It’s no secret that I like beer. I’ve been a beer snob for almost as long as I’ve been a beer drinker. I enjoy the flavor of good beer, and drink it specifically for this reason. Never in my life have I consumed an alcoholic beverage with the express intent of enjoying the effects it provides. I don’t drink to get drunk; nor to get a buzz. I drink because I like the taste of a good beer.

I never had much interest (or opportunity) to drink beer before I was of the legal age to do so, which may account somewhat for some of my tastes. I drank a little bit of Natural Lite in college, and a fair amount of Rolling Rock and Miller Genuine Draft, before I discovered Samuel Adams Boston Lager. This quickly became my de facto beer, because it actually tasted good, unlike the swill I had been drinking before. Throughout college I continued to explore additional craft beers, and took a liking to many of them. It was an expensive proposition for a poor college student, but I felt it was worth it.

A couple years ago Tom tried his hand at homebrewing his own beer. I watched from afar as Tom got more and more into the process, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of his labor. I was somewhat intimidated by the process, but helping Tom brew a couple of batches gave me enough experience that I was finally motivated to try it for myself.

Tom recommended How to Brew by John Palmer, which I studied. I discussed technique and style with my friend (and now neighbor) Adam, who also homebrews. I’ve since met a handful of other folks who also homebrew, and have picked their brains to varying degrees.

I went in with my buddy Andy, who also wanted to start homebrewing, and bought all the necessary equipment from The Wine Maker’s Shop. Last month we met at my house and brewed our first batch. We selected a simple IPA, and followed the kit instructions fairly carefully. It was our very first time, so we made a few mistakes, and weren’t quite as thorough as we should have been. We were confident, though, that we had managed to avoid infecting the wort so we weren’t overly worried about any of the mistakes we made. The biggest problem we had was that we chilled the wort too much before pitching the yeast, which meant the yeast took a lot longer to activate than normal. As we put the lid and the airlock on the fermenting bucket, we congratulated ourselves on a relatively successful first batch of beer, and prepared ourselves for the tormenting wait until the beer would be ready to drink.

Andy came over two weeks later to help me rack the beer from the primary into the secondary fermenter. We struggled with the siphoning process for a bit, but finally transferred our beer into the carboy. Two weeks after that Andy came back to help me bottle. Of all the stages in our process, this was the most fun; probably because Andy’s wife Beth, as well as Adam and his wife Julie, also joined us. The mood was silly, and the bottling process was sloppy, but we all had a great time. At the same time that we were bottling, we were brewing our second batch (another IPA). We were a little more thorough with the directions this time, and made a few modest adjustments to our process. The end result was a wort that smelled much richer than our first attempt. Needless to say, we’re even more excited about our second batch than we were our first.

Once bottled, the beer is supposed to sit ten to fourteen days in order to “bottle condition”. During this time sugar added before bottling carbonates the beer, and completes the flavoring. Andy just couldn’t wait, and cracked one of his beers after a week. I waited until the tenth day before succumbing to curiosity.

The carbonation process wasn’t quite complete, and although the beer wasn’t entirely flat, it was duller than I prefer. The flavor is light – much lighter than I had expected for an IPA. There’s not much hoppiness to it, but it’s not at all an unpleasant beverage. All in all, I think it’s a roaring success for a first time brew!

Andy and I are both looking forward to gaining sufficient experience and comfort with the process of homebrewing that we can veer away from kit beers and explore more sophisticated recipes. We learned a lot just in the short time between our first and second batches. For example, the kit instructions tell you to boil 3 gallons of water for the extract, and to add 2 gallons of plain water to the wort in the primary fermentation bucket. This, I think, accounts for the lighter flavor of our first batch: we basically watered the whole thing down before ever getting started! For our second batch, we boiled all five gallons with the extract, and needed to top off the primary fermentation bucket with just a little bit of water to make up for what had boiled off. This should produce a much richer flavored beer. Also, we learned that an autosiphon is truly a wonderful device, and well worth the money.

While our first batch of beer was fermenting, Tom and I attended Beer Wars, a documentary about the craft brewing market. It was an interesting examination of the fundamental differences between craft brewers and the major beer labels in the U.S. It was a highly motivating film, and I left really wanting to brew more beer, as well as to continue to purchase quality beers from passionate brewers. If you haven’t seen the film, you should.

If you have a beer recipe, do please share it. If you want to join me to brew some beer some time, let me know. Or, if you just want to drink my beer, let me know that, too! ;)

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