Before the year 2000, explaining the concept of home brewing in Argentina was sure to arouse many confused stares from locals, yet a little more than a decade later, home brewing is starting to find its feet within Argentina’s gastronomic culture.
Member of the association of homemade Argentine brewers Somos Cerveceros, Ricardo Aftyka remembers the early days ten years ago when the first association members would get together for meetings of 8 to 12 people. But the home brewing phenomena has been growing over the past ten years, and 1,500 fervent craft brewers attended the Somos Cerveceros conference in August.
After 12 years of brewing, Aftyka goes through the brewing process as if it were spaghetti with tomato sauce. A culinary aficionado, he says he was introduced into the world of microbrews by way of cooking.
“I travelled to Bariloche in the year 2000, and went to the brewery El Bolsón,” relates Aftyka, “I tried the brew there, and I asked if they’d permit me to see how it’s made, and I saw the process and I realised that the process was like making a stew.”
A bit more complicated than a traditional stew, an average brew takes around six to eight hours of cooking with the wort (the mixture of barley and malt grains) before proceeding on to the fermenting process. Aftyka explains that a brewer continues the work already done by those who toast and germinate the barley to extract the starches and sugars for the yeast to later feast on and convert into alcohol.
As a craft beer advocate Aftyka doesn’t mind the long brewing hours (in fact he finds it relaxes him) as he uses the twice-monthly cooking sessions to share the brewing experience with other interested craft brewers. Aftyka took the opportunity to share his brewing wisdom with the Argentina Independent.
Steps to create your own home brews
One of the reasons why so many people in Argentina have caught on to home brewing is its relative affordability. For quality equipment, you need an investment of around $3,000 for pots, tubes and tanks; but rudimentary brewing can be done with camping pots and a gas burner. Aftyka now uses a professional home brewer kit, ready to facilitate brewing capability and more consistent beer results.
1. The Recipe
Our first step in home brewing was to review the recipe – in this case a recipe to make a traditional English Nut Brown Ale. We also browsed over the four basic beer ingredients (water, grains and malts, hops (which adds the aroma and flavour to the beer) and the type of yeast and fermentation temperature we were going to need.
Aftyka then explained the four large components of equipment that we were to use. This consisted of a water pot (used to heat and regulate the water temperature), the wort pot (used to soak the grains and malts in order to extract the sugars), and the boiling pot where the sugary liquid wort was going to boiled, where the hops is added to give a desired aroma, flavour, and bitterness to the beer. Finally the beer would be cooled in a fermenting tank where we would add the yeast.
In the fermentation process, Aftyka clarified that it is fundamental to control the temperature for fermenting the beer. The changes of temperature in the fermentation process affect the ability for the yeast to produce distinct flavours. So the temperature level depends on the flavour the brewer is looking for. Once the allotted time for fermentation has ended, the yeast is purged by way of the cone at the bottom of the fermenting tank. Aftyka noted down the evolution of the fermentation to see how the beer would progress. The standard beer density is generally over 1000g per cubic metre due to sugary residue, yet after 24 hours generally half of the sugars noted are eaten by the yeast, and after one and a half days the density should reduce to arrive at a number similar to that of water, around a level around 1010-1012g per cubic metre.
4. Cleaning the fermenting tank
Delving down into the microbiology of a beer Aftyka explained the importance of cleaning the fermenting tank. He mentioned that the brewer wants to provide a breeding ground where a fungus can grow (the brewer’s yeast in this case), so brewers don’t want to take the risk of any other unwanted fungi. It is for this reason that Aftyka disinfects the fermenting tank to limit unwanted variables when the wort and yeast are mixed together.
5. Barleys and Malts
All beer has at least 80% of a malted barley base of untoasted grains, and then there is another percentage that can vary from 1-20% of the same grains but toasted. They are the distinct levels of toasted grains that give the beer its dark brown colour, and flavour. In our case, the different levels of toasted grains emitted an aroma of caramel, dried fruits, and chocolate.
6. Mixing and Soaking the Grains
As Aftyka began to heat the pot with water he elucidated the process of the necessary water temperature in the brewing. The desired temperature before introducing the grains is 65°C. We heated the water pot to around 75°C before passing it to the wort pot. The water lost around 10°C in the process. The concept of soaking the wort is the same as making a tea. The objective is to dissolve the sugar and cut the enzymes to reduce complex starch and sugar chains in order that they become easily fermented. As you mix the grains first the toasted and then the base, the water should be introduced slowly to avoid lumps and to allow the water to filter through adding aroma and colour to the beer.
7. Re-circulation of the Wort
Aftyka obsesses over the colour of his beer, and the most important factor for beer colour has to do with the re-circulation. The idea is to obtain a consistency of crystalline liquid with a light brown colour. In order to do this, Aftyka re-circulated the water entering the wort pot and then repeated this process until the consistency of the liquid appeared a crystalline light brown colour and dissolved the quantity of sugars by continually but slowly adding more water. This is done to prevent the conversion of too much alcohol in the fermentation stage. Once finding the correct consistency the water can be passed to the boiling pot before circulating through inner steel tubing in the liquid pot where the temperature is raised. It is important to make sure the wort transfer is done slowly around 45 minutes or else the wort may clog.
8. Boiling the Wort
Once the wort has been added to the boiling pot it is good to stir the liquid and wait for it to boil. Aftyka mentioned that another crucial part of adding to a beer’s flavour occurs when the wort is boiled and the hops are added giving the beer its bitterness. After boiling the beer for ten minutes we then used a large spoon to take out any floating coagulated proteins.
9. Counter Current Cooling
After boiling, the brew needs to cool before fermenting so Aftyka took several minutes to connect a large tubing system comprised of an interior steel tube (where the beer passes) and an exterior plastic tube (filled with a counter current of cool water). The cold water pumped was used to rapidly lower the beer from 100 to 20°C, allowing the incorporation of oxygen and making it easier for the yeast to reproduce. We cooled the beer and filled the water tank with the finished wort and transported it to the fermenting tank.
10. Preparing the Yeast
Before preparing the yeast, Aftyka lit all four stove tops and placed a beaker of water in the middle. He stressed it is just added security to make sure the yeast introduction remains completely sterile. We added 60g of Windsor yeast for our Nut Brown Ale and let it sit ten minutes before activating it by stirring it for a half hour. Our last step in the home brewing wort-making process was complete when we poured the yeast into the fermenting tank. Aftyka noted down the time of mixture, the date and the density and desired temperature depending on the type of beer. In this case Aftyka pre-set the refrigerator temperature and with a big smile on his face told me that it was now what we brewers call the “la dulce espera”: to allow the yeast to finish its work in two weeks time.