Monday, January 30, 2012

No Longer Home Brewing Behind Closed Doors

Brewing up a one gallon batch
Whenever I would tell my wife I would be home brewing over the coming weekend, there would be an awkward pause, and then realizing there was not much she could do about it, she'd respond with a quiet "OK".  She'd arrange to meet up with her friends for the day while I'd do my business, and when she was on her way back that evening, would give me a call to warn me of her impending arrival. I'd get everything cleaned up and put back so by the time she got home, she would have no idea what had actually happened while she was away, although there would always be some tell tale evidence if she looked closely.  Of course, she knew what really went on when she went away, but was wise enough not to ask too many questions.

OK, granted my wife is quite supportive of my brewing exploits, but understands it's best if she isn't around.  Our apartment kitchen gets pretty trashed whenever I brew up the standard 5-gallon home brew batch and I'd tend to get in a foul mood one or twice or three times brewing all that beer in cramped quarters.  My wife doesn't like watching our place get trashed and knows to get as far away from me as possible whenever I'm in foul mood.

And while brewing sounds like a pretty romantic activity, it's a lot about cleaning and sanitizing large metal and glass objects which I find about as exciting as cleaning the toilet.  And cleaning up the kitchen after I've splashed and spilt wort all over it is about as thrilling as, you guess it, cleaning up a dirty kitchen.

So after reading about brewing more manageable 1-gallon batches I set about brewing my first 1-gallon batch with a cautious optimism, choosing to brew a Honey Sage Ale recipe from the Brooklyn Brew Shop Beer Making Book .

Predictably, I screwed up recipe from the get go.  It called for using 1.8 lbs of Pilsner Malt and 0.3 lbs of Munich malt.  I  picked up what I thought were two 1-pound bags of Pilsner malt at my favorite home brew store, only to find out when I got home that I had actually picked up a one pound of Pilsner malt and a one pound of  Rahr Malted Wheat.  Luckily, this mistake was partially cancelled out by another mistake, in that I also picked up Belgian Wit Ale Yeast rather than Belgian Ale Yeast, since Wit beers are brewed with wheat malt.   Despite seriously deviating from the original receipe, the end result could be no worse than any of my previous brews.

Nice clean stove to brew beer on
So the final recipe turned out to be:

1 lb Pilsner malt
0.6 lb Munich Malt
0.5 lb Rahr Malted White Wheat
3/4 cup California Wildflower Honey
0.2 lb Cane Sugar

0.3 ounce East Kent Golding hops
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Belgian Wit Ale Yeast

Mash the grains with 2 1/2 quarts water between 144-152 F for 60 minutes.  After sparging with an additional 1 gallon of water at 170F, boil for 1 hour adding 0.1 ounce of hops at initial boil, another 0.1 ounce at 30 minutes, and the last 0.1 ounce at 55 minutes.  Add 2 tablespoons of the sage at 30 minutes and the last tablespoon at 60 minutes.  Add the honey and cane sugar at 60 minutes, and stir to dissolve. 

Ferment for two weeks, and then add 3 tablespoons of honey for priming.

Original Gravity 1.070
Final Gravity  1.008
The Honey Sage Belgian Wit in all its glory
abv = 8.0%

After fermenting for two weeks, the sage and honey flavors were quite forward, with a definite boozy character to the brew from high alcohol content.  Two weeks of bottle conditioning mellowed things significantly.  The final result was a fizzy cloudy yellow unassuming looking wit beer with plenty of herbal sage flavors, some yeastiness, and a little savory and floral character from the wildflower honey and hops.  Despite the high abv, the alcohol was not longer apparent, and I didn't detect any obvious off-flavors. 

It only took about four hours to brew from start to finish, with a lot less before and after prep work than the 5-gallon batches I've made previously.  And the result was something pretty refreshing to drink during a Northern California "winter" and arguably the best beer I've ever brewed, even though I screwed up the initial recipe pretty bad.

Which underlines a key difference between running and brewing.  If you screw up running, some part of your body is going to feel pretty sore.  Screw up home brewing and chances are still good you'll have a decent beer when it's all over.


  1. Wild. I just bought that same book and will be brewing my first 1 gallon batch this weekend (p. 51). Totally different reasons - my spouse brews more than I do -- it's more that I wanted freedom to experiment with adjuncts and weird stuff with a smaller volume output. Plus I work at a beer bar and buy enough commercial beer there that both of us brewing 5 gallons at a time feels like way too much beer in the house. Either way, I'm glad it worked for you.