Graywolf asked me for an update on CANNABEER. I’ve been brewing a lot lately, trying to recreate the Deadhead Draft I brewed back in 1994. I had a tiny but legal microbrewery, Creston Brewing Company. I brewed in 50 gallon batches and sold the beer in every BevMo, plus many local stores in the Bay Area and Marin County ... and a few in New York.
Grateful Dead Merchandising hated it, saying I stepped on their intellectual property about a dozen times on the label ... which I probably did. But Jerry loved the beer, kept Merchandising off my ass for a long time, and then he died. A sad, sad day.
A year to the day after Jerry died, I got the dreaded letter, and ceased making Olde 420 Deadhead Draft. This happened right before Prop 215 passed in California, legalizing Medical Cannabis, so I certainly didn’t hurt for something new to do. I moved up to San Francisco and opened the first new dispensary after the law passed ... joining Dennis and the other brave pioneers who began supplying San Francisco patients long before it became state legal.
DHD was a fine beer. Best I ever tasted. SF Weekly named it a winner in the “Best Beer” category in their 1995 Best of the Bay awards.
So I have been trying to duplicate the exact taste and other factors in 5 gallon batches lately. Getting pretty close, but there seems to have been some subtle changes in the malts and hops over the last 25 years (or maybe in my palate... but I hope not). I’m getting pretty darn close again, and this time I can legally add THC to the beer.
I’m going to share a somewhat simplified 5 gallon method using malt extract that can be done in the kitchen with a minimum of investment and effort. This recipe makes an English style ale known as a “bitter”. Interestingly, it is not bitter at all. About a tenth as bitter as Sierra Nevada, allowing the taste of the malt to shine thru. It makes a great beer whether or not THC is added.
While I have a lot of appreciation for the modern wave of heavily hopped craft brews, I prefer a less bitter brew ... one that goes down kind of like a chocolate milkshake. I guess I’m not a hophead ... when it comes to beer, anyhow.
Hops were originally added to beer to cover the sweetness of the malt taste ... which can be wonderful with just the right amount of high-quality malt, and somewhat overwhelming when lower quality malts are used.
Brewing beer is great fun. It can be as intriguing as growing and breeding fine herb. There is much art and science in the brewing process and fine beer can be brewed with high-tech precision equipment .. or with low-tech kitchen cooking techniques using basic cookware.
We are going to start with a process that makes fine beer, but isn’t too complicated and can be done by an amateur in the kitchen ... with a minimum of special equipment.
The best place to start is with a book, of course. I have used The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian for many years. It has sold a million plus copies, and is an excellent place to start.
Here is the basic equipment required for that first batch:
- A large kitchen stewpot of at least 5 gallons capacity. With cover.
- A five gallon fermentation vessel. A glass water carboy is often preferred to a plastic bucket, but both work well. A 6.5 gallon carboy is ideal and fits the readily available fermentation lock.
- A second carboy or five gallon bucket for bottling.
- A fermentation lock that fits atop the carboy or plastic bucket.
- A large wooden (traditional) spoon or stainless steel paddle (better) for stirring the beer while brewing.
- Empty bottles and a capper.
- A brewing hydrometer (optional).
- Flexible tubing and pinch valve.
- Several mesh bags.
- A thermometer for measuring the temperature of the liquid.
- Brewing supplies.
There are a number of online home brew supply companies, and a great variety of supplies and equipment are available on Amazon. Most towns of any size have a home brew store.
I have been dealing with a company in Berkeley for some time now, and recommend them highly. They have a complete online catalog and provide good customer service. I recently tasted a stout they made that won awards in a national contest. Perfect balance of all the right elements. Better than draft Guinness! Oak Barrel Winecraft.com. They have been around as long as I have, founded in 1947.
There are 3 basic levels of technology in home brewing. The simplest are brewing kits that require no boiling or heating. Yuck! They make beer alright, but it is often on a par with commercial swill.
Next step up is to actually brew the beer via boiling the ingredients- hops, malt powder, and specialty grains. Excellent beer can be brewed like this with the proper ingredients, and there is infinite room for experimentation with different hops, yeasts, malt extracts, and specialty grains. Brewing can be as fun and satisfying a hobby as growing your own herb, and you can often sample your work two weeks or so after your brew day.
