Adventures in Homebrewing, Part 1

I used to homebrew a fair amount. It’s fun, it’s relatively easy, and it’s a great way to learn why your favorite beers taste the way they do. Plus there’s a great deal of pride to be taken in a well-made beer of your very own.

That said it’s also rather time-consuming and messy, and a few failed batches can rob you of your enthusiasm for the process. These elements, combined with a pitifully wee kitchen, ultimately led to my abandonment of homebrewing. I gave my brewing gear away and watched with satisfaction as the recipient took to the process with manic enthusiasm. “Circle of life,” I thought.

But then my chum moved away and returned all of my brewing equipment, which sat in my garage for a few months, taunting me. Finally, last week I decided to jump back into the game. Why not? My life has been something of a shambles lately. Perhaps a batch of homebrew was just what I needed. Plus I was in a position to commandeer someone else’s kitchen for the messy task. Perfect.

I decided to go with something easy. My first truly successful batch of beer was a grapefruit pale ale. It’s mostly extract-based, with just some steeping of crystal malt involved. It calls for Cascade, Perle, and Nugget hops, plus grapefruit zest at the very end of the boil. Add more hops and chunks of grapefruit to the secondary fermentation, and eventually you get a super fruity, citrusy, drinkable beer.

I set out to do this on a snowy Monday, with a lovely assistant nearby to provide aid. It took a bit of time to reacquaint myself with my brewing gear, but eventually I got everything set up correctly and ready to go. Tools were sanitized. Water was brought to temperature. And then it went well past the target temperature. I’d forgotten how hard it is to reach and maintain a target temperature of several gallons of water. Dammit.

Eventually, grain was steeped and dry malt extract was added. The concoction reached a pleasing simmer, and I deemed it the appropriate time to add the Perle and Cascade hops. I graciously allowed my assistant to do the honors. She poured them in. And then…

Uh… uhhhhhhhhh…. ohhhhh… no no no no no no NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

“Oh yeah,” I thought. “Boilovers. Forgot about those.”

Think of a third grader’s science project volcano, the kind that involves baking soda and vinegar. Now add sugary water and green glop from rapidly disintegrating hop pellets. It’s truly a sight to behold. And to clean up after. It’s great, just great.

No panic. We cleaned up, got things back on track, and completed the boil. Nugget hops went in at the end, along with the zest from two grapefruits. Cool down, check the gravity, add yeast, and boom. You’ve got a batch of proto-beer all ready to go. I wrestled the container into the basement. “Now we play the waiting game,” I said.

“That was actually kind of boring,” my assistant observed.

“It was,” I agreed. “Must be why I used to be drunk or stoned by the end of brew day all the other times.”

The next morning I dropped by to check the batch. The yeast was happily bubbling away. Like, really bubbling away. Should I be concerned about an explosion? I wondered. Nah. It’ll be fine. It’s fine. Just walk away.

Last night I received a text from the basement’s owner. “Is the stopper-like thing supposed to be on the ground? To the layman like me it appears that it may have popped out.”


Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

Okay, not to worry. Just go over, sanitize the airlock and plug it back in. Hope for the best. After all, that’s what brewing is. You’re trying to control as much as possible, but ultimately it comes down to the actions of those microscopic little yeast bastards. We’ll see how it goes. Further updates to come.