Making Beer in Plain Language

“The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.”
-Guggenheim Fellowship-winning professor of rhetoric and comparative literature Judith Butler via the Bad Writing Contest

Huh? At least the terminology surrounding beer making ain’t that obtuse, but it certainly could use some simplification. For novice home brewers, such as us here at Homegrown Evolution, the terminology creates an unnecessary barrier as impenetrable as a graduate school seminar in the humanities. Let’s see, there’s a mash, a mash tun, a wort, some sparging, malting, all the while specific gravities are measured and hopsing schedules followed. We’ve made beer using kits from a home brew shop and found the process relatively simple, but the thought of making an all grain batch (extracting our own fermentable sugars from the grain rather than using the extracted syrup in a kit) seemed intimidating. Thankfully comrades Ben, Scott and Eddie showed us how to do an all grain batch a few weeks ago. Here, in plain language and crappy pictures is how it works. To the possible horror of beer aficionados, we’ll substitute plain English in the interest of encouraging more folks to try this:

1. Slightly sprouted and roasted grains from a home brew shop (they’ve been sprouted and roasted for you) are soaked in hot water.

2. Music, courtesy of Triple Chicken Foot, kills some time while the grain steeps.

3. After soaking, the liquid is drained off and more hot water is added. The liquid pouring into the pot on the ground contains sugar from the grains.

4. The extracted sugars are boiled with some hops for an hour.

5. After boiling for an hour you cool down the liquid as rapidly as possible. Here comrade Ben uses ice and a coil of copper tubing with water from a garden hose flowing through it, to bring that temperature down.

6. The cooled liquid is poured into a glass carboy and yeast is added. After a week or so this will be transferred with a tube into a second carboy. After about two to three weeks of fermentation some additional sugar is added (for carbonation) and the beer is bottled. After bottling I’ve discovered that it’s best to wait for at least three weeks, to let the carbonation happen and the flavors mellow, before sitting down with a post-structuralist theory tome and popping open a cool one.

From the pictures you can see that brewing from scratch like this takes some special equipment. You can build these items yourself, or you can skip the equipment and brew with an extract kit from your local home brew shop with little more than a large pot and a carboy. Remember that if prisoners can make wine behind bars (recipe for prison “Pruno” here), we all can certainly make an acceptable beer in our kitchens.

For detailed info on how to brew beer and make your own brewing equipment see John Palmer’s free ebook How to Brew.

Pickled!

Picklefest 2008 was, no other way to put it, pickletastic. Thanks to Mark Frauenfelder for coming up with the idea, DJ Pickle for spinning the tunes, and the folks at Machine Project for hosting! We’re looking forward to Picklefest 2009.

To those who attended we wish you the best of luck with the pickle projects you took home. We forgot to tell you all not to be afraid of your pickles! We’re all a few generations away from the kind of lacto-fermented or brined pickles that we made yesterday. When we first tried doing this a few years ago we were afraid to eat the results. In fact, we should all be afraid not to eat lacto-fermented foods, as they provide beneficial microorganisms essential for our health. Lacto-fermentation does not lend itself to our industrialized food system, with its emphasis on cheap, shippable commodities, which is why these traditional types of pickles are rare outside of expensive health food stores.

For those of you who couldn’t make it or those of you who’d like to try some other fermentation projects, we strongly recommend picking up a copy of Sandor Ellix Katz’s book Wild Fermentation.

Picklefest 2008 at Machine Project, Los Angeles, Saturday September 20, 2008

In collaboration with Mark Frauenfelder of Dinosaurs and Robots and the fine folks at Machine Project, we’re proud to be a part of Picklefest 2008. We’ll be demonstrating how to lacto-ferment everything from cabbage to radishes. Come on down with your produce and jars at 1 p.m. More info here. And here’s some directions on how to lacto-ferment foods.

Moldy Grapes!

We had a nice conversation with BoingBoing blogger and Make Magazine editor Mark Frauenfelder about how important mistakes are in the DIY life, so here’s two more recent blunders for ya’ll, courtesy of Mrs. Homegrown Evolution.

