I hadn’t homebrewed a beer in a few weeks, and I was really thirsty, so I needed a quick-fix brew. I grabbed the ingredients for a Guinness-stlye dry stout at my LHBS store. This was a really simple extract recipe – some liquid malt extract, 2 lbs flaked barley, 1 lb roasted barley and 1 2oz addition of Goldings. I thought that I could bang it out in a few hours because it was a weeknight and I had to arise in the morning to work to fund future brews.
After I arrived home, I was eager to get brewing, but I realized I had made a fatal error that was sure to put a damper on my booze production. I hadn’t made an extract beer in months and seemingly forgot how to do it. I had 3 lbs of steeping grains but nothing to steep it in! I had forgot my “muslin bag”, “nylon sack”, or “sock”- what have you. I was feeling extra resourceful and sprinted down to CVS to purchase pantyhose. I have never purchased pantyhose in my life (I was a hosenvirgin). With dry stout on the mind the last thing I wanted was to be confronted with 20 different styles, colors, and fish or un-fishnetted ladies legwear. I selected one from many egg shaped vessels (six bucks!?) and hurried giddily back to my apartment to fill my newly-purchased very long socks with not a leg, but roasted barley.
I cut one limb from the pair and filled it with the steeping grains. I chuckled as I tied off my luscious leg-o-grain. I heated my water to a perfect 155˚F and let her go! Usually you only need to steep for about 30 min. That should be enough time for most of the flavor and color to be extracted from the grain and find its way into your brew. Thirty minutes later, I returned to my brewpot expecting to find it black as night, but to my dismay the water was barely brown. I could see the bottom of the pot, a shameful beer no one would call a Guinness.
I ran back to my recipe book, flipping through to the page. Maybe I had made a copying error? Nope, 1 lb roasted barley. That amount of roasted malt plus 5 gallons of water should be squid ink. I was perplexed. I then happened to glance at the scissors and what was once a fine set of gams lying on the counter. Curses! The pantyhose! I determined that the pantyhose was so tight, that my black roasted barley was compacted in the leg and was not allowing my brew water to flow freely through it. A normal steeping bag is loose and free, allowing maximum grain contact with the water. Essentially only a fraction of my grain was being steeped. I dunked and squeezed the leg (which should be usually avoided, due to tannin extraction), trying not to burn myself, and watched precious black gold ooze from the sides into my would-be wort.
Thirty more minutes passed of me periodically squeezing and dunking and I had had enough. The water was still brown. I came to the realization that I would not make a stout that day. The water was a bit darker than before, but probably only as brown as an English brown ale. I thought that I could end up with a bitter or something, so I boiled the malt extract and hops, followed by pitching US-05 yeast.
I tasted it a few weeks later and boy was it was boring. None of the coffee-like bitterness from the roasted barley was there like it should have been. It had some of the proper body, probably due to the flaked barley and it fermented clean, but I was not excited about it. I have a newly instated rule; if I can’t muster up the excitement and energy to bottle my beer in 4 weeks, it probably isn’t very good. The fourth week of it sitting in the carboy, I was still disappointed. I was still thirsty and the only beer on the horizon was a bastard of a brew – it had no known beer style to identify with. Some people may say that I had discovered something new. St. James’ Gate may want to hear about my new style! I disagree. If you set out to make something you know and love but terribly miss your mark, you haven’t discovered something new. You haven’t breached the edge of beer knowledge, but only maybe learned what not to do.
In the end, somewhere in that fourth week I was still craving dry stout and travelled back to my homebrew supply store to buy the same ingredients again, but this time – all grain! I knew that I could have tried an extract stout sans pantyhose, but I had the time to fit in an all grain brew, so I did. Not to mention I love working with the English Pale malt “Maris Otter”, which is very hard to find in extract form. This past Sunday I worked for 5 hours to actually produce wort black enough to be called “stout”. If anything is to be learned from this it is to prepared for your brew day, and pantyhose may make women’s legs beautiful, sleek and sexy, but will not do the same for your beer. Lederhosen is the only brew-hosen I now approve of.