Chestnut Brown Ale
Sarjita got me a beer making kit over the holidays!
With help from her and Kenon, we went ahead and followed the directions and hoped for the best.
The kit itself is from the Brooklyn Brewshop which aims to build kits that let you brew beer in an apartment. What I didn't know is that most folks brew their first batch using extract, this kit gives you the full experience by giving you grain and all.
The Ingredients and Kit
A friend of mine recommended I use fresh yeast (Safale US-05 Ale Yeast) as there's no way of knowing how the yeast in the kit had been treated since it was packed. Beyond the kit, you need a couple of large pots, large strainers, empty bottles, caps and a capper. I was very, very lucky to find chestnuts in January. Apparently, after the holidays, they all just disappear. In reterospect, I would have liked bigger strainers and a more secure way to attach the blowoff tube to the bowl with sanitizer.
Mash, Sparge, Boil
It took us a good 5 hours to mash, sparge, and boil. While I was working with an induction stove, it was still hard to maintain the right temperature. While I was trying to err on the side of lower temperature (<150°), I definitely ended up around 153°. The Sparge was definitely the hardest part. Pouring the wort through the mash with a 8" strainer was tough. You definitely need two people to do this effectively. Reading the instructions a few times before starting is obvious wisdom, but something I failed to do. As a result, I don't think I boiled the chestnuts and hops for the right amount of time. Also, the wort tastes yummy.
Fermenting was uneventful. I just kept it in the house, on tile, covering the jug in foil. The first few days, the most important?, the house was at 72°. Then we were out of town, so I turned the temperature down to 68°. The krausen reached the top of the jug and made it out of the airlock. No problems, just looked messy. Towards the end of the 4th week, I had to move the jug a couple of times, but before then it stayed put.
This part of the process was fairly straight forward, though I should have been more precise. I lost at least a beer in an attempt to ensure that I was only putting beer in the bottles instead of sanitizer.
A guy at the brew shop had scared me saying that using honey for carbonation would increase the chance of exploding the bottles. Nothing of the sort happened. Again, I just kept them in box in my house for 3 weeks. I was concerned that carbonation wasn't happening as I didn't see any bubbles in the bottle. Then I compared it to a Coronoa bottle and there also seemed to be no bubbles which eased my mind.
I popped the top of a couple bottles and poured small glasses for a few folks. The result? A light, fruity, refreshing beer that was "drinkable". Couldn't be happier with the result. I had set my expectations on a funky tasting non-beer that resulted from some mistep on my part. Not sure where the chestnut flavor went, or if the fruityness is the chestnut, but it's the perfect beer for Spring time!
Waiting so long to know if you have anything of worth causes anxiety. But in this case, I love the result. Sadly, I doubt I could replicate the result because of the erratic heating process during the mash and because I was able to keep the house at 68° during fermentation. There are just too many variables to control and there are so many high quality beers available at the store. If I were to try it again, I probably would use extract and flavor it with something crazy. That way, I'd end up with something that isn't available at the store.
Overall, it was a great experience, love the result, and I learned a lot.