Recent failure #1: Inedible Pickled Grape Leaves

We have grape leaves. Lots of them. Our two table grape vines are a little hesitant to really bust out, but our native grape (Vitus californica) has taken over the entire south facing wall of our garden, and is threatening the neighbor’s house. The chickens like grape leaves, fortunately, so I have something to do with the prunings, but I wanted to do more.

I’m a big fan of dolmas, so thought I’d try to pickle some grape leaves. Skimming the internet for recipes, I saw, as usual, many contradictions [Mr. Homegrown's editorial note here--first mistake--internet recipes are notoriously unreliable. I know this because I've promulgated bad recipes myself!]. I found a recipe attributed to Sally Fallon which called for no pre-cooking at all, just pickling in whey and salt. I saw others that recommended pressure canning and I don’t have a pressure canner.

What I ended up doing was blanching the grape leaves before I pickled them, hoping that would soften them up some, but not so much that they would disintegrate when rolled. I was sure to only pick the youngest, freshest leaves.

I should have done a small test batch, but went nuts and filled a half-gallon jar with many rolled up bundles of leaves, and covered it in a brine and whey pickling solution. A week later I tasted the leaves. They looked right, they tasted right, but no matter how much I chewed, the leaves didn’t break down. I ended up with a mouthful of cud.

Now the question is whether wild grape leaves simply aren’t edible, or if I should try it again, and this time boil the beejeezus out them. I think I’ll do a beejeezus test run, and report back.

Has anyone out there done this successfully?

A second level of grape leaf failure:

While fermenting, a mold developed at the top of the jar, because a couple of the rolls crested the surface of the brine. One way to keep veggies below the brine is to weight them down somehow. In this case, I had a baggy full of salt water (salt water so that if it leaked, it wouldn’t dilute the brine) sitting at the top of the jar. But I didn’t pay attention to the jar during the fermentation, and a couple of the rolls popped up at the sides and mold set in––a kind of fluffy, spider-webby black mold that crept from the exposed bundles up the sides of the jar.

The lesson to be learned here is to pay some minimal amount of attention to your pickles while they’re fermenting. But notice, the mold didn’t keep me off trying the leaves. I just extracted the bad bundles, cleaned the sides of the jar, and sampled leaves that were not touched by mold.

By the way, I don’t always weight down my pickling veggies. For quick ferments, like the daikon radish pickles which I make all the time, I just turn the jar on end every day, sometimes more than once a day, for the 5 days or so it takes to pickle. I just leave them out where I can see them so I don’t forget to turn them. After they go in the fridge, mold doesn’t seem to be a problem. But for a longer ferment, like sauerkraut, you really do have to keep the food below the brine with weight.

Recent Failure #2: Moldy Chamomile Tea

We had a bumper crop of chamomile this year, due to generous volunteerism on its part. Several large plants sprung up in unlikely spots and thrived with no help at all. I harvested lots of the flowers so I could have chamomile tea in the cupboard until next spring.

The mistake I made in this case was not drying the flowers enough before I transferred them to a jar. I thought they were dry, but they weren’t, and they went off in storage. I noticed the flowers looked a little strangely colored, and one whiff in the jar told me all I needed to know. Mold had set in. A jar of chamomile should smell like heaven.

This was another pantry disappointment, similar to, but not nearly as devastating, or disgusting, as the loss of our sun-dried tomatoes to pantry moths.

Like the moldy grape leaves, this was really a matter of not paying attention. Mold in general is a certain sign of not paying attention. I am also guilty of rushing. Certainly, you don’t want to leave your drying herbs out for so long that they lose flavor. Storage in glass, in the dark, is essential for protecting those volatile oils, but the herbs really have to be crumbly dry before they go in jars.

By the way, the secret to a good chamomile harvest is constant picking. Don’t be afraid to pick the flowers. The more you pick, the faster it will make more flowers. Like, overnight. I swear. Just pinch the heads off. And you use the whole flower, dry or fresh, to make tea. If a little stem gets in there too, it’s not going to hurt anything.

Mead!

