Confessions of a First-Time Homebrewer
I have a confession to make. I have been an active member of the Arizona Society of Homebrewers for more than a year. … And I’ve never actually brewed my own beer.
Oh sure, I’ve studied beer in many ways – mostly by sampling many delicious styles and visiting great beer cities to see what the new trends are. I’ve also taken brewery tours to see how beer is made on a large scale and I’ve been to local brew outs to learn how home brewers do it from their kitchens and back yards.
I finally decided to take the DIY plunge after a Ladies Only brew out. I’d been a little intimidated by the mash and grain systems of some brewers but the ASH gals showed me how easy it can be to start with an extract kit. The extract replaces the mash-sparge-boil process with a dried malt extract. You start by steeping grains in a big pot of water either on your stove or an outside burner.
I went to my local homebrew store and bought a starter kit with buckets, siphons, thermometers, bottle caps, other “beer gear” including all the ingredients for my first batch. Sanitation was key so I washed everything twice, figured out how to use the sanitizing solution, then started cooking. The first steps were like following a recipe. I steeped my grains, added my extract and hops, kept an eye on temperature and time.
I seemed to be on the right track. Then things got interesting.
It was time to add the yeast and ferment. But first I had to get my newly stewed wort down to a yeast friendly 80 degrees. My wort was 160+ degrees. Outside it was a typical Arizona fall day at 105 degrees. I added cold water, put my fermenting bucking in an ice bath, brought out a fan. But after 30 minutes, the thermometer still hovered at 85. I ran to the Kwikie Mart for more ice. Finally, after 45 minutes, the wort was cool enough. I pitched the yeast and sealed my bucket to let the fermentation begin.
I thought I was done. Then I realized the container I was keeping my sanitizing wash in was leaking. The floor was flooded.
An hour later my floor was clean, my beer was brewing, and I was exhausted. I uncapped a Full Sail Amber Ale. This was a much easier, more relaxing way to get a beer, I thought, with a sinking feeling that maybe homebrewing wasn’t my thing.
A week passed and that mild identity crisis brewed like my beer. I wondered whether my yeast was actually alive, if I had kept everything clean, if I was just waiting to open a big bucket of beer slop. I wondered if I could turn that slop into some kind of stew or marinade. Would it work as fertilizer for my herb garden? I was relieved when my airlock started bubbling. At least the yeast was working.
A week later it was time to bottle. But I didn’t have any. I went back to the homebrew store. I had heard the owner was high strung, but as I was paying, I found out just how much. The whole store heard him as he reprimanded an employee in the back, then came out to the floor still yelling and with a face so red I thought someone would get hurt. I took my bottles and left a little shaken up. The owner hadn’t really inspired me to brew my own beer. But he had inspired me to drink one. I opened another Full Sail and when I finished, I had another bottle to fill with my own stuff.
I sanitized again. I figured out how my siphon worked. I filled my bottles. There was a lot of foam, but I capped them and put them in another cool space. The next day other homebrewers were surprised I had so much foam. I wondered some more.
Another week passed and it was time to taste. I opened a bottle and poured it into a glass – it looked like beer and it smelled like beer…. I took a sip. It was a pale ale, but to me it tasted like sweet success. Now I was a homebrewer.