I’m not in the habit of taking on challenges from other bloggers, be it photography or writing. But Greg over at Almost Iowa has put out a challenge to write about “My Stuff“, something he’s been doing with great success for years, and I couldn’t resist. Greg puts a new spin on homespun humor and wisdom, check him out.
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The rich aroma of brewing malt and hops filled my nose, the house, and possibly the neighborhood as I peered into the bubbling cauldron of my brew kettle. A dark, chocolaty concoction for a batch of Porter boiled away, both a visual and olfactory delight, suggesting the rich flavors that in due time would greet the tongue.
I picked up my aluminum 20-quart brew kettle from a restaurant supply store back when I first learned to brew, as cookware wasn’t included in my starter kit. Home brewers have a choice, go with extra large kettles suitable for cooking up full 5-6 gallon batches in one go, or starting smaller with something your kitchen stove can handle. As I didn’t know for sure if the new brewing hobby would stick, I opted for the smaller, less expensive pot.
It does the job though, putting on its work clothes and cooking up whatever mixture of malt and hops I throw at it. Amber ales, red ales, brown ales, scotch ales and porters; they’ve all passed through it, each boiling away for a full hour plus staging. And if after all that abuse it’s been stained a bit, who can blame it?
But there’s a newcomer, trying to horn in on my brew kettle’s glory.
As I’ve increased in my brewing knowledge I’ve graduated towards techniques that allow more control. Most newbies brew using pre-processed malt extract, a molasses-like extraction from barley malt that provides both malt flavor and the sugars that fermenting converts to alcohol. It’s like making a cake from a box. As brewers advance, many migrate towards using an “all grain” approach. This is like making your cake from scratch – instead of using pre-processed malt extract, we extract the malt sugars from the grains ourselves by soaking the grain in water in the 150-155F range, a process called mashing. This allows more control over what variety and quantity of malted grains we use. The downside is, it takes more time, and calls for another vessel for the mashing step.
If you’d like to know more about the process, I wrote a three-part series on How to Make Beer, starting here.
I haven’t gone all in here either. Rather than buying a “mash tun” – a large insulated container used for the mash step, I’m using half measures. I mash half the grain needed in a second pot, and use processed malt extract to fill out the other half. As for that second pot…
Not long after I took up the hobby, an old buddy showed an interest too. I taught him how to brew with extract, and he soon bought his own kit. But no blue collar aluminum kettle for him, no, he picked up a shiny new stainless steel 20-quart stock pot, complete with a lid you could damn near see your face in. It was enough to give my kettle an inferiority complex, with its fat aluminum walls and an old pizza pan for a hat it looked like a tired old hausfrau next to a sexy young supermodel. But those hausfraus do know how to cook.
So for mashing those barley grains for my Porter I borrowed the supermodel, and for sparging and boiling the wort (beer fixings before fermentation) I used the hausfrau. As I had transferred the extracted malt to the boil kettle, there was plenty of time to clean up the supermodel and make her look pretty again during the boil.
At the end of the boil, after I quick chilled the wort and transferred it to the fermenting bucket, on the left side of the stove was my beat up old blue collar hausfrau kettle, tired and stained, complete with a ring of black porter boil off crud that would compete with the bathtub ring from hell. On the right was the bright silver stainless steel supermodel stock pot, buffed and shiny, full of nothing but itself.
Then came the comment which has reverberated through history, going both forward and back in time, when the pot called the kettle black.