Adventures in Homebrewing

Nope, not talking about brewing coffee. I’m talking about brewing my own beer at home. I’ve recently become obsessed but I’m not sure why or how it came about. I’m not particularly obsessed with beer, when I think about it. Last year I was obsessed with the concept of planting various grape varieties and making my own wine. That plan was a bit more difficult because it would require: a.) land (that I don’t have) and b.) patience (which I also don’t have, exactly). I suppose that with the desire to ferment something, beer is the best option. After pulling the trigger on gear and brewing my first few batches my obsession for the art of fermentation (I haven’t read the book with the same title yet) has only grown. So this post is an introduction to that obsession.

Brewing the specialty grains in my first batch (an IPA)
My first memory of the concept of homebrew was when I was about 12 years old. My older brother bought a beer brewing kit somewhere and made a batch at home. The memories are foggy, but I think I recall seeing beer sitting in a clear plastic collapsible 5 gallon bladder in the kitchen. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe this was the case because 1.) our kitchen was south facing and the bladder was clear, so that beer got plenty of harmful UV 2.) those plastic bladders don’t exactly have an airlock to allow CO2 to escape. So it makes me wonder if maybe he just turned the bladder up on its back end and had the valve up top and twisted slightly open to allow CO2 escape. The other detail that I remember was that the beer was bottled in quart-sized mason jars and stored in a closet. I’m not sure about the mechanics of bottle conditioning and carbonating in a mason jar… Do they explode? Can they handle the pressure? I’m not too eager to find out. Either way, there were no explosions and the beer was a light gold color. I guess the punchline of this story is that a friend of mine, who was also about 12 years old, drank an entire (warm) bottle of one of these beers. He ended up getting very drunk and puked (once or twice). At the time, we blamed it on the beer being “bad”. In reality, I don’t think there was anything harmful about the beer. I just think that puking was the result of a 120lb kid drinking a quart of beer.

Taking a gravity test (not sure if this one was during racking or during bottling, either way, low-ish).
Back to now. Over the last several years I’ve enjoyed beer more and more. I’ve had beers that blew my mind and I didn’t know why. I’ve had beers that I didn’t like and I didn’t exactly know why. I guess I’ve been discerning but not overly inquisitive about beer quality. When I lived in Denver I was surrounded by awesome microbreweries that all made incredibly interesting beer. I enjoyed it. I asked questions. But I didn’t realize I knew too little about it all to fully understand the answers I was getting.

First batch in the carboy for primary fermentation.
A little over a year ago I moved back to my hometown of Park City, Utah. The biking is good, but the beer is not. Unfortunately, I now live in a state with liquor laws that in my opinion should be outright illegal. It’s against the rules of the Mormon church to consume alcohol. And because the state government is run by Mormons, the state of Utah has totally nonsensical, absurd and insulting liquor laws. Just to name a few: all draught beer must be below 4%ABV; all alcoholic products are bought and sold through the state; liquor store is closed on Sundays; all liquor stores in Utah are owned and operated by the state, etc. The point is, since I’ve been in Utah, I’ve been repeatedly disappointed by the beer that is available and the result that these laws have had on the microbrewery industry here. What ever happened to separation of church and state? Sssshhhhhh.

Bottling the first batch. Still drinking wine. So hard to wait.
So it all adds up. I’d consider myself a “foodie”. I like beer. I don’t like the beer that Utah makes available to me. I’m interested in the science and art of fermentation. Also it’s almost the winter solstice so I need to find new ways to preoccupy myself for 5 hours after the sun sets a 3:30pm. I’d like to use homebrewing to better understand how good beer is made (and how bad beer is made). And at the end of the day, maybe I just want to enjoy the fruits of my own labor and enjoy a tasty brew and appreciate the work that went into it. I think through all of this I’ll have a better understanding and appreciation of all fermented foods, especially beer. Wine can wait for now.

Three weeks into brewing when this photo was taken. Been a homebrewer now for 5 weeks and have 5 batches in the works. 52 batches in a year? Probably not.

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