LIANE HANSEN, Host:
Tuesday is St. Patrick's Day, when Irish bars all across the land will be overflowing with people who may or may not be Irish. And chances are they'll party with a hearty pint of brew. For years, NPR's Rob Sachs has joined in the celebration, but this time around he's staying home to enjoy the beer he made at home.
ROB SACHS: One of the perks of working at NPR is that when you want to learn a new hobby, you have a reason to call up the world's leading expert on that subject. In homebrewing, that title belongs to Charlie Papazian. He is the president and founder of the American Homebrewers Association, the author of "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing: A Homebrewers Bible" and Papazian has also coined the unofficial slogan for all homebrewers.
CHARLIE PAPAZIAN: My mantra is, you know, relax, don't worry, have a home brew.
SACHS: Makes sense. By this I guess he means, hey, don't worry. You're making beer, have fun. Papazian told me that homebrewing need not be a daunting task.
PAPAZIAN: It's as easy as opening a can of ingredients, putting it in water and boiling water.
SACHS: This got me interested. Was it really that simple? As Papazian pointed out, beer consists of only four ingredients: yeast, malted grains, hops and water. My friend James Warner began homebrewing just last June. But when I met up with him, he was unpacking new equipment for all-grain brewing his sister had bought for him for his birthday.
JAMES WARNER: That enables me to, in her words, take it to the next level.
SACHS: On the floor were hoses and buckets and things with fancy names like...
WARNER: A mash ton and a wort chiller.
SACHS: When I asked James to walk me through the process of homebrewing, he, too, gave me an explanation that took it to the next level.
WARNER: There's something called a protein rest.
SACHS: And there was something called...
WARNER: Brewhouse efficiency.
SACHS: James even knows the name of the German beer purity law.
WARNER: The Reinheitsgebot.
SACHS: Okay. So, he went off on some tangents, but he also gave me some really useful advice about some mistakes you can make. Like, how when adding malt extract, you need to...
WARNER: Take it off the heat or else it'll burn to the bottom of the pan.
SACHS: Wow. It's really important that before you add your yeast after the boil...
WARNER: You have to get it to below 80 degrees, or you'll kill your yeast.
SACHS: Perhaps the best piece of advice James gave me was to not over-carbonate your beer before bottling, since this leads to exploding bottles.
WARNER: You find, like, a bottle cap attached to a bit of bottle in one corner of your brew closet and then shards over here and it's like...
SACHS: After hearing James explain all this, I decided I need to see this in person. So I went up the road to meet up with Hugh Blodgett(ph), another homebrewer in the area, who quickly got me to work grinding away grains for a California ale he was making.
HUGH BLODGETT: (Unintelligible) squeak, too, doesn't it?
SACHS: After the grinding, we dumped the grains into a big tub of water for the mashing process, which converts the grains to sugar.
BLODGETT: You're actually trying to float the grain. That's why you add the grain last.
SACHS: We then transfer the liquid, now called wort, into a kettle to start boiling. Next came the hops.
BLODGETT: Casually just dump it in there and let it do its magic.
SACHS: Hugh adds them in at specific intervals during the boil to yield different bitter and aromatic flavors. But, of course, hops aren't the only thing you can throw into beer, as Hugh pointed out to me.
BLODGETT: I have sweet orange peel, and I have bitter orange peel, coriander seed. I have some cardamom.
SACHS: In fact, throwing in wacky ingredients is part of the fun of making beer at home, says Charlie Papazian.
PAPAZIAN: I think I may be one of the original Mr. Crazies when it comes to homebrewing.
SACHS: It was in the early '70s that Papazian started experimenting by adding in fruit, honey and spices. It seems like you can pretty much add anything into the pot. Well, not quite anything.
PAPAZIAN: One beer that I can recall is a garlic beer. It just didn't make it.
SACHS: The next few steps involve cooling down the liquid, dumping it into a fermenter and adding in the yeast. Fast forward ten days later, Hugh called me up to let me know his beer was bottle ready. So I hopped back over to his place and caught up with him while he was sanitizing the bottles in the sink.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOILING)
SACHS: In less than a week, the beer will be ready to pop, drink and enjoy. But this got me thinking, it took two-and-a-half weeks to make 45 beers, which bottle for bottle, didn't cost that much less than what you pay for at the store. So, was it worth it? Hugh says definitely. First of all, the beer tastes better since it's fresher, and you get the satisfaction of knowing that you created that unique flavor. But he also explained to me that enjoying a home brew goes way beyond just the taste alone.
BLODGETT: You know, I worked in an office. I produced computer files, like, that's all I ever produced. So, I like to come home and make something out of stuff. It's more satisfying.
SACHS: Rob Sachs, NPR News, Washington.
HANSEN: To follow Rob's homebrewing adventures, check out the Monkey See blog at NPR or download his podcast called "What Would Rob Do?"
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