Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pickle FAQ

A few weeks ago I posted my pickle making tutorial and last winter I posted my Kraut 101 tutorial. Since then I have had many, many requests for a FAQ to answer some other nagging pickle making questions. So here they are, but remember, I'm just one pickle maker. My answers are not definitive and generally not "researched". They are synthesized from what I have read and what I have experienced over the years. The best way to answer you own pickle making questions is to start making pickles!

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1) How do I know my pickles are fermenting? How you know they're ready to go in the refrigerator?

In the pickle tutorial I recommend that you open the jar to smell and taste the pickles every day after you start them. This way you will get to see the changes that start happening right away. Signs of fermentation include fizzing or bubbling of the brine, the lid popping when you open it and sour smells or tastes in the brine or vegetables.

Sally Fallon suggests that your pickles or kraut stay on the counter for 3 days before transferring them to the fridge. I say, give them a day or two after they show signs of fermentation. Exactly when they go in the fridge is one of those variables that separates artisan products from industrial products. It's up to the artisan to decide based on their own experience and intuition. If it has been warm and the fermentation has gone quickly I am more likely to put them in the fridge as soon as they start fizzing. If it's cooler and it has taken a few days for the fizzing to get going I might wait another day or even two before putting them in the fridge. Remember, fermentation will continue in the fridge just at a slower pace. I feel it is important to give the microbes enough time in the "nursery" of the room temperatures before putting them in the cold temps to age.

2) My grandma's favorite pickle recipe calls for vinegar. Why don't your pickles have vinegar in them?

There are two kinds of pickles in the world, vinegar pickles and brined pickles. To show the relationship between vinegar pickles, brined pickles and other fermented foods imagine a Venn diagram (remember those from like 3rd grade?). One circle is fermented foods like yogurt, beer, vinegar and sourdough. The other circle is pickles like vinegar pickles, Asian vinegar pickles, homemade pickles in a vinegar brine, those British pickles like Branson pickles and pickled onions and any kind of pickled fish or egg or pigs feet in vinegar. Where the two circles overlap are fermented pickles like sauerkraut, kim chi, kosher dill pickles and anything made with my recipe for brined pickles.

The bottom line is that the English word pickle simply means something preserved in acid. Vinegar pickles use vinegar (a product of fermentation) to preserve the food in a completely shelf stable form. Brined pickles use salt to set up an environment in which lactic acid producing bacteria thrive and preserve the food in the acid they produce when they eat the sugars in the food. Brined pickles are a living thing (unless you cook them or can them) that can last a long time in the proper storage conditions, but are not shelf stable indefinitely.

There is nothing wrong with vinegar pickles, especially home made vinegar pickles. Home made pickles still benefit from you knowing exactly how they were made and who grew the vegetables, and are free of industrial sugars and colorings so often found in commercial pickles. If your family loves Grandma's bread and butter pickles, by all means, keep making them! But try fermented pickles, too.

Lastly, I have heard of some people adding small quantities of raw apple cider vinegar to their brined pickles because they like the flavor. They say they taste more like the vinegar pickles their family is used to. So long as your pickles show signs of fermentation then you are making fermented or brined pickles. If you don't like the way your salt only pickles taste, try some vinegar. They're your pickles, after all.

3) Sally Fallon's recipe calls for using whey but you use just salt. What gives?

The recipes in Nourishing Traditions for fermented vegetables all use whey from raw milk, yogurt or kefir as an inoculant to jumpstart the right kind of bacteria. Her instructions say that if you can't tolerate dairy to use extra salt instead of the whey. In all my reading I've never seen these instructions elsewhere, but I have seen instructions to use brine from a previous batch as an inoculant. My guess is that Sally saw these instructions and made the intuitive leap that whey would do the same thing. Artisan foods made by artisans all have slightly different methods of production.

I don't use whey because a) I never seem to have any around and b) because when I do I am not as fond of the results. I believe that a jar of fermenting vegetables is like a forest ecosystem after a burn or a clear cut. New populations of bacteria colonize the environment and change the environment making it possible for other populations to grow. In order to get the most diversity this succession should happen relatively slowly. For a jar of sauerkraut I think letting the bacterial populations develop over the course of 2-5 days (or more) leads to the a diversity that causes interesting depth of flavor, lack of mushiness and generally a higher quality product.

