Friday, May 30, 2008

My Humble Homebrew Beginnings

HomebrewingThis post is in response to a call from Beer Bits 2 to start a "Session"-like series of posts dedicated to Home Brewing. This series is entitled: Homebrew Blogging Day. Several bloggers will be participating in this effort. All the articles will be collected and summarized on Beer Bits 2 starting today. I promised myself that I would participate in this series despite my limited experience with homebrewing.

Every Journey Begins with Small Steps

Back in the winter of 1998, I was actively involved in one of those DOT COM start-ups. My current boss back then was also an entrepreneur and had started up his own Internet Marketing business. As things started to grow, he was in need of some additional help in supporting and designing web sites for his clients. I jumped at the opportunity to join him and started working with him in his basement office where his business was founded. My life would quickly change during a business meeting with him in the early going.

We had just completed a strategy session in my partner's basement when he asked me if I wanted to join him in a home brewed beer. "Really? You made this yourself? Cool!" I couldn't believe that someone could make beer in their own home. His beer was a clone of Odell's 90 Shilling that he had made himself. It was a dark and rich looking beer that he had kegged himself and poured from his own beer tap. Dang, this beer was good! I was going nuts over this beer and just started asking him a ton of questions on how he came to make this fine beer.

Baiting My Interest

My friend was kind enough to indulge me and invited me over to his house for the next time he was going to brew another batch. He was just starting out in homebrewing himself and was doing strictly extract brewing. This was his 10th batch of brew and was getting good at the whole process. He showed me how the malt extract and hops were boiled, how adding hops at different times would affect the beer's aroma and taste, how the wort was chilled, how to pitch the yeast and put it all in a glass carboy fermenter. The entire process took about 3 hours before we were done.

Now he told me that we'd have to wait a week or so before the fermentation process was over. I'd be over later for another meeting anyway so I looked forward to seeing how this all turned out. It was then I knew that I wanted to try this out for myself. It didn't take long to realize that I had a small local homebrew shop located in my own town. I headed down there at my first opportunity and talked with the shop owner to ask them what they recommended for someone just starting out.

The Homebrewing Journey Comes Home

I picked up a copy of Charlie Papazian's book on homebrewing and quickly tore through all of that material. The whole process seemed easy enough. I was just worried about keeping everything clean and sanitized so that I wouldn't contaminate the beer I would be making. I then started slowly accumulating all the equipment I would need to brew beer. After about a week and spending about $100 or so on equipment (cheaper back then) I headed back to the homebrew shop to pick up my materials for my 1st batch.

I knew I wasn't ready for all grain brewing, so extract brewing would have to suffice. I picked out a recipe for an Amber Ale and bought the extract, specialty grains, hops and some Irish Moss to brew up my 1st ale. I couldn't believe all of the little gizmos that were available to help brew, strain, measure and bottle a brew. Once I got everything home I planned out my 1st brew session.

I admit, I must have been way over cautious for this first batch of brew. I sterilized everything probably way beyond what was necessary. I had everything laid out all over my kitchen. My wife was worried that I was going to burn down the house with all of the stuff I planned on using. I put in about 5.5 gallons of water on the electric stove in a new stainless steel brewpot and went to work.

The First Batch of Beer

It didn't take long for the smell of boiling extract and hops to fill the house. My wife made the comment that the whole house smelled like a brewery. Ya think? I had to watch the brewpot closely as it tended to want to boil over easily. After an hour of brewing, the wort was ready to chill. The only way I had to chill down my beer was to put the entire brewpot into a huge 15 gallon bucket of ice. This process took about 20 minutes or more to chill the beer down to pitching temperature. Once that was done, I pitched the foil yeast package into the brew and sealed it up inside a 5-gallon plastic food grade bucket and put a bubbler on top.

Wow. This entire process had taken the better part of an entire afternoon, but boy was I excited about what I had done. I let the beer ferment in my cold dark basement for about 9 days before the bubbling stopped on the fermenter. It was then that I added some priming sugar to the mix and had a massive bottling session. This was the most work intensive process of the entire experiment. I had about 2 cases of 22oz bomber bottles that I filled and capped. I decided to put those away for a week or two before trying my first beer.

The First Tasting

Two weeks later, I could wait any longer and put a beer into my refrigerator. I waited a good hour before opening it up. I was worried though. How would it taste? Did it carbonate enough? Did the beer get infected? What if I don't like it? Enough worry - open up the damn beer already! The bottle opened with a familiar whoosh sound so I knew the beer had carbonated. It poured out a nice amber color and had a small off-white head. OK so the head wasn't as good as I hoped but it looked like beer.

The first taste was actually good! Wow. I had made beer! I couldn't believe it. All that preparation and work had turned out better than I expected it would. I was thrilled. It was from then on that I knew I was going to love hand crafted beers. It took a while before I drank through my entire 1st 5 gallon batch. I shared the beer with friends and they said they thought it wasn't half bad. I knew it wasn't the best beer, but at least it was something I had made myself.

Times Change but Another Era Begins

Sadly, as it turns out, I would end up only making one other batch in my home before taking a long hiatus away from home brewing. My wife didn't like how it made the house smell, plus I got too busy raising 3 kids. The DOT COM bust happened soon after that and my homebrew partner and I went separate ways. My local homebrew store closed down too and I didn't feel like going through the trouble of ordering all of my supplies or driving 40 minutes to the next closest store.

So, I stopped homebrewing in 1999 and haven't gotten back to it since. That is until now. I'm once again putting together a list of materials for a new outdoor homebrew setup. Most of my kids are grown up and out of the house and I've got more time on my hands (that is when I'm not blogging). I'm hoping to get into all-grain brewing and doing it even better this time around. I'm looking forward to it.

Related articles:
- Choosing a brew kettle.
- Homebrew shopping list ready.
- Colorado homebrew supply stores.
- Colorado homebrew clubs listing.
- My first batch of homebrew for 2009.

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