Oregon Fermentation Festival

We went to the Oregon Fermentation Festival on Sauvie Island a few weeks ago and tasted everything from sauerkraut to salami, kombucha to kefir, cheese to chocolate (yes there is fermentation involved in making chocolate!).  We had already been trying out some simple fermentation, but after seeing all this cool stuff, we decided it was time to step it up…with beer!

This is the One-Gallon Brew Kit we bought from the Homebrew Exchange, and also pre-mixed ingredients for a porter. Supposedly it’s “Malty, yet refreshing. Dark, but not heavy” and includes: 2-row barley, Crystal-60L, Chocolate Malt, Northern Brewer hop pellets, and Munton’s Ale Yeast. The hop pellets and yeast were in separate packages.

Let the fun begin! Step 1: Mashing – After wrapping the grains loosely in cheesecloth, we let the whole thing steep in hot water (153-155°F) for 50 min. This step apparently “hydrates the barley, activates the malt enzymes, and converts the grain starches into fermentable sugars” and the kind we did was called “single infusion mash.”

Step 2: Sparging – We separated the sugars from the grains by pouring hot water (about 160°F, no more than 170°F or the tannins will come out too) over them. The resulting liquid is called “wort” (who came up with these terms!) At first we were reluctant to dump the liquid from the mash and wondered why it was even necessary to sparge. Found some pros/cons for sparging here.

Step 3: Boiling – We boiled the wort for 45 minutes, which kills of unwanted bacteria and also gets rid of off flavors and aromas.. This is also when we added in the hop pellets. It would be cool to try fresh hops some time. After boiling, we let the wort cool to a temperature that wouldn’t kill the yeast (65-75°F) by sticking the pot in cold water. It was supposed to be ice water, but we didn’t have ice.

Step 4: Sanitizing – While the wort was cooling, we sanitized the jug which would hold the wort during fermentation. We also sanitized any equipment that would touch the cooled wort. The kit came with some kind of bleach that apparently most home-brewers use, but we didn’t like the idea of drinking residual bleach…so we tried just boiling the jug for 10 minutes. Online sources seem to freak out at the idea of not using a chemical sanitizer, but given that people have been making beer and other fermented drinks for thousands of years without chemical sanitizers, I think we can try going without them. We were thinking of even trying some batches in the future without sanitizing.

Step 5: Fermentation – After transferring the cooled wort into the jug, we added yeast and secured the top with a rubber stopper attached to a blow-off tube. The end of the tube is placed in water so unwanted bacteria doesn’t get it in. The directions had said to top off to the 1 gallon mark with clean water, but we bypassed this step for a more flavorful batch out of laziness. Let it sit for a week.

Step 6: Siphoning – We transferred the beer to another container to separate the stuff we want from all the yeast at the bottom. We found a couple ways of getting a siphon going – the classic “suck” method, which might contaminate the tube with bacteria from your mouth, and also this method where you fill the tube with water. Make sure the other end is lower than where you are filling it, or submerge the whole tube.

Step 7: Adding priming sugar – We dissolved organic cane sugar in sterilized water and added the sugar water into the wort. The yeast can eat this priming sugar in the bottle, which carbonates the beer. The person from Homebrew Exchange gave us a tip to look up a priming sugar calculator online, which will tell you how much to add depending on how much you are brewing, the type of brew, and the type of sugar.

Step 8: Sanitizing bottles and caps – We used the same boil-for-10 minutes technique and I had decided to put the sanitized bottles neck down in some hot water hopefully to keep them clean… Some magic happened!

Step 8: Bottling – We bought a twin lever capper (about $20) and a pack of oxygen absorbing caps. This capper was surprisingly easy to use. We left 1-2 inches at the top for the extra carbon dioxide that will be released.

Step 9: Carbonate – The kit said to let the bottles sit for an additional 1-2 weeks. And then chill. Here’s one of the beers after a week and a half:

Thoughts on our first brew: It came out lighter than we expected for a porter, more a dark amber color. It also came out bitter, yeasty, and not very complex. I think this could be because we forgot to let it sit an additional 5 days before bottling to let the yeast settle. Also it seems like less fermentation time would lead to less complex flavors. But overall not completely undrinkable. I’d say not bad for a first try!