Brew Your Own

Picture yourself settling back on a summer's afternoon, taking a satisfying sip of beer -- and not just any beer, but one that you brewed yourself. You might invite friends to join you, entering into a lively conversation about the virtues of hops, yeast, bitters, and malt. In time you could even perfect your own secret recipe, one that relatives and friends clamor over.

Homebrewing is surprisingly easy and fun, particularly if you start with one of the kits that are widely available in homebrewing stores and online shops. After your first experience, you might invest in your own brewing equipment, experimenting with your ingredients until you find just the right combination. Consider, for instance, the bitter beers, dark beers, porters, and fruit-flavored beers that you could try. You can even vary the alcohol strength in your final product by adjusting what you add to the wort.

People enjoy brewing their own beer for a variety of reasons. It allows them to create their own recipes, make beers that aren't available elsewhere, and to enjoy a more yeasty 'live' beer, rather than the pasteurized beer that's sold in stores. The most important trait the home brewer needs is patience, since it can take anywhere from two weeks to several monthsÛor even a yearÛto create the beer you want.

Contrary to popular belief, homebrewing doesn't require a large amount of space. Most home brewers make a five-gallon batch, and depending on space limitations, might have several batches fermenting at once, so they mature at different times. When you brew your own, be sure to keep good records, so that once you stumble upon the perfect recipe, you'll know exactly what steps to take to create that beer again and again.

Beer brewing begins with the creation of the wort (this is the name for beer that is not yet fermented). Malted grain, or malt, is soaked in hot water (60-70 degrees) until sugars are released -- this process is called mashing. The home brewer can skip this step by purchasing dry extracted malt or liquid malt. The run-off from the mash is the wort, a liquid that has all the sugars and proteins of beer, but not the yeast. The wort is then boiled with hops for flavor, then cooled. Once yeast is added to start the fermentation process, the liquid can rightfully be called beer. At this point it requires bottling, followed by a period of rest while the beer ferments and cures.

Wine and cider-making are also popular home activities. A novice wine maker can easily have a successful first outing, particularly if you use the kits that are available. Nearly any edible fruit or plant can be used to make wine -- the trick is to add the right amount of sugar to your blend (called 'must'), so that when you add yeast, the yeast will have something to feed on. Grapes are popular wine making fruits in part because they naturally contain the right amount of sugar.

As with all canning and bottling, it's crucial for safety reasons that you use sterile bottles, caps, and equipment in your beer or wine making. In the U.S., it's legal for every household to make up to 200 gallons of wine or beer each year. So why not make this the year you try brewing your own? The next time you have friends over and bring out your special blend, you'll certainly be glad you did.
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