Home brewing beer and wine: One tasty hobby
Stacey Faba, brewing expert and co-owner of Pauly’s in Lowell, has worked in the beer and wine brewing business long enough to know the secret to making a good batch is really not a secret at all, but simply a matter of taste.
“Everyone has different tastes, different palates, and price is not indicative of quality,” she said. “Once we head into this time of year, we move into things like stout and German Oktoberfests.”
Pauly’s has everything you need for a successful home brewing experience – equipment kits ($110) and ingredient kits to make five gallons of beer or about two cases ($32 to $55).
“Early on in brewing, we lean people toward buying a kit,” she said. “It’s most affordable, easy and the instructions are really nice.”
The equipment kit contains a glass carboy, fermenting (mixing) bucket, long-handled mixing spoon, cleaning brushes, sanitizer, siphon hose, hydrometer, thermometer, auto siphon, siphon valve, air lock, bottle caps, capper and guide, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing.”
A case of new bottles is $12.99, so most people sanitize and reuse dark, non-twist bottles to save money.
Sanitizing is one of the most important steps in the brewing process, according to Faba. If anything goes wrong when a new brewer starts out, it’s often a sanitizing issue with the fermenting bucket.
“The bucket is sacred,” Faba said. “You never put anything else in your bucket. They can get scratched and bacteria get in the scratched area, making it difficult to sanitize.”
Everything that comes in contact with your wort has to be sanitized, especially after the boiling process.
Pauly’s sells various sanitizers, however, bleach and a dishwasher on the sanitize cycle also work.
Ale or lager
Beer is made from four basic ingredients: water, fermentable sugars (traditionally barley), hops and yeast.
“The only thing that separates an ale from a lager is the yeast strain,” Faba explained.
She recommends first-time beer or wine brewers start with a simple ale recipe and move to more complicated varieties once they understand the brewing process.
“Ales are pretty forgiving, easier and quicker,” she said. “From the time you start brewing to the time you’re drinking takes approximately 30 days.”
Ales do well at room temperature (68 to 72 degrees) during fermentation. The solution stays in the bucket for around seven days (depending on the kit) and is siphoned to the carboy for about another week for the secondary fermentation process.
“Lager” means to store in German. Making lager is a longer fermentation process, taking around 2 months.
“The yeast works a little slower, so the transfer of the sugars to alcohol takes longer,” Faba said.
Lagers require a much cooler and consistent 48- to 52-degree temperature during fermentation. A refrigerator or basement usually works if it’s cold enough, but if temperature isn’t consistent, it’ll throw off flavors.
What makes beer taste skunky?
Have you ever wondered why most beers come in brown bottles? The purpose of the brown bottle is light filtration. The best way to prevent skunky beer is to limit exposure to light. Beers with higher hops content are more likely to become skunky, referred to as “light struck” in the beer industry.
“There’s a chemical reaction that occurs between the hops and light, any kind of light, and it happens within 10 to 20 minutes. It turns skunky tasting.”
Light causes naturally occurring sulfur proteins to react with increased isohumulones in hops, causing a chemical reaction that produces thiol – the same chemical found in skunk spray.
Heineken comes in green bottles – in the U.S., anyway – and is known for tasting skunky. In Europe, Heineken comes in brown bottles and tastes totally different, according to Faba.
Brewing like a pro
Most people start out as extract brewers and some will always be extract brewers. However, as beer and winemaking hobbyists become more experienced, they begin to take their home-brewing skills one step further by adding their own personal touches.
As brewers become more knowledgeable, they begin to fine-tune recipes. Switching to all-grain brewing allows them better control and more beer varieties, including light-colored beers. With all-grain brewing, extracts are obtained by mashing grains to extract sweet wort, instead of using pre-processed malt extract in syrup or dried powder form. Although it gives more control, all-grain brewing and cleanup can take twice as long.
“All-grain brewing is more difficult, but can be done,” she said. “YouTube videos tell how to build an all-grain system, which can be done in about a day.”
As grapes begin to ripen in August and September, many local winemaking hobbyists replenish their private stock.
“The best wine is the one you like,” Faba said. “I’ve been a wine buyer for over 20 years, and the thing about wine is it’s a lot like food when you’re a baby and learning to acquire a taste.”
Beer and winemaking equipment is interchangeable, except winemaking requires a corker and corks. Faba says fruit wine makers don’t require much more than fruit and certain chemicals, depending on what they’re making.
There are a pleather of available wine kits, ranging from $70 up to $200 for a six-gallon batch. For that reason, wine kits are direct ordered at Pauly’s and arrive within 48 hours.
“It’s too hard to guess what people want,” Faba said. “We keep the yeast, the adjuncts, the bottles, corkers, corks and so forth.”
Yeast spurs fermentation. Wild yeast, which exists naturally in the environment, may induce fermentation too early. Old school recipes say to let the natural yeast take over and do the fermentation, however, using this method leaves inconsistencies in flavor. Having control in the fermentation process requires killing natural yeast.
“We encourage people to kill off the wild yeast, using campden tablets,” Faba said. “It takes about 24 hours to kill yeast.”
After the wild yeast is gone, she says to add fresh yeast “that fits the style of wine,” as well as other flavor-boosting additives. For instance, if winemakers desire more acidity for a “big mouth feel,” like in reds, they add tannin.
Some additives are merely cosmetic. Pectin enzyme is added to some fruit wines to dissolve naturally occurring pectin that causes clumps and cloudiness.
Pauly’s products and services
Pauly’s — located at 11250 East Fulton in Lowell — has over 650 different beers, an abundance of eclectic wines (many Michigan-made) and multiple varieties of liquor, including 150 different vodkas and over 200 types of whiskey. The store sells brew supplies, including bulk malt, grain and honey, hops, over 80 yeast strains, bottles and carboys.
They do special orders, in-home wine and beer tastings, home-brewing instruction and catering and bar service for wedding receptions and parties. For more information, call 616-897-2669 and ask for Eric Westbrook, who’s known as Pauly’s liquor man.