I feel like adding too much inoculant in the form of mature brine is like planting native trees in the burn area. Those trees aren't supposed to be there yet, they were supposed to come in after other shrubs and herbs prepared the soil for those trees. It may turn out just fine, but you may get an imbalanced ecosystem. Using the same metaphor, adding whey is like planting non-native trees in that same burned landscape. They're not supposed to be there now and they aren't supposed to be there later, either. You may end up with a really diverse and interesting landscape, like a suburban neighborhood with a mix of native trees and non-native ornamentals and fruit trees, but you may also get a really off balance ecosystem.

Again, just like with the vinegar, there are plenty of folks who use whey and get a great product. Others report cheesy flavors or mushy pickles. If you have whey available give it a try! You might end up with a great pickle. If you have leftover brine, try using that. If you have none of the above, or even if you do, try some with just salt. You are the artisan, make your own pickles the way that works best for your kitchen, your vegetables and your tastes.

4) Sandor Katz uses crocks with weights to ferment his vegetables but you and Sally Fallon use jars with lids. What's up with that? What about those Harsch crocks or the Picklemeister?

The bacteria we invite in to ferment our vegetables require some specific habitat. They want a certain level of saltiness, a certain temperature range and a certain amount of oxygen to do their job properly. Lactic acid fermentation is basically an anaerobic fermentation, which means our little bacterial friends like very little oxygen around when they are doing their work. There are many ways to keep oxygen away from the fermenting vegetables.

The traditional method for keeping your fermenting vegetables anaerobic is to use a crock, brine and a weight. The vegetables go into the earthenware crock (which is non-reactive to the acid and stays nice and cool), salty brine is poured over them or created by the salt drawing water out of the vegetables and the the weight keeps the vegetables under the water. The water is a relatively anaerobic environment and fermentation can happen very effectively there. Usually a cloth is placed over top of the crock to keep flies and dust out and the brine is topped up if it evaporates out.

Sally Fallon and I use jars with tight fitting lids to keep our ferments anaerobic. By packing a jar almost full of vegetables and brine and keeping a lid on most of the time keeps the oxygen out. I do sometimes push shredded vegetables down into the brine with a whole leaf because I notice some discoloration or excessive mushiness when I don't. At the same time, vegetables like mushrooms seem to float like corks but still ferment just fine. I have found that opening the lid every day to inspect or taste the pickles doesn't cause ruin. The pickles seem to keep on fermenting with no problem. In fact, it is a good idea to check the pickles regularly because there is no way for gas to escape from the jars. You can end up with some highly carbonated pickles and serious spill over (think shaken up soda bottle) if you aren't careful. I recommend opening your jars over the sink until you get a hang of how they are going to react.

The Harsch crock is a new twist on the old crock method. It is an earthenware crock with a stone weight and a lid that fits into a water filled lip. You fill the crock with vegetables and brine, weight them down with the stone and put the lid on. The water filled lip acts like an air lock to allow gas out but not allow oxygen in. The Picklemeister is a glass jar with a plastic lid fitted with a true airlock. This is a bit of plastic tubing with water in it that allows gas out but doesn't allow oxygen in. People who use these products report great success with their pickle making and since I've never used them I can say nothing for or against them. Well, actually, I can. Harsch crocks go for over 100 dollars even for their smallest size (approx 2 gallons) and the Picklemeister goes for about 20 for a 1 gallon jar. I don't believe you need to shell out that kind of cash to make good pickles, and sometimes I like making a pint or a half pint at a time. If you really want to buy one of these products I'm not going to stop you, but unless you are regularly making gallons and gallons of fermented vegetables at a time I think your money would be better spent on good quality produce.

5) It's summer in L.A./Phoenix/Florida/Equitorial Africa and I finally got motivated to try making sauerkraut. It was bubbly the afternoon after I made it and I'm afraid it's going to turn into a sauerkraut monster. Help!

Like all organisms that don't make their own body heat our friendly pickle bacteria need a certain temperature range to do their jobs properly. If they are too cold they can't metabolize very quickly but they work better the warmer it is up to a point where they die from the heat. Luckily, standard room temperatures are good temperatures for lactic bacteria. If it is above 80 degrees or so you get into the range where the bacteria are eating and producing acid and gas so quickly we can run into problems. If we go back to that forest succession metaphor, excessively warm temperatures are like 24 hours of sunlight or super fertilizer in that new forest. The growth is quick and spindly instead of steady and robust. The only time I've ever had pickles or kraut go "bad" was when I started a batch of kraut during a heat wave. They ended up being mushy and smelly and gross.

