If you like beer so much, then you probably know that National Drink Beer Day is September 28th so it is coming up soon. And in case you did not know, the 8th is National Sour Beer Day (yuck), the 27th is Crush a Can Day, and the 21st through October 6th is Oktoberfest, which is the world’s largest beer festival! And that is just September. Believe it or not, there are 27 other beer holidays during the rest of the year. Wow. Anyway, so if you enjoy yourself a beer once in a while (or every day), maybe it is time to grow your own. Yes, you can grow your own hops, yeast, and grains so the only other ingredient is water and you got yourself a beer! I did some research and I am going to share what I learned.
Hoping for Good Hops
Hops (Humulus lupulus) are easy to grow apparently and in fact, many people say that these invasive plants have taken over their entire yard. Which may not be a bad thing if you are trying to brew your own beer, right? From Zone 3 to Zone 9, you can pretty much expect these hardy herbs to grow anywhere no matter what you do to them. However, they are a dioecious plant so you need to have both a female and a male plant and some critters that will pollinate them for you. There are more than 100 varieties of hops and each has its own special aroma and taste. It grows as a vine so give it something to grow on like a trellis or a fence. That means it won’t take up too much space since it grows up instead of across. But they will grow up to 25 feet tall and will grow around anything it finds so you have to pay attention.
Warning: These Plants Are Toxic to Dogs and Kids
You do not want your dog or kids to munch on these so keep them in a separate part of the yard where the kids and pooch cannot get to them. In fact, even after you pull the cones and dry them, these are toxic too so be careful with your plant in all stages of growth and beer-making.
Different Types of Hops
So, there are many types of hops, but you need to know the three main ones, which are the bittering, aroma, and dual-purpose hops. The bittering hops are used for the boiling process and have an increased acid range compared to the aroma hops. Aroma hops are used to finish your beer and helps give it the taste you enjoy. You could literally make hundreds of types of beer, each with its own flavor just by changing the bittering or aroma hops to your liking. And the dual-purpose hops are actually just a hybrid mix of the two types that make it easier to brew your brew. Like a shortcut. The most common types of hops that beginners grow include:
- Galena hops are the most popular hops in the United States and have an alpha acid range of 11% to 14%.
- Calypso is a more acid hop with an alpha acid range of 12% to 14%.
- Nugget is another oldie but goodie with an alpha acid range of 12% to 14.5%.
- Cascade has a fruity aroma with an acid range of 4.5% to 7%.
- Pacific Gem hops are a cross between several hops with an alpha acid range of 13% to 16%.
- Taurus hops are a favorite of the Oktoberfest with an alpha acid range of 12% to 17%.
- Cluster is the oldest hop in the United States and has an alpha range of 5.5% to 8.5%.
- Hersbrucker is a German hop that Anheuser Busch uses with an alpha acid range of 2% to 5%.
- Progress hops have a milder taste with an alpha acid range of 6% to 7.5%.
- Amarillo is great for bittering and aromatics with an alpha acid range of 8% to 11%.
Growing the Grains
No matter which type of hops you use, that is not all you will need to make beer. The grains are important too. In fact, if you do not have the grains, you may as well forget about the beer. Barley is the most popular grain used for beer, but you can also use sorghum, corn, or wheat. And grains are really easy to grow. You cannot get this wrong even if you try. And you can also use grains for food purposes like making bread, cereal, etc. But seriously, all you have to do is throw the seeds out and cover them with a bit of dirt and you are going to have a yard full of grain within two months! It is that easy!
Sugar is Alcohol
The main thing you will be doing with the grain is extracting the sugars from them. This is called mashing the grains. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? There is no real mashing though, so I am not sure where that term came from. You are just going to soak the grain in water to release its starches to let the enzymes to break down into sugar. You can just soak it at night while you sleep. However, weigh it first while it is dry. You will need to know how much it weighs later. Then drain it into a colander or strainer and cover it with a clean damp cloth. Keep it in a dark room and stir it a few times a day for about 20 to 30 days until you see a white rootlet growing inside of it that is as long as the grain. Then put the grain in a sealed container for a few days to stop the growing process.
Drying and Roasting
Once you are finished drying them in a container, use a food dehydrator or an oven on its lowest setting to roast it for 12 to 24 hours. The length of time depends on how wet the grain is and how much you have. It could take longer, depending on the oven too. The best way to know when it is completely dry is to weigh it again. Once it is the same weight it was when you started, you know it is dry. You can continue to roast it on a low setting for several hours to make the taste more mellow, but it will likely take you several tries before you get it to your liking.
Brewing the Beer
When the grains are ready and you have harvested and dried the cones from the hops, you can brew the beer. First, you need to bring a large five-gallon pot of water to 170 degrees (boiling). Use a thermometer. Then put your grains in a lightweight cotton bag and steep it like you would steep a tea bag for about 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take it out and run cool water over it right over the pot to get the last of the flavor out of it. Then you add the malt extract that you got from your grains. The sugary mixture you got after boiling the grain. Or you can just buy malt extract from the store. Mix the hops in a muslin bag and steep it over the boiling water for 90 minutes.
Chilling the beer is the part that many people mess up. If you do not chill it fast enough it will create Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS). DMS is a sulfur compound that is a by-product of the fermentation process. The smell of creamed or cooked corn indicates the presence of DMS in your brew. A beer pump is an awesome way to speed up this cooling process and will reduce the DMS.
Fermenting the Beer
Transfer the cooled liquid into a fermenter, which should be a bit larger than the batch of beer you are making. Then use a hydrometer to find the specific gravity in your liquid. This measures the alcohol content in your beer and can be pretty complicated. I recommend you do your own research on this because it is important, and I am not sure I understand it well enough to explain it to you. However, the reading should be between 1.035 and 1.060 before fermentation. Put some dry yeast into the fermenter, lock on the lid, and let it sit for two weeks. Take another reading after two weeks to see what the sugar levels are then, which tells you the alcohol content.
Carbonation and Bottling
Mix three or four ounces of corn sugar with one or two cups of water and pour it into your cleaned five-gallon pot. Pour the fermented beer into the pot and stir. After a week, you will need to transfer your beer into bottles or a keg. This sounds difficult and time-consuming and I personally would just go buy beer from the store if I need some. However, if you really want to make your own beer, go ahead with the bottling process and then chill it for two weeks before tasting. There are bottling kits that you can buy, and it is much easier and cheaper than putting it into a keg. Also, the bottles will fit in the fridge or cooler better than a keg. Anyway, let me know how it goes. I do not drink, or I would try it myself.