I believe the next natural step for certain beer lovers is to take a leap of faith from beer consumer to beer consumer/beer creator. As a lover of beer I was surprised by my hesitation at attempting to brew my first batch of home brew. To be quite honest if it wasn’t for having coworkers who are experienced in home brewing I never would have had the stones to give this a shot.
So, after weeks of discussing it with coworkers I pulled the trigger one rainy Saturday morning. I loaded the wife and kids into the minivan and headed to Jay’s Brewing in Manassas, Virginia. Upon our arrival I made the suspect decision of taking my 3yo into the store with me. Since neither of us had ever been to a home brewing store I had no idea what to expect. Luckily my 3yo was caught off guard by how there was absolutely nothing in the store that interested him and stuck to me like he was a tiny human knee brace.
When I walked in I met Jay and told him that I have never brewed before in my life and was hoping to buy a kit. I could tell right away that he had given this speech countless times. He started asking me what types of beers I like as he grabbed white buckets and plastic tubing. I was actually caught off guard. Even though I am a self described ‘lover of beer’ being put on the spot of being asked what sort of beers I like my mind went completely blank and I just blurted out ‘Lagers?’. Now, I have nothing against lagers. I like lagers as much as the next guy but the whole thing was a lot like that scene in “The Christmas Story” where Ralphie completely chokes while sitting on Santa’s lap and instead of asking for his Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle he agrees that he just wants a football.
Sensing my awkwardness and noticing my 3yo was getting more comfortable with his surroundings by the second (he had begun to softly bang on the white buckets full of hops like a tiny Jack Costanzo) he recommended for my first brew that I try a hefeweizen. By this time I snapped out of my daze by the rhythmic tapping of half filled hops buckets to remember that A) I loved hefeweizen and B) I needed to wrap this transaction up. (Side Note #1 – I am not going to lie. I had no idea who Jack Costanzo was until I googled “famous bongo players” but my 3yo was loosening up and we were headed in this direction).
One good thing about having a 3yo in a store with things people don’t want him to put his skittles stained hands on is that people tend to be very attentive. So Jay put together a nice kit for me complete with fermenting buckets, plastic tubing, dried malt extract, hops, yeast, a bottle capper, sanitizing solution, and a copy of The Complete Joy of Home Brewing with a recipe for a simple hefeweizen bookmarked.
Back at home I read and reread the pages of instructions on brewing the hefeweizen until I felt like I understood the process and wasn’t going to get in the middle of it and realize that I am missing something. So I added water to a 4 gallon pot and mixed in the dried malt extract/wheat and hops. The book called for malt extract that was in a liquid form but my new buddy Jay said the dried stuff was just as good and apparently easier to handle than the liquid stuff.
After adding the dried malt extract and hops I brought it all to a boil.
Well I guess first a simmer. I forgot how long it takes to bring 2 plus gallons of water to a boil.
Here we go.
This first thing I noticed of course was the smell. Immediately I thought of my wife and attempted a surprise countermeasure before she could complain by saying “Wow, won’t the house smell great around the holidays when I brew a Christmas beer with cinnamon, cloves, oranges, and other aromas you might find appealing?” Luckily though she didn’t mind the smell but I do suggest opening the windows and turning on the ceiling fan.
I let this cauldron of hefeweizen bubble like a Shakespearean witch, minus the ‘poison’d entrails and eye of newt, for about an hour. (Ugh, I just watched that MacBeth clip perhaps something a little less creepy)
Now while I was reading and rereading the dos and don’ts of brewing the one thing that was a constant was the importance of sterilization. Basically anything that is going to touch your brew needed to be sterilized, rinsed, and air dried. Don’t make the mistake of doing the first two and taking your nasty dish rag and drying off your equipment. If you start this while everything is boiling you’ll have plenty of time to let it air dry.
After your beer has boiled for a hour you need to filter your brew from your pot into your (sterilized/rinsed/air dried) 5-gallon bucket. The bucket should contain around 2 gallons of cool water. The filter will catch any of the hops/gunk that you don’t want in your beer. I just used a sterilized mesh strainer. I would have included a picture of this process but I had my hands full at the time.
Once the brew is in the bucket you will need to let it cool to 70-75 degrees. (Side note #2: One of the many things I learned was the letting gallons of boiling liquid cool on its own takes a surprising large amount of time). I of course being the n00b home brewer that I am I would check the temp every 15 mins and probably threw out a couple beers worth of brew before I finally got the hint and left it alone for a couple of hours.
Once the temp is less than 75 degrees you should take your gravity measurement and record it in your handy dandy notebook. Notice I said ‘should’. Again, being the eager beaver/n00b that I am, I was so excited at the fact that my brew was finally below the 75 degree mark I instantly dumped my yeast in….
…and sealed that puppy up.
It wasn’t until after that I realized that I forgot to take the gravity measurement. Being terrified of contaminating my hard work I decided that I didn’t want to open it. I’ve learned since that it is totally okay to open your bucket every once in awhile to check things out. As long as whatever touches the brew is properly sterilized and you’re not over doing it.
So now my 1st home brew sits under my stairs patiently waiting for 3/17 (St. Patrick’s Day ironically enough) for bottling.
Until then keep your fingers crossed. See you in a couple of weeks!