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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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A FEW MILES ABOVE TINTERN ABBEY

COMPOSED A FEW MILES ABOVE TINTERN ABBEY, ON REVISITING THE BANKS OF THE WYE DURING A TOUR. JULY 13, 1798 – William Wordsworth

FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur—Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view 10
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods, 20
Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:–feelings too 30
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world, 40
Is lightened:–that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,–
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
If this
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft– 50
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart–
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity, 60
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led: more like a man 70
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.–I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love, 80
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.–That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes 90
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels 100
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul 110
Of all my moral being.

Nor perchance,
If I were not thus taught, should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once, 120
My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all 130
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms, 140
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance–
If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence–wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream 150
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love–oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!
1798.