What to do about excessive temperatures? The obvious solution is to wait until the proper season and let nature do the work of keeping everything the right temperature. Sauerkraut making is traditionally an autumn activity to take advantage of both the cabbage harvest and the cooler temperatures. In Korea they make a summer kim chi that is used quickly as opposed to the autumn kim chi which is stored all winter. If you can't wait you could try to find the coolest place in your house. Perhaps your basement is cooler, or an interior closet. You could also try a cooler with ice packs or cool water. If you come up with a great solution, let me know!

6) The instructions say to store the pickles in the fridge. My fridge is already full of food, what are my other storage options?

Buy another fridge. Joking! But only a little. I actually have two fridges and have both of them (plus their freezers) full of food and ferments. Not exactly the most economical or sustainable option, but it's what I have. What you need is a place where the temperatures are cooler than room temperature, but above freezing. Refrigerators are a simple way to get these temperatures in this land of electricity and manufactured goods, but not the only way.

Traditionally, fermented vegetables would be kept in a crock in a root cellar. Root cellars are unheated rooms with earth floors and proper ventilation to keep them below 40 or 50 degrees F, but not below freezing. Unlike refrigerators, root cellars need to have high humidity to keep the vegetables stored in them in prime condition. Earthenware crocks stay cool and the open top of the crock allows for gas to escape without human intervention making them perfect for long term storage of fermented vegetables. There are lots of articles available on the internet to help you transform an unheated basement into a root cellar or to build one separate from your house. If keeping ferments in a root cellar you might want to experiment with extra salt in the brine. This will keep the bacteria population lower and slow fermentation. This might extend shelf life. Experiment and see what works for you.

If you don't have either of these options you are, again, going to have to use nature to do the hard work. An unheated room or porch that stays cold but not freezing would be fine winter storage for fermented foods. A cooler and ice could work too, but would require plenty of supervision to make sure it stays cool. If you don't have room in your fridge for lots of jars then you are going to have to get creative with when and how you make fermented vegetables. Remember, using the jar method you can make them in any size quantity you want from babyfood jars to gallon jugs.

7) My pickles are mushy. Ga-ross. How to keep them crunchy?

This is the 64,000 dollar question in fermenting cucumbers. Someone knows the secret, it just isn't me. Sandor Katz's recipe for sour cucumber pickles calls for two things different than my spicy carrot recipe. One is the addition of grape, sour cherry or horseradish leaves, and the other is more salt. I have heard of this grape, sour cherry or horseradish leaf theory before and even tried it. The idea is that the tannins in the leaves don't let the pickles get mushy. Other people have used tea or oak leaves as they are also very high in tannins. Sandor's recipe calls for 3 tbs of salt per quart of water to make the pickle brine. This results in a brine considerably saltier than my "too salty to be tasty, not salty enough to be gross" method. I recently made a batch of cucumber pickles with Sandor's recipe and about 6 fresh grape leaves and still have mushy pickles. Any of you know the secret?

A couple other things I think about when I think about mushy pickles. One is speed and temperature of fermentation. Especially with sauerkraut (which I have had success in not getting mushy) I find a slow, cool fermentation best for the taste and texture. Again, doing these ferments in the fall or winter will help. Unfortunately, cucumbers are ripe in the heat of the summer. Also, firmer, less watery vegetables do best at staying crunchy. I've never had a mushy fermented carrot, but cucumbers are very prone to mushy. Slicing cucumbers are worse than pickling cucumbers. In my last batch I had one tiny little gherkin sized cuke that was not mushy at all, and another larger cuke that was a little old and it was really mushy. But again, folks make crispy fermented cucumbers out of larger sized cucumbers, so what's the secret?

If you have any thoughts, or any tips, let me know! I'd love to know the secret, and I'd love to be able to pass it along. Keep experimenting out there, and let's see what we can come up with.

8) My kids love sweet pickles but fermented pickles are always so tart. Do you have a sweet pickle recipe?

Nope, I haven't liked sweet pickles since I was about five. I spilled a jar on my third favorite stuffed animal and it always smelled like sweet pickle. Gross. A quick google search has given me some ideas on sweet pickles, though.

This raw vegan blog has a cucumber bell pepper fermented relish that might work for you. Other folks on the DiscussingNT yahoogroup have used kombucha vinegar or raw cider vinegar to pickle cucumbers with or without stevia. These might not be true brined pickles, but they would have live probiotics from the kombucha or raw vinegar. Shannon over at Nourishing Days has a canned vinegar sweet pickle recipe that would not be probiotic at all, but calls for honey instead of sugar. If you've got a sweet pickle recipe worth sharing, let me know!