While we’ve tasted the Ethopian honey wine known as Tej, we’ve never had mead, so we decided to cook up a batch. It’s way too early to tell if we have a tasty beverage or a gallon of home brewed Listerine–it will be many months before the stuff is drinkable. But we thought we’d note how we made it, based on a recipe in Ken Schramm’s book The Compleat Meadmaker.

We downsized the recipe from five gallons to one gallon, figuring that we’ll experiment with a few different small batches rather than taking a chance on one big batch. Here’s how we did it after first sanitizing everything with Idophor sanitizer:

1. Boil 1/5th of a gallon of water (we used bottled water since our tap water is a bit on the heavy side).

2. Add one teaspoon of Fermax (this is a yeast nutrient available at home brew shops).

3. Take the water off the heat and add 3 pounds of honey (we used orange blossom honey) to make what is called the “must”.

4. Add 3/5ths of a gallon of refrigerated water to cool the must.

5. Pitch in the yeast once the must has cooled below 80º F. We used a wine yeast called Lalvin 71B-1122 which we also picked up at our local home brew shop. We rehydrated the yeast according to the directions on the package, letting it sit for 15 minutes before we tossed it in the must.

6. We put the must in a used one gallon apple cider bottle and fitted it with a fermentation lock.

Mr. Doug Harvey gifted us with an old hydrometer (used to measure the density of a liquid) which we used to take a reading of 15% on our finished must. When fermentation is complete we’ll take another reading. The difference between the two readings will be the percentage of alcohol in our mead.

A big disclaimer here. We don’t know how well this recipe works, but we’ll let you all know. In the meantime, for those dying to get started, the National Honey Board has some free mead making instructions here (pdf).

Lastly, in our search for mead information, we kept coming across ads for chain mail and peasant pants, and figured out that for some reason mead seems to be unfairly associated with Renaissance fairs. This gives us an excuse to conclude this post with an image from the Texas Renaissance fair:

It’s always been fun to stick it to the Man

The folks from Dough on the Go! were over the other night and reached into a box of slides we found years ago at a thrift store and never looked at. That box turned up these images showing a previous generation enjoying the “water of life” coming out of what appears to be two different home built stills. Homegrown Revolution applauds the DIY spirit (so to speak) and these images seem an appropriate way to begin the dreaded holiday season.

For info on how to build your own still read our earlier post, or check out our esoteric notions on distillation at Reality Sandwich.



Moonshine

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0074685. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society

Homegrown Revolution will neither confirm nor deny that we have any plans involving the production of moonshine. Nevertheless, we were thrilled to find a new book in the library by Matthew B. Rowley called Moonshine! that offers up an entertaining history as well as recipes and instructions for building two kinds of stills, a simple one made with a wok and a more complex model involving welding that resembles the one being seized in the photo above.

As soon as things cool down here this fall we’ll definitely begin some legal fermentation experiments, but we can’t help but feel envious of some comrades of ours in France we visited a few years ago who recounted how their families used to ferment the excess fruit in the yard and take it to a licenced farmer to distill into the French version of moonshine, eau de vie. Here in the states it’s illegal to distill anything yourself but perfectly o.k., as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal points out, for agricultural corporation, Archer-Daniels-Midland to distill pure ethyl alcohol, sell it to corporate vodka producers as “product code 020001″, ship it “Bulk, Truck, Bulk Rail, or Tank” and as Journal reporter Eric Felten concluded, “Cut it with water — preferably from a source that will lend itself to a pretty picture on the label — bottle it, and you’re in the vodka business.”

As it turns out there is an art to good homemade moonshine — a far cry from the soulless mouthwash Archer-Daniels-Midlands turns out. Here’s some excerpts from an interview of ex-moonshiner John Bowman conducted by the Coal River Folklife Project from “Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia”:

Making whisky at night (mp3)

Telling the difference between good moonshine and bad (mp3)

Good water for moonshine (mp3 with rooster!)

Signalling the presence of the federal man (mp3)

More of this interview here.

