Liquidation: Home brewers tap into thirst-quenching hobbyWORTHINGTON — It’s 2:55 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, and things are starting to heat up at our house. That’s a literal statement; my husband, Bryan Namanny, has put a large pot of water on the stove and turned on the burner. From the basement freezer, he’s brought up a box full of various grains, and he occasionally shakes the package of yeast that sits on the countertop. Within a few minutes, buddy Matt Oleske’s truck will pull into the driveway, and Matt will bounce in carrying jugs of water. It’s beer-brewing day in our household.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — It’s 2:55 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, and things are starting to heat up at our house.
That’s a literal statement; my husband, Bryan Namanny, has put a large pot of water on the stove and turned on the burner. From the basement freezer, he’s brought up a box full of various grains, and he occasionally shakes the package of yeast that sits on the countertop. Within a few minutes, buddy Matt Oleske’s truck will pull into the driveway, and Matt will bounce in carrying jugs of water.
It’s beer-brewing day in our household.
This Sunday afternoon ritual began about four and a half years ago, after Bryan and Matt developed a liking for craft beer styles — ales, ambers, porters, stouts — that are more flavorful than mass-produced pilsners. A couple of fellow beer connoisseurs encouraged them to try brewing their own beer and even offered to walk them through the process.
For their first brewing session, Bryan selected a honey porter and Matt an amber ale, which they concocted under the watchful eye of one of their mentors and using his equipment.
“The way he taught, his passion came through,” Bryan credited their instructor. “You could tell he was excited about it, and he was excited to teach us. He was very patient, too.”
The two men were hooked almost instantly, and Bratt — a combination of their two names — Brewing was born.
“I like the process of it myself,” said Bryan about his fascination with brewing. “That’s what it is for me. And a lot of it is the social aspect. Making good beer is just the byproduct.”
“The science part is interesting,” contemplated Matt. “I wonder how putting all these things together makes beer, and who figured that out — the history of it, how did that happen.”
Initially, the Bratt brewers utilized kits — combinations of ingredients put together by a brewing supply house located in the Twin Cities. But before long they were experimenting with their own recipes. Now, the majority of their brews are their own concoctions, although they still occasionally purchase a kit. Last Sunday was batch 185; since starting, they’ve brewed about 925 gallons of beer.
“By law, a person can brew 100 gallons per person per year,” Bryan cited. “The most frequent question we get is ‘Can I buy some from you?’ The answer is no. First of all, we can barely brew enough to keep up with our own consumption, because we have limited capacity in our equipment and there are two of us brewing on it. We only brew five gallons at a time, probably twice a month, which we split. Secondly, it’s illegal to sell home-brewed beer.”
Brewing begins with the boil — 2 to 2½ gallons of water in a large pot heating up on the stove. While the water is heating, Matt and Bryan prepare the grains, measuring the proper amount, weighing it on a small scale and cracking the grains if necessary. The grains are then put into a cheesecloth stocking, which is shaken outside to get rid of the chaff.
“Then you steep your grains in warm water, not above 170 degrees, for half an hour,” Bryan detailed. “You remove the grains, and depending on the recipe, either rinse them with warm water or let them drip. Then you add your malt extract (either in syrup form or dried), and you bring it to a boil and add your bittering hops. It boils again generally for 60 minutes, and you add other hops at specified intervals — 20 minutes is flavor hops and one to five minutes is aroma hops.”
The resulting mixture, called wort, is taken from the stove and cooled. Bryan and Matt utilize a water bath for this process; there is also a gadget called a wort chiller. Once the wort is sufficiently cooled, it can be transferred to the fermentation bucket.
“We’re not actually beer brewers; we’re wort brewers,” Bryan explained. “The yeast makes it into beer. Once it’s cooled to about 70 degrees, you pitch (add) your yeast. … Usually fermentation begins between 12 and 36 hours, and it continues for approximately a week or 10 days, depending on if it’s an ale or a lager.”