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If you have more questions about fermenting or about your pickles or kraut, let me know! There may be enough for a second pickle FAQ in another few weeks!

And don't forget to check out Real Food Wednesday for more recipes and posts from real food kitchens!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Making of an Alewife

Almost two years ago now I met a very lovely man who I like to call the Brewmeister. The Brewmeister had recently come back from a 9 month program in Berlin to learn to brew beer but had previously thought about earning a bachelors in fermentation science at Oregon State University because he loved making wine and mead almost as much as he loved making beer. Before too very long the Brewmeister and I were cohabitating and fermenting like crazy fools. It wasn't all unicorns and rainbows so when spring rolled around this year the Brewmeister moved to Alaska and I kept a fair amount of his brewing supplies. Who said men are good for nothing? :)

This summer I have been putting the skills I learned at the Brewmeister's side to use in making my own beer and wine. Brewing alcholic beverages has an acient history and some say it might even have been the ultimate factor in humans deciding to stop wandering and set down roots and build a civilization. The theory is that people grew grains not to make bread but to make beer, and once you are making beer you need storehouses for the grain and the beer... plus pubs to drink it all in. Until the 1516 Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law, was enacted (and even well after it in many places) beer was brewed with a wide variety of grains and herbs, often by women in their own homes. On it's surface the Reinheitsgebot, which restricts beer ingredients to malted barley, water and hops (plus yeast, but that wasn't identified as a crucial ingredient until the 19th century) is a trade protection law to reduce competition with both local bakers and brewers in other regions. Digging a little deeper it probably also had anti-pagan, anti-"drug" and anti-women motives as well. Many of the old style beers were made with herbs that were psychotropic and used in ancient cermonies that predate the puritanical Christianity that was gaining popularity at the time. Hops, a common but not at the time universal bittering and preserving agent in beers, are actually a depressant and anaphrodisiac. People who drink hopped beer don't generally have the energy for all night frolicking like those who drank the ancient gruit ale. No matter the reasons behind the Reinheitsgebot the results were clear - a Teutonic culture of pure beer, made in factories by men using chemicals and precise measurements. This is how the Brewmeister tended to brew.

Being a disciple of Sandor Katz and uncounted generations of alewives brewing in their kitchens I have adopted a much more free flowing style. All of my experience making fermented vegetables had led to me have faith in the microbes. If you give them a reasonable place to set up shop, they will! My first beers were literally "a little of this, a little of that, throw in some yeast". Honestly, that first beer is quite drinkable. I did actually cave and buy a kitchen scale after the first brew day and my second beer is much better.

My first two beers are fir tip beers brewed with both hops and the young tips of Douglas Fir trees. Doug Firs are the state tree of Oregon and insanely common where I live. I collected the tips in March and April from trees growing my parents' yard and my everyday dog walk park. They have imparted a lovely acidic and tannic flavor to what would otherwise be a rather boring amber ale. Here is my recipe and instructions. These may look complicated but they are not. In fact, brewing can be a lifetime pursuit and there is always more to learn. But the first step is just brewing some.

The ingredients to make beer are neither expensive nor exotic. If there is a home brewing supply store in your town you are all set and if you don't I'm sure everything can be found online for a reasonable price. Right now I am making beer using malt extract which is basically a molasses or syrup made from malt sugar. The more advanced method of making beer involves extracting the sugar out of malted barley yourself. This involves considerably more equipment and skill but yields a much more complex beer. Malt extract is avaliable in many colors at home brew supply stores or over the internet. Hops are the other main ingredient in beer and both they and brewing yeast are also easily found at brewing supply stores. The variety of hop is not too important in this beer (some hops have lots of bitterness and little aroma, others the other way around) so get something middle of the road if the brewing supply folks ask what you need. I used an American ale yeast, but again it's not terribly important. Anything that isn't a specialty yeast will work just fine.

I will list out both the hardware and the software you need but you can certainly get away with less or load up on more, especially in the hardware department! I will give instructions for a one gallon batch as opposed to the more common five gallon batch because I think it is easier to start small. As soon as you get the hang of it, scale up. I highly recommend reading all the recipes, forums and books you can get your hands on (I highly, highly recommend Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation) and then just give it a try. Remember, the yeast will make alcohol, all you are doing is setting the table for them.


