It was scheduled to start at noon, and as soon as I got there, the guys were already setting their stuff up for the homebrewing event. There is no messing around when it comes to these five guys and their beer. They make up the newly formed homebrewing club called I’d Tap That. The expertise among them is varied, from Fred, who has been brewing beer for seven years, to Scott, who is only on his second brew. Scott, however, has obviously been learning as he’s observed and helped Fred over the last seven years with Fred’s brews. I say “obviously” because Scott gave me a taste of his first home brew, and let me just tell you . . .it was pretty darn awesome. It really is possible to make good beer on your first try.
Because Homebrewing Is So Much Fun
I want to blog about this event because all five of these guys call homebrewing one of their favorite hobbies, and during the event, it was obvious it is also one of their passions given the way they liked to talk about it. The guys just generally had a good time brewing beer, and from my perspective, this hobby gives them whitespace. It’s a time to kick back, hang with other people who share your interest, and, yes, drink a little beer.
What’s On Tap
Here is the rundown of the five brewers and their choice of beer recipes:
Ogi made a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Clone.
Fred made a pumpkin ale using his own recipe.
Chris made a pale ale, also his own recipe.
Scott made what he called the Evil Twin American Red, a recipe he got from a book.
And then there was Brett. He made an Imperial Dark Rye IPA from a recipe, but he ended up swinging it his own way since he forgot to bring his recipe to the event.
Extract Brewing: The Lazy Man’s Way To Brew
I will start with Brett because I learned there is a “lazy man’s way” to brew beer, and Brett was just fine with admitting that this was the way he brewed beer. I also want to start with the “lazy man’s way” to brew beer because the guys informed me that it is also a great way to get started in brewing beer. There’s a little less initial investment in doing it this way. This “lazy man’s way is actually called extract brewing.
If you are brewing beer from scratch, first you heat the water to 150 degrees F to 170 degrees F depending on the flavor you are brewing. Then you add that water to your barley mixture and you let it soak for about an hour. After that hour, the liquid mixture that you have created is what will go into your boil. This liquid mixture is where the starches have converted to fermentable sugar.
With Brett’s “lazy man’s way,” he just bought the fermentable sugar in a collection of three cans (skipping the boiling of the water, soaking, and sparging, which all take a good hour and a half total). Each can was around $13.00, so we’re talking an easy $40, as compared to the other four guys, who spent about $12 total for their mixtures. But, for someone just starting out, wanting to test the waters and see if they are interested enough in continuing beer brewing, while there is a $28 difference, doing it this way meant Brett didn’t need to invest the money in purchasing a mash tun, and all the tubing and measuring tools that go along with that.
Brewing Beer Takes Thought
Don’t let the “lazy man’s way” fool you though. Brewing beer is not for the weak minded. There is a science behind brewing beer, and there is an art. You can see that in that each brewer had his own homebrewing notebook in which they recorded the details of their past recipes.
The guys often consulted and jotted things down in these books as they brewed their beer.
Each guy also had their own favorite book from which they learned about homebrewing. It was obvious to me that study and attention to detail were truly a part of the homebrewing process.
And this attention to detail starts right from the beginning when the water needs to be boiled. Many home brewers use a propane tank to heat their water. And since the water has to be a specific temperature (150 to 175 depending on your beer flavor), this involves a little drum and dance with the propane heater knob. Ogi called it “the poor man’s temperature controller.”
And it gets better. Ogi, who is also the resident beer brewing chemist, pulled out the brewing salts he uses to fiddle with the flavor of his water.
Ogi likes to mess around even with the chemistry of his water. At one point, he looked up the chemical balance of water in Bosnia, in order to do his best to match the water from his homeland. According to Ogi, even these small nuances can make a difference in the taste of your beer. Ogi doesn’t stop with the chemicals there. But we will get back to that.
Homebrewing: The Grains, Ah the Grains
Each brewer, except Brett who was extract brewing, had put together a combination of barley with varying other flavors (chocolate, pumpkin, seeds, what have you). They then poured this into the mash tun. “Oh, nothing beats that smell,” Scott said. So I sniffed it. All the guys loved the smell of the barley as they poured it out of their bags. It was very aromatic, rich, with a robust nutty scent to it. This part of the recipe is what creates the initial scent and flavor for each beer.
