We may think of homebrewing as a pastime or hobby endeavor for adults, but it can also be an interesting, even educational, activity for children. They won’t be able to sip the final product, but they can still help produce it. And they might have a lot of fun and learn plenty of new things at the same time.
School-age kids can benefit from the homebrewing experience because the process combines scientific topics with culinary skills, and you can easily add in a literacy component. If your child is in search of a science fair project, this could be a great option (but please clear it with their teacher). If your child is homeschooled, it’s a fine opportunity for multi-faceted learning. If your young’un is business minded, think of a way to make this an exercise in entrepreneurship and marketing. You could even bring in art and media into homebrewing, creating logos and labels. There are many possibilities.
Various pedagogical points can be utilized here: Experimentation and documentation, observational skills, intergenerational involvement. The student can read up in advance about the science and history of beer, take photographs or make videos of the various steps, keep a journal, create an “advertising campaign” or art project based upon the homebrewing setup. You could visit local sites that have had a role in the history of beer. For example, I live in Brooklyn, New York, and there are nearby locations from the past and present that figure into the history of beer. Your child could help conduct the pertinent research. Also, teaching responsible drinking should not be overlooked.
I spoke with Oscar, a fellow Brooklynite, who homebrews. He had already trained two adult brewers and wanted to try teaching it to a family. For a friend with eight-year-old students, he put together a science kit project based upon homebrewing, which he craftily named “The Science of Beer.” It focuses on the biochemistry involved, showing how enzymes convert starch into sugars.
“The kids liked it and I think the mom liked it more,” he admitted. He assembled the ingredients in a kit, labeled them, and provided a straightforward but kid-friendly, multi-part lesson plan. You can find his instructions at: byo.com/wp-content/uploads/Science-of-beer.pdf
The kit includes: Crushed grains, iodine, yeast, empty sanitized jar, sanitized fermentation lock, hops, and a thermometer. The actual series of experiments involves simple cooking (mashing) of grains, being precise about the temperature. The adult involved must supervise carefully. The kids get to learn about: Starch versus sugar, turning starch into sugar, the qualities of hops and barley, the biological process of yeast (and a microscope would be handy to have at this juncture), and mixing and observing what happens when the ingredients create alcohol.
The finished product needs to be stored for five days. During this time, there are other ways to engage in related activities that will complement this series of experiments. As a complementary science and food activity, try simple pickling of vegetables (and fruits!) and storing them. Students can make predictions about what will happen to the homebrewed liquid and to the pickled produce. Cooking with alcohol is another avenue to explore.Discussion can surround why eating this kind of meal would be okay for an underage eater!
Homebrewing with your children can be an intriguing educational package, and can inspire you and your kids to do other sophisticated experiments in the kitchen. Enjoy!