Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Again, I express my amazement.

My homebrew refill kit arrived today, and I've just finished the actual work part of brewing. All I have to do no is leave it alone for three weeks to a month before bottling it and leaving it to condition.

Again, I have to express my amazement at the fact that brewing alcoholic beverages even exists.

Let me compare brewing to something I have a little bit of talent in, namely cooking.

You see, cooking is easy it's simply a matter of tasting something and deciding what will work well with it.

So you open the fridge and find, say, a few pieces of chicken. Well, chicken is easy. Chicken is to cooking what a blank canvas is to painting. So you think 'Hmmm, mushrooms go well with chicken!" So you open the cupboard and find a can of mushroom soup. You brown the chicken in a pan and cover it with the soup.

It tastes good but not great. Chicken and mushrooms are a little bland, so you add something a little salty. I know! Bacon! So you fry up some bacon and crumble it on top. Maybe a pinch of freshly ground black pepper as well. A pinch of garlic powder...and if you want to get fancy, maybe a light dash of oregano and a hint of basil.

My point is, you start with something edible, and keep improving it...and you know if you've gone wrong. In cooking I've never experienced getting halfway through a recipe, it looking and tasting like freshly burnt ass-hair, and thinking 'Ah, I'm getting this just right!"

If something you're cooking tastes bad, you may be able to rescue it, but it's because it's gone wrong.

Brewing isn't like that at all. It's not even drinkable until it's done. Considering the only way to go from 'smelly brown liquid' to 'crisp, refreshing beverage' is to put it in a sealed container in a dark, warm room for about a do you know if you've gone wrong?

The recipe I got today was for Caramel Apple Cider. Here's how it went.

After sterilizing everything, I got to work boiling some distilled water.

The first part of the recipe called for a teaspoon or pumpkin pie spice and two cups of light brown sugar. I added this to the water and smell was amazing. Even Sunny who was on her way to work stopped by the kitchen and said "Damn, it smells good in here! I want some PIE dammit!"

Considering the recipe described the actual drink as 'apple pie in a glass', I knew I was on the right track.

Next I had to add the can of cider mix and the 'Unhopped Malt Extract'.

(For the curious, hopped malt extract adds the flavor of hops to the beer as well as 'fermentables'...the complex sugars that get turned to alcohol by the yeast. An 'unhopped' malt extract adds those sugars, gives the brew a nice color, but doesn't really add any flavor. Long story short, it adds strength and color.)

This is where everything seemed to go wrong.

The cider mix wasn't too bad. Imagine leaving a bag of apples outside in hot weather for a week. Basically, it had a very sickly, cloying smell, but wasn't completely unpleasant. I put this in with the water, spice and brown sugar...and just like last time, it started to look a bit like pureed sewage.

Then I opened the UME. It looked bad, it smelled bad...think 'ass-flavored syrup' and you'll be close.

This went in along with a cup of plain granulated sugar, and what started out looking and smelling like pumpkin pie soup turned into a very thick, gloopy foul-smelling mess.

This is what I'm talking about. If I was just 'experimenting' with a new drink, at that point I'd have thought 'It's all gone wrong' and poured the noxious concoction down the sink. It looks wrong, it smells wrong...and if you could bring yourself to taste it you'd probably say it tastes wrong.

Instead, that's exactly what it's supposed to be like at this stage.

If my experience with Mr. Beer is as good as last time, in 5-6 weeks I'll have a delicious apple cider with a hint of caramel and spices.

All those yeast cells must be wearing red capes and have a big yellow 'S' on their chests.

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