After the water has been soaking with the grains inside the mash tun, the guys prepare to sparge. Sparging starts at the end of the steep. The brewer adds hot water (at their specific temperature) to the top of the mixture, and lets out the liquid mixture at the bottom of the mash tun. Essentially, the brewer is coaxing the sugars from the grains out into what will now be called the “boil” mixture. Once the water mixture is all poured into the brew kettle, the brewer measures the sugar content. Ogi told me that he is looking for a sugar content of 105—this tells him that the sugars have successfully converted into fermentable sugars.
And then its time to chill the beer. The beer needs to be chilled as quickly as possible to about 75 degrees F.
Homebrewing’s Human Element
Each of the guys has a different story when it comes to how they got involved with brewing beer. Scott, who is married and has a young child, helped and observed Fred for six or seven years before attempting it himself. It took him this long, because Scott was already involved in other things that took him away from his family, and he wasn’t ready to give those things up.
Finally, as he talked it over with his wife, Mandy, he decided to give up one night of hockey each week. Although Scott doesn’t brew beer every week, he uses his other off nights to spend time with his wife and son. Mandy was supportive of this decision, and showed her support by buying him his first homebrewing “how-to” book. It was cool to see the bond that existed between Mandy and Scott. She was not only supportive of his interest by buying him that book, she also hosts the beer brewing events at her house. It becomes an even better event in that Chris brings his wife, Krissy over, and the two wives hang out and sometimes go out while their husbands brew. “Brewing beer is not a small hobby,” Krissy said, “you need the support of your spouse if you are going to spend that much time away.” Chrissy also supports her husband, Chris, in his interest. She said last year’s Christmas presents for Chris were homebrewing related.
Meanwhile, Fred has been inside, preparing his pumpkin for his beer. If you remember from my last blog post about Fred’s homebrewing, Fred had made a delicious citrus beer—it had kiwi in it. It is apparent from this new concoction that Fred likes to really “do it up,” on the recipes and give them authentic, rich flavors.
This is not so much the case with Brett, who, has been “doing it up” in his own fashion. He who forgot his recipe showed me what he called “the scientific way to measure out your hops.” It reminds me of the way I like to cook in my own kitchen.
Ogi on the other hand, has a more deliberate, measured and thoughtful method. Each round of hops go into the boil mixture at a certain time. Chris told me that first round of hops are for adding the bitter and the hops at the end are for flavors. Ogi separates his hops ahead of time, labels the containers (with labels he custom made) with the time they are supposed to go into the boil, and how long before the next round of hops.
Somewhere along the line, this stuff is called the “wort.” Nice name, huh? I like Scott’s version of it better: the “sweet liquid of love.”
After the wort has boiled, essentially, it is ready to go into the carboy, the carboy into the controlled temperature environment, and then it has to sit so the yeast can do its thing. Ahh the waiting period.
But we must be patient for a good thing. I’d Tap That says its worth the wait.
The Give Away
I’d Tap That would like to make a little give away, which I will conduct by a random drawing. Simply make a comment on this blog post before Friday (the 16th) at midnight, and you will be entered for this giveaway. For this giveaway, I’d Tap That is giving a beerbrewing recipe kit. The kit includes all the “food” that goes into the beer (hops, grains, etc). You get to choose the recipe. Fred also said if you live close enough and would like to join them, he’d walk you through your first recipe, and EVEN let you borrow his equipment. What a great way for someone to “tap” into homebrewing to see if they like it, without ever spending a cent. So go ahead, make a comment! Heck, this would even make a great gift!
P.S. I’d Tap That’s Fred Seger is going to be at the Microbrew Festival in Columbus this Saturday. He will be at the Gordon Biersch booth, pouring beer. So stop by and say hello if you are going to be there.
You can get more information about the club, I’d Tap That at bethebrew.com; the clubs website.