Monday, January 14, 2008

The Magic Box

Have you ever gone into a shop to buy a small ticket item and come out the other side having spent hundreds? Of course not, I hear you say – that only happens to girls in clothes shops. Or jewellery shops. Or shops that sell make up and stuff. Or shops that smell like girls in hairdressers shops.

The exception to this rule- a very manly and blokey exception- is when you are in a good homebrew shop and you are a good Beer Bloke. And when the shop owner says something like; “Pop out the back room. I’ve got something new in.” And the new-in is something special. Or even magical. In fact they have even dubbed it ‘The Magic Box’. And I had to buy it.

The Magic Box is a big fridge-sized and shaped box made from sheets of the foam stuff that they use to line the inside of refrigerated trucks with. And it’s very shiny and silvery and it’s the kind of thing that you would imagine an ancient peoples standing in front of and uttering things like; “ Oooh!” and “Aaahh!” and “This must be a gift from the Gods!”. And it’s an easy thing for blokes to use and operate. There is no cord to plug in or knob to adjust or combobulator to set. Because it is just a box. But it is more than just a box, too.

The Magic Box keeps things cold. Or hot. It’s up to you. Think of a giant, upright, walk-in esky. By throwing in a couple of coolie bricks – gel packs for the educated – you can get the interior temperature down to well below 10 degrees Celsius and maintain it for about a day even while the outside temperature is in the mid twenties. How is this a good thing, I hear some ask. Good question, I answer.

Homebrewers know how to brew beer, wether it’s a lager or an ale, a Pilsner or a Porter. But most of what we brew is an ale – or at least a version of an ale in that most standard common garden variety homebrew kits are provided with an ale yeast. This is to keep people homebrewing. It is easier to brew with an ale yeast as it will survive a broader range of temperature. The instructions will tell you to pitch the yeast at between 18 and 26 degrees. Prof. Pilsner will tell you that he has managed to chill his yeast to about 12 and cooked it to about 30 and still produced a very drinkable drop. But we don’t want to push our luck too often now, do we? Control the yeast and nurture it and you will get good beer. Better yeast, better beer.

But if you want to brew a true lager, using a lager yeast for a better lager result you need to use a lager yeast which will not tolerate the sort of abuse that Prof Pilsners’ ale yeast accidentally copped. In fact, unless you have access to something like a chemical engineers laboratory or the Yeast Library at Weihenstephaner brewery in Germany, you will need to use homebrew lager yeast which will work only at temperatures blow 10 degrees. But how can you keep a 30 litre fermenter at below 10 without redesigning your household fridge or borrowing a commercial cooler for two weeks? And don’t forget that a good lager needs to be stored to mature for a couple of months at between 0 and 3 degrees.

Of course I hear you say; “Why, Professor, you could use that there box what you were writn’ about earlier!” Of course I could. And I will. And I will let you all know how it goes. I am hoping that with a bit of timing, a few coolie bricks and some luck, we should have some true lager by the end of next summer. Lovely!


Prof. Pilsner

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