Adventures in Homebrewing
It’s all fun and games until you don’t want to do it anymore
My adventures in brewing beer are probably going to be a lot different than yours. At the time of the brewing, fermenting and bottling I worked for a local brewery. So not only did I have help, but I had access to a lot of things the average person does not have (this is definitely not me gloating). However, I feel that your experience would be the same but most likely more expensive than mine. Running Milwaukee Girls Pint Out and writing about beer has afforded me some opportunities to try new beers and test brewing products before they hit the market. This time it was a Palmer Brewing Solutions Premium Beer Kit. This kit was for a Vienna Lager (swoon) nonetheless. These are not the cutesy beer kits you see at Target; this is a collaboration between Briess Malt and the man, the myth, the author himself John Palmer. I mean the man literally wrote a book on how to brew beer. What could one beer enthusiast and first time home brewer want? Only this and nothing more.
So first things first, these kits on Briess’ website range from $20-$30 a kit depending on the style of beer. Totally reasonable for what turns out to be roughly two cases of beer made up of your own blood, sweat and tears. Actually none of those should be in your beer but hey... I’m not judging. Next you gather some friends and you all read the instructions and talk over each other. Oh wait, never mind that’s just what happened when I did this. Always wanting to share a fun experience with my friends, I invited a few to the brewery I worked for to brew beer. Thankfully, one was the assistant brewer and really the only one of us that new what to do. Thanks Nicki! The instructions were extremely clear and made sense even to a bunch of newbs. They show you what you’re going to need to purchase/borrow/not steal to make this happen. Soon after starting we realized the pilot system we were using was a touch too big for what we really needed, and I could have easily done this at home. Ahem, hence the home in homebrewing. We ended up making a huge mess and spilling water everywhere so I’m glad I really didn’t do this at home.
This brew kit came with pre-portioned and clearly labeled packets of everything we needed. The cloth sack in the picture below was provided and that’s where you put the loose grain to essentially steep in the hot water. The rest of the malt needed for the brewing process was malt extract (powder form). Fun fact: you can dry out the spent grain and make dog treats or baked goods (safe for human consumption) with it! And while you’re letting the grain, water and heat do their thing you grab a cold one, chat with your friends and monitor the temperature and time.
In everyone’s collective infinite wisdom none of us thought of where a cool place would be for this wort to ferment. Nicki and I split the wort into two separate carboys and I decided to take them both home. I wanted them to ferment at different temps to see what would happen. I roughly knew what was going to happen but why not experiment? At home, I put dark t-shirts over both, took some shelves out of my fridge to fit one carboy, all to my son’s dismay.
And the other, I hauled to the deepest, darkest corner of my basement.
Over the next month or so I checked the temperatures of both almost daily. The one in my basement was fermenting at a higher temperature than this particular style called for.
This is where I stopped following the directions and “winged it”. When I came back from GABF in Colorado, I stuck them in the walk in cooler at my brewery and then forgot about them
for months. Until one fine day in January, I got super gung-ho and decided I had to bottle that day. I tasted each carboy separately to see if they were even any good. The one done according to the instructions was great. A little sweeter than usual but I think that’s due to the malt extract. And the other “higher” one was still okay but had definitely lost its sweetness.
The kit comes with the sugar needed to add as the last step before you bottle. And again, the perks of working for a brewery include the free bottles, caps and a bottle capper on hand as well as all the tools necessary to bottle the beer. I bottled the two beers separately and labeled them as such. They are supposed to sit somewhere fairly warm for two weeks and then they can be consumed. I’m anxious to try our beer...with those same friends, of course!
If brewing beer is a real interest and you want to continue past one kit, then absolutely purchase the equipment and invest. But if you want to brew beer just to try it, I suggest finding a local beer enthusiast group that is homebrewing, or go to places like UBrew or Bru to get the DIY beer bug out of your system. And as always, let me know if you love it or hate by connecting with me via Facebook and or Twitter.