Friday, February 17, 2012

Home Brewing in Egypt

Our pals Ben and Jess are leaving for Saudi Arabia next school year. In order to properly send Ben off to a dry country, I thought he could use a crash course in home brewing (plus an extra body makes the process go a little smoother). Yes kids, this is what we do after school in our apartments. 

My saga as an ad hoc brewer started three years ago when the former physics teacher, Clay bestowed his basic brewing equipment to Huck Finn. Prior to moving to Alexandria I did my research and the beer scene looked bleak. Ana and I were coming from the world's epicenter of craft brewing heading straight to lagerville hell. Huck told me all about he and Clay's brewing adventures including the infamous Band-Aid beer thanks to a cheap plastic fermenter sold on the streets of Egypt. Someone had to carry on the tradition, so I said, "sign me up" because I rather endure a root canal than be punished by Egyptian lagers. The suitcases were loaded with malt, yeast, and hops of my favorite beer and off we went to BFE.

How hard could home brewing be? Huck, Jose, and I broke into Ji's apartment (since she really didn't live there and since none of us wanted our apartments to smell like a brewery) and attempted our first batch of a Green Flash IPA clone. I didn't bring grains and certainly didn't know anything about steeping them. The guy at the brew supply store didn't mention it. We just boiled the water added malt, threw in the hops (sans muslin bags), and watched it all boil over a couple of times. After the boil we put the pot in a bucket of ice and cooled it in 30-minutes in order to pitch the yeast. The liquid gold was stored into a proper fermenting bucket. Two weeks later we bottled it then came the day we cracked open our first bottle. All I could think about is how I was going to have my favorite beer. About an inch of yeast and hop sludge laid at the bottom of the bottle, intuition told me that this might affect the taste. After the first swallow I tasted characteristics of what we were aiming for, but as far as it tasting like a Green Flash IPA...not really. I'm not going to lie and say that the following batches tasted better but the process became cleaner and more efficient. This went on for two years until Huck and family flew the coup (Hong Kong).

Over the past summer I formed a proper relationship with a home brewing supply shop and got some pointers from the proprietor in addition to picking up a book and supplies (got grains this time!). There was a definite improvement but a slight off-taste still lingered and I didn't know why.

In the meantime Ana and I joined a photo club and met Roxanne. I overheard her talk about her husband watching a football game back at home. We struck up a conversation and she mentioned the most magical expat word in all of Egypt, "commissary." We talked about commissary beer and I told her that I brew my own. She had an OMG (oh my God) you NEED to meet my friend Barry moment; "Barry is my husband's best friend and we all live together." Like Three's Company I added? Barry loves German brew and indeed brews his own. He invited me over to watch him brew one morning and that was an eye opener. I learned about a proper wort chiller, beer kits, and how to prevent oxygen from getting into your brew. Barry's school of home brewing is just what the doctor ordered. He let me use his equipment to brew my West Coast IPA. I opened my first bottle three weeks ago and did a somersault off the kitchen counter. I wrestled the nearest camel to the ground and yelled, "I fucking did it!"

Yes, it is amazing what proper methods and equipment will do for your home brew. All good things do come to an end. Barry moved back home to the states about a month ago, but he left me his wort chiller and ordered me some necessary supplies through his magic mail system.

I have brewed three batches since.

The History

Batches (I write the batch number on the bottle caps) 
1. Walter's Islamic Pale Ale Sludge. Walter is my dear friend who inspired me to home brew in Egypt. He drove me around to get my first supplies.  
2. WIPA sans sludge
4. Bob's Islamic Pale Ale 
7. Accidental Barley Wine (ABW). The malt meant for the Belgium Ale went into the IPA brew. Clean but potent.
8. Leftovers. Clay had left some unmarked grains, malt, and yeast. Sure it was three plus years old, but what did I have to lose? I threw in some hops, cloves, and honey. It was black, clean, and delicious. 
9. Exploding Pale Ale (EPA), The malt meant for the IPA went into the Belgium Ale. Three bottles and counting have blown up and made the closet smell like a bar at closing time. 
10. Green Flash IPA clone  
11. Belgium Trippel Kit (bottled 1 week-tastes fantastic)
12. Urs' Black Mesa IPA Kit (in fermenter) 
13. Santa Rosa IIPA Kit (in fermenter) 

The evidence and players throughout the years.  

Roxanne and Tracy only come out at night.
Brewmaster Barry is leaving the Tea Party because they were just a little too liberal for his taste. 
Bob the Brewer
Chilling the wort in the tub.
Ice Ice Baby.
Bottling day results.
The magic closet.
Batch 3-not bad looking.
Robyn gets an honorable mention for smuggling in Arrogant Bastard Ale and sharing it. 
If it wasn't for Harry and Goedroen we'd lack some serious Belgium beer knowledge.
Walter gave me the push I needed.
Huck Finn with his friend F**kbird 

F**kbird showing his displeasure about Ben leaving to Saudi Arabia.
Panda provides the behind-the-scene straining. 
Jose might still have a bottle of our first batch hidden in the back of the fridge. 
BFF Clay and Jose. Thanks Clay for leaving behind the tools of the trade and a couple bottles of Band-Aid Beer .

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