During the initial fermentation, the beer is stored in a spare bedroom in our house. By the day following brewing, the mixture has started to make a gurgling noise — a indication that fermentation has begun. (I sometimes feel like the guy in Poe’s “Telltale Heart”— the noise can reverberate through the house.) When it stops gurgling, the beer is transferred to a carboy — a large glass bottle that helps it to clarify. The beer can sit in the carboy for a couple of weeks to many months, depending on the beer style.
Finally, it is time for bottling, which is often done on Sunday afternoons, too, while another concoction is simmering on the stove.
“You rack (siphon) it to your bottling bucket and add your bottling mixture — ¾ of a cup of priming sugar boiled 10 minutes in 2 cups of water,” Bryan continued. “Then you mix it and put it in the bottles, cap it, and let it carbonate for two weeks to a months at room temperature.”
It’s usually two to two and a half months before Bryan and Matt can sample a bottle and know if a brew was a success.
“My favorite part to start with was to see if it works,” Matt reflected, “and now that we’ve been doing it for a while, to see how well it works. The fun part now is creating something that’s your own, that’s totally unique. … Most people don’t have the patience. You have to be patient, because you’re not going to get the results overnight. But the wait is worth it.”
Paying it forward
Just as a mentor was there to help Bryan and Matt through their initial beer batches, the Bratt guys are willing to share what they’ve learned with novice brewers. Dan and Becca Eide stopped over on Sunday afternoon to see what was brewing and share a couple bottles of their own concoctions. They began brewing about a year ago, also after developing a taste for specialty beers.
“It was more intimidating reading about (brewing),” Dan said. “When you see these guys do it, you realize it isn’t that complicated. You can go as basic as you want or you can get into culturing your own yeast.”
The Eides have delved into kegging their beers — Dan used his woodworking skills to make a kegerator from a freezer unit — and are considering an all-grain setup, a more involved form of brewing.
“It’s a hobby we can do together,” Dan said about their interest in home brewing.
“It’s more fun. You brew them and you try commercial ones, see what styles you like,” Becca explained.
Odds and ends
During the warmer weather months, the brewing process often moves outside. Bryan and Matt received a large propane burner from a friend in Texas, so the wort is cooked up on our driveway.
While they’re brewing outdoors, Bryan and Matt can peruse their hops plant — variety unknown — which last summer climbed a rope trellis well over the top of our large garage. The hops was planted two years ago, and last year probably yielded about 7 pounds of fruit, which was preserved in the freezer. Most of the hops they buy is pelletized, but they have added the “fresh” hops with great success.
There is a seasonality to the beers produced by Bratt Brewing. Currently, Bryan and Matt are working toward spring and summer beers, which are generally lighter in flavor and color.
“I think we’re done brewing dark beers for the year until about August,” Bryan explained.
Each beer is named, and the naming process is part of the fun. Bryan and Matt come up with names that are personal or reflect the season or style of beer. One of their most popular (and my particular favorite) beers is Beat the Heat Wheat. There’s also Front Deck Ale, DCCL (the Roman numeral for 750, commemorating their 750th gallon of beer), Nightmare Porter and Leprechaun Ale, to name a few.
Each bottle is marked with a small label on the cap — usually just the initials. Rarely do bottles get full labels, as the bottles are reused over and over again, and labels would likely come off in the sanitation process.
Sanitation is vital to producing a tasty beer and the most time-consuming part of the process. All the equipment must be thoroughly sanitized — and kept that way between brewing sessions — and every bottle must be washed and sanitized each time it is used. A speck of contamination can adversely affect the flavor of an entire batch of beer.
But for Bryan and Matt, the work is worth it. They get to spend Sunday afternoons doing something they enjoy, and the end result is a bottle of beer that is unlike anything they can buy in the store.
“It’s hard to even describe,” said Matt about his interest in brewing. “We’re excited because we like to do it. It’s like when you make a good recipe, put together a good dip, a good salad. The reason you do it is because it’s good.
“The end result is good beer.”