Posted by Day on October 24, 2012

A recurring concern of Nowtopia is the commercialization of products that people once made themselves. Skills like gardening are no longer common knowledge. It is far more convenient to pick something off a shelf at the store.

Convenience is nice, but there is much to gain from doing something yourself. Let me use one of my hobbies, homebrewing, as an example. Firstly, it’s a learning experience; brewing has been a hands-on series of chemistry lessons, and has led me to explore the history of brewing. Making a batch of beer is also an excellent way to spend time with friends. Brewing is a creative outlet – I can experiment with ingredients and flavors. Homemade beer can also be downright tasty (though I’ve had my share of doozy batches) and is certainly better than the insipid yellow stuff that somehow remains popular. It is also cost effective. The main ingredients for this batch of beer (hops, grains, water, yeast) cost under $30 for five gallons of beer.

It has been about a year since I last brewed, and I am a beginner, by all means, but Nowtopia has inspired me start again, and to introduce you to the process of brewing beer. I’ve documented my project below. As the beer ferments over the next few weeks, I will update this page so that you can see it progress. Enjoy!


I followed this recipe. Most materials can be found at your local homebrew supply store. Fortunately, Ventura’s Surf Brewery is well stocked with everything you need. They are friendly, knowledgeable, and will even mill your grain for you.
Collect your ingredients. You’ll need:

  • grains (barley, wheat, etc)
  • yeast
  • water
  • hops
  • special ingredients (I’m adding vanilla beans and a touch of honey. This recipe also calls for candi syrup, which I just made myself)

You will also need some special cooking equipment.

  • wort boiling vessel (I use an eight-gallon pot, but if you want to use what you have on hand, you could always halve the recipe)
  • fermentation vessel (I used an “ale pail”, but any food-safe bucket will work, provided that the lid has a hole for aeration)
  • airlock (you probably have to buy this one – it’s the plastic thing in the middle of the above picture. It allows carbon dioxide escape the fermenter without letting bacteria in)
  • grain bags (the sock-looking thing near the bottom)
  • cooking thermometer
  • wooden spoon
  • sanitizer (I use Star San. You could go cheap with bleach, but rinsing is a hassle. Trust me, get the good stuff)

First, I sanitized everything. The goal of fermentation is to create a microorganism-friendly environment. You want to be sure you’re nurturing the right microbes. Follow the directions on your sanitizer label.

Next, I heated water to 150°F, then added the grains and some of the hops, in bags. I maintained a 150°F temperature (give or take five degrees) for one hour.

This is the color before adding the candi syrup:

Here’s the candi syrup being made beforehand (with an elaborate rig set up by my brother, to keep the thermometer from touching the bottom of the pan):
….added about 15 minutes before the end of cooking, along with the rest of the hops (in tea steeping bags) and a half cup of honey.

I then removed the grain bags and tried to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
I waited for the hot beer-tea to cool (keep it covered to avoid contamination) and transferred it to my fermenter, with two vanilla beans.

Once it reached a temperature hospitable to single-cell organisms (warm but not hot; you don’t want to kill the little guys) I pitched my yeast (heated some filtered water with a few spoonfuls of sugar, and dumped in the yeast packet unceremoniously. I let this sit a few minutes to be sure it was active, before adding it to the fermenter).

I then sealed it up, and jammed the airlock in the top vent.

Now we wait! I’ll update this in two weeks, when I transfer the brew to another container for clarity and secondary fermentation. If you’d like a more technical, in-depth guide to brewing, check out homebrewing forums online, and check out this easy stovetop all-grain brewing method.


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