If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I should be brewing my own beer, I wouldn’t be writing about beer for BaDoink Magazine. Why? Because it’s difficult to focus on writing an article when I’m distracted by the sound of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders fighting over which one of them gets to blow me in the hot-tub of the penthouse suite in Maui that I would have purchased with all those fucking nickels, that’s why. While I acknowledge homebrewing is interesting, seems fun, and will cheaply yield gallons of fermented liquid heaven for me to enjoy, I lack the desire to do it. It seems like a time consuming pain in the ass that will require me to also give up valuable space in the shoe-box sized apartment in which I currently live with 3 annoying cats. Also, I live in Chicago. You can’t throw a rock in this city without hitting a bar or a spirit shop that sells amazing beer. So, homebrewing is not on my to-do list at the moment. But this week I decided to pontificate about homebrewing and what it means to the beer community.
Homebrewing has a history in practically every developed nation on this planet. In America, the 21st constitutional amendment repealed prohibition in 1933, but clumsily failed to legalize beer homebrewing (wine was fine, though). Not until February 1, 1979, under the Carter administration was homebrewing legal in the United States on a federal level. And until the year 2013 it was still illegal in Alabama and Mississippi (thanks for finally catching up, you toothless rednecks).
The art of homebrewing is a huge industry today. The web is loaded with sites that sell equipment and ingredients. All the how-to information and recipes you can imagine are within a few clicks of the mouse. There are brick-and-mortar stores that sell equipment and ingredients. Homebrewing classes that would make an excellent first date are popping up in every major city. Brewing equipment starter kits, complete with ingredients, are sold online for as little as $50. Incredulities are removed and replaced with inspiration by the collective opinions on the countless homebrew message boards and smartphone apps. If there is one thing you will not find among the beer community, it is a beer lover that knows how and when to shut the fuck up about beer.
Since I have never brewed a beer in my life, I’m not qualified to talk about the experience. But Ben and Chad are. Ben and Chad are friends of mine. Ben just started brewing his own beer. Chad is a veteran (at least in my eyes he is). I asked them each a series of questions. And together, I think they laid it out quite nicely. Do you want to know what it’s like? Read on.
How long have you been Home Brewing?
Ben: Only made one batch.
Chad: About 7 years.
How many recipes have you made so far?
Chad: About 75.
Are there any recipes you have not tried yet, but you hope to brew in the future? If so, what are they?
Ben: Too many to list.
Chad: I make up my own recipes so every beer I brew is new to me. You might mean styles vs. recipes. I had an English Mild from Yards that I really liked and I’ve never made a Mild, so that’s one I’d like to make in the future.
What is your favorite style of beer?
Ben: Pale Ale.
Do you brew with the “extract” method or the “all grain” method, and why? [“extract” is pre-made wort in either dry or liquid form, “all grain” enables the brewer to mash himself]
Ben: I used liquid malt extract, because it was my first brew and that is the simplest.
Chad: All grain, so I have more control.
What got you into this hobby?
Ben: Love of beer.
Chad: I’m a cheap bastard but I like good beer. I also like to cook and I like science. Making beer is a combo of cooking, chemistry and biology.
What do you hope to achieve with this?
Ben: I would like to eventually create some unique and repeatable recipes.
Chad: For now I’m content on letting my friends and my family enjoy my hobby.
Do you hope to one day sell your beer?
Ben: Hadn’t considered it.
Chad: If I could make the money I do in my current position as a brewmaster, I would change in a heartbeat, but “no” for now.
Do you just want to make your own beer so you don’t have to purchase it at the store?
Ben: No, I will always be a consumer.
Chad: I love trying other beers so it’s not like I only drink my own, but it’s very satisfying brewing your own. I just enjoy the whole process. I write music too, but really just for myself because I enjoy it; not because I’m looking to becoming famous. Brewing is similar to writing music for me. I can do whatever the fuck I want. I like it when people dig my music and my beer, but ultimately it’s for me.
Is good equipment easy to find?
Ben: I don’t think I’m qualified to assess this.
Chad: Yeah, there’s this thing called the Internet. It’s fantastic and magical.
You’re a facetious asshole, Chad. I meant: “Is it a trial and error process to find equipment that works, or are the resources on the internet going to point you quickly in the right direction?”
