A Home Brewer’s Personal Journey through His Craft – Part 1
The Guru on Beginning Home Brewing:
I began my love for beer like most other beer drinkers…by drinking whatever I could get. I soon realized my tastes were somewhat different than the current masses.
I thought Budweiser; the so called “King of Beers” was closer to maybe The Court Jester than the King. PBR, another popular beer of the time which has since regained some popularity, was just too sweet. Ultimately, I settled on Rainier, a regional favorite in the Northwest where I grew up…western Montana, where I drank a few cases of Great Falls Select and Lucky Lager before they disappeared as well. I was too young to ever experience the local brew from my hometown of Missoula, Highlander, which I was told by the older folks was not very good. I also took a brief diversion to Colorado Cool-aid, as Coors was known at the time when it was first introduced to Montana but ended back with Rainier.
Then somewhere along the way I became aware of the import beers. Several of my new friends were drinking Heineken, both light and dark. I was for a while seduced by the signature import flavor of the day which, ultimately, I began to identify as “green bottle skunk”. I soon gravitated to Lowenbrau, not the German import but the AnhueserBusch rip-off version. It had the signature import “skunk” flavor but a maltier backbone.
One night someone ordered a pitcher of Rainier and a bottle of Guinness. They poured a little Rainier into a glass to make room for the Guinness which they added to the pitcher, making a rudimentary black and tan. I was fascinated, although I thought the heavy roast flavor of the Guinness was too much, I still had a craving to try it again. The next time was pure Guinness and I was hooked.which they added to the pitcher, making a rudimentary black and tan. I was fascinated, although I thought the heavy roast flavor of the Guinness was too much, I still had a craving to try it again. The next time was pure Guinness and I was hooked.
I continued to search out as many different imports from as many different nations as I could find. This was not an easy task in Montana. I particularly remember a few gems, Belhaven Scottish Ale, Fischer-Labelle, and Orval Trappist Ale. I ended up rotating the Canadian Lagers, Molson and Moosehead as well as Molson Ale, with my Rainier, Lowenbrau and the occasional Fosters Lager. Of course, I also had to have an Orval on the rare occasion I could find it.
I began to be aware of something new on the market, American Microbrews. Initially, I wrote these off as just another American beer. I believe the first of these I tried was Anchor Steam or perhaps Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. We may be on to something here; this was bigger and bolder than the standard American swill and was also fresher than the imports and came a proper brown glass bottle, no skunk.
Well, so much for the history lesson for now, flash forward to my discovery that I could actually make any kind of beer I desired with a little studying and patience right in my own kitchen. By the way, my favorite all around, every day beer by this time is Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
My telecom career, that’s another story we will not go into here, had taken me to Colorado. One day in my travels around Littleton, a suburb of Denver, I spotted a little shop called Highlander Homebrew. Wait a minute, Highlander, that takes me back to my youth in Missoula, and, Homebrew, this is just too coincidental, I have to check this out.
I went in to find bags and containers of exotic things like malts, grains, hops, refrigerated yeasts, all surrounded by a wonderful aroma of something very rich and natural. The figure behind the counter asked if he could help me. I was a bit overwhelmed and sheepishly said, “No, just looking, this is interesting” and then I left.
I went home and told my wife, “I saw this interesting little homebrew shop today, checked it out and I think that might be something I would like to try.”
Sometime later I overheard some co-workers talking about a home-brewing class at the local community college. We all decided we should do this as a group. This was in November or early December of 1994. The class started in January or February of 1995.
I went home and told my wife I wanted to take this class with my friends from work and much to my surprise she just smiled and said, “That sounds like fun, go for it.”
My First HomeBrew:
Now we move forward a few weeks to Christmas. My youngest brother Darrell is staying with us and he and Nancy are eager for me to open a couple strange boxes under the tree. The first, from Darrell, turns out to be two cases of empty 22 oz. bottles. “What the hell is this all about”, I think. The others are the various components of a basic homebrew kit and the ingredients for my first homebrew.
It turns out Nancy had overheard a co-worker at her job talking about making homebrew the same week I had mentioned the homebrew shop. He went with her to Highlander Homebrew to help her pick out the necessary components and ingredients for the Christmas gift. This explains the giddy smile she had when I mentioned the home brewing class. She knew she had done good!
So, three days after Christmas, December 28, 1994, I assembled all the paraphernalia included in the kit and all the ingredients for my first brew, read over the included instructions, and decided to forge ahead. I believe this recipe is intended to be a clone of Sam Adams. However, Sam Adams is a lager and this is an ale so, it is more accurately an American Amber Ale
The Mysterious Process:
I followed the instructions to the letter, not fully understanding why I was doing some of the things I was doing, and it all turned out well. I did not save the recipe or the instructions at the time but decided later I should keep a record of my homebrews if I am to continue on this adventure. So, to best of my recollection at the time, this first recipe was as follows:
- 1 can (3.3 lbs) Hopped light liquid malt extract
- 3 lbs Light dry malt extract (may have been amber)
- 1/2 oz Hallertau whole cone hops (finishing 10 min)
- 1/2 oz Hallertau whole cone hops (aroma 5 min)
- 2 pkg (10g) dry ale yeast
Bring 2 gallons water to a boil and add both the liquid and dry malt extracts, stirring to fully dissolve and return to boil. Boil for 45 minutes adding ½ oz. hops with 10 minutes remaining and another ½ oz. with 5 minutes remaining. Pour the hot liquid into a sanitized fermentation bucket with enough cold water to bring volume to 5 gallons. Attach lid and fermentation lock and let cool to room temperature. This took over 24 hours. Pitch yeast when cooled. Now, here is where I made my first mistake. I did not know I should re-hydrate the dry yeast with some warm water before pitching, so, I just dumped the two little packages in the bucket. Fortunately, the Beer Gods are forgiving and it all still worked out. The wort began fermenting in about 24 hours and continued for two more days.
Bottled this brew about two weeks later and tried the first one two weeks after that.
This is where I learned of my second mistake. When bottling, if you do not have enough to fully fill the last bottle, just dump it. That first bottle I tried was the last one bottled and was only half full and to put it mildly, it was gross. There was too much air in the bottle which oxidized the beer and allowed all the carbonation to come out of the beer making it flat. But, I was not deterred; I opened another bottle, which was full. This was not bad at all, a little under-carbonated and cloudy. As timed passed, each bottle got better and I proclaimed my first brew to be a success.
To Be Continued…
I would love to hear from my readers. Please, if you have any questions or comments, post them below. I will respond ASAP! I would love to hear about your beginning home brewing. And…
Keep on Brewin’