Adventures in Home Brewing
Breweries can take many forms: a large restaurant spectacle, an intimate tasting room, et cetera. In my case (as well as several other home-brewers around the nation), one could come to my house and find a brewery located almost exclusively in the laundry room.
When I first started brewing, I apparently did not realize the scope of the project; however, neither did I realize exactly how rewarding it would be in the long run. After the $100+ for the startup and ingredient kits, I still had to go buy more supplies (thermometer, 3-4 gallon pot, giant metal spoon, ice…LOTS of ice). Hindsight advice: drop a few extra bucks on a nice reliable thermometer.
Once everything was ready to go, the next obstacle was deciphering the accompanying instruction sheet. With its misleading directions and confusing arithmetic, it is a miracle that anyone ever ends up with drinkable beer after the process at all. Nevertheless I plunged ahead, tasting every single ingredient along the way and taking far more notes than I will likely ever need.
The entire thing was going relatively smoothly until I decided it would be a good idea to trust the magnet on the back of my thermometer. It hung successfully on the light/vent cover above the stove (where the boil was taking place) for just long enough to lull me into a false sense of security before it dove head-first directly into my wort*. Luckily it was not the worst that could have happened, all things considered (Alan’s grommet popped out of the lid and he had to go elbow-deep into his fermenting bucket to retrieve it). I trudged ahead and was able to transfer my beer to the fermenter without too much hassle. Hindsight advice: leave the lid OFF when chilling the wort.
Admittedly, the process up until this point had been very hands-on and I was not prepared for the agonizing wait that followed. Once the yeast had been pitched** and the fermenting vessel sealed, there was nothing more to do with the beer but monitor it for the next week or two (instructions were again vague and cryptic, as each brew is different when it comes to fermenting). I checked the beer two or three times a day until the bubbling stopped, then waited a couple more days just to be sure.
The day of bottling was one filled with lessons as well. For the record, if (when) you taste the wort at this point, it should taste like a warm, flat version of the finished product. This step went smoothly as well, considering it was the first time. A couple hours later and I was standing over top of two full cases of my very own “Lithium” Brown Porter. In 2-4 weeks it would be ready for consumption. The waiting resumed.
The result was definitely a drinkable beer, but was favorited by friends and critics more than myself. It had a bit of sweetness that, while not completely undesirable, was not supposed to be there (in my opinion). According to a professional judge, that sweetness was most likely due to a high fermenting temperature (about 72°). This was something I would attempt to remedy in my next batch; it was slightly better.
I have produced at least three more batches of homebrew at the time of this writing and have loved every minute of it. Be cautioned that this can be an expensive hobby, with ingredients running from $35-55 per 5-gallon batch (+/- 2 cases). Also keep in mind that brewing takes time. From boiling to drinking, there is an average of 4-6 weeks of nothing but waiting. During that time I am constantly thinking about what style to brew next and how I am going to modify pre-existing recipes to concoct my own…erm…concoction.
Is brewing for you? Maybe. Will you start off by brewing the best beer you’ve ever tasted? Probably not. Either way, I have found the brewing community to be one of the kindest and most helpful groups I have ever been a part of. It is a community of sharing, helping and (most importantly) drinking and I am proud to be a part of it.
*Wort – The sweet infusion of malts and grains before fermentation
**Pitching Yeast – The point in the brewing process when you add the yeast to the wort in the fermenting vessel.