Last night, I had a brewing emergency. Such a thing, I discovered, is possible.
It actually all started on Saturday. I had gone to the brew store that morning and picked the ingredients for an Oatmeal Stout. I carefully selected a British Ale yeast in a smack pack. A smack pack is a foil pouch that contains a medium and inside that pouch another smaller pouch that contains the yeast. You press down on the pouch to pop the inner pouch and allow the yeast to mix with the medium and grow. I did this before I left the brew store.
I then went home and began to brew. However, the smack pack never swelled up indicating that the yeast was live. I left it until Sunday afternoon, when I returned to the brew store and picked up a package of dry yeast. I went home, added the dry yeast to some sugar water until it started to bubble, and added it to my Oatmeal Stout mixture. All was well, or so I thought.
Last night, I returned home after a nice large sushi meal with some friends. It was the kind of meal that is so filling that all you want to do is lie on the couch clutch your stomach and moan as your brain is sucked through your eyes by the television.
I walked in and spotted a gold tube on the kitchen counter. Confused as to what it might be, I wandered into the kitchen and took a look. It was the smack pack, swollen to almost exploding. It was here that the crisis dawned on me. I could puncture the smack pack and throw it out before it exploded, or quickly brew something else. I dashedly ran around the kitchen looking for ingredients.
My search turned up two 3.3 pound foil packages of amber malt extract, two 2 pound bottles of honey, and two ounces of Fuggles hops. This was rather fortuitous, and I quickly set about a quick brewing experiment.
You see, I had had the malt extract for some time, as I had found a recipe for a camomile ale which, if one stood on one leg and squinted just right, might be documentable to the 15th or 16th century. Or possibly earlier. I was intrigued by brewing a recipe whose origins could be traced that far back and so I had started to gather ingredients. But my heart was never in it for, although they had camomile and other similar beer types, the idea of drinking such a thing did not entice me nearly as much as the idea of brewing it. And, they had other brews back then, such as chicken beer, that clearly should not be recreated. So, although I had some ingredients, my motivation had waned.
I was unprepared, so I was forced to use unfiltered water straight from the tap. I measured roughly a gallon of water into my brew pot, added the honey and malt to get my wort and let it start to boil. For a brewer, this is always an interesting time. When the wort just starts to boil, it foams up. The brewer must then remove the wort from the heat until it subsides and return it to the heat. The wort will usually foam up again, and so this process is repeated until the wort boils without foaming. This game of heat and cool is known as the foam break.
Waiting for the foam break is an anxious time for a brewer. If you do not catch it quickly, the wort will foam over and leave a sticky mess on your stove which you will need to clean off with a putty knife. So, you need to watch the pot very carefully. This of course is in dead conflict with the ancient knowledge that a watched pot never boils. So, the brewer spends his time trying to avoid letting the pot know it is being watched, while at the same time watching it very closely.
Personally, during this time, I tend to do a bunch of things. I go and stare at the dogs for a few minutes not daring to touch them as if I do the moment I get dog dander on my hands the wort will foam. I will watch the fish, trying to catch a reflection of the pot in the aquarium. I will walk circles around the kitchen. Never overtly watching the pot but never quite turning away either.
Finally, the heat break occurred. I considered my ingredients so far and decided that this was going to be an awfully sweet beer. It needed to be offset by some bittering. So, I added an ounce of Fuggles hops pellets to the boil.
I could now settle down to some other tasks. My primary fermenter was filled with the aforementioned Oatmeal Stout, so I would have to put the wort directly into a glass carboy. This needed to be cleaned and prepped as did the siphoning hose, fermentation lock, and other sundry pieces.
Now, when I brew, I tend to get all of the pieces out, clean them, and let them soak in a Beer Brite cleaning solution until I am ready to use them. Of course, since I was rushing about, everything was not in one place, so I sprinted about the house getting all of my necessary pieces and parts together and cleaning them.
Five minutes before the boil ended, I added a half ounce of Fuggles hops and a teaspoon of Irish Moss. Irish Moss is not actually moss, but a type of seaweed that has natural clarifying properties. I let the boil end, and then I siphoned the worth into a carboy that I had pre-filled with about four gallons of cold water and the last half ounce of Fuggles I had for aroma.
I than added the yeast, careful not to let the package explode all over the kitchen, and left the beer to ferment in a dark cool room.
Sometime this summer, I will be able to serve Nikulai’s Emergency Honey Ale.
Todayâ€™s Historical Tidbit:
On June 24, 1509 Henry VIII was crowned king of England.