Whats brewing at Allegheny?

Miller Lite or…Miller Lite? If you’re tired of the selections on tap (and, presumably, of age to enjoy them responsibly) maybe concocting your own brew will better suit your taste.

“I started homebrewing in September [2010] because I was tired of American mass-produced lagers,” said Nick Balzer, ’11. “Beers like Miller, Coors and Anheuser-Busch all taste watered down and bland. I like complex beers with character; for example, a lot of craft beers like Dogfish Head, Flying Dog and Sam Adams.”  

Since craft beers like those cost a lot more money, Balzer decided to start creating craft brews himself. He logged onto brewing forums. He read books like “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian and “Designing Great Beers” by Ray Daniels. And he started cooking.

The homebrewing process itself, according to Balzer, is as easy as making soup. He did note that all-grain batches of beer are more difficult to make than batches from a pre-processed malt extract.

“Extract brewing is a lot simpler for people to do at home because it requires less equipment, time and space,” Balzer said.

Once the beer has fermented in a fermenting vessel—usually a bucket or carboy (a specialized glass jug with a constricted opening)—it can be kegged or bottled. Kegging only requires three days of conditioning, whereas bottling requires three weeks, to allow the beer to carbonate.

Waiting for the beer to carbonate, Balzer said, is the hardest part about homebrewing for him.

“I have a hard time letting it go for three weeks before sampling a beer or two,” Balzer said. “But it definitely improves drastically at the end of three weeks. It’s worth it to be patient.”

Difficulties can arise at any part of the homebrewing process, but for Justin Gaudi, ’11, it was the bottling part that caused problems when he and his roommate tried to brew hard apple cider.

“We decided to bottle it in old 40 ounce bottles, and I guess it still continues to ferment when it’s in the bottle,” said Gaudi. “We put the caps on and stored them underneath my bed, and one night, hard apple cider exploded all over the room.”

Gaudi and his roommate decided to make hard apple cider before brewing beer because the process is much easier.

The two bought unpasteurized apple cider from Wal Mart, added a little bit of yeast and let it ferment. The fermenting device they used was a gas can from Wal-Mart.

The results, Gaudi said, weren’t as good as he’d expected.

“[The cider] was really sticky and it tasted kind of weird, like apple wine,” he said. “It was really cloudy, because we didn’t do a very good job of controlling the sediment that you get in alcohol after it ferments.”

Gaudi’s brewing attempt was right before winter break, and he said that he and his roommate never tried brewing again. His novice results may have been due to the equipment they initially used. The fermenting process requires an airlock, a piece that lets the evaporating gas out but will not contaminate the alcohol with outside air.

“We read that you could use a balloon,” Gaudi said. “We didn’t have a balloon, so we used a condom. It was a quick fix.”

Within 45 minutes, the condom expanded three feet from the carbon dioxide escaping the bottle.

Balzer recommends that anyone interested in homebrewing do their research first.

“Go on the Internet,” he said. “Look up prices of starter kits and find a local homebrew supply store in your area.”

Before homebrewing with his own recipes, Balzer borrowed from kits.

So far, Balzer has experimented with an American Cream Ale, which he describes as having a lighter, creamier body, a Dunkelweizen, which has a darker consistency and a fruity and tart French-style Saison. He has also made a Cascadian Dark Ales and British Bitter.

One of his personal favorites, Balzer notes, was a British Porter he made.

“I used chocolate malt,” Balzer said. “It was chocolate-y and dark and it had a bit of a roasted coffee aftertaste to it, so it was really complex—sort of like a dessert beer.”

Homebrewing, only became legal in 1978. It is against the law to sell homebrews for personal profit.

“It’s an organic journey that I have had a lot of fun with,” Balzer said. “My favorite part about homebrewing is designing my own recipes and researching.  There is so much history with each beer style. There’s a satisfaction in being able to have a finished product and say that it’s mine.”