I’m the kind of guy who knows his way around the kitchen, which means I can microwave a mean frozen burrito. So when I heard LWR’s blog would be promoting Equal Exchange’s Fair Trade products throughout October, I jumped at the chance to try out a recipe for a mocha-java stout using a home brewing kit my friends had gotten me for my birthday.
This is probably a good time for a disclaimer: If you know anything about home brewing, that puts you about ten steps ahead of me. This was my inaugural home brew batch, so old hands won’t get much out of this post aside from a few chuckles at my incompetence. (And of course a firm imperative to buy Equal Exchange fair trade products.) But if you’ve been curious about home brewing and thought, “I dunno – everything I touch seems to turn to crap…” then this might be the post for you.
I penciled home brewing into my calendar and when the special day came, assembled the various ingredients and equipment on my dining room table and looked over my notes. Home brewing batches are typically done in five-gallon increments. I checked the largest saucepan in my cupboard and discovered its meager one gallon volume. Then I found a 20%-off coupon for a major home furnishings retailer in my stack of mail from the past week. A quick excursion to suburbia for a new sixteen quart stock pot and — boom! — I was good to go.
I looked over my inventory and confirmed I had everything I needed. Here’s a photo:
Step One: Steeping the hops.
It’s pretty straightforward – imagine making a big pot of tea, only instead of drinking it right away, you’re going to add a bunch of other stuff and wait, which magically makes drinking it later way more fun. It’s nice to have a straining bag for this – that’s the thing that looks like an old gym sock but in fact is designed to hold the hops and keep them from being released into the wort, which is simply the brew before I add in yeast. (NB: If you don’t have awesome friends who gave you a complete home brewing kit for your birthday, go ahead and use an old gym sock. And serve your so-called, non-awesome friends that inaugural batch.)
To steep the hops, fill up your shiny, newly-acquired, deeply-discounted stock pot with water. Then put it on the stove top and set it on fire-yah! (But avert your gaze or it will never come to a boil.) Then, steep ’em if you got ’em.
Step Two: Adding the malt extract.
If you’re using liquid malt extract like I did, soak the container in hot water just before adding it in order to make it more viscous, which means thick and sticky. Then call your high school chemistry teacher to let her know you actually used the word viscous. It will make her day.
Return your stock pot to the heat and get it up to a full rolling boil, which you’ll let run for about twenty minutes. Watch out for boil-overs.
I also took a self-portrait ready to respond to any boil-over.
Allow twenty minutes of rolling boil with the malt extract.
Step Three: The Hot Break.
You’re just letting the proteins from the malt extract settle at the bottom so they stay out of the beer – nothing too hot about that if you ask me.
After 30minutes of the hot break, it is time to get back to work.
Step Four: Adding the hops.
This step adds some bitterness to the beer, to balance out the sweetness from the grains and malt. In the case of my recipe, it’s also the step when I add Equal Exchange fair trade coffee and cocoa.
Hopping involves two types: bittering hops and finishing hops. Bittering hops boil for thirty to sixty minutes – the longer the boil time, the more bitter the beer. Since hopping is so intrinsically linked to the final flavor of the beer, I decided that was as good a time as any to add my Equal Exchange coffee and cocoa. I totally winged it here, just stirring in six scoops of freshly ground Gumutindo coffee beans and six tablespoons of cocoa before I brought my bittering hops to a boil. I’ve since learned that many home brewers suggest adding flavors like chocolate and cocoa much later in the process, just before bottling, since primary fermentation often wipes out any taste of what’s added at the front end. So I’ll plan on having a pitcher of chilled coffee with cocoa mixed in available when I bottle, just in case.
After you’ve put your bittering hops in the straining bag, or gym sock and let them boil for the appropriate amount of time (I chose thirty minutes, since I’d be getting additional bitterness from the Gumutindo coffee), you throw in your finishing hops for another fifteen minutes. I would compare this to the way chefs keep a little bit of fresh herbs in reserve while cooking, to be added just before plating in order to elevate those particular flavors. To use an example drawn from personal experience, it’s similar to the way I put that fresh dollop of Cheez Whiz on my burrito after removing it from the microwave. For the bittering, I used nugget hops; for the aroma, the Willamette variety. Those choices were very strategic, driven primarily by the fact that they were what came in my home brewing starter kit.
Step Five: The Cold Break.
I think of this stage and everything afterward as the Zona Roja, because from here on out you’ve no longer got the sterilizing force of a full rolling boil working for you and therefore have to exercise some killer quality control to avoid contamination. Your goal in the cold break is to cool the wort down so you can add the yeast and let the fermentation begin. I did this by transferring my brew kettle to a sink filled with ice water, placing a lid on top to prevent contamination, and stirring every fifteen minutes with a sanitized spoon. I should note that your likelihood of success during the cold break is elevated immeasurably if you listen to the song “The Breaks” by early 80’s hip hop pioneer Kurtis Blow. The fact that there are no photos of me rocking out to it included in this post doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.
I stretched my cold break out by letting the wort sit covered overnight, to eliminate any chance it would be too hot and kill the yeast when I added that.
Step Six: Primary Fermentation
The next morning, I transferred the wort to a sterilized plastic bucket, taking a quick gravity reading with the hydrometer, adding the yeast, and capping it with a lid with a small opening for the foam from the fermentation process to escape.
I hate to do this, faithful readers, but at this point I’ve got to leave you hanging – first for one or two weeks while primary fermentation occurs, and then for another month or two during which secondary fermentation, bottling, and carbonation happen. If all goes according to plan, in a couple of months you’ll be reading a follow-up post detailing those steps and letting you know how it all turned out.
And speaking of follow-up, I need your help naming this bad boy. The successful candidate will possess the following qualities:
- Allusion to the chocolate and cocoa flavors
- Incorporation of some reference to the Fair Trade attributes
- Makes everyone who hears it think, “I wish I’d thought of that!”
With this special blend, Lutheran World Relief and Equal Exchange honor women coffee farmers who are active in their co-operatives and Lutheran women in the U.S. who advocate for Fair Trade. Complex with hints of sweet cane sugar and lively citrus overtones, with a buttery smooth finish. From small farmer co-ops in Peru and Nicaragua.