Organic or Not?
Whether kitchen chemist or professional brewer, brewing organic beer is a challenge. "Ninety percent of beers out there are brewed by Anheuser Busch or Miller/Coors, and there are only a handful of certified-organic craft beer makers. The industry of farming organic ingredients for beer just isn't big enough," Bostwick says. Another reason is that the main flavoring agent of beer, the hops, are so hard to grow organically, he adds. The little green flowers are very susceptible to pests and mold, which proliferate in the large monocrop fields in which hops are grown commercially, and most hops farmers are nervous about going the organic route. The few organic breweries that exist now get all their truly organic hops from a farm in New Zealand, which, Bostwick says, leaves little left over for home brewers. There's just one company out there that sells organic beer brewing kits and organic ingredients to home brewers, Seven Bridges Cooperative, so if you are committed to 100 percent organic beer, the alternative exists.
Another way around the problem, which Bostwick, Rymill, and Knutzen all recommend, is growing your own hops. "Hops are pretty easy to grow in most places," Knutzen says. "And mine are organic because I'm growing them organically." Given that the plants are in small backyard gardens and not large plantations, it's easier to control pests. They're also extremely fast growing and can provide your house with a lot of shade in the summer. He recommends growing a few different varieties of both flavoring and bittering hops, so you can make a wider variety of beers.
Giving It a Go
If you're interested in getting started with home-brewing, Bostwick and Rymill's book, Beer Craft, or the beer-brewing chapter of Making It offer really detailed how-to's. If you've tried it a few times and need a weekend project with Dad, Bostwick recommends his and Rymill's recipe for wheat beer. "It's a good summer beer, and it doesn't need to ferment as long." Following is a very basic recipe, along with simplified instructions for brewing it.
Wheat Beer from Beer Craft
1. Heat 4 quarts of water to 163 degrees F and add 1 lb. Belgian Pilsner malt and 1 lb. Wheat malt; "mash" (steep) for 60 minutes at 153°F.
2. "Sparge" your malt by removing it from your mash (putting the malt in your mesh bag makes removal easier) and dunking the bag a few times in a fresh pot containing about 3 quarts of hot water to remove the remaining sugars.
3. Add your sparge water to your mash water. This is your "wort." Bring the wort to a boil and boil it for 60 minutes. As soon as the water reaches a boil, add 15 grams of Hallertau hops. One minute before the end of your boil, add 5 more grams of those same hops.
4. Chill down your wort to 70 degrees F or cooler. Ideally this will take about 30 minutes. You can buy a special wort chiller for this step, or follow Bostwick's and Rymill's recommendation of filling a large sink with ice and setting your wort-filled stock pot inside it. Keep refilling the sink with ice as the original ice melts.
5. Transfer your wort to your carboy (glass jug) for the fermentation process. Pour the wort out of the stock pot through a fine mesh strainer to catch any grains, hops, and sediment, and through a funnel into the carboy.
6. Add 1/3 tube of Hefeweizen Ale (WLP300) yeast to your carboy, and plug it with a length of plastic tubing, the other end of which should be sitting in a glass mason jar. This catches a sort of brown gunk that forms as the beer ferments for a day or two. After the beer stops foaming, replace the plastic tubing with an airlock and place the bottle somewhere that's a consistent 68 degrees F so it will ferment. Then you wait for 2 weeks.
7. Now it's time to bottle! But first you need to carbonate your beer. Boil 1 cup of water in a large stockpot, and when it reaches a boil, add 28 grams of corn sugar (organic, if you can find it; you can also use organic cane sugar). Let that cool down to room temperature and add your now-fermented beer. This process can get complicated and involves a racking cane and siphon to get the beer out of the bottle while leaving behind the sediment that has sunk to the bottom of the bottle. Once you've got your beer added to your sugar mixture in the stockpot, siphon the beer from the stockpot into your bottles, cap them, and then store them in a dark, cool corner (not the fridge). It usually takes about a week or two for beer to fully carbonate. Try one after a week, and if it's not to your liking, leave the others alone for another week; keep testing until it tastes the way you want it to!