Once bit by the brewing bug, many brewers move up to what is called full-grain brewing. Instead of using dried malt extract (DME), the brewer starts with malted barley, which is crushed, sprouted, dried barley grain. The grain / water mash is held at three different temperatures for predetermined times, which converts the starch to sugar. The sugar water is washed from the grain, boiled with hops and (perhaps) other additives, and fermented into beer after yeast Is added.
Full-grain brewing requires more sophisticated equipment than brewing with DME, in many cases a brewing “tower” holding three brew kettles, often made from converted 15.5 gallon stainless steel beer kegs. The beer is boiled with a propane burner and many brew rigs feature multiple burners. Rigs like this have pumps, chillers, etc. Lots of fun equipment, and infinite possibilities for those that like to do creative endeavors in the basement or back yard, and get into the details and the technology. Probably like most everyone who reads this blog! But truly fine beer can be made the first time ... in the kitchen.
The method presented here is rather simple, utilizing a dry malt extract (DME), and finessing the taste by adding specialty grains and three varieties of hops during the brewing process.
Here are the supplies necessary to make 5 gallons:
- 5 pounds of light Dry Malt Extract. (Regular “light” - not “Pilsen”).
- 12 ounces Crystal Malt - crushed.
- 1 ounce Northern Brewer hops.
- 1 ounce Kent Goldings hops.
- 1 ounce Cascade hops.
- 1 package Wyeast #1056 liquid yeast.
- 1 lb. brewers corn sugar.
- 1 packet Irish Moss
- Small bottle - Star San sanitizer.
- 50 empty 12 oz bottles - not twist top.
- Capper + caps ... or other options such as twist-off bottles, Grolsch flip-tops, etc.
- Glass or metal cooking thermometer with a long stem.
Here is the process for 5 gallons:
- Sanitize everything. Hands, counter, pot, sink, tubing, etc. Use Star-San according to instructions.
(A note on Star San: it is an excellent sanitizer for clean surfaces. Be sure to wash away any visible crud or debris before sanitizing. Star-San claims to be “no rinse” when brewing. No taste imparted to the beer if used according to instructions. However, I rinse with very hot water afterwards if it appears that there will be much Star San remaining after letting the sanitized piece air dry.)
- Put 3 gallons of water into the brewpot.
- Put 12 ounces of crushed Crystal Malt in a mesh bag and hang in the brewpot.
- Crank the heat to 170 degrees. Remove the Crystal Malt after it has been in brewpot for total of 45 minutes.
- Crank the heat to a boil.
- Add 5 lbs of DME and bring to second boil. Watch closely as the pot tends to boil over while reaching the second boil if too much heat is used.
- After reaching second boil hang ten grams of Northern Brewer hops in a mesh bag. Note time.
- After 15 minutes add second mesh bag with 4 grams each of Cascade and Kent Goldings hops. Note time.
- After 15 minutes, add 1/4 tsp Irish Moss.
- After 15 minutes, pull hops. (Northern Brewer has been in for 45 minutes. Other hops for a half hour).
- Cover brewpot with sanitized lid.
- Place brewpot in bathtub and add cold water to the tub to the depth of the liquid in the brewpot. Ice can also be added to the bath water. The object is to cool the wort as quickly as possible. Slowly running cold water does the job well.
- Carefully check temp with sanitized thermometer until the wort (the brewer’s name for the beer at this point. Pronounced “wert”) cools to 70 degrees F.
- Place the brewpot on a counter - or back on the stove - and use the sanitized tubing to siphon the wort into the sanitized fermentation vessel. Cover immediately with sanitized cap. Add enough boiled and cooled water to bring the total to as close to 5 gallons as possible, leaving several inches of headroom in the fermentation vessel for the bubbles and foam head that happen during fermentation. (A 6.5 gallon glass carboy is close to ideal at this point).
- Sanitize the package of Wyeast 1056 by dipping in the Star San solution. Follow the directions on the pack for preparation of the yeast, which is done by smacking the pack with the palm when starting the brewing process. This breaks a capsule inside the pack and allows the yeast inside to mix with the nutrient. The pack swells up while you are brewing. Wyeast calls this invention a “smack pack”.
- Using sanitized scissors, cut the corner off the sanitized yeast packet and pour the solution into the wort in the fermenter. This is called “pitching” the yeast. (These old brewing terms date back hundreds of years).
