Drinking lousy beer (like Natty Light) might be a rite of passage for college students, but it sure gets old fast. So at the end of last summer, Laura Gilroy ’11 and I decided to get serious about brewing our own. We applied for club funding to help subsidize our dream, Professor of Biology Rob Fairman (an avid home brewer) signed on as our faculty adviser, and suddenly we were an official 10-person club, carrying on a tradition of home brewing at Haverford that we’re told used to flourish but has dropped off in recent years.
Our original plans for Home Brewers Club production included making everything from kombucha to hard cider, but those plans were waylaid by the stress of looming thesis drafts. Eventually, though, we purchased everything we needed to make a Belgian-style witbier. Laura had learned about fermentation of “prison wine” in a class on the justice system, and I had grown up watching my dad’s home brewing equipment gather dust in the garage, but neither of us had any personal brewing experience. Beer’s already rotten, we figured, so what could we do wrong? But staring at the mess of tubes, pots, and bags of hops and oats that we pulled out of our brewing kit, we felt a bit daunted.
Luckily the instructions were easy to follow, and soon the eHaus kitchen was filled with the pungent smell of malty, bubbling wort (which is the unpleasant name for beer before it ferments). At the end of the four-hour brewing process, which involved a lot of waiting for the liquid to heat to the right temperature, keeping it from bubbling over and making sure that everything that touched the brew was sterilized to avoid contamination, we poured the whole mixture into the fermenter (a plastic bucket) and sealed it with an airlock.
For two weeks that bucket sat like a dormant volcano as we anxiously kept watch for tiny bubbles—proof that the yeast was doing its job—and worked on plans for a club field trip to Philadelphia’s Yards Brewery, an interactive seminar on fermentation with local brewers and a tasting of our first batch. Finally bottling day arrived, and Franklin Winslow ’00, a brewer at Yards, came to offer expert advice and help six of us siphon the beer into about 45 recycled bottles.
One thing we learned: Home brewing is by no means cheaper than buying a case of a nice microbrew. Our first batch came out to about $80 for 45 bottles (with generous discounts from our mentor John at Brew Your Own Beer in Havertown). It still has to carbonate for two more weeks in the bottles before it’s really drinkable, but of course we couldn’t resist tasting some. The orange peel and coriander we used to flavor it gave the beer a crisp, refreshing flavor. Mostly, though, we were just relieved that it tasted like beer—and not like Natty Light.
–Ellen Freeman ’11