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drinking beer in the South of France and then writing about it

Baby's first brew

Though I've lived in France my whole life and consider myself to be complètement française, I'll take a beer over a glass of wine ANYDAY. I mean, is there any other beverage that connects everyone, from monks to college kids? Seldom has a glass of orange juice sent my brain and taste buds into the euphoric flavour paradise that beer creates.

Anyway, I've spent a large part of my long adult life drinking any bière artisanale I could get my hands on. I just about like any beer that wasn't traditionally saison-ly brewed on a farm. I like trying new beers, from different countries and of various styles. I recently discovered a Canadian sour beer at my local craft beer bar that would put that Meg Ryan scene in When Harry Met Sally to shame, eh.

To sum it up, I like beer. Many empty bottles and kegs later, the brewing process caught my attention. I'd watched my father, his business partner, and countless other brewers cook up their own batches of beer before, and decided that it was time I gave it a go.

Brewing beer is so simple, right? It couldn't be that hard to brew… right? I mean, after all, it is just boiling water and a couple other things sprinkled in, I think?

My parents bought me a Brooklyn BrewShop NEIPA Beer Making Kit for my birthday last year. For a while it sat on my room standing in as a very big and not-so-heavy paperweight, until I gathered up some real courage (ironically, not the liquid kind this time) to give it a go. The day after Christmas I gathered the troops (my mom) and brewed my very first beer in my kitchen at home.

The kit was easy to use because it had all of the equipment and ingredients that I was going to need for my beer (except for the honey). On top of that, the Brooklyn BrewShop website gives clear, step-by-step instructions paired with video instructions (available in English and en français!).
Inside the kit: Grain, hops and yeast, racking cane, thermometer, tubing clamp, glass fermentation jug, cleanser, airlock, clear vinyl tubing, screw-cap stopper. All that’s missing was some honey!

Before starting any part of the brewing process, I made sure to thoroughly sanitise my tools and equipment with the provided sanitiser & hot water, and to wipe down all surfaces in the kitchen with hot soapy water.

Sanitising the equipment in a bowl of hot water and sanitiser.

Step 1: The mash

Bring 1,9L of water to 71℃ in a big pot. Add the entire packet of mash – called mashing in – and cook for about an hour while stirring every 10 minutes. Facile!

Mashing extracts all of the sugar, colour and flavour from the grain to give the beer its, well, sugar, colour and flavour.

Getting the water to the right temperature before adding the grain and stirring well.

 Step 2: The sparge

After cooking the mash for a full hour, it was time to strain the liquid twice: once to remove the grain, a second time back through the grain to release any remaining flavor and sweetness that the first strain may have missed.

I was left with two pots: one full of brown grain water called wort, the other full of discarded grain (which was donated to our local chicken farmer in exchange for fresh eggs).

Step 3: The boil

The wort

You guessed it, this is where I boiled the wort, and added the delicious and fragrant hops to the mix. My kit came with Mosaic and Cascade hops, two extremely flavourful and fruity strains of hops.

I plopped just under half of my hops into the wort and gave the mix a little stir. Adding hops at this stage in the brewing process is what gives the beer its bitterness. Throughout the rest of the brewing process (especially during fermentation), I added more hops to give the beer its flavour and aroma.

Measuring out the right amount of hops
Adding the hops to the wort

Once again, I let the mix boil lightly for 60 minutes while stirring regularly, and resumed my Bananagramming. After sixty minutes, another 1/5 of the hops were added to the mix, for flavouring and aroma this time.

The boil

STEP 4: Fermentation

Like a professional athlete, the water, grain & hops mixture was treated to a nice ice bath. The liquid needed to chill down to a cool 21℃ as fast as possible, in order to create the best living conditions for the soon-to-be-added yeast. I cooled my wort by placing the big pot in a sink filled with cold water and ice packs. The water heated up fast, so it had to be changed regularly in order to cool the pot down fast enough.

Hoppy wort taking an ice bath after an hour boil

When the wort reached its cool temperature, it was transferred into the fermentation bottle, by way of ladle. I filtered the wort through two strainers before funneling it into the fermentation bottle; straining helps aerate and oxygenate the wort, as well as clarify the liquid by removing any sediment.

Into the bottle was pitched the entire packet of yeast, and then SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE as aggressively as I could (it's a big, heavy bottle). This wakes up the yeast and tells them to get to work!

Adding the yeast to the liquid. The levels were quite low in the fermentation bottle. The Brooklyn Brewshop website encouraged us to fill up the bottle until it hit the 1-gallon mark, but we did not follow those instructions.

The bottle was connected to the blow off tube which allows CO2 to escape, and was put aside for three days under a red blanket.

The blow-off tube running from the fermenter to a bowl of sanitizer water

Let the fermentation begin! The fermentation process is what makes the beer, beer. The yeast eat the sugars and transform them into alcohol. It's important to keep the beer away from sunlight and in a cool area, as sunlight can create off-flavours in your beer.

When the bubbling subsided, I added ½ of the remaining hops straight into the fermenter – this is called dry-hopping. A week later, I took the jug outside to cool in the harsh winter temperatures the south of France is known for (😉) to put the yeast to sleep.

STEP 5: Bottling

Almost there! About 10 days after letting the liquid work its chemistry magic in the fermenter, it was time to siphon it all into the bottles. Notice how clear the beer has become, and all of the sediment at the bottom of the bottle!

My beer after fermenting for approximately 10 days.

I re-sanitised every tool and every surface, especially the bottles that would soon hold my beer! I chose to use swing-top bottles as they were readily on-hand, but are also easier to close and manipulate than bottle caps.

Re-sanitize everything !

The bottling process started by dissolving honey and warm water into a large pot. The sugar from the honey is what would carbonate the beer while it's in the bottle, by waking up the dormant yeast. The liquid from the fermenter was then successfully siphoned from the fermenter into said pot – so far, so good.

My beer, mixed with the honey and hot water mixture, before being ladled into the bottles

Then came the time to siphon what was in the pot into the individual bottles. Not as easy as it sounds. My mom and I both spent 15 minutes watching the suggested Brooklyn BrewShop video on how to siphon your beer, but alas, after filling only one bottle the 'correct' way, our impatience got the best of us and we ladled the rest of the liquid into the bottles through a funnel.

The brew produced about 4 and ½ bottles

The bottles were placed in a box under the red blanket, in a cool and dark room for about 1 week.

A couple of days into bottle-conditioning my beer, my brewer-father approached me with a difficult question: why are there still hops in the fridge? Whoops. Indeed, I had skipped a step during the fermentation process, and now have 1/5 of hops left (ready for my next brew!).

Read the instructions all the way through, kids

STEP 6: The best step !

I'm quite satisfied with the way my beer came out! Having omitted part of the hops means that the bitterness is extremely loud, while the juiciness of the flavouring hops lingers on the tongue – a nice balance between bitterness and juiciness.

Dégustation sheet:

  • Color: golden, very hazy, nice frothy head
  • Aroma: fruity
  • Flavor: very bitter, juiciness that lingers
  • After-taste: bitter.
 
The final product: my 2019, limited-edition New England IPA. Guest starring Barley the cat, who joined us a day after brewing.
Craft beer of the month : January
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