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How to Make Beer: Our Family Discovers the Lost Art of Home-Brewing

The 10 gallon pot is necessary to avoid boil-over, which we didn't escape this session because I distracted Mr. Fox with my endless and annoying questions. So we had some clean-up to do. However, even if you do have a boil-over incident, it's not the end of the world, just a little messy. The beer we made was an English Brown Ale which is a medium body brew with malty character and a nutty aroma. While that sounds like high-brow wine-talk, when you're handling the ingredients that go into the beer you do smell the malt and the nuttiness while it's cooking which just adds to the experience later when the tasting happens. Making your own brew connects you to it; your senses are more attuned to the subtleties of flavor, color and aroma. That just doesn't happen when you pick up a six-pack at the store and the only investment you have in it is how long it takes to find a bottle opener.

According to Mr. Fox a digital hand thermometer with a probe is a must-have tool to maximize the accuracy of the brew. Much like following baking instructions, brewing depends on exact temperatures and measurements and since Mr. Fox is the baker in the family, he took to it naturally. When the water reaches the right temperature, the malt grains go in a giant muslin bag that is much like a tea bagĀ  and is lowered into the pot and tied onto the handle to steep for the proper amount of time.

Next comes the addition of the remaining ingredients like the liquid malt extract and dried hops and it is set to boil for an hour to create what is called wort (kind of like a beer stew.) This is a good time to set the timer and catch up on some TV. When the wort is done it needs to be cooled down fast so the whole pot is transferred into a huge plastic bucket of ice. You can buy a fancy copper wort-chiller that will do this a lot faster but ice works just fine.

Once the wort is sufficiently chilled it's time to strain it into the primary fermenter (which is just a fancy name for plastic beer bucket that has a fitted lid.) Once the wort is strained into the ale pail, more water is added with as much air as possible. Mr. Fox assures me this is necessary and not just fun.