Saturday, January 23, 2016

Becoming A Homebrewer

I've wanted to brew my own beer for years. Ever since I met my first brewer in person, I've thought of brewing myself. That's why after thinking about it for a long time and being encouraged by friends, a few months ago I took the plunge and finally started homebrewing. That's a decision I am very happy that I made.

To start things off I travelled to my local homebrew supply store. It's a small shop, but has everything you need to brew batches of beer in all styles and sizes. When I visited the store I asked the owner how he would recommend that I start brewing. He recommended that I start all-grain brewing instead of using malt extract, as he found homebrewers who did so were more engaged and learned more quickly. I decided to follow his advice and chose an Oatmeal Brown Ale recipe for my first homebrew.

The owner of the store then walked me around the store to help me collect the ingredients for the recipe. We first collected the grains that would be needed to produce fermentable sugars for the yeast to consume. We then put the grains into a mill for grinding, save for the flaked oats that would be added to the brew. Next we picked the hops and finally the yeast to complete the recipe.

Now, I live in a small studio apartment in Boston. Part of my hesitance to begin homebrewing was the amount of space it would take. However, the store owner informed me that all I would basically need was the room to store a 5 gallon bucket. After hearing that, I purchased the necessary equipment including the kettle,  siphon, hydrometer, cleaner, sanitizer, bottle brush and capper, as well as the fermentation and bottling buckets. I then went home to prepare for my first brew day.

After cleaning and sanitizing all of my equipment (perhaps the most important part of brewing), I filled my kettle with water and put in on my stove to begin heating. I placed a nylon straining bag in the kettle and, once the water reached the required temperature, added the grains. As the malted grain released its sugars, the water soon turned into wort. I next took the bag out of the kettle and began boiling the wort before adding the hops I had chosen. Once enough time had passed I placed the kettle in a bath of ice water in order to chill the wort down to the necessary temperature before pouring it into the fermentation bucket, sealing it, and pitching the yeast. My brew day was over, but fermentation had just begun.

I had taken a hydrometer reading from some of the wort in order to obtain the original gravity, which provides a glimpse of the possible ABV of the final brew. I placed the fermentation bucket in my closet and over the next few weeks monitored it to ensure the brew was fermenting (usually by observing the airlock for carbon dioxide release) and to maintain the correct temperature. Bottling day, when it finally came, was relatively easy. It mainly entailed filling and capping, besides transferring the beer from one bucket to another, adding some priming sugar, and cleaning up afterwards. I then let the bottles sit to condition for another couple of weeks.

I decided to purchase labels for my first homebrew and to enter it into a local homebrewing competition for fun. Upon tasting the beer I was glad that it had turned out as I hoped it would. I received positive feedback from friends and family, who seemed to enjoy it even more than I did. Overall the experience was very educational and a lot of fun. I just finished my second homebrew, a honey wheat ale, and I am very much enjoying brewing as a hobby. I'm not sure where it will lead, but I do know there's nothing quite like drinking your own beer.

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