The Big Reveal: Did We Actually Make Beer?

Hint: By the end of this story, we resort to unorthodox methods of making sparkling wine.

Jul 20, 2011 at 1:02pm | Leave a comment

So as some of you may remember, my very first D.I.Y. project for xoJane was making beer in my apartment with my boyfriend, Chris. We cooked our mash, we extracted our wort, we kept the toxic sanitizer away from ourselves and our pets and we stashed the whole project in our guest bedroom. After two weeks, we transferred the beer from the jug into ten beer bottles (our gallon makes just shy of a twelve-pack).

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We chose the flip-top European-style beer bottles because, besides looking cool, they are also reusable: 

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Two more weeks, and the exciting part began: It was time to drink our beer. We had both heard stories about the horrors of home brews past: smelly beers, beers that sickened whole rooms of guests, beers that just weren’t very good. Thus we approached our initial beer-drinking with caution. Since we had ten bottles, we figured we’d do a first stealth test on our own, then break it out for friends later on.

When I flipped the cap of our first bottle, it exploded all over the counter. Clearly, the fermentation and yeast had done its job. I lost a sip or two in the sink, but when it finally made it into the beer glass, it was a rich, chocolatey, chestnut brown with a head full of foam. No weird odors, no unidentified particles. It looked like beer. No, I don’t have a photo. Why not? Well...

Since this was to be our stealth test, we figured we’d have plenty of time to break it out for friends, once we were certain we would neither poison them nor embarrass ourselves. Chris and I each poured ourselves a glass and....it tasted like beer. With time and tinkering we could surely get even better, but this was way better than any mass-produced domestic beer, and even pretty good example of a good craft beer. It was rich and complex; you could taste the chestnuts; there were no weird aftertastes. In short: We made beer! On our very first try!

Naturally, we then decided to invite our friends over to show off our new skills. We flipped open a new bottle, poured it into the special beer glasses -- given to us by some well-meaning relative -- admired its dark hue. Then we realized something was missing: There was no head. Our beer had gone flat.

What do you do with a six pack of flat beer at a backyard barbecue? I was about to start mixing up beer batter, beer shrimp and beer sorbet, when I remembered this thing:

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This is our seltzer maker. There are many, many fancier ones out there -- if you are in the market, here are two good reviews of potential contenders; I particularly like the ones that look like old-fashioned siphons -- but I got mine for $5 at a stoop sale, from a person who probably got it as a wedding gift or impulse buy, then never even opened the box (the two original cartridges were still glued to the lid).  I use mine every day. Sometimes twice. I have never been a soda person, but I love plain, fizzy seltzer and often just dump a bunch of herbs or berries from the garden into a glass, then drink it all day (if that sounds a little too suburban pastoral, I should remind you that my garden, while lovely, is right off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). I also make a lot of simple syrups -- ginger, basil, hibiscus, lavender, pepper; all one-part water to one-part sugar -- and use them for cocktails (you could also just use them for soda, minus the alcohol, but I never do). 

Ours is ridiculously simple: You just take a CO2 cartridge, insert it into the top, put your liquid into the canister, then twist: 

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I had never, however, used beer as my liquid. But hell, it was worth a try, right? Well, what do you think happened?

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As you can see, lack of foam was no longer an issue.

OK, I did have to pour the foam out of the canister. BUT. Once the craziness subsided, it was pretty much your basic, perfectly carbonated beer. And the head was back!

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Once I started with the carbonated alcoholic beverages, I couldn't stop. Like everyone else in my neighborhood -- and probably yours, too -- my favorite summer beverage for the past decade or so since Proseccos and sparkling roses hit the import market has been bubbly wine, preferably pink. (Also: these things? They are the Japanese school girl lunch box of wine. And they come with their very own pink bendy straw). I've made many a white wine spritzer with wine and seltzer. But of course I had to try the wine, too. 

For my first bottle, I chose this one we bought at a vineyard in upstate New York, then stashed on top of our refrigerator for two years:

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The wine was tasty enough, but that "bursting with fruit flavors" thing -- which they mean literally, in that the "blackberry notes" are not metaphorical at all, but from actual blackberries in the wine  -- had us thinking that we should save it for a sangria. 

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But, hey, it foamed up just fine! And the taste was pretty fabulous, too. I wouldn't suggest doing this with super fancy wine that some vintner has labored for decades to get just right. But if you want to add sparkle to your average $10-$20 bottle, it's pretty damn awesome. They sell Fat Bastard rose for $5.95 a bottle down the street from me. And I can tell you, I plan to make it sparkle.

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