a plug and go situation.  This takes a lot of the intimidation out of buying many individual units of equipment and going through each step of brewing and fermentation by the seat of your pants.  The brewing machine goes a long way to take the preparation over so you can do all the steps using the resources of the machine.  When you buy the machine, it comes with the ingredients and instructions.

The entire design of a beer making machine is based on the idea of reducing the mess and fuss of beer making for that first time home brewer who needs to have some of the joy of making their own brew but not as much of the work and the worry.  You certainly don’t have to be a beer making guru to use these user friendly machines because the instructions are clear and written in an understandable way and the ingredients come measured and ready to go. 

But as with any ready made solution for discovering something as great as home brewing your own beer, there are pluses and minuses to breaking yourself in on a beer making machine.  Probably one of the biggest pluses is that they are a one time use machine that you can use and throw away.  This gets the problems of cleaning and sanitation out of the loop entirely.  All of the ingredients are prepared and ready to add in premeasured amounts so the fuss and worry about going from completely raw materials is removed as well.  It is just about as user friendly as you can make home brewing be.

The down side of using a beer making machine to break into the craft of home brewing is that because it is completely set up when you buy it as a kit, you don’t get the change to play with the ingredients and enjoy the creativity and experimentation that is a big part of why beer making is so fun.  You go through the steps and make one good batch of beer. But you don't have the chance to make it a great batch of beer because you cannot make changes to the ingredients as you go.

Also a beer making machine is sold to make one and only one batch of beer and then you, in theory, are to throw it away.  This may seem like a big waste and you might try to clean it up to use it again.   But the real idea of the product is as a starter experience.  It really isn't the kind of thing intended for you to buy a new kit every month and continue making that same kind of beer each time.

But keep the perspective that it is not really designed to be your total and final solution for beer making. By breaking into home brewing with the beer making machine, you get some of the experience of making and fermenting your own beer and then bottling it to serve a few weeks later as a genuine product of your little at home brewery.  And the fun of that may be a great way for you to start making beer and then grow into a hobby that may last a lifetime.

A Little Home Brewing Fun for the Kids

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In any family when one person gets excited about something new, everybody gets in on the act.  And that is certainly true of children.  They love to be active in whatever hobbies mom and dad love to be part of.  So if you bowl, the kids want to go and play the video games.  If you love Shakespeare in the park, the kids will go and play on the ground nearby.  So if you can find a way to give the kids a part of what you are doing, that keeps the family together.

That may seem tough with a hobby like home brewing.  After all, the process of brewing is pretty involved and there is boiling water and sterile instruments to think of.  That kind of thing really isn't fun for the kids.  So if you can find a way to make a "beer" just for them, then they too can enjoy the excitement and feel part of what the adults are doing.

A way to fill this need is to brew up a delicious batch of ginger beer from for the kids. And the nonalcoholic beverage drinkers in the family will love it too!  Of course, ginger beer is not real "beer" in the sense of an alcoholic brew although it can be mixed with beer for delightful and very British toddy.  But it's so easy to make that the kids can get involved and they will love the beverage that results almost as much as mom and dad love their home brewed beer.

It’s a good thing to have the procedures, tools and ingredients for your ginger beer all ready to go on brew day because it’s a great surprise to the kids to let them know that they are going to get to make their own beer too!   Because the steps for making ginger beer are fast, easy and harmless, the kiddos can have a ball doing it using a very simple recipe and even if they drink it all gone, it's easy enough to whip up another batch. 

The ingredients for ginger beer are not exotic and they can be found at any grocery store.  They include…

.   Be ready with 8 plastic bottles that will hold a pint and 4 bottles that will hold a quart and some bowls to mix the ginger beer up with.
.   Ginger - you can get it fresh at larger grocery stores.  Two ouches is enough.
.   Cream of tartar - about one teaspoon will do.
.   Two lemons sliced.
.   A pound of sugar
.   An ounce of yeast
.   Boil one gallon of water. 

Now it's just a matter of putting it all together.  Cut the lemons in big sized rings and combine them in a big bowl with the other ingredients.  The only other preparation you need to do besides boiling the water is to crush the ginger so it mixes with the water and other parts of the beer.

Now just chill the mixture to room temperature and add the yeast.  Put it in the larger bottles to let it ferment for a couple of days.  Once that is done, skim off the residue on top and your ginger tea is ready to enjoy.

Waiting for Your Home Made Beer is the Hardest Part


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The rock music artist Tom Petty had a hit song that went, "The waiting is the hardest part".  And when it comes to brewing your own beer, maybe the most difficult step of them all is the fermentation and aging process. After all, the steps leading up to the time when you wait for beer to mature is full of activity.   From shopping for new equipment and ingredients, to cleaning and preparation to boiling the wort to cooling and preparing for fermentation, it’s a fun process.  And that is what you want from a great hobby.

But once you have used all of your skills (so far) to make a great wort that is ready to ferment and age, storing and waiting for that process to finish seems to take forever.  If this is one of your first batches or if you tried a new grain or hops, you are eager to see how good the beer will taste.  And you are eager to serve ice cold home made beer to friends and family.  But you also know that if you break in and interrupt the process too soon, the beer you drink will be unsatisfactory and not nearly as rich and flavorful as how it will be when the aging process is done.  So you wait, sometimes impatiently.

