This post is part of The Historical Cooking Project's special series Booze, Brews, and Drinks, which speaks to the confluence and the divergence of the histories of booze and food.
One might say that beer's historical importance can't be overstated. As, Jim Chevallier, points out in his piece, “The Great Medieval Water Myth,” (Les Leftovers, 2013) you would be wrong. We actually have quite a few myths about beer-- its origins, its use, and cultural meaning.
However, while people might not have relied on beer over water as their only safe drinking source and while beer might not have been responsible for the cause of all of civilization, as anthropologist Solomon H. Katz argued in 1987 ("Does Civilization Owe a Debt to Beer?," New York Times, March 24, 1987), beer is still vastly important. It has provided a substantial source of calories to billions of people since sometime between 10,000 and 4,500 BCE (A History of the World in 6 Glasses, Tom Standage, 2005) when it was first produced. While I do not believe that the desire to brew beer uniquely led to permanent settlements over other factors like changes in population demographics, necessity of agricultural resources, or changes in environment, I argue that beer and fermentation in general played important roles in agricultural, cooking, and ceremonial practices from Mesopotamia onward (Radical Brewing, Randy Mosher, 2004).
Academic and public historians, brewers and non-brewers, plus a whole host of anthropologists, archeologists, and sociologists have devoted countless pages to histories of brewing. Texts range from overviews like Ian Spencer Hornsey’s A History of Beer and Brewing (2003), Franz Meussdoerffer "A comprehensive history of beer brewing” (2009), William Bostwick’s The Brewer's Tale: A History of the World According to Beer (2014), Pete Brown’s Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer (2010), and Gavin D. Smith’s Beer: A Global History (2014) to more localized accounts like Nicholas Pashley’s Cheers!:an Intemperate History of Beer in Canada (2009), Tom Acitelli’s The Audacity of Hops: The History of America's Craft Beer Revolution (2013), and Gregg Smith’s Beer in America: The Early Years--1587-1840: Beer's Role in the Settling of America and the Birth of a Nation (1998), Jordan St. John's Lost Breweries of Toronto (2014), Horst D. Dornbusch’s Prost!: The Story of German Beer (1998), and Jeff Sparrow’s Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer's Yeast (2005). Even guides to home brewing like John Palmer’s How to Brew: Everything you need to know to brew beer right the first time (2006) include historical anecdotes.
Today I have the pleasure of introducing our newest series at The Historical Cooking Project with some musings on beer. There is irony in my editing a series on booze as I’m not much of a drinker and was virtually straight edge for years. However, I am fascinated by bread. The vast body of literature on beer which I only began to showcase above, tends to only gesture towards the interplay between beer and bread. My contribution thus will be closer to exploring the truth of this joke:
“What’s a balanced diet?”
“A beer in each hand.”
Last year when we began the blog, we selected Catherine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide as our first cookbook. Though I am typically drawn to trying out the bread and cake recipes within the cookbooks, I wasn’t able to attempt many of her bread recipes as they required that I brew some beer first. However, for the past twelve months I continued to be curious about her baking methods.
So I started making beer.
This post will be about the actual process of making beer. Part II, which you can look forward to seeing on Thursday, will focus on the interplay between beer and bread more closely.
Master brewers might roll their eyes at the idea of someone new to the craft writing about her experiences. For anyone familiar with the literature, most texts and websites appear fixated on the specifics of the chemistry of the beer, relentlessly spewing measurements about gravity, temperature, and hue. I will not discount this approach to brewing but below I want to demystify the process. Remember that for most of beer’s history, it was brewed by women in their homes or monks in monasteries.
One Saturday afternoon my friend Malorie and I met in her kitchen. Tubes, strange metallic devices, bags, sacks of grain, jars of malt, and a container of yeast crowded the table. We stared at a large pot on the stove in front of us, nervously made eye contact, took a deep breath, and began.
Guided by John Palmer’s advice (http://www.howtobrew.com/section1/chapter1.html) and hints from the man who works at Montreal’s brewing supply store, we did the following:
We filled our pot with about 26 L of cold tap water with the spigot in the bathroom. We didn’t need to filter the water since Montreal does not add fluoride to the city’s supply.
