Saturday, January 20, 2007

My History of Homebrewing

It's been a long time since I became interested in homebrewing. The concept was introduced to me in 1995 by a colleague at Battelle Marine Sciences Lab in Sequim, WA. Alan Andrews was his name, but unfortunately, we both moved our separate ways shortly thereafter and have lost touch (but not for lack of trying). It was in Washington state that I purchased the glass carboy I still have today, along with a hydrometer, from a hardware store in Port Angeles. During a trip in Seattle, I bought Papazian's The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing, 2nd ed. from Liberty Malt Supply.

My first batch of beer was an extract brew - a porter, I think - made in Chapel Hill,NC. I bought the rest of my equipment and first set of ingredients at a homebrew supply store in Morrisville (near Research Triangle Park). It was drinkable, but I can't say much else about it. While waiting to find full time work, I was working at a Barnes & Noble making coffee. One perk of the job was that when the magazines were recycled and sent back (covers ripped off), I got to have my choice of several brewing and beer-related magazines, which I still have (sans covers).

Due to apartment living and a host of other circumstances, I set aside the brewing until 1999. By this time, I was living in State College,PA and found ingredients at Keystone Kettles in Bellefonte (since closed, I believe). I bought Papazian's The Homebrewer's Companion and Homebrewer's Gold during that period, and joined the American Homebrewers Association. I enjoyed the year's subscription to Zymurgy, too. Again, due to grad school constraints, I set aside the equipment for some time. In the meantime, I continued to pick up some more literature, including Zymurgy for the Homebrewer and Beer Lover, Lutzen & Stevens More Homebrew Favorites, and Victory Beer Recipes (which I believe contains recipes of some brewing competition).

Finally, last year, after having moved quite a bit, we settled in good ol' Indiana, PA. Now I'm back in the homebrewing game and last year was able to put out three five-gallon batches. I updated some of my well-traveled equipment, such as buckets and hoses, and got some empty bottles from a homebrewing colleague. I got my first set of ingredients and a recipe for a Belgian ale from Country Wines in Pittsburgh. After a glorious brewing day one cold morning in March, I was hooked again. The beer turned out OK, but was a little weak.

My wife bought me Tess and Mark Szamatulski's Beer Caputred, from which I brewed two recipes. On July 4th, I made an extract batch of a Hoegaarden clone. It was much better than my first beer of the year, though it didn't really taste like a Hoegaarden - probably because of the DME I used - and I'm not sure of my water profile yet. On a balmy Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving, I took the plunge and moved up to all-grain. I bit off a little more than I expected by making a Chimay Bleu clone - but it turned out well. I look forward to the return of warmer weather so I can brew on the porch again.

I've got a wish list of books I want to get, including more detailed brewing chemistry books and cool ones like Farmhouse Ales and Brew Like A Monk. All in good time.

For those contemplating homebrewing, I highly recommend Papazian's beginner book (and the companion, for that matter). Between those two books and a few homebrewing forums, I've been able to make some nice beer. Recipe books are great for ideas once you get the basics down, and I'll be using those for quite some time. Eventually, I hope to get to the point where I understand all the grains, hops, and yeasts so that I can craft my own recipes and come up with some funky stuff.

I was looking through Papazian's Microbrewed Adventures, which I want to get, and found a recipe for a beer that I was fortunate to be able to try: Gotlandsdricke, a juniper flavored brew from the Swedish island of Gotland. I also want to find and perfect some good saison recipes (and biere de gardes), for those are my favorite styles to drink.

I picked up the last couple issues of Brew Your Own magazine and I'm thinking of subscribing. I got great ideas for a sparge arm in the last issue, and this current one has me thinking of building my own water filter. Part of the fun of homebrewing is also tinkering and building the equipment. For my first all-grain, I made my own wort chiller from 25 feet of flexible copper tubing. I bought an outdoor propane cooker so that I could heat a bigger brewpot. Since I didn't want to fork out well over $100 for a stainless pot (and I don't want to brew in aluminum), I bought a used keg from a distributor in Pittsburgh and cut the top off. Plugged in a nice stainless ball valve and voila!, a 16 gallon stainless brew pot. I hope to covert a second keg for lautering/sparging, since the 6 gallon plastic bucket with false bottom is a little awkward for larger grain bills.

Though I haven't brewed as much as I would have liked over the last decade, I look forward to upping the ante this year, and have a goal of one batch a month. 60 gallons of homebrew isn't too bad a thought, no?


Adam said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing. Good luck with the new start.

There is something about the process, the tinkering, brewing with friends and tasting your own beer isn't there?

Keep us informed.

Eli said...

It's posts like these that really push me to brew, I cannot wait to start.

Adam said...

Heheh...I sense a ground in the homebrew culture in ol' Indiana, PA!

Adam said...

er...ground swell...oops