One way to continue enjoying the "fun part" of home brewing is to have fresh batches of beer in production each week. If you went that route, you would eventually end up with a lot of beer in various stages of fermentation and aging and you would have to date and mark the storage bottles so you know which beer is ready to use and which needs more time to reach maturity.  And when you consider that an average minimum size of a home beer brewing cycle results in five gallons of beer, that can mean you will have a lot of finished beer around unless you have a big audience of beer drinkers to help you drink up the stuff. 

The time between when beer is bottled after the brewing process is complete until it is ready to taste can be anywhere from six weeks to six months if you include both fermentation and aging.  The actual aging process is pretty fascinating and understanding it helps you develop patience for nature to take its course.  During fermentation, the yeast will work to change the structure of the sugar that was part of the brewing process.  As the fermentation continues, carbon dioxide is created and this gives  your beer that bubbly quality that is a big part of the appeal of the beverage. 

Fermentation also pushes sediments from the yeast and proteins and these sediments would hurt the taste of your beer if the cycle were interrupted.  It's worth it to let the process naturally cure the beer so these unwanted byproducts naturally work their way out of the finished product.  It does take a lot of patience to be a brewer, even a home brewer because allowing the aging process to produce perfect beer may take over a month or even longer.  But this waiting is just as much a part of making great beer as the boiling and fermenting so you have to nurture the patient side of yourself to get a great outcome.

Part of your preparation for brewing is preparing a place for your beer to be housed in optimum conditions for fermentation to work its magic. As opposed to perhaps your impression before you became a home brewer, you will not store the beer in the refrigerator during this phase because colder temperatures actually stop the fermentation process.  That is why you keep milk in there.

Instead plan to set up a "fermentation room" that wills stay at a constant cool temperature between 65 and 75 degrees any time of the year.  This should be a room where you can achieve some temperature control so the beer stays in a stable environment to reach a perfect flavor.  It is also a room you won't feel the need to go to and interrupt the fermentation process.  You can draw some of the beer out as early as 4 weeks from the start of fermentation.  But for the best possible taste for your beer, you should give this process two to four months for adequate aging.

Using a Good Beer Making Kit

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Lots of time the urge to finally take the plunge into home brewing comes when you went to the brew pub and paid ten dollars for an imported beer of one that was brewed in their pub.  And even if that beer is good, it's easy to start to suspect that you could do as well making beer and that your beer would be perfectly fresh and would cost a lot less than ten dollars a glass to enjoy this flavor all the time.  When that thought crossed your mind, the home brewer in you is born.

The community of beer lovers is very large as documented inthe huge beer sales that stay consistent around the world.  That is why it is almost a shame and a crime when beer is mass produced and bad beer is sold so widely.  It’s a crime because it is so easy to make really good beer.  If you have that desire to enjoy the finest of this ancient recipe and maybe crossing the line to want to BE a maker of great beer, you will find that getting started on this great hobby is far easier than you may have thought.  And yes while you will have to learn a few things about the process of making beer, it will be more fun than any class you took in high school for sure because you are learning to make something you love and you get to drink your final exam!

Unlike school though, once you get down the basic process of home brewing, the variety of "right answers" to how to make a great beer are diverse and fun to play with.  You can try different grains, hops and yeast combinations.  You can adjust when each ingredient is added and learn how to balance the bitter flavor with the hops flavor to give you a deep rich blend or a light beer and all using the same equipment and much the same ingredients.  So with that enticement to the fun and endless variety you can find in a hobby of home brewing, it's just a matter of getting started.

It's very easy to fall under the influence of "beer purists" who will advocate very expensive and complicated equipment and using exotic ingredients to make a beer of very high quality and taste.  If you make it a practice to socialize at the home brewing retailer or at home brewing clubs or web sites, it's easy to pick up that side of the home brewing community that is very particular and advanced in the craft of home brewing. 

But it is important to remember that just starting out that you are not a home brewing purist yet!  And its best not to try to be one because starting out, its best to let others help you get some very basic equipment so you can learn the craft of home brewing and develop your skills easily and without so much pressure.  If you spend thousands on very elaborate and hard to operate equipment too soon, you will be frustrated and if the outcome is not just right, you will be disappointed.  So cut yourself some slack and buy just the basics and just learn to make a very down to earth starter batch of beer.  If it is drinkable at all after you step through the process a few times, you are doing great.  And you have all the time in the world to learn your craft and grow until you can afford to be a "beer purist" and be fussy and particular too. 

So don’t be ashamed to buy a basic beer making kit at the beer retailer store or online to get you started.  These kits come with all you need in equipment and supplies to step through making your first few batches of beer.  It's important you give yourself the time to use these starter kits to learn your basic skills.  Then once you have the basics, it will be great fun to buy different types of grains, hops and yeasts and experiment to refine your skills. That is a natural way to learn and away to become along time beer making enthusiasts and enjoy this wonderful hobby for many years to come.

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