Thursday, March 1, 2012

One Year of Homebrewing

My brewing schedule for 2012. I'm not OCD or anything.

On March 1, 2011, I brewed my first batch of beer. It came out...  mediocre. Drinkable, though. Now, one year and seventeen batches have passed. I think I've learned pretty much in that year, and I've brewed some decent beer. My goal has been to learn as much as I can about all the aspects of beer that interest me, and while it's easy to make mistakes trying out a bunch of things you've never done before, I think it was worth the screw-ups.

My Best Batches So Far
Very early on, I brewed a Citra IPA that came out pretty tasty — though I'm not sure it would be possible to brew a Citra IPA that doesn't taste good. More recently, my smoked ESB came out very well — probably my most technically successful batch yet. And I have high hopes for two others that I'm not quite ready to drink yet, but brewed a while ago: my All Brett + Sour Mash Berliner Weisse, brewed in December, and my bourbon vanilla imperial stout, which I brewed all the way back in October. Both are bottled, and my initial early tastings were promising enough that I'm going to count them among my successes, even though I believe they each need another month or so of conditioning before they near their peak.

How My Brewing Has Progressed
I started out brewing with extract, as most new homebrewers do. Extract is to brewing what that packet of powdered cheese sauce is to boxed mac n' cheese — although that's unfair to extract, because Kraft mac n' cheese is inherently bleh. Extract isn't automatically bad, at all, but it's the same idea: instead of making everything from scratch, you have some of the ingredients mixed into an easy-to-add package for you. Lots of fantastic, award-winning beer can and has been made with extract, but it doesn't allow for as much control, and it limits the variety of the beer you can make. So by fall, I started brewing "partial mash" batches, in which you mash some amount of real grain and top off the rest with extract. A couple months later, I couldn't resist the urge to just go all the way, and I built myself a 7 gallon mash tun. So not only have I been brewing new, experimental recipes almost every time, but I've also drastically adjusted my brewing process every few batches, so far. As a result I haven't yet been able to slip into a comfortable brewing procedure, but I think I'm getting there.

What I've Learned This Year
1). It is impossible to brew a "too-hoppy" beer. Maybe if you don't like hops much; sure. But if you do? I've personally yet to encounter a beer that was too hoppy. Humans probably can't even detect bitterness much past 80 IBUs, so there's always going to be a relative cut-off point. All those double IPAs that boast about tongue-buckling bitterness? Nonsense. Malts and hops do not scale: past a certain point, a beer will continue to get maltier and sweeter, but bitterness won't keep pace.

2). I don't like overly-sweet beer, at least with most styles.

3). Spices and other added ingredients are very hard to work with; fermentation can do weird things to flavors, and they don't always come out tasting like the original ingredient. Spicing a beer isn't nearly as simple as in cooking or baking. Start with a little, add more if necessary.

4). Homebrewing probably won't save you money on buying commercial beer. If anything, I've been buying even more beer so I can try new things and get ideas. While homebrewing is definitely cheaper on a per-bottle basis, you probably won't be able to resist going to the store to see what's new. (Then again, I do have a blog to write.)

Did I Just Move Upstate to Beacon?
The answer to that curiously specific question is... yes. How did you know? I am in fact right now moving out of Brooklyn to a lovely small town called Beacon. It is very scenic, and the beer scene is nascent but taking off — the local craft bottle-shop / tap room, Hop Beacon, opens the same night I officially move in. By the end of the year, two brewpubs and a regional brewery are slated to open nearby. (It's like they were expecting me.) Most importantly, I will have a whole lot of space for brewing. A whole lot more space for brewing hopefully means brewing a lot more long-aging beers in the next year: a barleywine, an updated version of my imperial stout, and of course, a variety of sours.

What I'd Like to Accomplish in the Next Year
Well, one thing I wasn't really able to do in my last apartment was sours — they take so long to age, I knew I would probably end up moving before they were finished. Considering they're my favorite style, I hope to be able to keep up a somewhat steady production of sours from now on. I have many more experiments planned, including a few other 100% Brett beers (which I guess don't really fall under the category of "sours.") In fact, I have many things planned: check out my lame map up there, trying to coordinate roughly when I want to brew what. Does anyone else do that? No? Oh.

I also have a few more DIY projects I'd like to do, mainly building a stir plate.

Homebrewing is definitely the best hobby I've picked up. Having gallons of beer at your disposal, to drink any time, probably isn't even the best part. The excitement is really in planning new recipes, thinking up a name for it, wondering what it's going to be like, doing your best to make sure everything goes right, then waiting, waiting, and finally getting to see how it turns out after so much anticipation. There's really nothing else like it. Maybe raising a child? Yes, making beer is a lot of like raising a child, but a much better, more responsible investment.


  1. I kinda disagree with the "won't save you money"point. I guess it depends on what you're brewing... but overall for me it seems to work out to around $1 per 12oz. Sounds pretty cheap to me, when I would usually spend $5-6 for a bomber, or ~$5 for a pint at the bar.

    Nice blog, by the way.

  2. Thanks! You're definitely right that it's cheaper on a per-bottle basis. I should have expressed that more clearly. I don't buy much less beer than I did before, so I can still try new things, plus the money I spend no homebrewing every month... in total, it's definitely not less than what I spent before I started homebrewing. But if you stop buying commercial beer altogether, you can definitely save money.

  3. After reading this article I guess I should be just a little apologetic that after 5 years of brewing i'm still an extract brewer (just more convenient). However, I must say that the beer I and a few of my extract brewing friends are making is some of the best beer i've ever tasted. We mostly brew IPAs and my thought is that unlike commercial breweries, we don't have to worry so much about cost effectiveness. We can load up on the hops and not worry about whether or not the amount or type of hops that we use is going to cut into our profit margins. We brew solely for obtaining great taste. Commercial brewers have to balance great taste with good profit. This is why so many home brews (all grain or extract) are often so much better than most of the stuff you find in stores.

    1. Nothing wrong with that! Everyone should brew however works best for them. I think IPAs are one of the best styles you can do with extract, too, since the focus is on the hops and you don't have to worry quite so much about tweaking the grain bill.


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