Whippin’ up a batch of homebrew
VAIL – Some homebrewers say that making beer can be as simple as making soup from a can.But some soups require specialized ingredients and take days to simmer to perfection. Beer is the same way. Serious homebrewers will be the first to say that while simple is on one end of the spectrum, beer-making is a vast science.”It’s a lot like alchemy,” said Tony Simmons, who runs a homebrewing supply company – the Brew Haus – in Pagosa Springs, and who is a judge of the homebrewing competition at Vail’s Big Beer Festival tonight. “We could make it as complicated as rocket science. People have been making beer for 8,000 years. It’s only been in the last 150 that we know how to make (certain kinds). The yeast cell has revolutionized homebrewing. Prior to the advent of biology, microbiology and chemistry, they didn’t have thermometers. Now there’s a lot of science involved. For the homebrewer, you can make it pretty darn simple.”Last fall, Simmons won a national homebrewing recipe competition for Poor Richard’s Ale in celebration of Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday. His beer will be served in about 100 breweries in 35 states.He has been homebrewing for 10 years and says that the simple element of making beer involves soaking barley at around 150 degrees until it turns into wort – a malted starch. The wort can be boiled in water and fermented for a week or longer with yeast, and voila, you’ve got something that resembles beer. “You can buy kits. Some companies concentrate (the wort) down to a powder similar to malted milk balls.,” Simmons said. “Forget the chocolate part. The inside has a distinctive flavor. Boil that in water. Put it in your fermenter. Add your yeast. In a week, you have something you could drink … You could drink it.”
From here, homebrewers add various ingredients and refine the process in many, many different ways.Straight outta the can”You can start out pretty simply and get everything you need in a can,” said homebrewer John Landreman of Colorado Springs, who has won Best of Show in the Big Beer Festival’s homebrewing competition and who serves as a judge. “You boil some water, cool it, add a yeast. Then, you can start making your own recipes and using some raw ingredients. You can make it as complex as you want it to be. It’s kind of like cooking, you’ll get the better result if you use some more high-quality ingredients.”Of course, the ingredients depend on the type of beer, and there are a myriad. Landreman said that while added ingredients and flavors are always small and subtle, coriander and orange peel are popular additions to Belgian beers and that one of his submissions into this year’s contest is the Wit, a Belgian beer made from raw wheat. “It’s complex in that it uses a lot of raw wheat,” said Landreman of the Wit. “It’s real gummy like oatmeal. It takes a lot of steps to get rid of the gummying. To make it, it takes around six hours. You let it ferment for a couple weeks. It can take longer for stronger beers.”The homebrew competition at the festival features 12 different categories – Bock, strong Scotch ale, Baltic porter, Russian Imperial stout, Imperial IPA, Weizenbock, Belgian and French ale, sour ale, Belgian strong ale, strong ale, specialty beer and Braggot.
Festival organizer Laura Lodge of High Point Brewing in Gypsum said that judging for the homebrew competition is meant to be “as far from subjective as possible.””We follow the guidelines exactly,” she said, referring to those set by American Homebrewer’s Association.Through the judges’ palatesShe said the first part of the judging is based on aroma, malts, hops and other aromatics. Following this is appearance – color, clarity and head retention. The flavor element focuses on malt, hops, fermentation characteristics, balance and finish or aftertaste. Judges also consider mouthfeel, body carbonation, warmth, creaminess and astringency. There is also an element of overall impression.According to homebrew contest judge Eric Wallace, founder and president of Left Hand Brewing in Boulder, the overall drinking pleasure is the key element of a successfully brewed beer.”The secret to success is making a nice, drinkable beer,” said Wallace, who started homebrewing upon returning to the U.S. after living in Europe for eight years, where he developed a taste for fine beer. This interest developed into kraft brewing and then his own brewery.
“You have a lot of variables you can manipulate,” he said. “You can always say, ‘I’m going to try something different.'”While many homebrewers drink their own brew every day, most say they try as many beers as possible, for business and research purposes as well and general interest and pleasure.”When I was a homebrewer, we were drinking everything to see how what we were making sized up,” Wallace said. “Homebrewers are hardcore people. It’s a huge, huge field.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado