The Book of Lambert grows more powerful with every generation. Every accreted recipe makes it grow stronger. Sixty years ago it wallowed in the mire of nuclear family gastronomy. In the 80s and 90s, it learned the mysteries of extremely high fiber diets. But now we will drag it back into the light of modern culinary arts.
And that's why we're going to talk about homebrew. Ever since the first human crawled fully-formed out of the primordial ooze, there has been beer. Here's your chance to be a part of the grand history of human civilization.
Beer can be a real bastard when you're homebrewing, but don't be afraid. Take my hand, let me show you the world of amateur homebrewing. This'll be just like that scene in Aladdin where they ride on the carpet and she is successfully wooed even though he is a rapscallion. Except here we'll be talking about sanitation, being careful, and nothing sexy whatsoever.
So first you're going to need to buy some basic equipment. Here's a good place. Buy their basic beginner's kit and a grain bag. It'll cost about $100. I know, that's a big investment. But I'm trying to tell you how to get the cheapest beer you've ever had, so go buy it. Got all that stuff? Good. Now go clean it with whatever acid-based cleanser they gave you with your kit.
Since it is about the right time to start thinking about brewing Pumpkin Ales for Halloween, that's the recipe we'll use. Go buy the things below, perhaps from the same place linked above. Note also the numbers in parentheses below: they indicate when in the boil you should add those ingredients.
3.3 lbs amber extract
3.3 lbs light extract
1 lb American crystal malt
0.5 lb Cara-Pils
1.0 oz Fuggles (60)
0.5 oz East Kent Goldings (15)
0.5 oz East Kent Goldings (5)
Perhaps an English Ale yeast. Whatever gets you excited.
A bag or two of store-bought ice
1.0 lb corn sugar
0.62 lb or 2/3 C lightly packed brown sugar
0.5 lb molasses
1 tsp Irish Moss (15)
2 tsp bentonite (15)
1 tsp cinnamon
0.5 tsp powdered ginger
0.25 tsp cloves
0.5 tsp nutmeg
2 lb canned pumpkin
Clean everything. I know I told you to do this already, but you probably didn't so I'm telling you again. Your stirring spoon? Clean it. Your fermenter? Yes. Everything else? Yes, dammit!
So here's the basic idea. Get yourself an enormous pot. No, not that one. Bigger. No, seriously, get that stock pot you never use. It should hold several gallons.
Put the pumpkin into a cheesecloth or muslin bag. If you did what I told you, you've got a grain bag. Use that. Boil a gallon or two of water then turn off the heat. Put the pumpkin in that water and let it steep for a while. Why not try ten minutes?
Fill the pot about 2/3 of the way up, turn on the heat, and start mixing in all the malt and the corn sugar. The malts will give it a flavor profile and the corn sugar will provide food for the yeasts (and therefore more alcohol) without adding flavor. Mix constantly, so that the sugars don't burn. Don't burn yourself with the syrup. That hurts.
Be careful: what you've got now is called "wort" (pronounced "wert"). Wort loves to boil over and make you clean your entire kitchen. Expect this and don't leave the pot alone until it has tried to boil over once or twice. When it starts, turn down the heat and stir vigorously. You'll probably see it happen when you try to add hops in the next step, so a good trick is to take a very small amount of hops,crush them in your hand, and then sprinkle them into the wort. The hop particles will trigger a small boil over, which is a lot easier to manage than the alternative.
Once you've got a good boil going, start your timer for 45 minutes and then drop in the Fuggles hops. Wander around until the timer goes off. Maybe watch some TV, have a beer. Then drop in all the ingredients that have a (15) note next to it. Set your timer for 15 minutes. Maybe now would be a good time to put that ice in your fermenter. During the last minute or so, drop in the various herbs.
After your timer goes off for a second time, pour the whole pot into your fermenter and over the ice. The point of the ice is to cause a cold break, which basically means the quick change in temperature makes unwanted proteins float to the bottom of the fermenter. That's important because those proteins taste gross. Top off the fermenter with water until you have 5 gallons.
Take a specific gravity measurement and note the result.
Drop in the yeast, close the fermenter, add an airlock, and let it sit for about two weeks in a cool basement or closet.
When you're ready to bottle, take another specific gravity measurement and use that to determine the alcohol content. There are plenty of calculators online to help you, so just google around.
Bottle with the brown sugar by dissolving the sugar in a saucepan with a little water and then pouring it into the bottling bucket (you got one of those, right?) before racking the beer (aka siphoning the beer into the bucket). Don't put the sugar in each individual bottle. You'll make them explodey if you do that. Remember to sanitize everything. Wait at least two weeks for the residual yeasts to eat the brown sugar and thereby carbonate the beer. If you wait longer, the beer will taste better.
These beers are best enjoyed while wearing a vampire mask and surprising trick or treaters with a garden hose.
A final note: This is a basic recipe using malt extract instead of grains. Brewing is like baking: the more you devote to it, the better you'll get. The most important thing to know? Clean absolutely everything so that bacteria can't grow. That's the big secret. Ta-daaa!