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November 07, 2018

How to Brew When You're Low on Supplies

It’s the weekend. You’ve got a few hours free. But you forgot to order a recipe kit, and it’s colder than a witch’s behind outside. There’s no way you’re going to the store in this weather.

Bad timing has left you with only spare parts in your larder and nowhere to turn. Time to figure out how to make beer with what you've got at home.

1. Scavenge

If you're itching to brew, step #1 is to determine whether you have enough ingredients to ferment a complete batch of beer. Gather up your half pounds of grain and spare extract. Pull your extra hops out of the freezer. Grab your yeast, additives, and any other bits you have lying around. At the very least, this base will get you a brown ale, right?

At a basic level, beer requires: malt, yeast, hops, and water. Use the following guidelines as a checklist to determine whether you can make a drinkable batch of beer.

Malt

The first step toward drinkable beer is to ensure you have enough fermentable sugar to convert into alcohol. This sugar can come in the form of grains, dry malt extract, liquid malt extract, or a combination of all of the above. In a pinch, you can even top up with brown or white sugar. 

It might feel strange and slightly unholy to use such a random mishmash of fermentable sugars, but don't worry about the "purity" of your recipe. After all, you went into this batching knowing you'd be bootstrapping, right?

Yeast

Second, and equally important: you need enough critters to turn that sugar into beer. The yeast you have on hand can drive the resulting style of your beer. For example, Omega's saison stein monster is perfect for most Belgian styles. Whereas Safale US-05, Wyeast 1056, and White Labs 001 are versatile strains that cover a broad swathe of styles (particularly American ales). 

One route you can take is to check the page of the yeast you have and see to which beer styles it corresponds. All of our yeasts have a list of recommended styles. But feel free to play outside the lines; most yeast strains will consume any sugar you put in front of them.

NOTE: We highly recommend always keeping a few packets of dry yeast on hand, as it has a longer shelf life. You never know when it'll come in handy.

Hops

Here's where things really get interesting. Now that you've made sure you have the adequate supplies to create alcohol, it's time to make it taste good. Sure, you could make a brown ale. Or you could make a Spiced Belgian India Brown Ale.

When it comes to hops, don't be afraid to mix and match. Any hop variety will work for aroma or bittering - it's all about when you add it to the boil. As a rule of thumb,  hops added at the beginning of the boil add bitterness; hops added toward the end (or during whirlpool or dry hopping) provide flavor and aroma. 

We'll cover experimentation more fully in the next section.

Water

Got clean, drinkable water in the house? Great. You're good to go.

2. Experiment

How do you think Black Wheat beer became a thing? It certainly wasn’t because someone stuck to convention. In all likelihood, the brewer took a shot in the dark and accidentally discovered something wonderful. 

It might feel a little risky. But all you have to lose are a few hours and some spare ingredientsWhat you gain is the chance to become an innovative brewer. Why make a Brown Ale when you could do a Nut Brown Wheat? Or an Imperial Cream Ale? How about a Coconut Milkshake IPA?

Crack open those kitchen cabinets and start digging around, because it's time to get weird.

Other Ingredients You Might Have On Hand:

Key Pointers on Experimentation:

  • Take Notes: The benefits of note-taking can’t be emphasized enough. You’ll be able to tweak, scale, and compare your recipes as well as see what you might have done wrong. 
  • Choose Unexpected Ingredients: If you're committing to experimentation, truly commit. 
  • Failure is Your Friend: Don't worry if it isn't perfect. Revolution doesn't happen on the first try. Which brings us to...

    3. Test, Tweak, Try Again

    Time passes. The temperature rises. Suddenly, it's sunny outside and your beer is ready to drink. Crack one open and take a sip.

    Maybe the beer’s a little maltier than you expected, or there’s an unexpected peach flavor you can’t nail down. It’s good, but it could be better. Or it’s bad, but there’s a part of it you enjoy. 

    You now have a lead. An untrodden path itching to be followed.

    And the best part? You've taken notes, which means you can plot out exactly what you need to order for your second iteration. Brew, sip, tweak, repeat.

    4. Share your creation.

    You just did something awesome. Share it with the world. The homebrewing community on Instagram is vibrant and supportive, freely doling out advice & beer talk all day long. They're a great resource for refining your experimentation.

    If you haven't joined the party yet, this is the perfect opportunity. Follow @northernbrewersupply to jump in. 

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