It’s a rainy Sunday at the end of June; Ben Harper’s Fight for your Mind is playing loudly in Devon Yacura’s kitchen.
The air smells like sweet porridge.
On the stove is a wide, tall stainless steel pot. It’s a fancy pot; it has a spigot on the bottom, and close to the spigot is a dial-thermometer. A red arrow is hovering near 150-degrees Celsius. There’s also a vertical see-through tube attached to the pot; it’s filled with a murky brown liquid, reminiscent of gruel.
Yacura is making his ninth batch of homebrew. He’s following a recipe out of Capturing Beer to make hoegaarden white ale, a beer he really likes.
In the pot is a cheesecloth-bag full of US malt barley suspended in 150-degree water. It has to steep for 90 minutes. The first step of the brewing process is an extraction — the mash pulls the sugar from the grains, “which is ultimately the alcohol.”
Brewing beer makes sense to Yacura — he loves cooking, and he loves drinking beer. He loves drinking beer with his friends, and he loves sharing his homemade beer.
He says it’s a simple process.
A burlap bag sits on the floor; it’s full of barley, which is the sugar-giving malt that makes up the bulk of the beer. Yacura has smaller plastic bags in a large cardboard box. They contain special grains that differentiate beer types — there’s a chocolate malt grain that he’d use to make stout, and an amber malt that he’d use for amber beer.
He pulls Ziploc bags filled with green pellets out of the freezer — the hops. He says hoegaarden doesn’t call for a lot of hops, just a bit to bitter it up, but beers like IPA are hop-heavy. He’d like to try growing hops, but for now, he orders hops online.
The hops extract looks, and smells, like it should be illegal.
Yacura gives attention to the mash; he stirs it to cool it down, and double-checks the temperature. Beer-making is simple like baking bread or playing the French horn is simple — the steps are few and straightforward, but the details are crucial.
Yacura went into a homebrew store and said, “Give me everything I need to make my own beer.”
The initial investment was around $1200 — the fancy pot cost $450 alone. But now that he’s got the equipment, it costs him around $20 to brew a batch.
Each batch gives him five gallons of beer, which fills 60 regular-sized beer bottles. He says it’ll take him a year to pay off the initial investment, and by that time, his beer will be better than ever.
“I pretty much don’t buy beer anymore. It’s good cost saving.” He says.
Although he does purchase the odd beer, for inspiration, and comparison.
“A lot of time I like my own beer better. I think I’ve got it pretty dialed in,” he says.
So much so that he’s started experimenting. Currently he’s on a “yarrow kick”. He sips from a mug of yarrow tea as he waits for the mash to steep. He says drinking the tea is a good way to get a sense of yarrow-flavour, as he plans to add leaves to the hoegaarden to give it a “Yukon kick”.
Yacura says there’s a big community of home-brewers in Whitehorse; he didn’t know this until he started making his own beer, and talking about it.
He figures everyone has their own brew-quirks, that there’s “a personalization of the brewing process.”
He’s started saving and re-using his yeast.
The yeast resides in a sealed test tube until the wort is ready for it. Wort is the post-mash gruel; it’s the inverse of porridge — all liquid sweetness. It has to be boiled for an hour, which is when the hops and any spices are added — the hoegaarden recipe calls for dried orange peel, coriander and cumin. The liquid is then rapidly cooled and poured into a carboy — a large container for holding liquids.
Then the yeast is added. Yeast are living, single-celled organisms, and madness ensues when they’re added to wort.
The madness is called fermentation.
“If there’s sugar and a warm temperature, the yeast is reproducing and eating sugar — it bubbles away like crazy,” says Yacura. The yeast converts the sugar-heavy liquid wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carboy is stopped with a one-way spigot, which lets out the carbon dioxide without letting oxygen in.
The yeast sinks to the bottom of the liquid after it’s eaten all the sugar. At that point, Yacura bottles the liquid and pours the yeast into an old water bottle for his next batch.
Although he saves most of the yeast, remnants remain in each bottle of soon-to-be-beer. He adds a bit of sugar to each bottle — to make the yeast happy, which results in bubbly beer, as the carbon dioxide has no way to escape the bottles in this case.
Yacura used the same yeast to brew three batches of beer.
“It was sort of sad when I finally had to throw it out,” he says.
Yacura says beer-making “is the most rewarding hobby you can do.”
Turning barley malt and hops into a feast for yeast is a fine way to pass a rainy Sunday in late June, and the result is a batch of hoegaarden, which is a fine beer to drink, with a squeeze of orange, in late July.