I have an exam coming up on everything anyone ever wanted to know about beer, yet when I tell people this I often receive a laugh and an eye roll. While I agree that studying for a beer exam outweighs studying for a biochem exam any day, with over 400 slides on the history of beer, its various styles and the brewing process to review, along with in-depth tasting notes on the twenty five different beers we tasted in class, it isn’t as simple as it may seem.
With the exam date quickly approaching my classmates and I took our heads out of our study materials for a night in an attempt to make the studying process more interactive. Going to a local bar to sip beers while we quizzed each other could have been an option but instead we gathered together to brew our own batch of beer. With the help of one of our friends and UNISG undergraduate Sebastian, we learned what it takes to create our own homebrew. Sebastian is an avid homebrewer and was eager to share his knowledge.
We first started with the mash. Mash is the liquid that is obtained when the crushed grains that are used for beer (typically barley though wheat and other grains can be used) are soaked in hot water to release the sugars in the grains that are necesarray for fermentation. While mashing can be done at home, it requires a bit more time and equipment, so for our first batch we opted for a malt extract that Sebastian purchased in the neighboring region of Emilia-Romagna. The malt extract was diluted with water and heated on the stove with our choice of hops, the flowers of the hop plant that are used to impart bitter and aromatic characteristics to the beer. We chose a mixture of the Cascade variety from the U.S. and the Northern Brewer variety from England. Once the mixture came just to a boil we strained the hot liquid of the hops and poured it into a 23 liter plastic carboy. An additional three grams of hops were added to the carboy for flavor and aroma enhancement and good quality bottled water was poured into the carboy to further dilute the mash and lower its temperature. Once the temperature reached 20 degrees Celsius, yeast and sugar were added and the carboy was sealed with a stopper and fermentation lock.
Fermentation began the next day and take about five to six days. Once completed, the beer rests for a couple of days before bottling. A small amount of sugar is then added to each bottle and the bottles are sealed for another month to allow conditioning to occur. During conditioning flavor is refined and carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottles, giving the beer its natural carbonation.
Now it is only a matter of time. We toasted to the prospect of our class brew with craft beers and beer-friendly bites. In a month we will gather together again to taste the end result and see if all our studying paid off.