Apparently ActRaiser is out on Wii Virtual Console. 8 bucks, tempting.
Beer. So, I finally brewed up a batch. The process is not difficult, but it is fraught with many a peril and surprise, more so because I am still not quite sure I have all the necessary equipment. I'm pretty close to finally figuring things out, though. Here's how it went.
First, we sanitized everything. Since we don't really own any garden implements (such as a water hose) and since these containers are too large for a sink (and our tub is upstairs, no go), this involved carrying things outside to the outdoor faucet, much rinsing and then some drying, then bringing back inside. Fortunately it was a nice day outside so everything air-dried in 15-20 minutes. The "everything" here involved: 5 gallon fermenting bucket, 5 gallon brewing kettle, stirring spoon and covers for the bucket and kettle. Oh, and the bottle-filler, since I mistook it for the "airlock". More on that later.
The next step was the actual brewing part, and was relatively simple. Fill kettle with 2-2.5 gallons of water (so a bit under the halfway point), dump in the cans of malt, stir thoroughly and bring to a boil - then boil for 30 minutes. Some books claim 45 minutes to an hour, but I think that includes the pre-boil time which is far longer than anything else I've boiled. In other words, it takes a loooooooooooong time and many funky noises from the kettle and the contents before boiling actually occurs. Once it does you have to stay on top of it since boiling malt rises startlingly fast - seconds, in fact. Fortunately we've dealt with this behavior before (with 100% buckwheat noodles) so I knew what to do.
At the end of the boil I threw in the loose hops in a muslin "sock", and ended the boil after that cooked for 2 additional minutes. I left the sock in there during transfer - I'm not really sure how much it impacts the flavor, as the instructions were ambiguous as to duration. Anyway, after that it was time to move the liquid into the fermenting bucket. I prepared it with about 1.5 gallons of water already since I wasn't sure if it can take the heat of wort straight from the stove top. Pouring was a 2-person job, with one person holding on to the handles and the second person tipping. At this point I removed the hop bag and dumped it. I know it's reusable but I wasn't up to cleaning it this time. Oh well, I have 2 more and things will be more relaxed next time.
Once the transfer was done I stirred and stirred and then stirred some more, since everyone stresses that the initial agitation of liquid is important. Then it was time to cool the thing, so (again, bathtub upstairs, no real good solution to create an ice bath) we stuck it in the kitchen sink and filled it with cold water, refilling it every half hour or so due to slow drainage. The sink isn't very deep, it was maybe up to a third of the bucket, but sometime during the evening it was cool to the touch and ready for the next step.
This step was pretty easy. Dump in the (surprisingly tiny) yeast packet and seal the bucket, plugging the airlock into the small hole in the top of the bucket. I used the bottle filler here, since, well, it is an airlock! Nagging doubts persisted however, and after a few hours of stewing in my head I looked up some brewing pages online and figured out what was what. I had to pop the lid and replace the bottle filler with the airlock; hopefully exposing it to the outside didn't completely ruin the batch (I don't think it would).
The next step is waiting 10 days. I have not yet decided whether I'm doing second-stage fermenting or not - the option is open, however.
So here are some pitfalls I ran into. First, it takes suprisingly long to get the wort to boil. It also makes a lot of very strange noises while boiling, which was quite unexpected since there's still no visual activity. Second, both stages of fermentation require an airlock, and you can use the same one - I was expecting 2 different implements for some reason. Third, it really helps if you have a laundry sink to clean all the stuff in, or at least a hose so you can do it at a convenient location. Fourth, and finally, there is some mismatch between what came in my kit and what I needed. Here's the list:
I had (from the kit):
Here's what else you need:
So for the longest time I was very confused about why in the world I had two containers. Apparently you can single-stage ferment in either one, or double-stage - but it was really difficult finding that out. I have to say that Homebrewing 101: Getting Started and its successive chapters were vital in expanding my understanding of the process. I recommend reading at least 101 and 102 if you want a basic (yet sufficient) understanding of the process.
Whew! In about 10 days I'm either bottling or second-staging (probably bottling since I'm curious to try the beer sooner). Second-staging is supposed to get you a more balanced and clearer beer, but single-stage is quite adequate for drinking. For now we're admiring the Bucket o' Beer™ in the closet.
For the record, the entire process took a about an hour and a half so far (not counting 6-8 hours cooling time, but including cleaning).