With the pot upon the burners, we poured our grains into a cheesecloth sack, tied it to the edge and let the grains steep until the water came to a boil. The water took far longer to boil than we had expected. In part, this delay is because we decided to do a full boil technique where you boil all of the water at once instead of using half the water for your wort (the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer) and adding the other half later. By doing a full boil and thus having our grains in the water for longer, our beer would be a richer color since more of the melanin would be released. We have decided to pretend that we made this decision on purpose, but honestly it wasn’t a conscious decision.
After the water was boiling, we removed the grain sack. We next poured in two-thirds of our 500 grams of malt, added 30 grams of our CTZ hops, and boiled the liquid for another hour— well, at least, that was the plan. However, the liquid took at least another hour to get back to the point of boiling. Though our friend had advised us not to cover the pot with a lid for fear of a boil over, after waiting a long time and getting impatient we decided to put on the lid. We realized later that part of this delay was because the element was malfunctioning.
Finally the liquid reached the right temperature and after 45 minutes we added the final 30 grams of CTZ hops and 50 grams of Amarillo hops. After another 15 minutes we removed the pot from the element, added the remaining extract and 1 cup of brown sugar, and the yeast. Since we used dry yeast, we had to pitch it to make sure it was still active (otherwise all of the other steps would have been useless and would not create alcohol).
Then we put the pot outside to cool. Often brewing guides recommend that you put your pot in an ice bath for a rapid cooling, but we live in Canada, it was December, and snow covered Malorie’s balcony -- so in order to not waste water, we put the pot outside.
While waiting for the brew to cool to between 18 and 30 C, we sterilized the plastic bucket that we would be using the house the beer for the first step of fermentation by mixing a small amount of bleach and water.
The beer finally cooled and Malorie poured the pot of wort into the bucket. This is the last time that you are able to handle the beer so roughly, but the beer actually benefits from the harsh mixing of dumping it from the pot into the bucket.
Over the next week the yeast did the work.
Though this process should only take about 3-4 hours for an experienced brewer, it took us about 10. Do not worry, as we proved this past weekend when we started our second batch, you get much faster as you continue this craft.
This step should be quite simple. You just need to siphon the beer from the bucket into the glass carboy. You don't want to just pour the liquid from one container into the other because doing so will disrupt the yeast too much. You need to sterilize the carboy (we did this with the bleach and water mix again) and the tube (we did this with boiling water). Also if you decide you want to check the alcohol content of the brew at this point, make sure to sterilize the measuring device.
|I am happy that the siphon is finally working|
Above I said that this step should be simple. However, Mal and I struggled for a long time trying to get the siphon to work. After two hours of trying we realized that we were using the wrong type of tube. Mal had bought our brewing supplies on Craigslist and the seller included wine making supplies in the kit as well.
|Mugs admiring the amber liquid filling the carboy|
You are supposed to start the siphon without your mouth but by the time we figured out which tube to use Mal and I cared less about protocol (and food safety) and so we did the siphon by sucking on the tube. This decision allowed us to sample our beer for the first time. At this point the beer had its basic flavor but it was quite flat, as the step which carbonates the brew comes later in the process.
It is also important to note that I collected the barm at the bottom of the bucket to use for bread making.
Now you will siphon the liquid from the carboy back into the bucket where it will mix with the sugar that you have added. After waiting ten minutes you will then transfer the liquid into your bottles with the siphon. To finish, you will then cap or cork your bottles.
This step sounds super simple and in reality it is. However it takes a long time. Mal and I spent a few hours cleaning all of the bottles, first by removing the old labels in the sink, then using the bottle cleaner to sterilize every bottle. Next we affixed the labels I had made with a mix of milk, school glue and water. Since we were short on beer bottles we also put beer in wine bottles and corked those.
After ten days our beers were ready to drink. The final fermentation process actually happens in the bottle. C02 is a byproduct of fermentation and during the other steps it leaves the containers and enters the atmosphere. However, in the bottles the C02 cannot escape as the yeast eats the sugar and so the bubbles distill back into the liquid, causing carbonation. Some large breweries add extra bubbles by artificially carbonating the beer. If you drink the beer from the bottles before the correct amount of time passes the beer may taste flat.
I actually think our beer tasted best after 17 days of fermentation.
Here is the recipe of supplies you need to make Mugs’ Shot IPA (the beer we named after Malorie’s cat and our mascot):
3.5 LME grains
1 cup brown sugar
500 g Victory (extract) malt
one packet of Dry Ale yeast
60 grams of CTZ hops
50 grams of Amarillo hops
Stay tuned for Thursday’s post, in which I discuss how this process has anything to do with bread.