The Alchemical Kitchen: Making beer at home

By Rebecca Brenner

Recently Utah became the 47th state in the nation to legalize home brewing; celebrate by making some beer!
by Rebecca Brenner


Early this spring, my husband Allan and I joined the tribe of people who, through the millennia, have engaged in the art of brewing beer. Ancient Egyptian picto­graphs show people dropping bits of bread into their drinks, which may explain how early beer was created-probably with bread, wild airborne yeast, dates and honey.

The hoppy beer that Allan and I love so much is thought to have spread throughout Europe by early Germanic and Celtic tribes. Hops would have been added to balance out the sweetness and act as a preservative. Early on, beer made its way from Europe to the United States. For these early settlers homebrewing, much like baking bread and making cheese, was a common household practice.

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution, when many of the home artisan food practices went large scale, that government regulations changed domestic homebrewing to industrial production. However, in 1979, the U.S. relaxed legislation, making it legal for home brewers to craft their own beers again. Just this month, homebrewing officially became legal in Utah, making honest citizens of Utah’s estimated 7,000 homebrewers.

And so begins this month’s Alchemical Kitchen adventure.

We started our journey at the Beer Nut on State Street. We were barely through the door when a cheerful guy asked, “Can I help you?” We explained we were brand-new to beer making and eager to get started. He dropped what he was doing and led us to the starter kits. (As you know from last month’s Alchemical Kitchen, we’re huge fans of starter kits when embarking on a new DIY project). We had three options.

Each kit included sterilization for your supplies, strain bags, a fermentation bucket, transfer tubing, a hydrometer, caps, a capper, and a video.

Kit one had only the one fermentation bucket.

Kit two included a secondary fermentor which helps to remove the majority of yeast sediment.

Kit three included a large gallon pot for boiling the gallons of water you need.

We decided on kit two-we have a large pot which I use for canning and aren’t huge fans of yeast floating in our beer.

We also decided on an India Pale Ale for our first batch. The Beer Nut has kits to get you started on the recipes, so of course we grabbed one of these as well. It included barley grain, malt, Fuggle, Chinook, and Cluster Alpha hops.

At the register, with starter kit two, an IPA kit, a bag of sugar, and vial of yeast, Allan and I were almost giddy. The manager must have sensed our excitement because he suggested we sign up for a workshop the Beer Nut offers the last Sunday of each month. It’s for beginners, but they like participants to have one batch under their belts; by the next workshop we would at least have our IPA fermenting. We were in.

At home, Allan popped in the DVD and I started on the written instructions. Both said the first three steps are: sanitize, then sanitize, then sanitize some more. So sanitize I did-all of our utensils, the new fermentation buckets, and every last inch of each counter-while Allan took diligent notes from the DVD.

With a sparkling kitchen and notes laid out, we were ready for step two, choosing our water. We brought four gallons of ionized water to boil, and steeped the barley for 45 minutes. During the workshop a week later, our teacher would strongly discourage us from using ionized water -“It doesn’t have enough minerals for the yeast to thrive”-suggesting instead the artesian water on 8th South at 5th East or city water right from the faucet. We won’t know until we crack open our first beer in mid-June if ionized water ruined our batch or not. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Steeping the barley begins to break down the grain, creating sugar for the yeast to eventually thrive on. After the barley steeped, we added the malt extract, taking care not to let it scorch. At the workshop we learned that the malt is what eventually creates the alcohol content. To keep your malt tasty, remove the mixture from heat and stir while you add it in. Once the barley and malt are successfully blended you have what is called a wort, into which your hops are added.

During the workshop, the teacher passed around hops for us to smell. He explained that hops are like grapes in wine-they reflect the soil and temperature of where they are grown. I’m not sure if you’ve ever smelled hops, but they are the freshest, fullest chunks of transmuted earth I’ve ever had the pleasure of smelling.

Hops even out the sweet taste of the malt with a bit of bitterness, he explained. Apparently hops grow naturally alongside the Provo River. This means they’re adapted to our climate and will definitely go into our seed order next January.

At the workshop we learned that next to water, yeast is the number-one important ingredient. I am hopeful, Allan probably moreso, that eventually we’ll be able to create beer recipes on our own-choosing grains, hops and yeast. For now, Allan simply poured our wort into the fermentation bucket and added the yeast that the Beer Nut gave us. I got to the celebratory action of collecting bottles.

A week after the workshop we siphoned our beer from the first fermentor into the secondary fermentor. Three weeks later we mixed in a small amount of sugar which the yeast will eat to create the carbonation. Allan then siphoned our beer into bottles and snuggled them into the back of the cupboard.

Many DIY foods and beverages are alive and each step requires attention and time. So now we wait…we wait for our carefully crafted IPA to awaken and thrive. Allan is on to daydreaming about his next batch, pumpkin ale, and I continue to help him collect more bottles.

If you are interested in home beermaking, I strongly encourage you to go to the Beer Nut, purchase the kits, and sign up for the workshop. The folks who work there really know their stuff; they will get you started on the right foot. Then you, too, will be a member of the ancient (and rapidly expanding) tribe of brewers.

Beer Nut-inspired barley bread
3 cups local Utah flour
1 cup dried barley from the beer
making process
¼ cup organic sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Utah salt
2 local eggs

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2.Mix flour, barley, sugar, baking
powder and salt.
3.In a separate bowl, mix beer
and eggs.
4.Mix wet ingredients into dry
5.Place dough in a 9-by-5-inch bread pan and bake for one hour. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a rack.

Cacao Porter cake
¾ cups organic, unsalted butter
2 cups local Utah flour
¼ cup organic cacao powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon Utah salt
3 local eggs, separated
1 cup of Porter

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
and light grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
2. In a bowl combine dry ingredients – flour, cacao powder, baking powder,
baking soda, and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg whites with 2 tablespoons of sugar until peaks form.
4. In a mixer, cream together remaining sugar with butter. Add the egg yolks, one at a time.
5. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the cream, butter, and eggs. Once fully mixed, slowly mix in the egg whites.
6. Separate the batter into each cake pan and cook for 35 minutes. Once you remove the pans from the oven, allow the cakes to cool in the pans before removing. When completely cool, layer frosting between the two cakes, and cover the stacked cakes with remaining frosting.
7. Sprinkle cacao powder over the top of the finished cake.
Frosting for
cacao Porter cake
3 egg whites (from large local eggs)
3/4 cup organic sugar
a pinch of fine grain sea salt
1/3 cups of water
1/4 teaspoon organic vanilla extract

1. In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine all ingredients.
2. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved, or mixture registers 150 F on a instant-read thermometer, about 2-3 minutes.
3. Transfer to a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high until glossy, stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.
4. Reduce speed to low, add 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Use immediately.

Rebecca Brenner is a nutritionist and owner of Park City Holistic Health. For more healthy DIY recipes: and


Also check out our past beer brewing articles in the June 2005 issue.
Click below to read online:

DIY Suds in the Valley of Saints
A Beer Brewing Primer


This article was originally published on May 29, 2009.