The one thing I’ve always wanted to do since we’ve hit the road is to make some home brew…nomadic style. When people hear we are on a nationwide brewery tour they always ask if I brew on the road. I used to give excuses why I don’t, such as we don’t have room for the equipment and it’s too hard to control the temperature not to mention the constant vibration from driving.
I finally realized these were merely mental road blocks and I looked at it as a challenge to figure how I could make this happen. I mean I’m a relatively resourceful individual with a background in creative problem solving and at it’s core this was a design challenge. How could I make my own brew on the road given the spacial and environmental constraints of our mobile lifestyle? This meant trying to minimize cost and using as much existing equipment as possible.
I knew a traditional 5 gallon batch was way too big for our modest stove top so I looked into small batch brewing (What’s smaller than nano?). I figured I could handle something 3 gallons or less but even a three gallon batch would require a new pot or two, which would violate my goals of minimal start-up cost and minimal space requirements. This was certainly more complicated than I had anticipated. When I had home brewed back in our stationary days I had a brew buddy with all the equipment. All I had to do was show up, clean, boil, and drink beers.
I had a break through while doing research for our holiday gift guide when I found Brooklyn Brew Shop’s one gallon beer making kits. Not only did it have the small batch size I required but also came with the basic equipment I would need for this endeavor (carboy, thermometer, airlock, racking cane, siphon tube, tube lock, sanitizer, not to mention the ingredients) It was an all inclusive start up kit. Luckily, the good folks at Brooklyn Brew Shop supported my road brewing quest and sent a kit to get me started. My first road brew was going to be one gallon of Coffee & Donut stout.
I planned to have the brew day during our extended stay in Florida so that I wouldn’t have to worry too much about vibration and extreme temperature changes during the initial fermentation. The small batch size meant that I the mash and boil would be more managable, but we have had trouble in past trying to boil large amounts of water so I still wasn’t certain this would work. A couple test boils eased my mind and other than gathering some additional ingredients I was set to brew.
The day had finally arrived. I wanted to do the brewing on a weekend so there would be fewer distractions. I woke up a little early to clean up the kitchen and clear space on the table that would act as my staging area. After sanitizing the equipment with the included sanitizing solution I was ready to go and fired up the range.
Although I had brewed before this was actually going to be the first time I would attempt to do an all grain batch. I liked this aspect of the brew kit as it gives a true sense of the brewing process. After getting the water up to temperature I dumped in the grain, gave it good stirring and played the waiting game (a game best played with a beer in hand). During the next 60 minutes I found that keeping the mash a consistent temp was quite a challenge. I was constantly fiddling with the burner and even turned it off a couple of times to let the temp drop when it got too high. So much for questioning the heating capabilities of our burners.
Since I had previously used extracts when brewing I have never had to sparge before. This was tricky only in that I did not own the recommended “fine mesh strainer”. I had a couple ideas before the brew of how to do this but when I saw how much grain there was I settled on using a colander which rested perfectly on the edge of my boil pot. No grain made it into the boil pot and I would say I got good amount of those sugars out into the wort.
At this point I had a nice dark liquid (wort) full of fermentable sugars, but I needed to balance the flavor of all that malt. This kit included Challenger hops for bittering and finishing, but recommended some extra ingredients to give it that coffee/ donut taste. I bought some whole Irish Cream coffee beans from the only market in town and had friend track down some coconut flakes. The recipe said unsweetend, but I had to make do with sweetened ones. I added a third a cup of brown sugar for good measure at the end of the boil.
I realized I didn’t have any ice to cool the wort during the boil and ran down the street to fill my cooler. It worked out quite well as the pot fit perfectly and didn’t take long to reach pitching (adding the yeast) temperature. It need to be lower than 70 F to give the yeast a good environment to eat the sugar and expel alcohol and CO2.
The trickiest part of the whole endeavor actually ended up being the transfer from pot to carboy. I had bought a “splatter guard” that ended up not working for the sparge but I figured the wire mesh would work as a strainer in the funnel. I cut a 4’ circle out of it and fit into the funnel. Turns out that was not near big enough to keep it in place while transferring and it had shifted within the first 5 seconds of the pour. After creating a bigger screen we were good to go and Maria helped steady the funnel as I loaded the fermentation vessel with delicious smelling wort. I gave the whole thing a vigorous shake after adding the yeast packet and set up a blow-off tube to keep bacteria out while letting the excess co2 escape. The whole set-up fit nicely in the same cooler I used for cooling thus ensuring a dark and insulated environment.
One of the most used items in the kit proved to be the thermometer since my biggest concern was being able to keep the temperature within it’s 62-70 range. This was actually easier than I thought with a combination of compliant weather and regularly checking the temp I could add cold packs or frozen water bottles into the cooler to control the temperature pretty easily. Now we wait two weeks to let the yeast do it’s job of creating alcohol from the sugars. The next post will cover bottling and finally drinking: The Road Brewing Project pt 2
Special thanks to Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Stephen Valand and Erica Shea for helping get this project out of the planning stage and into the mobile kitchen Along with producing these one gallon kits they have recently announced the formation of their new endeavor Established Brewing Company (EST) that will be distributing to taps around New York City. So keep an eye for their brews in your NYC beer travels.