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13 Things 2009

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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

Search Brown



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

"That term 'the good old days,' makes little sense when applied to beer. America in these happy days is drinking some of the best beer in the world -- the best beer of any period since history began." -- Eloise Davison, Beer in the American Home

"HOT DAMN! It's ready."--Charlie Papazian, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing

I'm not supposed to be doing this. Figures on how long you should let your beer age in its bottle vary from 10 days (Papazian's estimate) to 3 weeks (what the instructions on my beer kit actually said). Today it's been exactly 8 days since Bottling Night--definitely way too early. But my project is already past deadline (don't blame me, blame CS 143) and it just wouldn't be right to leave everybody hanging like this, so I'll just go ahead and crack open a bottle.

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As you can see, the beer is now approaching transparency--if you recall, it was quite cloudy during the bottling; the fact that it has cleared up this much suggests that most of the yeast is now gone. In fact, it's visible in the form of a sediment on the bottom of the bottle. Papazian assures his readers that this sediment is not harmful (and quite rich in vitamin B) but definitely unpleasant to find in one's beer. At any rate, I wouldn't even be trying this in the first place if the beer were still opaque; this is a good sign. Maybe. My beer kit was supposed to make me a pilsner, and pilsner isn't supposed to be QUITE this clear. Ominous.

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That first bottle, the clear one, was not refrigerated--the bottle I chose to put in my refrigerator last night is one of the unmarked ones, as evidence that this is actually my beer. I just used one of the bottles that originally stored MGD in the first picture to better show off how clear the beer is. The one we'll actually be drinking from is the refrigerated one. Here goes nothing--time to crack this sucker open and give it a try.

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I'm taking Papazian's advice and pouring the beer into glasses, rather than drinking it straight from the bottle, in order to not disturb the pile of dead yeast at the bottom. Vitamin B or no vitamin B, it doesn't look appetizing. You will note that there is very little foam--I was pouring it quite gently, but still less foam appears than expected. Without further ado, a couple of my friends and I try the beer, only to find that it's quite bitter, and not up to our standards. I'm not that devastated--frankly, I'm still a little shocked that what I ended up with is, in point of fact, beer--but the question remains of what we're going to do with all of these bottles of homemade beer if we don't want to drink them. I have three theories that could possibly explain why it turned out the way it did:

1. Incomplete conditioning. Note that there was very little foam when I poured. The first thing I said on this page was that I was testing it way too early. The low foam level might possibly suggest that priming was not yet complete, despite the clarity of the beer. Possibly the taste might have been a little more well-rounded if we'd waited a full 3 weeks before opening it up. We've still got like 50 more bottles and an impending Winter Break over which to let them sit, so this theory can be tested quite easily.
2. Inappropriate filtration. Note that my beer is clearer than pilsner is supposed to be. Conundrum: The funnel I purchased at the homebrew store came with a filter attachment; I innocently assumed that I was supposed to use it, but what if I wasn't? What if the sediment that never made its way into the fermentation vessel thanks to the filter was actually supposed to be there, and its absence caused a comparatively higher hop level, which in turn caused a bitter taste? Unfortunately I can't really test this theory without starting all over.
3. Fermentation mishap. Papazian's book said that the first thing I should do during fermentation was attach a "fermentation hose" whose other end connected to a receptacle of some kind, and wait for "initial fermentation" to "recede" before attaching my fermentation lock. The lady at the homebrew store, when convincing me to buy that $17 bucket, told me that I'd need a fermentation vessel larger than 5 gallons because during fermentation the liquid would swell up. However, I later found out that my fermentation lock wouldn't fit into the opening on the bucket lid, and I didn't have any kind of attachment that would properly seal my plastic tubing to the glass vessel, so I decided that I'd just let it bubble over and clean up any mess. The next day, I observed the vessel to find sediment all over the top inside portion of it (I took a picture of this which you can see on the Brewing Beer page); the fermentation lock also had some brown stuff on the inside of it (also, some of its vodka needed to be replenished). Obviously, the predicted overflow had occurred; what if it took with it, or left stuck to the top of the vessel, a critical proportion of the malt or yeast?

I'm not entirely sure whether to call this project a success--I did succeed in making beer, but at this point it does not appear to be particularly GOOD beer. At least I have those three theories--if I decide to homebrew again (which I might; it was a lot of fun) I know what I should probably not do next time. Really, considering that I hadn't done this before and was operating with little actual guidance, this is probably the best I could have hoped for. Most importantly, I learned a lot about the brewer and the drinker's interactions with beer, and my thoughts on this magical substance will be quite different from here on out. Thanks for reading!

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