On Brewing Beer

Posted by Tony on May 10, 2016

Tony is the Brewmaster behind Myriad Media’s ongoing beer series. Here, he shares his secrets to creating the perfect pint. 

1. Start with good. Good ingredients, good gear, and some good beer for inspiration.

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No matter what you are working on, it’s only going to be good as what you start with. Good doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve heard many people mention bad brewing experiences, and it usually comes down to a boxed brew kit where the ingredients are suspect. Even if not, they’ve probably been in the box for longer than they spent growing on a plant.

Good gear, too. It might cost a little more up front, but how often do you sit down with a cold, but nasty, beer and say, “Well, at least it was cheap.” Gear is something you learn to love or forget over time. Brew kits always have what most people would want, initially. However, the more you get into what you’re doing, the more in tune you will become with the process, what gear you really need, what gear just wastes space, and hopefully some bits of stuff no one ever said you would need but really seem to work for you.

2. Clean up your mess and keep it clean.

The guy who taught me how to brew said, “Everything in the world loves beer, and if you don’t control what gets into your beer, the wrong thing will move in.”

Like parents preach on a daily basis, and like the beer masters will tell you, clean your stuff and keep it clean. When I’m brewing, I feel like I’m in my own operating room. I start sterilizing everything the day before I brew, and have everything set in a very isolated space. Also, I usually look over everything to make sure I didn’t miss any “old beer” in some crevice in the stock pot or strainer. Make sure your buckets don’t have scratches (funky taste lives in scratches). If you’re bottling rather than brewing, the caps and bottles all need to be scrubbed and washed.

I scrub and rinse everything and check it all closely. Everything gets stacked and organized so it all fits in the storage spaces I’ve been allotted for my hobby. I also remember that I share the kitchen, and life is good when things are clean and orderly. Remember the old saying, “Behind every clean and well organized man is a woman with a heavy rolling pin.”

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3. Follow directions.

Seriously, directions are the base of any smooth operation. Order and times for everything, measurements and list of ingredients, reminders… all the things that someone spent a lot of time creating. Learn them, love them. Some people think of instructions as something that gets in the way, but good instructions allow you to follow a good practice and allow you the mental freedom to immerse yourself in what you’re doing. I’ve found my absolute favorite moments during the brew process: The way the malt extract folds into the boiling wort, the incredible aroma of when you first add the hops, the way when fermenting beer happily bubbles through the airlock like a fat baby taking a nice bath… and I noticed these moments, and even learned what they tell me about the beer, because I’m brewing with a set of instructions nearby. Focus, exploration, and fun come after learning and following directions.

4. Patience.

This is something an expert knows, and a novice is constantly frustrated by. Most of the beers I’ve brewed are ready in 5 weeks, but a couple have driven me crazy… weak taste and no carbonation. I’ve considered crazy work-arounds, fearing the thought of flushing 48 beers. Each time, the wise ones just frown and say, “Give it time.” My favorite IPAs are ready quickly, and you want to drink them before the sweet hoppiness fades. Malty or dark beers will take more time. They can be consumed close to the 5 week mark, but 7 or 8 is so much better. The more experience you have, the better you’ll get at being quick, but some things only work with time. It’s a lot of effort and money—why would you want to drink a beer before it’s ready?

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5. Don’t forget your friends!

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Of course, I share the beers worth sharing with friends, and I also make dog treats from the beer mash. Remember when I said everything loves beer? This goes doubly for dogs. My dog, Annie, follows me with her nose actually touching my leg the entire time I’m brewing. When I put the dog treats into the oven, she will sit by the oven for 6 hours or more. Annie a complete beer-mash junkie, but what the heck. Not like she has to pay the mortgage. Her happiest moments are when I cut up the treats and put them away. I do make a big mess, but never ever have to clean anything up.

Photo and dog treat recipe courtesy of 17 Apart.
Ingredients:

4 cups spent grain

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup natural peanut butter

2 organic eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, combine and mix each of the ingredients thoroughly until a thick dough forms. Roll out the dough on a generously floured surface and cut out shapes with cookie cutters, lining them up on baking sheets. No greasing was necessary for the baking sheets.

If you don’t have cookie cutters or want a more natural shape you can cut the dough with a knife, or use spoons to create drop cookies.Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then reduce temperature to 225 degrees and continue baking for 2 hours. Cooking them the additional time at the lower temperature will help ensure they dry completely, extending their shelf life. The dried cookies will keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container and even longer if you freeze them in zipper bags.