- Seal off the fermenter with the sanitized fermentation lock and add the sanitized liquid to the lock.
- Let the fermentation vessel set in a cool, dark corner at about 70 degrees until the bubbles in the fermentation lock cease, or cut down to one bubble each minute or so.
- When the bubbles cease, the sugars in the wort have fermented to alcohol. The beer at this point is absolutely flat ... but surprisingly tasty. This takes from 3 or 4 to as much as 14 days. Less at warmer temperatures.
- Now it is time to bottle. Dissolve 175 ml of corn sugar in a pint of boiling water. (That’s milliliters, not grams.) Dissolve the desired amount of purified cannabis extract in the smallest amount of the strongest ethanol (preferably Everclear or Bacardi 151). Add both the corn sugar solution (now called “priming sugar”) and the oil/alcohol mixture (now called tincture) to an empty, sanitized, 5 gallon vessel and siphon the flat beer into the second vessel, taking care to leave behind as much of the accumulated yeast, hops, and grain particles as possible. (This stuff is called “trub”, pronounced “troob”.) Don’t filter the beer at this point because filtering will remove the active yeast, which is necessary for bottle priming in the next step. Also, the living yeast makes the beer better than force-carbonated commercial beer, in my humble opinion.
(Do the math necessary to determine the desired THC dosage per bottle. This method makes about 48 twelve ounce bottles of beer. Assuming that you are using an extract that is 50% THC and you wish to dose each beer with 10 milligrams of THC, you would need one gram of 50% THC oil to achieve 10 mg. of THC in each 12 oz. bottle.)
It is handy to have a spigot on this second vessel, but one can do ok with a siphon and a pinch valve at the end of the plastic tubing.
- Gently siphon the primed wort into the sanitized bottles and cap with sanitized caps. One can’t use twist off beer bottles, but larger glass bottles with good twist off caps work well. I especially like the thick glass 48 oz. bottles my wife Mary Ann buys full of Kambucha, which one can also brew at home. The best bottles, of course, are the flip tops that Grolsch, Fischer Alsace, and Trader Joe’s ginger beer come in. Brew stores have replacement washers for the capping mechanism when they wear out after about a hundred uses!
- Now ... wait. Most home brew reaches its best taste after 10 to 14 days, and stays good for quite a few months. The reason for the priming sugar is to carbonate the flat beer for it fizz and foamy head. This takes at least five days and if you have the same amount of patience as I do, you will find it hard not to try one now. Try one each day for the next few and you will notice that the beer tastes a bit more mellow with each day.
- Because the beer is bottle conditioned like the English ale of old, there is a layer of yeast at the bottom of each bottle. Try not to disturb this when pouring into a glass and leave about a half inch of liquid in the bottle. (Wash the bottles before this dries and it makes sanitizing the bottles for the next batch much easier).
- Enjoy. Remember that what you are drinking is “living” beer. It is alive with the yeast and the many beneficial elements that give beer its taste and character. I don’t know if you could call home brew “health food” - as Guinness did many years with their “Guinness is Good For You” advertising posters - but your home craft brew has a whole lot more wholesomeness going for it than your commercial beers from big breweries.
Final notes: Much like our newest Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh proudly proclaimed, I like beer. I’ve certainly outgrown the beer bong and any days of competitive chugging contests, but moderate daily beer consumption has shown to statistically extend life span - as opposed to teatotaling (a great term) - in a huge study done in Ireland, of all places. At least that’s what brewers tell each other.
The beer recipe above produces a mild beer about as strong as Coors Lite. I like the taste enough that I would rather drink more weaker beer than less stronger beer. If you would like more alcohol content, simply increase the DME from five to six pounds.
Same thing with the THC. Some edibles have 100 mg. and are designed to be eaten in small pieces. Nobody sips a tenth of a beer. Oral dosages of cannabinoids are a personal thing, and the Brewer has a responsibility to share the complete knowledge of the effects of cannabeer with anyone with whom he or she shares the beer itself.
A last note: I brew a lot more of my beer without cannabis, using pretty much the same recipe as I present here. I use exotic malts, utilize a full-grain system, and play with the malts, hops, yeast and such in my never-ending quest for the perfect brew. I have a variation on the above process that is coming along well that makes a chocolate raspberry stout is just heavenly.