Senior explores the art of home brewing
Beer. Revered by individuals worldwide, this beverage holds a special spot in college students’ lives as they finally turn 21. But when faced with tight budgets and a troubled economy, why buy beer when you can make it yourself?
Nick Iodice ’12 does just that. The Weston, Mass. native began brewing his own beer shortly after returning from a summer abroad in Auckland, New Zealand in 2011.
“A friend of mine [from abroad] was into it and talked about it often, so that’s what initially interested me. I ordered a beer brewing kit before I even left New Zealand and it was waiting for me when I got home,” he said.
Iodice brewed his first batch of beer shortly following his return to the US. While the kit he purchased included the tools necessary to brew the beer, Iodice spent a great deal of time researching different methods and styles of brewing in order to ensure a quality batch.
“I made notes and kept a timeline—the timing of adding ingredients and the proper order and temperature are very important. Different times and different temperatures make different tastes,” Iodice said.
Despite it being his first attempt at beer brewing, the test batch was a success. “The first batch came out really well; it was a wheat beer, and had a similar taste profile to Allagash White,” he said.
The beer brewing process is “easy to screw up if you don’t have the correct plan; you have to make sure you’re following the proper procedure through research,” Iodice said. The kit he purchased when he first began his quest came with everything he would need. It included two buckets—one for fermenting the beer, and one to bottle from—an air lock for the fermenting bucket that allows carbon dioxide to exit the barrel and keep bacteria from coming in, capper and caps, sanitizing solution to clean the tools beforehand, siphoning tubes to transfer beer from one bucket to the other and a bottling one that fills the beer bottles without overflowing.
As a beginner, Iodice also purchased a kit of ingredients to allow him to brew at the “beginner level” of home brewing, known as “full extract brewing.” The intermediate level is referred to as “partial mash brewing,” while the experienced level is called “all grain brewing.”
The kit included hops, grains, yeast and malt extract. More experienced brewers create their own malt extract. Malt extract is a form of sugar that reacts with the yeast to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. All of the ingredients also vary by beer type—different hops, grains, yeast and malt extract are what give different beers their tastes and styles. “So if you wanted a lighter beer, you would use wheat malt extract,” Iodice explained.
Iodice said that the first step to brewing beer is to crack the grains, and then to heat three gallons of water to 155°F and steep the grains in the water for 15 to 20 minutes. The water must then be brought to a boil to add the malt extract. “It takes a while to mix, and you have to stir constantly so it doesn’t burn on the bottom,” he said.
Once the malt extract is completely mixed, there is a 60- minute window in which a first round of hops is added—bittering hops—followed by a second round closer to the end of the 60 minutes, called finishing hops. The pot must then be cooled to room temperature, and that three-gallon pot is poured into the fermentation bucket along with two additional gallons of water.
“You want a lot of bubbles to form when you pour the mixture into the bucket because the air helps activate the yeast,” Iodice said. This process is called “aerating the wort.” The next step is to put the lid with the air lock on the fermenting bucket and let the brew ferment for a month.
“I keep the bucket in my closet for the month,” Iodice said. “You can’t disturb it.” In that month, the fermentable sugar in the malt extract is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide, and the sugars that don’t ferment add to the body and taste of the beer.
“A high level of unfermentable sugar leads to heavier beer,” Iodice said.
After the month has passed, Iodice explained that the beer is transferred to the bottling bucket and the priming sugar is added, then the beer is bottled and capped and left to sit for three more weeks. “The sugars will get converted to carbon dioxide and alcohol, but since the carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle it will carbonate the beer,” he said.
Iodice created his second batch when he returned to the Hill from studying abroad, and his beer is now available for consumption. The current brew is an amber ale, which means it is darker than the first batch, in addition to being more bitter and less fruity.
Iodice noted that brewing beers in the Alfond Apartments comes with its own challenges. “It was tougher because we only have a two gallon pot, so I had to use more water than mixture, so the flavors are more mild,” he said. “Also, the apartment kitchens are cramped.”
While Iodice decided to pursue home brewing on a whim, it seems as though it may be in his blood. “My dad and grandpa brewed wine back in the day, and after I brewed the beer my dad started researching it again,” he said. “My dad and my older brother are currently making 15 gallons of wine.”
For any prospective home brewers out there, Iodice says that after brewing his own beer, he has learned that first, you need friends to help you—it makes the process easier—and second to write down the timeline for the process because the timing is so particular. And of course, when you do brew your own beer, be sure to share.