Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy Birthday to my blog and tips to start homebrewing

It's been exactly one year since I sat down on a quiet and cold January day and started this silly blog. I'm pretty proud of myself for keeping it going for a whole year. So far, so good. I plan on continuing this blog.

The combination of Homebrewing and Chemistry is a tad eclectic, but I think I've found a good balance and combination of the two. I'd like to have more meaningful chemistry, but that would require greater effort. Besides, other people do this much better than I can (see my blog roll).

I was trying to think of what to write about for my 1 year anniversary. I first thought of doing a recap of my best posts. Since I don't really have many any great posts I decided to go with plan B.

I've been personally responsible in one way or another for helping almost a dozen friends start brewing beer (or wine). So, I thought I'd encourage the reader(s)[1] of this blog to start brewing beer at home. Now, I realize some of you have no interest in doing this and some of you already do. The following advice is not necessarily for you (feel free to read on, however). The following advice is for the person who the person who says, "I love beer and I would love to make my own. I just haven't found the time to learn how."

Here is my advice:

1) Homebrewing is a hobby that grows strongly from passion, just like most hobbies. Don't start unless you or someone you know loves beer. Each 5 gallon batch makes about 2 cases of beer. That's a lot of beer. If you don't like to drink beer, this is not the hobby for you. If you have friends who like to drink good beer you can easily get them to drink some.

2) You need supplies. You must first locate a homebrew supply store. If you live in a large metropolitan area, chances are good that you have one in the area. Hobby shops often carry brewing supplies, but you are much better off going to a store that is dedicated to homebrewing. The staff is an indispensable source of information, since most of them work there because they brew too. In addition, the selection is wider and fresher. Remember, you are making a food product. Bad ingredients make bad beer; good ingredients make good beer. If you do not have a store nearby (such is the case for me), there are a lot of online options. I have two favorites: Northern Brewer and Midwest Brewing. Both of these places will ship everywhere. For me the cost of shipping is usually less then the cost of gas for the 160 mile drive.

3) The best way to start from scratch is to get a starter kit. These kits are available at most homebrew supply stores and they include all the equipment you need to get started. Depending on your level of commitment to the hobby (which is sometimes hard to gauge early on) you may want to choose the level of kit carefully. If I were to do it all over again, I would start with a more advanced kit. Specifically, I would have chosen one that included kegging equipment.

4) Buy a book on homebrewing. I suggest The Joy of Homebrewing and How to Brew. The How to Brew book is also available online. That's the cheapest way to learn about brewing.

5) Use a prepackaged ingredient kit for you first batch. Most supply stores sell kits that contain all of the ingredients you need for a 5 gallon batch AND directions on how to make the beer. These kits are a great way to learn about the different ingredients that go into different styles. Depending on the type of beer you like, the best style to start with is a pale ale. These tend to be more forgiving and the yeast ferments nicely at room temperature. Lager beers require colder temperatures to get the best results. This often requires more equipment (i.e. a dedicated refrigerator with temp controller).

6) Set aside enough time for your first batches. I can do an extract batch in 2 hours; A partial mash in 4 hours. For your first batch, you may need about 4 hours.

7) Make sure you room for a fermenter. Occasionally, fermentations can "blow off" (i.e. bubble out of the airlock). This isn't a problem unless you have your fermenter sitting on the carpet in your living room. Place your fermenter on a floor that can get wet without concern.

8) 5 gallons of beer weighs a lot. Carrying 5 gallons of sugary, sticky wort is a tricky task. A dropped carboy or bucket can translate into a whole lot of trouble.

9) "Relax. Don't worry. Have a Homebrew." This is the mantra of Charles Papazian (homebrew guru), and it is a good one. Don't worry about being perfect. Enjoy the hobby. Even if your beer isn't perfect, it will still be very good beer. Don't worry about screwing up. It's hard to do. Eventually, you will hone your skills.

10) Take your sanitation very seriously. #9 if important, but do not relax when it comes to sanitation. The easiest way you can ruin a batch of beer is if you don't sanitize whatever the beer touches.

Well, that's enough for now. I hope it helps. Thanks for reading.

[1] I stole this joke from Matt.[2]

[2] I learned this footnoting technique from Ψ*Ψ.


milkshake said...

I would also add "dont put all your bottles into one box when you are doing the in-bottle carbonation the first time"/ I have seen the result of the chain reaction - we were sitting in the kitchen and playing cards and suddenly there was this strange crunching sound - not really a bang - and something amber started seeping in from under the closet door...

The cleaning up was no joy.

(The second box from the same batch did not explode, was delicately transferred into a freezer to chill fast and friends were called in to help with immediate consumption. It was the best brown ale I ever had.)

Ψ*Ψ said...

What? Someone else using footnotes-of-footnotes? It drives Excimer really crazy. (Maybe that's why I do it.) :D

Ψ*Ψ said...

Oh! and happy birthday! here's hoping you don't go the way of Chembark. :(

synthetic environment said...

Happy birthday to you(r blog)!

mjenks said...

Sweet. Homebrew and Chemistry love. Again.

Happy Birthday/Anniversary/New Year! Enjoy a homebrew. Couldn't resist.

I might suggest a small, inexpensive tray or dish to set your fermentor in. That way if it blows off or spills, the mess is contained in something that you can pick up and pour down the sink.

You might also be lucky and have a beer/wine store nearby that has some homebrewing supplies for sale, as well. A store that primarily focuses on homebrew equipment will, of course, have fresher ingredients, but for some of the equipment and/or kits, you might call around to a beer shop. I'd recommend one that offers a pretty wide variety of beer (and Coors, Coors Light, and Red Dog is not a variety).

Joel said...

Congrats on the anniversary! Most blogs don't make it past a couple of months.

I just brewed my first batch of home brew and I would love to get some feedback from someone as experienced as you and your readers. I've been blogging about the process:

My goal was to keep it as simple as possible and not spend a lot of money on equipment until I got the hang of it. I definitely made some mistakes and better equipment probably would have helped but I learned a lot.