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Natural Perspectives: The steps of making beer

July 14, 2010|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • Beer starts out with malted barley and water in this stainless steel container called a mash tun.
Beer starts out with malted barley and water in this stainless… (Independent )

Since Vic and I acquired our three hens, our composting operation has changed. More of our kitchen scraps go the chickens, who love vegetable and fruit peelings, than go into the composter. Instead of vegetable peels, we now put straw bedding and chicken poop into the composter. As the ratio of brown to green waste changed, our composter didn't heat up enough for rapid decomposition.

Luckily, Huntington Beach gardener John Manning had a solution for us — beer. He picks up spent brewers grain from the Huntington Beach Beer Company at 201 Main St. and swears by its positive effect on his compost piles. I stopped by his house last week and was awed by the quality of the compost that he produces.

Manning sends out a weekly email notice about when the spent brewers grain is going to be available next. But before getting onto his list, I wanted to try some of this grain myself. I went downtown Saturday and got more than I bargained for. Besides grain, I also got a fascinating lesson from brew-masters Greg and Barbara Gerovac about how to make beer. Greg's great-grandfather, and Vic's as well, were both Wisconsin brew-masters, but I knew nothing about how beer is made.

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I parked next to the police substation about 9:30 a.m., being sure to put quarters in the meter. Although the sign on the brewery door said that it didn't open until 11, the door was unlocked. I walked in like I knew what I was doing, and went upstairs with my clean, 5-gallon utility bucket.

Greg and Barbara were just finishing the cooking step where the grain is heated with purified water to make a barley broth. While we were waiting, Greg walked me through the steps of making beer.

Beer is generally made from malted barley, although sometimes wheat is used. Malted in this case means sprouted and roasted. Because the sprouting and roasting of the grain is a specialized field, Greg gets his malted barley from a supplier in the state of Washington. The barley itself comes from the northwestern United States or Canada. For more authenticity, Greg buys malted barley from Germany if he's making a particular German recipe of beer.

The dry malted barley is stored in a 10,000-pound storage container. An auger moves the grain from storage to a grinder for precision grinding to 0.8 millimeters. That's pretty tiny, about the width of a pencil lead.

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