Broderick Cellars Fir Tip Ale

Step One: Brew Day

*Cooking pot with a lid
*Stainless steel long handled spoon
*Cheese cloth or other mesh "hop bags" or a strainer
*Kitchen scale or other device to weigh a couple ounces of plant material
*A second pot or 1/2 gallon glass jar
*A small glass jar, coffee mug or pot
*Funnel and strainer
*1 gallon glass jug - this is called a carboy or fermenter
*Air lock and stopper
*A stove or other device to heat water to boiling and keep it there, as well as running cold water, *A tub of ice water or some other way to cool a volume of liquid relatively quickly.

*Pale or amber malt extract - 1 pint (it is usually sold in 7 or 14 pound tubs. It stores forever so don't worry about buying too much)
*Hops - 20 g of whole hops (Any variety that is not a specialty bittering or aroma hop)
*Fir tips - 40g (Be sure to collect only the young, soft, light green tips. They have a lovely citrusy, christmas tree smell but less tannin and bitterness than the older, dark green tips. The young tips of any edible conifer would do. Spruce is traditional but many pines are edible too)
*1 packet of dry ale yeast (Don't let them talk you into "pitchable yeast". Since you are making a 1 gallon batch you want to be able to use less than a whole packet. Any American or non-specialty yeast will do)
*Good drinking water. People always claim that their water is the reason their beer or wine is so good. If your tap water is icky, buy bottled water. Or better yet, find a well or a spring.


Start heating a half gallon plus a pint (10 cups) of water in a good quality cooking pot and 4 cups of water boiling in a second pot. Measure out your hops and divide them into two hop bags. One bag should have 15g of hops in and the other one should have 5g. Measure out the fir tips and put 20g in a third hop bag and the remainder in your glass jar or other container that can hold at least cups of water. When the smaller pot has come to a boil pour the boiling water over the fir tips in the jar and let steep. This is your fir tip tea.

As the larger pot of water gets hot pour in the malt extract. Carefully swirl hot water in the measuring cup to get as much malt out as possible. Stir to help the malt dissolve and pull out one cup or so and put that in your coffee mug and allow it to cool. Continue stirring or watching the pot until it comes to a full boil. It may get frothy so be careful with it. When it is boiling add the bag with 15g of hops and the bag with the fir tips in it to the boiling malt water. Stir or push them under the water and then put the lid on the pot and turn the heat down to where it maintains a strong simmer/low boil, but isn't boiling over. (OK - they say you shouldn't boil your wort with the lid on because it can cause off flavors. When I boiled with the lid off I had such great loss of volume I had a hard time topping it off. Read some other recipes and do whatever feels best to you). Again, be careful because all the sugar in the water may cause it to boil over. Set your timer for 55 minutes.

Check the coffee mug of sugar water to see how cool it is. When it is body temperature - when you touch it it feel neither cold nor warm - pour approximately 1/2 tsp of the dry yeast into the cup. Let the yeast dissolve into the sugar water and start to feed and bloom. By the end of the boiling period your yeast should be starting to get frothy and it should smell like yeasty bread batter. Fold up the packet, put it in a zip top bag and store it in the freezer until you need more.

Clean your carboy and funnel with hot water and soap. Many brewing books and experts suggest sterilizing with bleach water. Sandor Katz and I say cleanliness not sterility. Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers uses a hop tea to disinfect his brewing supplies. Do whatever makes you feel most comfortable.

When your timer goes off drop in the second hop bag, reset your timer for 5 more minutes and put the lid back on. When the timer goes off a second time turn the heat off and start fishing out the hop bags with your stainless steel spoon. Use a second spoon or some tongs to squeeze as much liquid out of them as possible and set them aside (don't forget to empty and clean them as soon as they cool. Ask me how I know).

Fill your sink with cold water or ice water and put the pot, with the lid on, in the sink. Stir the wort (as your unfermented beer is now called) with a clean spoon, and swish the cold water around to cool the wort quickly. You don't want to get any of the water into the wort so keep the lid on. If your fir tip tea is not cooled to body temperature then put that jar in the cold water and swish it around too to cool it off. When both liquids are body temperature or a little cooler, around 80 degrees F, then pour them through a strainer and a funnel into your jug with the yeast. Pour the wort first, splashing it around a bit, then the yeast, and top off with the fir tip tea. Fill the air lock with water up to the fill line and pop the stopper on top of your jug. Put your jug in a dark place with a stable temperature and clean up. Don't forget those hop bags! Brewing day is done!

