One of the things I am keen to learn to do in time for my wedding is brew beer.
My parents used to do it at home, though I think they mainly focused on lagers. I prefer ales, and after doing a short course on Saturday at Ubrew, Bermondsey, my curiosity in the process has firmly piqued and the journey to making our own micro-brewery style wedding beers is beginning.
My plan is to make two separate wedding beers: a porter and a sour. But the beer I learned to make on the course was a simple pale ale. The process is straightforward, but the options for ingredients, timings, temperatures, and deviations soon seemed overwhelming.
The basic idea was using base malt (malted barley), and three varieties of hops; two added at the beginning, one at the end; to generate an ale.
The course consisted of a kind of basic education in the history and chemistry of beer; all of which I already knew, and as an avid craft beer drinker and chemistry graduate I found it borderline condescending to the point it verged on the inaccurate – I nearly cried when he called yeast a ‘bacteria’.
However, I came with no prior knowledge of the process, and being there able to ask a ton of questions at the experts in between the lectures was extremely useful. I started digging to know more about the different ways to make the beers I was interested in.
The first step was in learning how to create the mash, using barley and hot water, varying the temperature to encourage different enzymes to break down the starches into different sugar profiles.
Second, I learned how to sparge. This is a filtration and washing process to reduce the cloudiness of the wort, and the end-result: the beer. Adding more water here potentially lowers the ABV at the end.
Then came boiling for an hour, during which we added hops at the start (for bitterness) and at the end (for aroma). Finally, we cooled it running it past cold water and straight into a sterilised fermenter, aerating it and adding yeast. The final step is waiting, and then bottling by adding a small amount of sugar to cause some final in-bottle fermentation, generating and trapping CO2 inside the beer.
It turns out sours are one of the more difficult beers to brew, and it seems the main component to make it sour is lactic acid, from the addition of lactose and bacteria. Porters, on the other hand, are easier. So I am divided as to whether I begin with the easier one to get practice, or the harder one because it will be more stressful to get right!
As the ‘master brewer’ for my wedding, my plan for the sour is to create a mango, yuzu and honey sour called ‘BEEr’. For the porter, I’m thinking about a ‘carrot cake’ idea (our theme includes bees and rabbits), but I’m also leaning towards a ‘raspberry-hazelnut brownie’ porter. There’s a whole wealth of information out there, with tried and tested recipes to try and adapt.
Stay tuned for some exciting examples of our brewing!