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So You're Thinking About Trying Homebrewing

By Steve Moore

You have taken your first step into a larger world. - Obi-Wan Kenobi Ok, you've developed an appreciation for fine beer thanks to the efforts of brew pubs and other purveyors of handcrafted ales and lagers. Now you're thinking about trying your own hand at beer making. But you have questions. Is it legal? Where do I get supplies? What do I buy? Is it dangerous? Is it difficult? Wherever shall I go? Whatever shall I do? Let me put your fears to rest.

Yes, it is legal. President James Earl Carter signed a bill into law such that every American or legal alien can make beer in his or her own home. Some states have laws that preempt the federal statute, but Texas is not among them.

The stuff is readily available. There are several homebrew supply stores in the Houston area. If you don't know where they are, look in the Yellow Pages under "Brewers Equipment and Supplies". All of them sell a good starter kit. Avoid gimmicky machines from department stores. They're overpriced and limited as far as what you can do with them. Beginner's equipment, a good book and ingredients for 5 gallons of beer will cost less that a hundred bucks. As far as reading material, the best beginner's book I've found is Homebrewing for Dummies by Marty Nachel.

Homebrewing is no more dangerous than-say cooking. Beer was the preferred beverage in the Middle Ages when water supplies were suspect. There are no known pathogens that will grow in beer. All those stories you've heard about people going blind had to do with making moonshine. Homebrewing is as easy as well cooking. Most novices start with a sort of "cake mix" approach. You mix a malt and hop syrup or powder (called hopped malt extract) with water in a big stock pot and boil it. Then you rehydrate a packet of dry brewer's yeast by adding it to a small glass of water. After your unfermented beer (called wort) has boiled for an hour, you cool it down by setting the pot in an ice-water bath. After the wort has cooled, you have to worry about sanitation. While no dangerous bugs can live in beer, some really bad tasting ones would love to move in. Everything that comes into contact with your beer-in-progress must be clean and sanitary. You will now siphon your wort into a vessel with an airlock attached. Siphoning is perhaps the trickiest operation. Don't practice on your neighbor's car. When you've gotten all your wort into the vessel (called a fermenter), you add the yeast and store in a cool dark place. Brewer's yeast eats sugar and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. I recommend paying extra for a glass fermenter, because they're easier to clean and watching beer ferment is often more entertaining than TV. After a week, you'll siphon your now fermented and alcoholic beer into a different vessel and add a measured amount of sugar. Then you siphon into bottles and cap them. The additional sugar will ferment in the sealed bottle producing natural carbonation. This is the hard part. You'll have to wait about 3 weeks for the beer to carbonate. Then open. Pour. Drink. You'll be amazed at the quality of the beer you can make with even the simplest of methods.

After you've mastered beginning beer making, you may choose to add some bells and whistles to your brewing process, such as adding fresh hops; using some crushed malt for flavor; and substituting a liquid yeast for the dry stuff. Some homebrewers choose to process the malt for their beer themselves rather than using a syrup or powder. This is called all-grain brewing. There are also a lot of gadgets you can make or buy to improve your beer. One of the nice things about homebrewing as a hobby is that you can get as deep into it as you want. So go ahead and take a stab at homebrewing. You'll be in good company. The ranks of homebrewers include Father of our Country George Washington (who was very fond of porter), writer and critic H. L. Mencken, humorist Dave Barry and supermodel Kathy Ireland.

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