How to Make Amazake

Who needs to bust open a bottle of hen dog when you can chill with a nice cup of moldy rice, or to be more precise, a cup of amazake. Amazake, an ancient Japanese beverage, is made by the bizarre process of introducing a fungus, Aspergillus oryzae to a batch of cooked rice. The fungus breaks down carbohydrates into simple unrefined sugars yielding a sweet and pleasant beverage that we’re proud to say we made ourselves here at the Homegrown Revolution compound earlier this week.

You can find amazake in the isles of upscale health food stores thanks to the same generation of hippies who brought tofu to the flyover states back in the 1960s. Or you can make it yourself and save some dead presidents. Here’s how:

1. Get your Aspergillus orzae in the form of inoculated rice grains called koji. We found our koji in the refrigeration cabinet of our local Japanese supermarket. Koji can also be found at some health food stores or you can mail order it from G.E.M cultures. We used a brand called Cold Mountain.

2. Bring 1 cup of white or brown rice to a boil in 2 cups of water. Turn down the heat and simmer for 50 minutes. We used sweet rice, but any kind of rice and if fact almost any grain will work.

3. Cool the rice down to 140º F (60º C). Mix in 2 cups of koji and put it in a sterilized wide-mouth jar.

4. At this point you need to incubate the concoction for 10 to 14 hours at 131º – 140º F (55º C – 60º C). We accomplished the incubation by placing the jar in a small cooler filled with water heated to 140º. Every few hours we checked the temperature and added a little more hot water as needed.

5. After 10 hours check for sweetness. If it’s not sweet enough continue the incubation process for a few more hours.

6. Once you’ve reached the desired level of sweetness you must stop the fermentation process by boiling the mixture, otherwise you’re heading down the road to making sake, something we plan on attempting in the fall. Taking a tip from the guru of fermentation Sandor Ellix Katz, we first boiled two cups of water and added the amazake to it to prevent burning. Mix well and as soon as the amazake begins to boil remove from the heat and refrigerate. You can eat it as a porridge or cut it with some more water to enjoy as a beverage. You can also add flavorings such as chocolate, almonds or espresso.

Aspergillus orzae is also used to produce soy sauce and miso, though miso making, according to the Cold Mountain pamphlet that came with our koji, will take you between 18 to 24 months. For now we’ll enjoy our amazake.

Mandrake!


Homegrown Revolution chanced upon an amazing book at the library, Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers that has inspired ambitious plans of a fall and winter season of beer making (things are too little too hot around right now for fermentation). What separates Buhner’s book from both the geeked-out world of middle-aged home brew aficionados on the one side and the Budweiser frogs on the down-market other is his emphasis on the ancient and sacred elements of beer making which used to be, he claims, the duty of women, not men.

His chapter, “Psychotropic and Highly Inebriating Beers” contains a number of recipes, including one making use of the mysterious mandrake plant, a member of the nightshade family and popularized lately in a certain series of books about a wizard school (Homegrown Revolution suffered through the first film based on these kid’s books on a transatlantic flight a few years ago, finally falling asleep during an endless video game inspired broom chase scene).

Apparently wherever it appears in the world, mandrake (Atropa mandragora) has always inspired unusual beliefs. Buhner says,

Though all indigenous cultures know that plants can speak with humankind, mandrake is almost the only plant from indigenous European practice about which this belief is still extant. Throughout its Christian European history, it has been believed that when mandrake was harvested, the root would scream, and that the sound would drive the harvester mad.

The roots are said to resemble a human with the top of the plant representing the head as in the illustration above. The plant belongs to the nightshade family and has been used over time, as a purgative, an aphrodisiac, treatment for rheumatism, a means to expel demons among countless other purposes. Pliny used it as an anesthetic, and Buhner offers a beer recipe using a 1/2 once of the dried root. Seeds for mandrake, an endangered plant in many places, are available from Horizon Herbs, a company trying to revive cultivation of the plant.

This summer season we’re surrounded by nightshade plants, tomatoes, ground cherries and eggplant. These common nightshade family members, as well as mandrake and the datura that the local Native Americans used for there spirit journeys, have a strange relationship to human culture, at once edible, sometimes poisonous, sometimes psychotropic. We think we can almost hear them talk.