I’ve been making my own coffee at home for more than 2 years, whether Espresso or Kopi, and i’m not looking back. The sight of instant coffee makes me cringe. While browsing Amazon for Black Friday deals, i came across a product that sparked my interest – a home brewing beer kit. While i know since years ago that a colleague had already been doing it, the idea was simply lost somewhere in the depth of my long-term memory. Well, since then, my love for beer had been growing, LOTS, and i think i can’t afford to waste more time before i start home brewing!
Beer is probably the final frontier i will embark on (i doubt i will brew wine but who knows), and it completes the picture – life is meaningless without coffee and alcoholic drinks. Price is the main deterrence when it comes to enjoying beer, in Singapore at least. If i live anywhere else i may not be bothered about doing home brew. If i were to do the math very quickly – you can probably get the cheapest (lousy) 330ml (nowadays 323ml seems more common – cost is rising!) can of beer at $1.80, which works out to about S$5.50 per litre. On the other hand, a home brew beer kit which yields 23 litres of beer costs about S$45. With sugar (the only other necessary ingredient), electricity, water and bottling factored in, say at S$5, for a total of S$50 per 23 litres, it works out to S$2.18 per litre of beer, less than half the cost of buying ready made beer.
Besides the cost, I think there is also the psychological factor to consider. If you know that you have 23 litres of beer sitting around, you can drink to your heart’s content and not think so much about the cost. Nevertheless, too much alcohol is not a good thing, so if you cannot exercize restraint, i strongly suggest you don’t try to home brew. There is actually a limit to how much beer you can brew at home. Not a physical limit, but a legal one, and the limit is 30 litres per household per month. You shouldn’t be drinking more than that anyway, it will be bad for your health. I consider it fortunate that it is officially legal to home brew in Singapore, because if you live in Malaysia, you’re not allowed to do fermentation of any alcohol at home.
One of the main obstacles to home brewing is temperature. Beer fermentation has to done within the temperature range of 7 to 21°C. Moreover, beer carbonation has to happen at 21°C. This makes home brewing impossible without refrigeration in Singapore, where the ambient temperature is mostly 27 to 33°C. It took me a while to figure this one out, but there is a simple and inexpensive hack to make it work – a chest freezer! A brand new chest freezer costs under S$250, and it’s not hard to find a second hand one for under S$100. You will breakeven on this investment after just 2 or 3 rounds of home brew. Obviously, you don’t want to freeze your beer, so you need to rely on another device to regulate the temperature. What it does is to monitor the temperature and control the supply of electricity accordingly (i.e. cut off electricity when target temperature is reached, and supply electricity when temperature rises above the target). Such a device costs under S$10 from Taobao, and thank God China’s electricity grid is on the same Voltage range as Singapore! It is very much like doing DIY Sous Vide whereby the temperature regulating device is paired with a crock pot, to heat up instead of refrigerate. I will report on my Sous Vide experiment, which is planned for in the near future, i promise.
At this point in time, my beer brewing kit and a few other equipment that i have ordered are still in transit, but i can show you what it looks like to have a fermentation bucket sitting inside a chest freezer.
I will have to implement a workaround in place of the S airlock which i will not be able to use, since it is too tall (see top photo). This is something you will have to bear in mind when you’re getting a chest freezer for fermentation. Very likely, you will not be able to fit in the most commonly used S or 3 piece airlock. The bucket has to be airtight while allowing carbon dioxide to escape during fermentation, which is what the S airlock is supposed to do. I already have in mind a simple workaround. Stay tuned and i will show you once it’s done.