Friday, May 30, 2008

Happy 1st Birthday Homebrew Blogging Day!

Yeah, that's right- i used an exclamation point. Do something about it.

Here we go. Thanks to Adam at Beer Bits 2, two obsessive worlds will now collide on a monthly basis as bloggers who homebrew (or vice versa, depending what the mirror looks like to you) have a Session-like place to pick a topic and all post about their own experiences and opinions. It's a great idea and i'm really looking forward to reading the posts for this month.

Adam chose the first topic and is hosting this month, as is the custom, and we're starting things off, well, at the beginning. Adam told all of the homebrew bloggers to write about how they got started, so the stories of disaster, infection, and falling in love should all start rolling in in a few hours.

My adventures begin at the click of the link....

It is really quite fitting that the first Homebrew Blogging Day is falling just before the beginning of June and even more fitting that it's all about my beginnings in making my own beer. In just a few short days i will be celebrating one year as a homebrewer. I think i made or participated in about 8 batches this year. Some came out great, some...well, that's what we're gathered here to talk about. Oy.

It seems like so many homebrewers that i talk to got their start the same way i did. I'm seeing friends getting into it right now in the exact same way. It's just one of those things that doesn't even really seem like a possibility until you think about it. You just need to hear that it isn't terribly difficult. That it's fun. That sooner or later you might start saving money by doing it (ha, someday).

Simple conversation.

Standing behind the bar with Ryan G, one of my favorite workmates (and now one of Vermont's newest education graduates) we got talking about beer that we love and somehow got talking about making beer ourselves. We laughed, thought about it, then thought more seriously about it. Why not? So we split a kit from Midwest and got ourselves two recipe kits and a few extra hops and set out to brew some beer.

I read a little, he read a little, we both got really excited, then we just picked a day and made it happen. Or tried to.

Here's the thing about homebrewing. When it's pretty foreign to you, there are a lot of ins and outs, a lot of things to think about and understand and pay close attention to. Once you get the knack for it, you can make much better use of your resources and have a lot of control over your beer's destiny.

The brewday didn't go too bad really, but let's review all of the mistakes we made:

-Squeezed the crap out of our specialty grains before removing the muslin bag from the steep. If what we made actually ended up tasting like beer, we'd probably had some serious tannic attack going on.

-Didn't have much of a plan for cooling the wort. An ice bath, sure we can make one of those. Three trays worth of melted ice later and our wort was still well over 100 degrees. We probably looked like we were handling plutonium or something, carefully running into the bathroom with a kettle full of hot wort, trying to make a cold bath for it.

-Fermentation. I take full responsibility for seriously ruining the first batch of beer. I knew you had to shake the bucket to aerate the wort before pitching yeast...i didn't realize or didn't read enough to know not to disturb it once fermentation took off and finished. This is something i'd learn the hard way a few batches in.

-My ideas of a rigorous fermentation and what a rigorous fermentation really is differed pretty greatly back then. As the airlock bubbled away, i couldn't hear anything churning in the bucket. I thought i was supposed to be able to hear this thing going crazy in there. No dice. Give it a shake.

-Dry Hop. Well if these hops are just going to sit on the surface of the beer then how's the beer in the middle and bottom going to even be affected by them? Shake it up.

Needless to say, Batch 1...not a success.

So batches came and batches went. I ruined a perfectly good pumpkin ale (made with real pumpkin) by trying to re-aerate my wort when repicthing more yeast. I made a nice strong dark and finally began to take my time in the reading aspect of homebrewing because there is a lot to learn.

Bryan, the other member of The Stout Yeomen Brewing Co (our pseudo-quasi Homebrew Club) got his kit for Christmas and just let it sit there as he read Palmer from cover to cover. His first batch, a dry hopped Copper Ale (the exact same kit and dry hop we'd attempted as our 1st batch last June) came out great. He knew what he was doing, knew what to expect, and made a really nice beer that scored well at the War of the Worts.

I'm the kind of guy that tends to learn from his mistakes and in that regard i find myself very smart. And i say that because i give myself a lot to learn from.

In this first year of brewing, i've finally started to turn out some nice batches, i'm using resources to put my own recipes together, learning a lot from other brewers that i speak to in real life and on homebrewing message boards, and things are good. When the time is right i'd like to invest in a kegorator and start to bottle a lot less beer. Bottles are a great way of sharing beer, but bottling a batch of beer alone isn't all its cracked up to be.

Dr. Joel's Bad Batches of Beer:

-Copper Ale
-Brown Ale (majorly infected..only infection to date)
-Peach Wheat (this was actually an ok batch of beer, but peach extract made it hard to have more than one)
-Spiced Pumpkin Ale (this thing was a winner until i shook the crap out of it on a repitch)

Dr. Joel's Good Batches of Beer:

-Brewer's Brune (or Dr. Joel's Jekyll Juice as name by the boys at Teresa's Next Door): A Belgian Strong Dark Ale made with a big grain bill, dark candi sugar, and the Ardennes yeast strain. It was strong, it was dark, it just didn't age the way i thought it would.

-Partially Free Brown Ale: Part of the Oak experiment with Bryan. We brewed the same batch of beer and oaked it differently. A brown ale made with Chocolate Rye. This was a last minute substitution aided by the guidance of George and Nancy at the homebrew shop. This beer came out really nice and is the first one that i was very happy with.

-Raucco's Rye Red Ale: This is the beer i blogged about during American Craft Beer week. I bottled on Sunday and cracked one open before TND last night. I'll probably just end up calling this an IPA because of my steeping problems- it doesn't scream Red Ale. But it's a nice beer and i look forward to cracking one open about two weeks from now for the full effect. I also owe my dentist some beer (really, i do) and i hope she likes this and can see the beauty of it despite the fact that i'll also be giving her a bottle of Nugget Nectar.

So that's it you creeps. More info than you probably wanted, but that's been my Homebrewing experience from the first batch. Homebrewing has been a great little hobby for me to dig my heels into. I've learned a lot about much more than beer as a result. I make tea differently now, i do little experiments with hops, i taste beer differently.

Adam has got me thinking about all of these homebrew t-shirts he's coming up with, so i will end my post with a t-shirt idea of my own:

"I Brewed This Shirt"

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