Thank you to Larry at Ballast Point

I am not a homebrewer, it would be an insult to actual homebrewers for me to claim that distinction, truly.  But I decided to brew my fourth batch of beer with a few friends–and technically we did it at a home, sooooo, welcome to the saga of making a Milk Stout (creamier version of the darkest beer most people drink)

One of the more awesome reasons to visit Ballast Point’s home brew mart is this guy, seriously.

This is Larry.  Larry is really exactly the type of person you want to encounter in any new endeavor, brewing or otherwise.  He’s patient, thoughtful, explains the basics and isn’t frustrated at having to repeat endless basic details that don’t stick in your head.  It turns out his specialty is beer.  Or maybe he’s a chemist masquerading as a brewing expert but he sure knows a lot.  Plus he’s animated and passionate about his work.  Our tale of brewing begins with a quick trip to the Ballast Point Homebrew Mart where Larry and his brethren in beer have created a great atmosphere to introduce people to the world of craft beer.

The first step in brewing is committing to the process.  Including picking a recipe, going to the brew store, buying beer to drink in the interim, brewing, transferring to the carboy, and drinking whatever beer is left, the whole process can take the better part of a day.  (I suppose technically you could cut the steps out that involve drinking beer, but I consider it a tribute to the many independent brewers who have given birth to this awesome industry, so it feels kind of essential–plus, you know, it’s good practice for when your actual beer is done).

Once you’ve committed to the process, there are a number of places to get recipes and supplies.  The Homebrewer in North Park is one, Mother Earth in north county is another, there’s even a shop downtown to get rare ingredients that one of the guys at Ballast Point told me about downtown, but I forget the name (aside: its a cool thing about the craft beer community that they are not afraid to direct you to direct competitors).  We go to Ballast Point’s Home Brew Mart not just because of Larry’s awesomeness, but because they have a solid supply area PLUS a tasting room.  For those that don’t know, a tasting room is a like a little mini-bar where you can get little samples (“tastes”) of many varieties of beer in 2-4 oz tasting glasses.  This is a fantastic way to just try a few new or interesting beers without drinking too much, and a great way to pass the time. Hess Brewing is opening a tasting room in North Park near the old post office on Grim, Hillcrest Brewing Company has one on University just west of Park and Societe Brewing has a good one up on Clairemont Mesa Blvd, if you want examples to visit.

This little gadget takes you right back to the early days of brewing. Or something

This handy little gadget brings us to another major step in the process–milling the malt (what’s that and why? click here).  I always pay a little respect to the Amish when milling, as I imagine what living without electricity must be like.  You measure out the exact amount you need for a given recipe and then feed it into the top of the machine while turning the handcrank to open the grains so that the sugar can be released during the steeping process–at least that’s what I think happens.

Once you’ve gathered up your grain, yeast from White Labs, hops and malt you are ready to go (we used extract, which cuts out a very important part of the process that is too sophisticated for this rudimentary introduction – call Colby Chandler if you want more details).  Actually, we got a recipe for a Milk Stout, which also includes adding in a ton of lactose with about 15 minutes to go in the boil, but more on that in a minute.

So before we got done we sampled a couple tasters and headed home to begin the brewing.  The actual process included steeping these grains

Picture of some of the grains, which are quite tasty even raw

Removing them and dropping in some hops so that it looks like a big pot of black soup and then transferring the soupy mix–called wort–into a carboy.  Why is it called a carboy, anyway – click here.  These things are a nightmare to clean, but they work well because they allow the CO2 to escape without compromising the beer.  Before we can put the last touches on the brewing process, it’s necessary to agitate the wort to help activate the yeast.  This may not be technically “necessary” but my brewing partner says it is so I went with it.  Plus it was kinda fun. I was going to add the video of us shaking the carboy’ like a Polaroid Pitcha’, but time got away from me.

Well, that’s the basic story of brewing a nice milk stout.  I shouldn’t be so presumptuous about whether it will actually be nice, but it was fun.  It’s a good way to experience what happens in the process of creating all that tasty craft beer around town.  Have a good one, thanks for visiting.

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