Tonight in a bar alone I’m sitting
Apart from the laughter and the cheers
While scenes from the past rise before me
Just watchin’ the bubbles in my beer (Bob Wills)
I do a lot of that these days (watching the bubbles in my beer). You see, I have a new hobby. I brew my own beer. I figured since I’m close to retirement maybe I need a new hobby. Brewing beer seemed like a good fit because I like to drink it and my banjo picking buddy Tony, an experienced brewer, can give me all the guidance I need,
So far my experiment has been rewarding. I have produced two five gallon batches and they were both very tasty.
A vision of someone who loved me
Brings a lone silent tear to my eye
Oh, I know that my life’s been a failure
Just watchin’ the bubbles in my beer
Fortunately looking back, I don’t feel that my life has been a failure. On the other hand maybe it could have been more of a success had I not had so much fondness for the miracle fluid that is beer. Our ancestors drank it not just because they could get a buzz but also because the alcohol inhibited the growth of dangerous bacteria that plagued their water supply.
Beer making goes back at least 5,000 years. Over the centuries the process has become more scientific. Yeast was identified as the critical fermenting organism and the upshot of that is that anyone who has the right ingredients and equipment can brew a very nice tasting beer.
I’m seeing the road that I’ve traveled
A road paved with heartaches and tears
And I’m seeing the past that I’ve wasted
While watchin’ the bubbles in my beer
I spend a lot of time watching the bubbles in my beer. And not because I am rueful about life’s road paved with bitter tears. When you brew beer you have to boil a grain so that it releases sugars for fermentation. Then you add malt, hops, etc until you sprinkle the brew with a bit of yeast. If you added the yeast too early the brew might not ferment because the temperature is still too high.
So when the bubbles start to form it’s reassuring. The beer is happening. When the bubbles slow to less than one per minute and a half, it’s close to bottling time! It’s a lot of fun to watch the bubbles in your home brew beer.
After you bottle you have to age the beer so that the priming sugar you added when you bottled forms extra alcohol and carbon dioxide as a byproduct for that nice fizz we all enjoy. A couple of weeks later you can sample your beer and see if it’s any good. Hopefully you have done your job right and you didn’t have any bottles explode in your pantry.
The weeks have passed and it’s time to enjoy. Many home brewers use the occasion to start their next brew. Home brew beer still has the yeast in it. (Commercial brewers filter that ingredient out but some home brewers use the old yeast to start their next batch).
Since the yeast is still in there at the bottom you have to pour your home brew carefully. Pour slowly with bottle and glass tilted at about 45 degrees each. When the glass is full, slowly turn the bottle to vertical so that you do not disturb the brew before the next pour.
Home brewing is fun but it is not for the faint of heart. If you love to drink craft brew beer and figure you can save money by brewing it yourself forget it. I can buy my favorite IPA cheaper than I can make something that tastes almost as good. Even after you have all the equipment, ingredients for good home brew costs about the same as just buying the ready made product.
But it is fun to make beer yourself. You’ll need a huge kettle and a stove capable of heating the huge kettle without burning your stove nobs. I brew outside with a propane burner suited to the purpose but I do know of brewers who use their stovetop (I also know a brewer who did burn his stove nobs at home).
The biggest obstacle to a good brew is sanitizing the surfaces that come into contact with the brew as it goes along the process. Wine makers don’t have to worry so much about wild fermentors coming through the air to contaminate the brew because wine has a higher alcohol content. But home brewers of beer tend to be paranoid. You rinse all of your stuff with iodized water and you try to get the brew transfers done quickly.
As A friend of mine used to say, beer is food. Beer has been the lubricant of many a good bluegrass jam and i love to share my latest brew with fellow jammers. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it.
You sit there a cryin’, cryin’ in your beer
You say you’ve got troubles, my friend listen here
Don’t tell me your troubles, got enough of my own
Be thankful you’re livining. Drink up and go home.