On some days, nothing hits the spot better than an ice-cold beer. While many individuals choose to purchase their alcoholic beverages from grocery or convenience stores, other prefer to take the old-fashioned route, and prepare it from scratch. Homebrewing, which is traditionally defined as the process by which beer, sake, wine, cider, perry, or mead is fermented for personal use, has recently increased dramatically in popularity. Individuals who are interested in participating in this process are often encouraged to investigate the rules and regulations regarding alcoholic manufacturing in the country in which they inhabit. In some locations, this process is illegal, and can result in severe fines and penalties.
History of Homebrewing
Homebrewing is considered by many to be an ancient pastime—in fact, some experts suggest that humans have been brewing alcoholic beverages for several thousand years. Homebrewing is believed to have started in ancient Mesopotamia, China, and Egypt. These brewers eventually shared their knowledge with individuals living in Greece and Rome. As the Roman and Greek empire grew, the consumption of alcoholic beverage spread around the world.
By the mid-18th century, the invention of hydrometers and thermometers led to the mass-production of brewed beverages. Scientific discoveries regarding yeast fermentation allowed brewers to produce beverages with specific traits, such as higher alcohol contents or differences in flavor. Despite its popularity, in 1920, the consumption or manufacture of alcoholic beverages was deemed illegal, and many professional breweries, distilleries, and vineyards were shut down—resulting in more and more people once again turning to homebrewing as a means in which to obtain alcohol. To meet legal requirements, homebrewers were obligated to keep the alcohol content of beer below 0.5%, with regulations regarding cider and wine production being somewhat more lenient. In 1978, Congress passed a bill lifting federal limits on the home production of beer in wine. In some states, however, local governing agencies still require small fees for the production of these beverages.
Beer is considered by many to be the most popular of all home-brewed beverages. Traditionally, it is made from water, malt, hops, and yeast, though the addition of other specific ingredients can result in a significant change in flavor. Cider has recently increased in popularity as an alcoholic beverage, and is formed through the fermentation of apple juice. Some cider manufacturers choose to add yeast to the apple juice to ensure satisfactory results—however, most professionals agree that this step is not necessary, as most apples contain adequate amounts of natural yeast to begin fermentation.
Wine is another popular alcoholic beverage that is made through the fermentation of grapes. Depending on the type of grape used, wine can vary dramatically in flavor and appearance. Kilju, made from sugar, water, and yeast, and mead, made from honey and water, are other alcoholic beverages enjoyed by people around the world. In some cases, additional ingredients may be used, depending on region or cultural preferences.
To produce these beverages, the use of a homebrewing kit is required. Most homebrewing kits can be purchased at home goods or culinary stores, or through online retailers. Individuals who are new to homebrewing are often encouraged to start with pre-hopped malt extract kits, which contain boiled malt extract, with hops included. Those with more experience in the brewing process may prefer malt extract kits, which include concentrated malt extract and malted grain. These kits require brewers to complete full boils, with hops being added at a pre-determined time.
Finally, all-grain kits are usually recommended only for individuals who have extensive experience in the brewing process. These kits include milled, malted grain, hops, and yeast. In this process, brewers must mash the malted grain to release the yeast and sugar required to initiate fermentation. In addition, as with the malt extract products, all-grain kits require brewers to complete full boils at a pre-determined time to ensure satisfactory results.
In most cases, the production of a high-quality alcoholic beverage requires a great deal of time, devotion, and equipment. Brewing begins when the above-mentioned ingredients are placed in a large, sealable glass or plastic bucket that contains a fermentation lock. This lock is specifically designed to allow carbon dioxide to release from the container, while limiting the addition of other gases or chemicals. During this process, the beverage must be kept at a stable temperature traditionally ranging from 64 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
After a period of time, large amounts of sediment containing protein, fat, and inactive yeast will develop on the bottom of the bucket. When this sediment is identified, the liquid is traditionally removed, strained, and placed in a second container to further enhance flavor and quality. Compressed carbon dioxide is then added to liquid to produce carbonation, and the liquid is bottled, capped, and stored for later use. Depending on the type of kit used, homebrews may last from a week or two to several months.