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Good beer disappears fast. Within just a few weeks of sampling my first brew, the Broadway Brown Ale from Central Street Farmhouse, I’m down to my last bottle.
From 45 beers to one in less than a month. Yikes. Strangely, I feel like only a few of those beers ended up going down my gullet — maybe as few as 10. What happened to the rest of them?
Well, they went to appreciative friends, family members and co-workers who, in return, showered me with compliments, encouragement, critiques and advice. That made losing the bulk of the bottles worthwhile. Also, the ingredients for that first batch cost just $35, meaning each beer cost me about 75 cents. Compare that with a six-pack of good beer, which sets you back about $8, and the fact that many bottles disappear isn’t all that upsetting.
Still, I plan on putting a few more bottles into hiding when my next batch is finished.
Speaking of the next batch, it’s doing its magic in the secondary fermentation bucket. As I watched the supply of my brown ale dwindle, I soon realized I would need something to replace it. Being the impatient person that I am, I was not willing to sit around after my first beer supply ran out and twiddle my thumbs for a month or more waiting for my second batch to ferment and carbonate.
So, I made another trip to Central Street Farmhouse in early February and bought a Belgian stout they call Bangor-to-Brussels Stout.
On Feb. 12, I pulled out my large turkey pot, which has proved itself a valuable brew pot, and sanitized everything that would come in contact with the beer — again. My pruned-up hands reminded me why this was my least-favorite part of the brewing process. If you’re a fan of doing dishes, however, you’ll love this part — and you’re welcome to come do mine.
The steps to brewing this stout were nearly identical to those for the ale. I steeped the mix of grains, brought the wort to a boil, mixed in malt extracts, continued the boil for 60 minutes, added bittering hops at the beginning of the hour and aroma hops and Irish moss in the last 15 minutes.
However, if you look at the ingredients list for this brew, you’ll notice something new: candi sugar. According to “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing,” this is nothing more than crystallized pure sucrose. Yum. Candi sugar is dissolved in the wort either before or after malt, and is used in strong Belgian beers — in this case, a stout.
The sugar adds a touch of flavor to the beer, which has been described to me as a “sweet spice.” Only time will tell whether that description holds up.
The biggest payoff of adding candi sugars, or any sugars, to your brew comes during fermentation. Put simply, fermentation is the process of yeasts converting sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In other words, more sugar means more alcohol.
The malt extracts provided the only sugar in the Broadway Brown Ale. When I added the candi sugar to this stout, I essentially put in another pound of sucrose, which will mean a big increase in the beer’s alcohol content and flavor. I’ve been told this brew could come in at an 8 to 10 percent alcohol content — double that of the brown ale. Now that’s a beer.
The rest of the process for this beer was the same: I dumped the wort into a bucket with 3 gallons of cold water, took a starting gravity reading, poured in the yeast, snapped on the lid, put in the airlock and started the waiting. Ugh, more waiting.
I’m letting the beer ferment a little longer this time (10 days in the first bucket and nearly two weeks more in the second) before — you guessed it — more cleaning in preparation for the bottling process, which takes another week or two.
I suppose if I wanted the brewing process to be instantaneous, I could go buy a six-pack. But after my first batch, I’ve realized there’s very little joy, comparatively, in buying ready-made beer. One phrase often heard from brewers is, “The best beer is your own beer,” and this holds true.
With a home-brew, you know exactly what went in and exactly what came out. You can determine why you like or don’t like it and then change the recipe to suit your tastes. The more you learn, the better it will be. You’re never constrained by what a company thinks its customers will like. In the end, a home-brewer almost always will like his or her beer more than theirs — whether “they” are part of a corporation or that guy in the cubicle next to you.
After one batch, I’m already in love with home-brewing. There will be many more beers of all varieties to come.
Here’s hoping the next home-brew will always be better than the previous one.
Bring it on. Brew on.
Nick McCrea is a Bangor Daily News copy editor. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maine and a master’s degree in magazine, newspaper and online journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. This occasional column will chronicle his first endeavor at beer brewing.
Central Street Farmhouse’s Bangor-to-Brussels Stout
½ pound roasted barley malt
¼ pound biscuit malt
¼ pound kiln black malt
2 cans Briess Traditional Dark malt extract
1 ounce Fuggle pellet hops (60-minute boil)
1 ounce Fuggle pellet hops (15-minute boil)
Safbrew T-58 (dry)
1 pound Brewers Best dark candi sugar
Cost of ingredients in kit: $42