When President Obama did his “Ask Me Anything” interview on Reddit in August, the Redditors were curious about Internet freedom, marijuana legalization and Obama’s beer brewing efforts at the White House. The President assured his audience that White House Honey Ale, which is made with honey from the White House garden beehives, is “tasty.”
Obama’s fellow home brewers started a petition at the White House’s website, and the administration released the “Ale to the Chief” recipes over the Labor Day weekend. You can find them on the White House blog.
Are you ready to join the president and brew your own? I’m more inclined to pop open a bottle from the experts, but, hey, I don’t have the White House staff on hand to fix what “ales” me. So I asked a home brewing friend, Matt Canale, a video game developer in L.A., to fill me in on his experience and give our readers some tips on how to get started.
CityBeat: Why brew your own beer?
Matt Canale: Because I wanted to try it for years, and now I’m in the obsessing-over-getting-it-right-at-least-once phase (four batches finished and a fifth in the fermenter, and only one of them has been drinkable).
CB: When you buy beer, what’s your favorite? Do you try to match your home brew to that?
MC: It’s kind of the reverse at the moment.
I love most any kind of beer, but the last three I’ve brewed have been stouts. I decided I wanted to figure out one particular style before I moved on. So lately I’ve been drinking a lot of stout. The only decent batch I’ve made was supposed to be an imperial stout, but ended up being closer in taste and alcohol content to Guinness.
CB: Where do you get your recipes? Is there a favorite source online, or are the people who sell the supplies the biggest help?
MC: I started by reading John Palmer’s How to Brew, which is kind of the brewer’s bible. Problem is, the book got complex enough to scare me off of the idea for a while — like a couple of years. Then one day I just decided I was going to do it. The first batch I brewed, I went to a home brew shop and they sold me the supplies and gave me a two-page set of instructions. It wasn’t great beer — it wasn’t even good beer — but it was beer. So after that experience I realized that How to Brew approached the process from a level that I wasn’t ready for. It was this book, Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer, that really helped. It’s all single-gallon recipes, so if you screw one up it’s only a gallon. Plus, it’s a set of recipes that are all-grain instead of using malt extract syrup or powder, which gives you total control over the ingredients and the final product. It helped me get a handle on different grains, yeasts and hops.
CB: So How to Brew is all-grain, but Beer Craft uses an easier method?
MC: How to Brew goes over both methods. It starts with extract brewing, finishes with all-grain brewing. The difference is the batch size. How to Brew, and most other homebrew books, use 5-gallon recipes. A 5-gallon extract brew needs a 5-gallon stockpot, a strainer, a fermenting bucket and various other supplies. A 5-gallon all-grain brew needs a ton of other stuff. Most people modify a 5- or 10-gallon cooler to use as a mash tun to soak the grain and produce the wort (the base liquor for the brew). You’ll also need a larger stock pot for the boil and a burner that can handle it. If you reduce the all-grain brew down to a gallon, you can make the wort in your stock pot using a grain bag, much like you’d make a cup of tea. Just steep it for an hour. That’s how the Beer Craft recipes work. Granted, it’s just 10 bottles of beer, but it’s an easier way to get started commitment-wise.
So, if you’re looking for a good fall project, diving into beer might be just the thing. Locally, Listermann’s, at 1621 Dana Ave., near Xavier University, sells all the supplies you need to get started. Their website (listermann.com) also offers recipes, advice and a forum where home brewers share their experiences.
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