Everyone now knows that I love jam, however only a few people know that I also make my own beer. Beer consists of Malt derived from barley, Hops, Sugar, water and yeast. Homebrew beer is simple to make, is easy to store, and drink, and does not attract a tax excise in this country. I started making beer in 1992, but stopped producing when I moved to Melton West in 2000 for about seven years. I don’t really know why I stopped, maybe I was lazy and switched to wine at the time. When the green bug bit me on the bottom, I took it up again last year.
I believe that making your own beer has the following environmental benefits;
- Less packaging for the finished product,
- Reuse of bottle instead of recycling which is energy intensive,
- Lower transport emissions to deliver the finished product,
- All ingredients are manufactured in Australia (lower food miles),
- No plastic six pack rings that hurt wildlife, and
- No litter from single use drink containers.
I use harvested rainwater during all the fermenting and sterilising, so my water is not being diverted from rivers or lakes. So I think that my homebrew is fairly low impact on the environment.
I prefer Coopers home brewing equipment and ingredients as this company advertise that they have a low carbon footprint at their brewery in Adelaide, South Australia. It is also only 650km from where I live and is the closest manufacturer of beer products to my location. The Coopers commercially brewed beer is based on bottle fermentation and has a small layer of yeast in each bottle. This negates the need to charge each bottle with CO2 to carbonate the beer during bottling.
As I have mentioned, beer making is simple, however I used to try and make fancy beers in my younger days, by adding different malts, different sugars, or adding extra hops to the wort. The wort is the pre-fermented beer before you pitch or add the brewers yeast. The beer I now make is less work, because I believe that the home brew concentrates have improved since I first began making it.
I start off in the kitchen, with either a Coopers Lager or Draught concentrate, and a packet of Coopers brewing sugar. I sterilise the 25 litre fermenter drum, which is made of recycled food grade plastic. I use sodium metabisulphate as the sterilising agent and only use a teaspoon in the drum. Once the fermenter is sterilised, I begin to prepare the wort. Soak the can of concentrate in hot water for about 10 minutes, as this makes the mixture easier to pour upon opening. Empty the can into the drum and add the desired amount of brewing sugar. 500gm for light beer and 1 kg for full strength beer. Then, add 2 litres of boiling water and mix with my sterilised long handled spoon, so not to introduce wild yeast into the wort. I then ask one one of my strong teenagers to carry the barrel around to the rainwater tank, where I add water to make up 23 litres. The chosen teenager then lugs the covered barrel to the shed where the remainder of my beer making equipment is. I then stir well, then check if the temp is in the correct range of 22-28 degrees Celsius so as not to kill the yeast, and once OK, I take an initial specific gravity reading with the hydrometer and then pitch the yeast. I simply sprinkle the dry yeast over the wort and gently stir it in, making sure it doesn’t stick to the sides of the drum. The fermenter drum now gets sealed with the lid that has a large o-ring around the thread to ensure an airtight seal. I then fit the airlock (filled with sterilising solution) and then press in the sides of the drum do make sure that bubbles pass through the airlock in the desired manner. Once that final check is made, the initial part of the process is complete.
I usually go back and check the airlock after about 3 hours to ensure that fermentation has commenced and that the temp is still OK. All I do for the next 4 to 6 days is to check once a day to make sure that everything is bubbling away as it should and that the drum does not start getting over 30 degrees. If it does, I place the drum on the cool cement floor of the shed and this usually cools things down again. During summer, fermentation takes about 5 days and in winter it takes up to 10 days because of the cooler weather.
When the airlock stops bubbling, I take a final specific gravity reading which should read between 1.008 and 1.010. If it is any higher than 1.010, I leave the beer for one more day and recheck. If all is OK, then it is on to the bottling phase.
I use PETE plastic bottles that have a brown tint. They come with a standard screw cap with a plastic seal inside. Firstly I clean all the bottles with a bottle brush and mild detergent (only if they have been previously used) and then rinse with sterilising solution. The solution is safe enough that you do not need to rinse again. I then set all the clean bottles on my workbench and add a heaped teaspoon of white sugar to each bottle via a small funnel. This extra sugar is need to start secondary fermentation which generates the wonderful CO2 bubbles that a good beer is known for. Once the sugar is loaded, I then fill each bottle with beer, leaving about 2 cm space from the top and seal with a cap. As I have, what Kim calls, sensitive I.T. hands, I have to wear gloves to seal the bottles, or otherwise I get blisters. I know, I am a wuss puss. I then invert the bottles to stir up the sugar and then store the finished bottles in a cool place that remains at about 22 degrees under the workbench.
The beer is ready to drink after 14 days, however the taste improves with ages. I keep my beer in storage for at least one month before sampling the first bottle of the batch. If the beer is still a bit “green”, I leave it for a further 2 weeks.
The finished product is delightful to drink in moderation and to share with Adam and my friends. Kim likes the low joule cider that I have made her, and sometimes has a shandy (beer and lemonade). Even Ben has helped me make a batch of non-alcoholic ginger beer. It only took us 4 hours in total as it doesn’t require primary fermentation. You just mix the concentrate in the barrel with water, add a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle and seal. The ginger beer is ready to drink in 3 weeks and is very refreshing and a nice alternative to beer on a hot day. Ben enjoys watching me pour an icy cold ginger beer to share with him. So do I!
Home brewing is a great hobby and it also saves me money. The first batch cost A$2.67 a bottle taking into account the price of the brewing kit, however each following batch only costs 40 cents a bottle. That is great value for the environment and for my wallet!
I will leave you with this little quote;
He was a wise man who invented beer.