Kettle’s on: Brewing Four More Beers, the White House Honey Ale

Four More Beers

I’ve been wanting to get up a post about brewing beer for a while (heck, I’ve been meaning to get up a post about anything for a while). This is a beer I actually brewed a year ago, but it’s also the one I took the most pictures of during the process. This post is for one purpose only: to show you that brewing beer at home is incredibly easy and that more people should be doing it.

I’m nowhere near an expert at brewing beer. I’ve only done about seven batches total where I was one of the major contributors and another few that I assisted on (read: drank beer while other people did all of the work). Of those seven batches, the first two were terrible. Four More Beers was the third batch, and everything since then has been great. Anyway, this post is the story of this beer. It’s going to be a little different from most of my posts because I’ll probably just ramble for a bit and then post some pictures. If brewing sounds like something you’d enjoy, there’s gonna be a ton of information about how you can get started down towards the bottom of the post.

Four More Beers

The first thing to know about brewing beer is that it’s incredibly simple to get started. There’s a kit for everything! I have a great equipment kit that I picked up from Brew Camp, my favorite brewery supply store in Chicago (although Brew & Grow is also an excellent place to shop). Once you have the equipment, you can design your own beers, or you can pick up a simple recipe kit that has all of the ingredients already. I’ll get into all of this in more detail down in the “So you want to be a homebrewer” section towards the bottom.

Let’s talk White House Honey Ale. This is a beer with some interesting history. Inspired by homebrewers around the US, President Barack Obama spent some of his own money to purchase equipment capable of making beer in the White House. The White House chefs spent some time talking to local brewmasters and came up with a set of recipes based around another White House-produced commodity – honey from the beehives on the grounds. The White House Honey Ale and Honey Porter soon came into being and were served at everything from the Super Bowl party and St. Patrick’s Day to one of Obama’s meetings with a Medal of Honor recipient. As far as the historians can tell, it’s the first alcohol to be made at the White House.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Once word got out that the White House had started brewing beer, the American people wanted to try it! In August of 2012, two separate attorneys (both homebrewers) submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the White House for the recipes. Luckily, they didn’t have to wait long – the White House produced this blog post (as well as the above video) on September 1st, 2012. Homebrewers everywhere were ecstatic, and homebrew shops quickly made ingredient kits to fulfill the demand of those that didn’t want to hunt everything down on their own.

This is where my part of the story starts! I was one of said ecstatic homebrewers, so I quickly ran out to Brew Camp and purchased a White House Honey Ale kit. They tried to match both the ingredients and the spirit of the White House brew, even locally sourcing honey from a nearby farm. Kit in hand, I headed home to get started.

As I keep reiterating, brewing is pretty easy. The most important thing to do is make sure everything is clean. When I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. Sanitize all of the equipment. Any water you’re not boiling should be bottled to avoid any contaminants from the tap (or you can boil extra tap water and set it aside). If a pieces of equipment touches something, clean it again.

Alright, got it? As for the rest of the process… I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get very many pictures. However, here’s the process of brewing the beer (straight from the White House, no less!):

white house beer recipe honey ale

Look, it’s lame I don’t have more pictures. I’m going to document the next brew day a lot better, but as I’ve been writing this post I’ve decided that I’m just going to use it to talk about something really cool that the White House did and also about why you should be a homebrewer. Here are the pictures I did get:

Boiling!

four more beers boiling 2 four more beers boiling

Fermenting!

four more beers fermenting

Bottled! Labeling!

four more beers labeledfour more beers bottled

That’s it! We had a bunch of people over on election night and drank it. It was delicious. Also, this whole thing was a set up for my next blog post: spent grain cookies!

So you want to be a homebrewer

See, wasn’t that easy? Brewing beer is 50% boiling stuff and 50% making sure that all your equipment is sanitized. And then another 50% waiting for the beer to finish fermenting. That’s… too many percents. Whatever.

Anyway, as I explained in the previous section, there are a number of great kits that will jumpstart your brewing journey. If you have the option, go to your local homebrew store. They will most likely have a bunch of people on staff that are really excited about the prospect of a new homebrewer and will help you get exactly what you need. If that’s not an option (which it isn’t in many parts of the country), the main two online stores are Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies. Let’s start with equipment:

You can go about piecing together a home brewery, but I think getting a kit is a quick way to procure everything you need, often for the same price or cheaper. I like this Northern Brewer kit, which comes with almost all of the requisite equipment. It also comes with your choice of a recipe kit, which we’ll touch on more in a second. The only thing missing from the kit is a brew kettle. A 5 gallon one should suffice. If you’ve got one sitting around the house, that’ll do nicely, or you can find one here.

Now that you have your equipment, you need something to do with it! This is where recipe kits come in. If you bought the kit I recommended above, you should already have a kit. This will get you about 60 beers. Both Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies have gigantic recipe kit sections, featuring beers of every style and flavor. They even have clones of popular retail beer so you can set about making your favorite beverage at home. I’ve never tried Northern Brewer, but I really enjoyed the Midwest Supplies Irish Red Ale kit that I brewed earlier this year. Just one thing to note: if you are just starting out, only buy an extract kit. All-grain brewing is an entirely different beast, and one that you don’t have the equipment for (yet).

If you’d like to read a little more about homebrewing before diving in, How to Brew is a great pickup (an older version is available online here for free). The r/homebrewing sub-reddit is a great place to ask questions and get into spirited debates with the likes of celebrity homebrewer Wil Wheaton.

Well, that’s all the advice I have for now. Next time I’ll actually try to document my bred day, and I’ll talk about labeling and custom caps (gotta build that brand, son!). For now, enjoy homebrewing!

buffalo wild wings homebrewer

Image source: Buffalo Wild Wings commercial via Beer & Whisky Bros