A toast to homemade brew

By By John Collins

By John Collins

The 28th annual Great American Beer Festival was held in Denver last weekend. The sold-out event centered around a competition among 495 commercial breweries from across the nation. This year, six were from Utah. A total of 3,362 different kinds of beer in 75 different categories were strictly judged according to their taste, aroma and appearance. Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to the winners, and 2,100 of these varieties were made available to the attending public.

As this festival highlights, making beer is as much an art form as it is a science. Recent legislation in the state of Utah gives individuals the right to explore this process legally. Last March, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed a bill allowing individuals to produce up to 100 gallons of beer or wine annually at home. Although the legal limitations of home brewing in Utah never did much to impede the sizable population that has always made its own beer, most home brewers still appreciate the logical changing of an out-of-touch law.

“The laws against home brewing were dated and almost impossible to enforce.” said Tyson Addy, a U graduate with a degree in geological engineering who has long made his own brew. “The days of prohibition are over and the new law reflects that Utah understands this.”

In 2006, Addy took a job at the Bingham Canyon Mine. Back then, he spent his Sunday afternoons the same way he spends them now: home brewing. But the hobby grew into a passion and despite a significant cut in pay, Addy found a new career at the Bohemian Brewery in Salt Lake City.

Learning the process

Last Sunday, Addy invited me over to his house to learn more about the brewing process. I was told we’d be making an American Pale Ale. We met in his backyard; the set up was surprisingly simple.

Three kegs with the tops cut out rested on top of an iron rack, which Addy welded himself. Under each keg, often referred to as tuns, a burner was routed to a single propane tank. One keg contained water that was in the process of being heated to the strike temperature: 130 degrees. Once that temperature is reached, it’s time to make the mash.

The mash is a combination of hot water and crushed grains, mostly malted barley with the addition of specialty grains for color. About 11 pounds of this grain was mixed with 3.5 gallons of hot water in the second tun. This tun is insulated to maintain heat for about 15 minutes.

This stage of the process is called the protein rest. If too much of the mash’s protein remains in the wort, the final product will appear hazy. Commercial breweries filter their beer for this reason. But filtration is less common in home brewing. After 15 minutes, 3.5 gallons from the hot water tank is added to bring up the temperature of the mash to 150 degrees and is held for about 30 minutes. At this point, Addy used the timer on his iPhone for maximum precision.

This stage of the process is known as starch conversion. Enzymes in the mash begin breaking down the starch, turning it into sugars.

Then the mash undergoes a process called sparging, where two gallons of the mixture are drained and poured back over the grains. The grain bed is rinsed to extract all sugars clinging to the barley husks.

Finally, we placed the rinsed mixture in the third tank and brought it to a boil. At this stage, hops were added at tiered intervals to infuse flavor and aroma. The bitterness of the wort is faded during this period, and the aroma of the beer begins to take hold. After about an hour and a half, the entire mixture is cooled to 70 degrees via a copper coil that runs through a garden hose. Once that is achieved, the remaining beer is poured into a six-gallon glass jug. Yeast is added, and the jug is sealed. A release valve in the cap allows carbon dioxide to escape throughout the process.

At that moment, and during the next eight to 15 days, fermentation begins turning the wort into the substance that billions of people enjoy all over the world. The production of beer in this country is dominated by a small group of major domestic breweries, but home brewing offers a creative alternative. For those who appreciate the product, learning the process on a small scale changes how we drink it. A beer ceases to become just good or bad, but rather a dynamic experiment with endless recipe options.

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