Not too long ago, we took an intro class in making homebrew at Bitter & Esters. It was fun and informative! Plus, drinking. We decided to take it to the next level, so this past Saturday afternoon was spent actually making beer with guidance from Bitter & Esters co-owner and brew guru, Doug Amport. That’s Doug, below. He knows his stuff.After some debate, we decided to try for an Oktoberfest-style lager. Right off the bat, I learned two things worth sharing here: first, calling it an “Oktoberfest” beer is a marketing gimmick. This coppery and delicious beverage is correctly called a “märzen,” which has its origins back in good ole 16th century Bavaria. The term “märzen” (or March, in German) is a remnant from a time when the village brewers last beers were made in March and then stored until late summer or fall. That’s why they are March beers, or Märzenbier, if you want to be a pain in the ass.Regardless, the whole “Oktoberfest beer” concept is a recent development, and so named as the release of the beer coincides with the famous autumn beerfest in Munich. Interesting AND thirst-quenching. Second factoid: the word lager is not just a noun, but a verb. The root word “lagern” is German in origin (notice a trend?) which means to store. “To lager,” or lagering, is essentially cold storage and fermenting of beer over a longer time period: usually 4-6 weeks. So although we made beer on Saturday, it’s chillin’ in a cold storage carboy until December 27th. Next up: bottling party!
Admittedly I’m not the best do-it-yourselfer at home, but perhaps I just lack the right kind of motivation. If the end result of my effort was, say, a tasty beer? Well, maybe that would change my aptitude! It was with this mindset that I attended Brewshop 101: Introduction to Homebrewing at the city’s first do-it-yourself brewery, Bitter & Esters. Located in Prospect Heights, the first thing you’re hit with when you walk in the door is the pungent smell of malt and hops- which is way different and much nicer than what your favorite dive bar smells like. It’s sort of a pleasant cross between warm bread and a bale of hay (as opposed to stale beer and plumber’s crack). Bitter & Esters is a sweet little facility, and the enthusiasm and depth of knowledge of resident Brew Professor (and co-owner) John La Polla is nothing short of amazing. Now here’s a guy who clearly loves his work, and with good reason. This little shop is churning out some amazing beers! Here’s the thing – there’s a lot of moving parts to making beer. It involves fermenters, hydrometers, carboys, hops, malts, heating elements, rapid cooling… It was more related to chemistry than I imagined, but luckily, this is a class where there is not just required reading but required drinking.In the end, my two buddies and I felt we learned just enough to want to learn more. If you don’t want to buy the homebrew kit, they actually allow you to come to the shop and work there (with experienced hands nearby for questions) so we’re going to go back and make a few cases. The only question is what to call the first batch o’ brew… so far, the frontrunner seems to be “THE INCREDIBREW.” Anyone else care to volunteer some ideas?