A little more than two months ago, I decided to start brewing beer. Truth be told, I am not a huge drinker, though there is something special about beer that deeply attracts me. About two years ago, I wrote a short-lived beer blog for a local website (you can check it out if you want, though its in Chinese). During this time, I got the opportunity to try out many different types of beers and learned much about their characteristics. However, as I started reading up about homebrewing, I realized that my blog had only begun to scratch the surface. Despite beer being made up of four simple ingredients (malt, hops, yeast, and water), to a brewer it is an infinite canvas filled with countless possibilities.
My first step in my brewing adventure started with a book — How to Brew by John J. Palmer. It is widely considered to be the modern bible of homebrewing. The first chapter of the book walks you through a typical brew day consisting of deceptively simple language. At this point, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Is this it? This doesn’t sound THAT hard!”. However, this feeling didn’t last long because the rest of the book goes into incredible detail about every aspect of homebrewing. I was most surprised how much math is involved in serious brewing. It’s quite literally a science.
Instead of starting from scratch for my first beer, I decided to buy a kit. My first beer would be a brown ale, a malty English style. The kit included both starter equipment and ingredients, as well as brewing instructions. The following weekend, I bought a bunch of distilled water and ice from the local supermarket and started brewing.
Right after I started boiling the wort (the sugary liquid that beer is made from), I noticed that the siphon that came in my kit had a big crack. Then, when I prepared an ice bath for the wort to cool in, the icy water leaked out the bottom of my sink because I hadn’t plugged it firmly enough. I ended up cooling it in room temperature water (not ideal) and siphoned it to the fermenter directly through the tubing, using my mouth to create the initial suction. To be honest, I was very lucky that there were no other major problems that day.
Once I siphoned the wort into the fermenter, then I sprinkled in some yeast and sealed it up. The next few days were incredibly stressful, since the temperature decided to drop to single digits (Celsius) and I had no way of directly warming the fermenter. Yeast like cool temperatures, but it was getting a bit too cold and I worried that it might affect the young beer. One day I even took one of my sons little sweaters and wrapped it around the fermenter!
After two weeks, it was ready to bottle. At this point, I had a new siphon, however it turned out to be the wrong size for my bottler. I ended up duct taping the cracked on and using it. It didn’t work very well, but at least it worked. After another two weeks of maturing, my first beer was ready to drink!
Except, in my excitement, I DIDN’T wait two weeks. After about a week and a half, I decided I was tired of waiting and cracked open a bottle. Beer gushed out the top and what was left was barely carbonated. It seems like the CO2 wasn’t fully dissolved in the beer yet. Since this batch was very small (only 1 gallon), I had already wasted about 1/10 of it.
When I finally did open a fully-ready bottle, I was pleasantly surprised. No, scratch that, I was amazed! Even though this was only my first homebrew, it was already one of the best beers I have ever tasted. It had a sweet, complex malty flavor that is rarely present in storebought beer. It was at this moment that I immediately went online and ordered two more homebrew ingredient kits. My adventure into homebrewing had just begun!
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