Family, Memoirs, Sports-Hobbies.

Home brewing: Yeast is your friend

-Oregon Scribbler,

Oregon Scribbler.


-Oregon Scribbler,

Oregon Scribbler.

After many years on home brew hiatus, my son Jon and I have begun brewing beer together, now that he has finished his arduous post-grad studies and has time for something other than work.  We have managed to brew two batches of beer so far, and a third is nearly finished conditioning.  We have made all of the mistakes one can make starting out, but thankfully all of the beers are drinkable. 

Part of the fun of brewing your own beer is the naming process. It may well be that the names are sometimes better than the beer; ideally, the name and the beer satisfy both the desire for a tasty drink and a silly label.

-Oregon Scribbler,

Oregon Scribbler.

To start our re-learning process, we deliberately chose beers that have more ingredients, knowing that the inevitable yeasty flavor of early efforts will be masked by stronger beer flavors.  My buddy Tim and I brewed some beer together maybe thirty years ago, and started with the same approach.  We used the most basic of equipment, carbonating the beer in their own bottles, using the old and now largely disappeared pop bottles because they wouldn’t explode like an ordinary beer bottle if we over-carbonated them, which of course we once did: Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of exploding beer bottles, or cleaning up the mess at three in the morning.  Today Jon and I keg the beer, like many other home brewers, in recycled five gallon soda pop kegs, and store it in a “kegerator,” a mini-fridge modified to tap two of these small beer kegs.

-Oregon Scribbler,

Oregon Scribbler.

It seems to run in the Wiebe family.  My brothers Craig and Peter have brewed hundreds of batches over the years, and my brother-in-law Scot has also brewed up a storm, sometimes together with me; I have sampled many of them; all were drinkable, some were quite good.  My nephew Jean-Michel has done some of his own brewing, and when he departed the U.S. to live in Switzerland, left Jon and I some of his equipment; Jean-Mi has impeccable taste, so Jon and I now have more refined pots and valves and measuring devices than we would have acquired ourselves.  All of them have been available to offer advice on the problems we have encountered in our starting efforts.

My own interest in home brewing started, in the early 1980’s, with the observation that it was relatively easy to grow yeast. As an undergrad, I worked for a time as a lab rat in a laboratory which was focused on research in molecular genetics. My job was to grow yeast, extract their nucleic acids, then finally to fractionate the nucleic acids to separate out the messenger RNA populations for study by actual scientists. I grew the yeast aerobically in very large Erlenmeyer flasks (6000 ml), using magnetic stirrers; the picture below shows a similar setup with a flask 6 times smaller. 

-Oregon Scribbler,

Oregon Scribbler.

To grow yeast requires only some simple carbohydrate nutrient and a container at room temperature. Yeast will produce ethyl alcohol as the end product of fermentation, breaking down sugar in the absence of oxygen, so to produce wine or beer requires one additional step: Sealing the container with a simple water trap to keep oxygen out and allow the carbon dioxide produced during yeast growth to escape. So simple that it is no wonder that wine and beer predate history!  To make good wine or beer, of course, is to refine that simple process to produce favored flavors; that part is not necessarily as easy. 

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