This post will be very geeky. Those who are not interested in the art of beer brewing, you have been warned.
I’ve been a big fan of home brewing for quite a while now. Unfortunately, the nice collection of equipment that I built up over the years couldn’t make the journey with us. It went to a wonderful home, but it was always my plan to slowly creep back into the hobby. Puerto Rico presents some interesting challenges, though.
First of all, we’re on an island in the Caribbean, so shipping costs can be a problem. And brewing supplies and equipment tend to be very heavy and/or bulky. Secondly, we’re on an island in the Caribbean so things are fairly warm here and electricity is expensive. Lagers, my favorite type of beer, need to be brewed at low temperatures, with a long refrigerated aging time. I’ve been doing some soul (and Google) searching to try to figure out if it’s feasible to brew without temperature control and I’ve been coming up short. I finally did the cost analysis and figured out that to run a chest freezer controlled by an external thermostat wasn’t actually as expensive as I thought (less than $70 year).
Previously, I’d only brewed the simplest of recipes with the barley already malted and turned into malt powder or syrup. You can make fantastic home-brewed beers this way but you have very little control over consistency. I’ve brewed many, many batches this way over the years and I’ve never been disappointed with any of them. I’m starting to set my goals a bit higher, though.
You see, in the Caribbean beer is fairly expensive because all the good beer is imported. This allows the local beer’s price to float up to about $5 for a six-pack of 10 oz. cans ($2-$3 a can at bars). It’s a generic light beer that tastes okay if it’s really, really cold. A six-pack of decent beer costs nearly $10! It occurred to me that there are an awful lot of surfers that swarm this town during the winter and they might just possibly want some good beer at a decent price. Hmmm, gears start turning. And there are no micro breweries here either? Gears are running full speed now!
If I started brewing with malted grains instead of buying pre-made powders or syrups, I could not only save money on the base supplies, I could also get into the geeky control of the whole process. And I’m a person who really likes knowing what goes on under the hood and being able to exert control over things. I’m an engineer after all. More control will definitely be needed if I want to attempt to make a beer that can be replicated and sold.
Brewing with all grains is a whole new experience for me. It’s much more complicated and requires a LOT more equipment. I’ve been researching it for the last several weeks and the depth of chemistry and physics has me amazed! Whoa, this stuff is science. I’d just been tossing stuff in a big brew pot, crossing my fingers, fermenting, bottling, and drinking. That procedure doesn’t quite work when you move to an all-grain process. You have to keep things at specific temperatures for specific times for the proper enzymes to do their jobs.
To save money, I’ve been constructing as much of my own gear as possible. I found an online supplier who will ship parcel post and I’ve been building what I can. Instead of a fancy brew pot with welded fittings, I bought a cheaper plain pot, drilled a hole in it, and installed my own bulkhead fitting. I also sourced a 5-gallon cooler from Sam’s Club and re-fitted it with a brass ball valve and built a copper manifold to act as a false bottom for grain brewing. I’m quite proud of that work, by the way. I need my brother here to help me weld. There’s so much to build!
I’ve nearly got my arsenal ready for the first all-grain attempt. I’ve been chatting with bartenders in various bars in town and there is definitely a HUGE need for good beer. I talked to a guy who did simple extract brewing and he had no problem selling beers for $2 each to tourists. Hello vacuum, meet Sage.
Word is starting to get around that there’s an Americano in town who brews beer. I’d better get to work.