The great joy of homebrewing is sharing the results with others and even making new friends through that sharing. Below is the story of my neighbor, who is now hopelessly addicted to the joys on brewing. I encourage everyone to adopt a new brewer. The benefits are tremendous and the friendships forged priceless.
A little over a year ago I introduced myself to the new neighbor across the street with a growler of homebrew. He might have been a little worried about me after the tour of my garage brewery. Mike's interest in brewing has grown with each shared sample and the occasional visit while I am brewing.
Within a few months, Mike became an enthusiastic brewery assistant, and really good at cleaning! Most Friday evenings I get a call asking if we are brewing in the morning. Where other brewer helpers prefer to sit, jaw and drink beer, Mike jumped right in and helped. We swap out tasks so that he gets a feel for the entire process.
Our first batch was a spiced Belgian Blond Ale. Mike and Margo are very social and invited the entire community over for a Crawfish Boil as a housewarming. Our little beer turned out to be a big hit and 2 kegs were kicked by 40 attendees in just a few hours. It helped that the crawfish was really SPICY and the evening very HOT, and the beer COLD. Mike was enthused to share our beer with the neighborhood and our neighbors still talk about the beer that evening.
Once Mike bought a two tap kegerator, the challenge has been keeping beer stocked. Between Saturday college football and three games of Sunday football, Mike and his friends can easily kill a corny keg and a few growlers! We needed more capacity and a plan for a bit more diversity. Mike needed to brew on his own!
I don't need to go into detail here other than to say my goals were to ensure that Mike experienced as few of the ugly pitfalls I experienced learning without a mentor. This included approaching all grain fundamentals by introducing key topics in phases. We worked through three prioritized phases in planning:
- Fermentation Control: I feel this was the biggest mistake I made getting started. As soon as I controlled fermentation temperatures, my beers dramatically improved. Mike has a spare fridge and is using that for fermentation.
- Setting Expectations: Mike's fear was bad beer. I promised him it would be beer, and likely much better than he might think the first time out. Eliminate the stress and worry.
- Choosing the right system for Mike's needs, which included ensuring that his wife was onboard. So portable, easy to store, and most important, NOT a giant ugly stainless still rig like mine!
- Purging Excess Gear: I have a ton of spare gear and welcomed Mike to take anything I could spare. At the end of the day, Mike needed to decide his budget. I left him with catalogues and the name of the manager at our LHBS.
I believe it is important let the brewer make their own informed decisions. Some of us are more picky about looks or functionality or convenience or cost. with a budget, and checking off things that could be passed along (an immersion chiller, a refractometer, spoons and hoses, etc.) meant that Mike walked out of the LHBS with bare essentials, but also some room to upgrade in his budget. He bought a 8 gallon stainless kettle with a ball valve, and a water cooler mash tun with a false bottom.
Mike's brew day went very well, and the beer turned out...
I brewed on my system while Mike setup outside of my garage for his inaugural brewday. Fortunately I also invited one of my brewer mentors to join me. Mike pulled out his brand new gear, and handed me his recipe, a moderate gravity IPA. I setup the water, minerals and mash volumes while he got his burners and propane working. Chaos ensued, but never got out of control. Stuff got moved or disappeared, but my buddy was able to step in to help. My saison knocked out into the fermenter as Mike was ready to lauter.
It was a lot of fun to brew with Mike on his system, and a bit nostalgic to go back to a manual system. I taught him to batch sparge and immediately knocked the hose off the false bottom of the MLT. We dumped the whole mash into a homer bucket, fixed the hose (always keep spare hose clamps around!), returned the mash and finished sparging. As the boil was fired friends and family showed up. There was a little brewing party going on in my driveway! Everyone was curious and surprised at the contrasting systems, and thrilled to sample homebrew. We drank cold beer while inhaling the aroma of malt and hops, enjoying the company. With a healthy dose of hops standing at flameout, we sanitized the fermenter and prepared to chill. With all the help, cleanup and tear down was a breeze! Mike pitched the yeast that evening at 68F and didn't touch the fermenter for 11 days.
I intentionally avoided measuring gravity, mash pH or even carefully checking volumes on brew day. I wanted this experience to go smoothly without distraction and avoid the potential disappointment of not hitting an arbitrary efficiency number. It seemed more important to determine when the beer was ready.
I brought a hydrometer and refractometer covering the issues with using them properly. The final gravity check read 1.002. Surprisingly low, but the sample tasted great dry, but no off flavors. We compared the gravity to the refractometer and estimated the OG to be around 1.058 (a few points high) and the ABV over 7%. The next evening we kegged the beer and force carbonated.
Mike and I brewed again on his system that weekend. He managed the mash by himself, and required very little help. The delicate flavor of a Belgian Blonde should provide a nice contrast to the hoppy IPA. The day before, I harvested some yeast and made a small active starter that he pitched, and fermentation showed in just a few hours. In fact, we had to install a blow off tube.
By Sunday afternoon, the IPA was fully carbonated. It is still hazy, but dropping surprising bright for such a short time at lager temperatures. Between yelling at the television screen and dipping into some smoky and spicy chili, the IPA held up well. "SoCo Town Lake IPA" clocks in at about 7.5% (much stronger than expected), but shows no off flavors at all. The ale pours a hazy gold, with a sticky off-white head. The aroma is pungent with grapefruit and tangerine, with a slight cut grass character. The bitterness is very firm but follows up with orange, grapefruit and a bit of resinous pine, all layered in nicely. Bone dry. Yummy!
As Mike and I work out plans for future brews, I am introducing more detail. His name will go on many competition entries as co-brewer and I hope see him submit a few of his own. His skills are improving, and I am refining and simplifying my approaches to brewing.
Teaching Mike has reinforced a few key points:
- Brewing good beer isn't all about the gear. While I have a flashy RIMS system, it doesn't make 'better' beer the brewer does.
- Just brewing without worrying about mash pH, efficiency, or complicated procedures is really refreshing. At the end of the day, it will be beer!
- Nothing beats brewing with a friend especially making a friend for life over homebrewing!
Consider adopting a new brewer. Take the time to focus on education, but above all, use the opportunity to make a great friend. Toss out any per-conceived notions on how to brew, and explore new techniques, systems and experiment. Set aside any concerns and stress about hitting numbers and just brew!
Matt Chrispen is a self-diagnosed beer fanatic. His day job is business development in the entertainment technology market, and his evenings and weekends are devoted to brewing, scheming, research and writing for his blog, Accidentalis.com. The latest writer to join the HomeBrewTalk team, I hope you all take a minute to welcome Matt and visit his blog, Accidentalis.com.