The next morning check your beer to make sure active fermentation has started. The air lock should be bubbling away and there should be froth on top of the beer. If there is not active fermentation by 24 hours then proof another 1/2 tsp of yeast in warm sugar water and add that to the wort. It'll be fermenting, though, don't worry. Let it sit for 3-4 weeks until primary fermentation is finished. You will know it is ready for bottling because there will be a clear layer of yeast at the bottom of the jug and it will take about 2 minutes for a new bubble to come up out of the airlock.

Step Two: Bottling Day

*Plastic tubing or racking cane (tubing with a stiff end specifically designed for siphoning beer or wine)
*A second one gallon jug or a cooking pot that will hold 1 gallon (a second jug is a much better choice)
*6 22 oz beer bottles or 11 12 oz bottles. I prefer the ones with a flip top because then you don't need caps and a capper. If you don't want to spend for the flip top bottles you can reuse beer bottles that were not twist tops. Buy a capper and caps at the same supply house you bought malt and hops at.

*4 oz by weight of malt or corn sugar, or white sugar. That's 4 tbs malt sugar, 2/3 cup white sugar or 3/4 cup corn sugar. The malt or corn sugar can be bought at the brew supply store or sometimes for a whole lot more money at a health food store. White sugar gives a different flavor, but certainly can be used.

When primary fermentation has slowed (layer of yeast on the bottom of the jug and about 2 minutes between air lock gurgles) you are ready to bottle your beer. Start out by washing and santizing your jug, bottles and racking hose. Again, use hot water and soap, bleach or hop tea as you see fit. If you using bottle caps instead of flip top bottles be sure to read up on how to use them.

Heat about a cup of water in a small pan on the stove and stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil to dissolve and sterilize and then let cool a bit. Pour the cooled sugar water into the clean second jug. This sugar is going to mix with the beer and give the yeast a second wind in the bottles forming carbonation.

Bring your fermenting beer out of the closet and put the jug on the counter with the second jug on the floor or a bench below the counter. Insert the racking cane into the beer and either follow this guy's instructions for sterile siphoning or do like I do and swish your mouth with scotch and suck the beer into the tube. Have a glass handy to pour the first bit of beer into and then put the end of the tube into the jug with the sugar water in it. Try not to let it bubble and slosh too much, but you can gently stir the beer to mix it with the sugar water. As the beer is siphoning into the second jug get your bottles all lined up in the sink or on a easily cleaned surface lower than your counter. Taste your uncarbonated beer from the glass. How does it taste? Anything short of disgusting and you are well on your way to good homebrew.

When all the beer, but not much of the yeasty sediment, is in the second jug put the airlock back on the first jug and bring the second one up to the counter. Insert the racking cane and start the beer flowing again, this time into the bottles. Again, try not to splash or slosh the beer as you fill the bottles to within an inch or two of the top. With only 6 or 12 bottles this won't take too long and you can flip the flip top when you are done (or use a capper to cap them, which won't take too long either). Rinse or wipe your bottles off and stash them away in a dark, coolish spot and clean up.

The yeasty sediment in the bottom of your fermenter can be saved and used for your next brew. Swish the yeast and leftover beer together and pour into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Stash it in the fridge and on next brew day wake the yeast up by mixing the contents of the jar with warm sugar water while you boil the wort. You may never have to pay for ale yeast again!

Store your bottles in a dark spot with a stable room temperature. During the next three weeks the yeast will eat up the sugar you gave them and produce carbon dioxide to carbonate the beer. After 2 or 3 weeks pop a bottle in the fridge overnight to chill and open it to taste it. If it's carbonated put the other bottles in the fridge and drink up. If not, either drink the beer (it's still homebrew!) or pour it on your compost pile and wait another week to try again. Darker beers will continue to age over time while lighter beers are more at risk of spoiling. I've had some of this beer in the fridge for 2 months and it is still changing flavor and still getting better. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn't taste good anymore and you'll need to brew another batch.


So there it is, one alewife's guide to brewing a 1 gallon batch of beer. I highly recommend reading Wild Fermentation and Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers as well as spending time on the homebrew forums or chatting with the fine folks at your local brew supply store. You'll learn lots more about brewing beer and maybe figure out some better ways to do it!

Brewing beer is not that difficult. In a future post I will talk about making wine, which is a very similar process. Wine is possibly easier to start but takes months, if not years, to finish and age. Beer takes a little more work up front but is ready to drink is just over a month. In the end it is all just setting a table and inviting the right yeast to the party. It's not hard, it's not expensive and the results are well worth it. Even a middling homebrew is better than a fine commercial beer.