- Today's topic: I introduce the beer we'll be brewing — and talk about why we chose this one.
- The Kitchn's Beer School: 20 lessons, 7 assignments to brew your first 1-gallon batch of beer.
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Today, it's time to reveal what we're actually going to be making during our time together. (Hint: It's fizzy and malty, and I think you'll like it.)
The Official Brew of Beer School Is: Amber Ale!
Specifically, we are going to be brewing a 1-gallon, all-grain batch of amber ale. I chose this recipe because, not only do I think this is just a mighty fine beer, but I also think it's a fantastic first recipe to make if you've never brewed before.
Here's why — in today's lesson we take a look at why 1-gallon, why all-grain, why amber, and why ale.
Why 1 Gallon?
One-gallon batches are perfect for all of you new brewers who are very eager to make your own beer, but are still just learning the ropes and might have unspoken worries about making something drinkable. They're also good for those of you who are curious about brewing, but aren't totally sure you want to make the investment of time or money in this new hobby quite yet.
When you scale down to a 1-gallon batch, the whole brewing process becomes infinitely more manageable — as I discovered when I, myself, went from brewing 5-gallon to 1-gallon batches. First of all, the equipment is smaller, which means it takes up less space and also costs less — you probably have a bunch of the things you need already in your kitchen, in fact. Smaller batches are also easier to physically handle. It's easier to lift the pot onto and off of the stove, get the mash or the wort to the right temperatures, cool it down again, and carry the jug of fermenting beer down to the basement (or wherever you end up storing your beer).
And if you mess something up, well, it's only a gallon! Making a major mistake with a 5-gallon batch feels way more painful. (Trust me on that one.)
Bottom line: I think that 1-gallon batches are a relatively easy, inexpensive, stress-free way to learn the brewing process. The biggest downside is that when you end up with a beer you love, you only have 10 bottles to enjoy — though, really, that just means you get to brew again. If homebrewing becomes your passion and you find you want to brew larger batches, it's easy enough to upgrade your equipment down the road.
You actually have a few different options when it comes to actually making the beer wort — that sugary liquid that will eventually become beer. You can make it with extract, partial-extract, or all-grain.
With extract and partial-extract beers, someone else has already done the majority of the work for you — all you have to do is dissolve some syrupy pre-made malt extract in water, add yeast, and you can make beer. Sounds pretty easy, right? And it is! But it's a bit like using store-bought chicken broth to make soup — it's a helpful shortcut and it can certainly make a tasty soup, but the soup you make entirely from scratch is going to have a lot more character and flavor.
All-grain means starting from scratch. You are the one who chooses which grains to use, how much water to add, how long to let them sit together, and so on. Yes, it's a bit trickier and takes more time than using extract — but not that much more. The trade-off is a beer with greater richness, more nuanced character, and generally better quality.
This is also a place where brewing a 1-gallon batch is really to our benefit. Larger batches require some extra TLC, so it usually makes sense to start with extract or partial-extract brews while you get used to how everything works. But 1-gallon batches are so much easier that you can skip the training wheels of extracts and go right to the good stuff.
I also think brewing with all grains is just more fun! There's absolutely nothing wrong with extract and you can make some very good beers using it, but to me, you just miss out on half the party! All-grain is really not that much harder, so why not?
Much of the character of a beer comes from the combination of malts that you use, and this amber ale uses a nice blend of them. For the base, we'll use pale malts, which have a lot of sugar potential, but less interesting flavor — pale malts form the base of a lot of different beer styles, you'll come to learn. To this fairly neutral base, we'll add some crystal malts and caramunich malts. These more darkly roasted malts have less sugar potential, but will give the beer toasty, caramelized flavors and a deep amber color.
The pale malts, crystal malts, and caramunich malts all work together to give the beer the characteristics that will make it specifically an "amber" ale. There's nothing super complicated or tricky going on here, but there's still a bit of pizzazz to keep things interesting.
Why an Ale?
There are two main kinds of beers: ales and lagers. The real difference between the two is the type of yeast used to brew them. Ale yeast is very easygoing and forgiving of small mistakes that you, the brewer, might make in your first batch.
Lager yeast can be just a bit more fussy and difficult to cajole into fermenting properly.
Let's keep things simple and brew an ale to start. Lagers and all the delightful challenges they hold will still be there for you once you master the basics.
What If I Want to Brew Something Else?
No problem! All beers, from amber ales to IPAs to stouts, are brewed using the same basic method. If you'd rather brew something else, just pick your recipe and keep following along with us here to learn the method for brewing it.
What If I Want to Brew a 5-gallon Batch?
If you have your heart set on brewing a 5-gallon batch, you can still follow along with our Beer School — again, the same basic method for brewing and fermenting the beer is the same regardless of batch size. But I highly recommend picking up a homebrewing book to help guide you through some of the smaller differences. I will humbly recommend my own book, Brew Better Beer, which covers both 1-gallon and 5-gallon brewing in detail, but you might also check out The Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian or Mastering Homebrew by Randy Mosher.
Brew Better Beer: A Companion to Beer School
I love brewing beer so much, I wrote a book about it! Brew Better Beer (May 2015, Ten Speed Press) is a complementary guide to Beer School. Take a look for even more nerdy details about homebrewing, how to brew 5-gallon batches, and plenty of recipes for different beers.
→ Find it: Brew Better Beer by Emma Christensen
With The Kitchn's Beer School, we'll teach you how to brew your own beer at home — and brew it with confidence. In 20 lessons and 7 weekend assignments, we'll get you set up with your own home brewery, walk you through your first brew day, show you how to bottle your beer, and then toast you on your first pint. Ready to brew your first beer? Join us!