Homebrew. For me, the very word tends to bring up images of a bathtub full of vodka or a moonshine bottle with those cartoon x’s all over them.
A few years ago two friends of mine tried a homebrewing kit, and got poor results. It was, I believe, a cheap kit from a grocery store. Years passed, and I don’t think they tried it again. Until now.
A month or so ago now, while over at my friend’s place, he hands me a beer that he made. It was decent. Way better than his first try a few years back. Still a kit, but it worked, and it got us thinking, and ready to really try it out. We’ve done a few now, to mixed results, so this will be my first attempt at documenting our trials with homebrew.
First Disaster – Infection
Well, let me start by making it clear, it has been my friend Nick who has really done the leg work for our homebrewing attempts. Really, I’m just following along as he learns a few steps ahead. Finding literature on how to brew, as well as finding all the grains, yeast extracts and what-have-you has been because of him.
That said, our first real attempt was bad. It was a kit, not even an extract or all-grain. Wait, step back a bit. Let’s go over those terms.
As far as I can tell, there are three main ways to make your own homebrew. “All grain” seems to be the most involved, said to be the best, and gives you the most control. “Extract” is still pretty involved, but you use a selection of pre-made malt extracts instead of grinding your own malts into the grains. And then the third option, not even sure what its called, but much of the ingredients are ready made all you do is boil and add your yeasts. Less control, but easier when all you have is a regular stove.
Got it. I might be very off on that, but that’s how it seems so far.
My first time helping was the third option, and while it seemed to go well, well, we had some infection get it which made the beer not at all good. Not poison, but in the end we had to dump the lot of them. But we know what we did wrong, and that’s something, right?
Second Try – Snowbank
Don’t give up hope. Learn from your mistakes, right? Our second batch was better. We did an English Brown Ale, this time moving up from the kits to an extract. And, because we decided to do this on a cold winter evening and used a bathtub full of snow to drop the heat after boiling, we dubbed this one “Snowbank”.
Nick did some more research, and borrowed some equipment off a coworker of his. We ground the grain, made the bags in which to steep, used a candy thermometer and a carboy we got used from another friend.
Much better results than the kit, but we found that using used and borrowed equipment produced some uneven results. The bottle capper, for instance, sealed better on some and not so good on others. This made some bottles have a great head and carbonation, but most were on the flatter side with little to no head.
After fermentation and then bottle conditioning, well, we got a drinkable beer, but still not something we would give to any of our friends. There is still something…off…about it. Could it be a slight infection again, or possibly from the used plastic carboy? It was slight, and provides us with another hurdle.
So, we knew then that upgrades were needed if we were to continue on. that, and boiling so much liquid on a kitchen stove took a fair bit of time. If we wanted to keep this up, and maybe bring in some more friends to help and share in the fun, we’d need a bigger fire. Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll tell you all about our Oatmeal Stout (and, yes, a bigger fire).