How I Started Homebrewing

Posted on 05.30.08 6:45PM under All-Grain, Brewing, Extract, Homebrew Blogging Day, IPA, Lager, Stories

I’ve participated in the Session since I first found out about it several months ago. Now there’s a new type of a group beer blogging project, with a homebrew focus. It comes to us from the mind of Beer Bits 2. I just love these group blogging dates, and I’m really excited for a homebrewing version. While I haven’t been brewing for a very long time, I’ve made it a point to try to gain as much knowledge as possible as quickly as possible about brewing. But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the day, I was a timid would-be-brewer. This is the story of my long road of procrastination and excuses that eventually led to me actually making beer.

I developed a taste for better beer in college. Once I managed to get into beer at all, it wasn’t long before I began to deeply appreciate the higher end of the beer spectrum. Now this was the late 90’s, and it wasn’t like it is today. But still there was plenty of good beer out there. From Long Trail to Sam Adams to Magic Hat and all sorts of other great venerable breweries of the Northeast, there were many difficult choices to make on a drinkin’ night.

Kicker Can and AirlockAt some point in the first few years after college, I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to make my own beer?” As a degreed engineer (even if it is Computer Science and Engineering) I have a creative/builder side to my personality that wanted to have a go at making some beer. I got as a gift a small kit to make beer at home. I eagerly opened it to read the directions to see what I needed to make this happen.

I got scared off by the directions. It told me I needed a big stock pot and a funnel and whatever else. As it turns out, this was just a small kit containing a single “kicker can” of LME and an airlock. As far as I can tell, there were no hops in the kit and the LME was not hopped. Perhaps it’s better I didn’t make this beer, as it wouldn’t have likely turned out that well. And at that time, I wasn’t exactly into looking up how to do it correctly.

I did get a “big” 8-quart stockpot, but that was about it. For some reason, I felt like I needed a nice cool spot like a basement to ferment the beer in. Though I probably didn’t know it as fermenting at the time. In a third-floor apartment, I didn’t have a basement. I decided I couldn’t do it. And so the kit sat in a closet for a few years as we lived out our days in the apartment.

When we moved to a house, the kit came with us. But even then, with a basement, the kit remained idle. By this time, I was knee-deep in work life, and I felt I didn’t have time to make my own beer. Plus I was in more of a 30-pack-of-Busch-Light phase at that time, and so the motivation wasn’t there to make beer. And I still felt like I didn’t know what equipment I needed or how to get it.

That kit sat in my un-insulated attic for seven years. To this day, the can of LME is unopened. It was only a few months ago that I found that old kit again and looked at it to see what it really was. It was interesting to look back at it and see just how simple it was, and to remember how much it scared me off.

About a year and a half ago, my wife, our kids, and I made a big life change. I quit my job. We sold our house and moved to a different town. The kit came with us.

In a new house in a new town with no job, and plans to take a lot of time off, it was the perfect time to try making beer. At that time, I was really into trying a lot of new beers. I still thrive on a variety of new beers. Back then, I had tried just about every IPA available in Connecticut. I thought I would make some IPA.

This is when I got really into it. I started Googling around on how to brew. I immediately found John Palmer’s book. Obviously, this was a good start to the passion. I read through it. I found a local homebrew shop. I bought the starter equipment kit – a few buckets a carboy, capper, etc. I made an extract and specialty grain IPA kit. Then while that was fermenting, I took a one-day how-to-brew class at a local college. And it was off and running from there.

In those first six months, I brewed beer probably about every two weeks on average. Sometimes I made beer every week. After two extract kits, I made a clone recipe. Then I customized that recipe for my fourth extract batch. After these four extract batches, I got into all-grain. I made my first non-IPAs, an American Wheat, an Oatmeal Stout, a Nut Brown, and a couple Pale Ales. After a few good AG batches, I tried my hand at high gravity beer. Then I started making my own recipes. And I keep looking for new things to do differently just about every time I brew. Except now I only brew every four weeks or so.

These two photos show some of my beermaking equipment. It’s funny to think I was intimidated by that kicker can, and now I have all this stuff!

 Some more equipment        Some of my equipment

Once I find myself comfortable, I find a new way to challenge myself. I’ve sort of always been that way, and making beer at home is a great outlet for that part of myself. It’s easy to find a way to introduce a new challenge into the process. Whether it’s a new hopping schedule, different mashing options, yeast pitching ideas, or fermentation temperature schedule changes, there are so many things to play with. And I still haven’t even made a lager yet.

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