Let There Be Beer!

New adventures in homebrewing.

I started brewing beer in July. I like beer — there’s no mystery to that, but a lot of people who like beer don’t learn to brew it. I’m not sure why: it’s simple, fun, and when you are done, you have beer. I used to run out of beer; now I have too much.

I have to admit that scribe of our times, Mr. Wil Wheaton gave me the kick I needed to start. I thought about brewing for some time, but his joyful posts about his first batch pushed me over the edge. I searched the Internet, hemmed and hawed, and eventually decided to go all grain with a kit from The Homebrew Shop. I also got some books: Self-sufficiency Home Brewing by John Parkes, Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, and How to Brew by John J. Palmer. I read them all cover to cover, starting with the smallest and working my way up from there. I highly recommend all three. I renewed my CAMRA subscription while I was at it.

My first batch was the London bitter all grain kit that came with my starter set. My friend Marc — a homebrewer as well — happened to come through London from California, and brewing took the edge off his jet lag. It was invaluable having someone experienced there for my first brew. His trip straddled a week-long conference, and by the end of it we had quite a nice real-ale style bitter. This first batch lasted a good month or so, and was delicious.

I was hooked.

A romance with some very hoppy Pacific Northwest ales at the Euston Tap led me what I really wanted to brew next: an Imperial IPA. Something heavy with hops, and also with alcohol. My American Empire Imperial IPA mark 1 was based on a recipe from HomeBrewTalk, but I didn’t really understand the names of the different ingredients, so I couldn’t follow the process exactly. I also had extraordinarily fond memories of Redhook Doubleblack Coffee Stout, so I found another recipe and tried to follow that.

Neither were exactly right. Both were delicious. American Empire came in at 115 IBUs and 8.1% ABV. It was the first keg to blow (empty, in non-brewer talk). Oh, yes, in the meantime, I bought some kegs, got some gas to make fizzy beer, and a refrigerator (gotta keep those kegs somewhere). I also started buying from BrewUK. They have excellent customer service, good prices, the yeasts I was looking for, and are just plain nice. None of this could happen without BeerSmith, which helps me every step of the way, even under WINE on Linux.

My next brew day I tried for three batches, but with only one boiler it wasn’t possible. Two batches is not quite a full day, but a triple is 18 hours or so. Three ales were on the brewsheet: one Redhook ESB style, one Sierra Nevada IPA style, and a North German Pilsner that I intended to ferment with Kolsch yeast. I got the first two off, but the Pilsner was a push too far, and some beast from the rainfall must have got in there, because I couldn’t get the boil done before it smelled odd. But it turns out Pilsner grain smells like that, so maybe it was fine. I chalk it up to inexperience; this is all a learning process.

With my wedding on the horizon, serving my homebrew sounded like a great excuse to buy some more ingredients and kit, so I brewed a Belgian Dirty Blonde and a Rauchbier. The Rauchbier is still ageing, but the wedding had the ESB (which turned out to be more of an American IPA), the coffee stout, and the Belgian. They were all well-received, or people were too polite to say otherwise. I like them all, anyway.

Tomorrow is my fifth brew day. I’m not opening a brewpub this year — but I am looking at the Brewlab microbrewer’s course, dreaming of the Hoppy Collie pub. Not today, and not tomorrow, but it’s not impossible.

I think it’s pretty simple. Brewing is to beer what cooking is to food. If you like beer, you should try brewing. In the end, you will know more about beer, and might appreciate it a bit more.

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