Grapes, sugar, yeast, water, a great dose of patience—over centuries, mankind has perfected the art of homemade alcoholic brews, or the gentlemen’s moonshine. Brewing homemade beer is not a common phenomenon in India, maybe because carbonation has the scary ‘side-effect’ of making glass bottles explode or maybe because beer is not the most popular drink in the country, only accounting for 7 per cent of all liquor consumed in India. On a recent Sunday morning, a couple of 50-year-old beer enthusiasts—a publisher and a chip designer—brewed two cases of beer at their home in South Delhi.
Outlook was present.
The Basics: It takes about two-and-a-half hours to brew a 20-litre batch of beer. After that, the mixture needs to ferment for about a month before it can be bottled and consumed. If all goes according to the plan, our brewers will have two cases of Caribou Slobber beer with dense layers of malt, caramel, baking chocolate and light-roast coffee. The alcohol content will be about 4-6 per cent.
Step One, the equipment: The equipment brought in as checked-in baggage from the US for approximately $200 (Rs 12,000) includes storing, cleaning and bottling equipment. The ingredients used to make this specific batch costs $49 (Rs 3,000). And to brew this type of beer, these are the things required: three types of specialty grains, malt syrup and dry malt extract, three types of hops, dry yeast and some priming sugar (to carbonate the bottled beer at the final stage). Apart from the hops, all of these ingredients are available in India, though our brewers are still working on logistics for the production of future batches.
Step Two, getting started: First things first, home brewing is legal in India—as long as the brewers don’t try to sell the final product. It’s also not something anyone can hide from family members—a kitchen (preferably not a poky one) is needed. You need lots of space as there are large utensils that hold as much as 20 litres of boiling water. To start with, pour crushed grains into a mesh bag and tie the open end in a knot. Then, steep this bag in the utensils with boiling water for about 20 minutes. After discarding the bag from the mixture, add maltose into it. Stir the ‘wort’ well—that’s what the mixture is now called, unfermented beer.
Step Three, adding the taste: Add each of the three hop packets in any order to the bubbling brew at 20-minute intervals. After an hour, immediatly stop the slow boil and rapidly cool the ‘wort’. Carefully sanitise the fermenter—a large bottle-shaped container—pour in eight litres of cold water and then add the ‘wort’. Now, we are ready for the most crucial phase of the process.
Step Four, fermentation: Carefully add the yeast (the key fermenting agent) into the fermenter, which needs to be immediately sealed once it’s done. Our brewers store the heavy fermenter in a warm, dark and quiet basement. Latest reports from them indicate that their batch has started bubbling: this is a good sign. Two weeks later, the beer will be transferred to a second fermenter. On bottling day (which should be about a month after the beginning of brewing), a priming solution of sugar is added to carbonate the beer. Bottling and refrigeration follows. The caveats before consumption: ignore the layer of sludge at the bottom of the glass, consume the product quickly as the beer has no preservatives and drink with moderation!
Also see: A 1996 piece on the secret art of home-made booze: Gentlemen's Moonshine