When it comes to brewing, there are endless things I could say. I could talk about the history of alcohol, how it was created, the origins of the different liquors, even how varieties of alcohol have evolved over the years. Likewise, I could write about the cultural impact of alcohol, the emergence of binge-drinking, the resurgence of craft beer, or the new grape-growing regions. I could additionally explore alcohol in an economic context: how prohibition affected the world economy, how alcohol has impacted the growth of certain cities, even how Germany has instituted brewing laws to regulate its beer production. I could even write about how some of the first brew masters are credited with the first addition of hops to beer and the role of masculinity when ordering either a whiskey or a martini.
I remember the exact day my idea started brewing. My friend had just turned 21 at the end of spring. He went to the Air Force Academy and had never tried alcohol before, so I took him to a local pub called Ye Olde Taproom. We each pulled up a stool, snacked on some peanuts, and looked at the menu. At this moment, we both quickly became overwhelmed, for neither of us had any idea what we were doing.
There were so many different beers available to order. There were Belgians, wheats, ambers, stouts, porters, Trappists, dubbels, tripels, and quads. There were beers from America, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, and Japan. We both stared at the menu slack-jawed until I noticed that there was a special on local beer.
I knew I liked IPAs, so I asked the bartender for a suggestion based on my preference. It was then that he went into the back and got me a bottle of North Peak Diabolical IPA. In reality, I know that I didn’t cry when I tasted the beer, but there’s a part of me that wants to say I did. It was love at first sip. I knew then and there that I wanted to brew beer for the rest of my life.
After returning to Wesleyan, I made it my mission to get involved in the Brewing Club. When I first started, making beer seemed to me as strange and unfamiliar as making a Polyjuice Potion, but luckily, Dan Hulbert ’15, the club’s president at the time, eased any difficulties by breaking down the basics of brewing for me. Since then, the processes of beer-making have become far less daunting.
To start brewing, you first heat the water and steep the grain of your choice until sugar forms. Wort, a kind of beer made from malted barley, is the most common product of brewers. However, a variety of other grains can be used as well. The character of your beer varies depending on what kind of grain you use.
After the water comes to boil, the hops are added. Adding a unique “spice” to beers of all varieties, hops are ingredients (ranging from pine, to floral, to citrus) that were originally added to brews as a preservative. Now, while not necessary as preservatives, they are essential to the production of flavor in beer.
Once you incorporate the hops and the water has boiled for an hour, the mixture must be cooled to 80 degrees as quickly as possible. Then add additional water (homebrewing usually does five gallons at a time). Finally, you add the yeast, which will eat the sugar in the wort and make a delicious brew.
To finish, transfer the mixture to a container and let it mixture ferment for a week or two. When you’re ready to bottle, add some additional sugar to create natural carbonation. Then let the bottles sit for another two weeks to build up pressure.
If you decide to try your hand at brewing, it is important to properly sanitize. I cannot stress how important this is. If you don’t clean all the equipment that will be touching the wort, you will get bad tasting beer. Trust me. My first time brewing I screwed up for exactly this reason, and my friends never fail to remind me how awful it was even now. But I’ve learned my lesson, and I’m getting better. So for all of you now inspired, good luck on all your future brews, and I wish you good fortune on your crafting adventure. You never realize how many friends you have until you tell them you can make beer.