Chad: OK. The parts and pieces are all easy to find and they’re reliable. The actual equipment is up to you to build. You have to be like McGuyver and experiment. The only piece of equipment that you need to make sure you research before you buy is a pump.
11. How much research did you do to find the right equipment for you?
Ben: Probably about 2 hours
Chad: Almost every homebrewer I know starts off by reading The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. That’s a great place to start your research if you’re thinking about turning to the dark side.
12. Is good equipment expensive?
Ben: My kit seemed adequate for a beginner. It was around $120 (from Better Brewing).
Chad: It can be. I started off with just a big crab pot from Bed, Bath and Beyond. Now I have a whole bay in my garage dedicated to my brew equipment.
13. Is equipment difficult and/or expensive to maintain?
Ben: Too soon to tell.
Chad: Everything MUST be sanitized so that’s the biggest maintenance chore.
14. Do you prefer to bottle or keg your beer, or both? Why?
Ben: I prefer growlers because they are the easiest to seal, and you don’t need as many (as compared to bottles).
Chad: Keg. Bottling is a pain in the ass.
15. What has been your biggest challenge in brewing your own beer?
Ben: My biggest challenge has been working in the confined space of a city condo kitchen.
Chad: Finding the time. All grain brews take between 6-8 hours.
16. What are the pros of brewing your own beer besides the obvious (having plenty of beer at a low cost)?
Ben: I think it’s interesting to see what goes into creating beers, plus the feeling of ownership/accomplishment.
Chad: Tailoring your recipes to your own tastes.
17. What are the cons of brewing your own beer?
Ben: It’s time consuming, somewhat physically demanding, and the equipment takes up a lot of space.
Chad: The more you brew, the more equipment you collect so you need a lot of space.
16. Do you still go out and buy craft beers and drink them?
Ben: All the time.
Chad: Absolutely. I travel for work a lot, and I always try to buy local brews when I’m out to dinner. 99% of micro brewers were home brewers at one time. I love to support them when I can.
17. Do you prefer to make your own recipes, copy recipes from resources on the internet, or find clone recipes?
Ben: I’ve only done one kit beer.
Chad: Mostly create my own but I’ll borrow bits and pieces from books and the internet.
18. The craft beer industry really got huge in the past 10 years. Do you think home brewing is damaging to the industry, helpful to the industry, or neither?
Ben: I have to assume it is helpful; as the curiosity sparked by brewing you own beer encourages you to want to try other beers for ideas. I think it also makes you appreciate beer more.
Chad: As I said most craft/microbrewers start off as home brewers so if anything it’s helping people get exposed to good beer instead of that crap produced by Macro breweries like Bud, Miller, etc.
19. What are some tips you would have for the budding home brewer (do’s and don’ts)?
Ben: Do make sure you have a plan before starting your brew. Once you start the process things move faster than you think.
Chad: Start off simple with extract brewing. That way you don’t need to spend a ton to get started. Also if you have the room, go right to kegging. That’s what I did. I’m not sure I would have stuck with it if I had to bottle 5 gallons of beer every time I brewed. Don’t skimp on sanitation. Pick up “Star San” or another reputable sanitizing solution. Don’t try to be cheap and use bleach like I did. I’ve ruined more than my share doing that.
20. How would a person know if home brewing would be a good idea for him or her?
Ben: If you love craft beers, and don’t mind a little work, you will enjoy home brewing.
Chad: If you like to cook, like beer and are somewhat creative, you’d probably enjoy home brewing.
And there you have it. Since I owe you, my readers, a beer review, I shall drink, review, and name a beer from Ben’s first batch!
Beer Name: Big Ben’s Barleysemen
Beer Type: Pale Ale
ABV: 6% (best guess)
IBU: 50 (best guess)
Barleysemen, when poured into the pint glass, is murky light brown with a touch of gold. I cannot see through it at all. The opaqueness of it is not very common for a pale ale, but not unusual for a homebrewed pale ale based on my experience. The aroma isn’t very strong but it’s there. I smelled fresh hops with a tint of a soapy perfume. The head: now that’s impressive. Bright white, three fingers, cottony, thick, and it maintained a strong presence. The flavor is also a delight, and surprising coming from a humble first batch. The upfront flavor consists of grassy hops, biscuit, and moves toward a cantaloupe and honeydew flavor. It finishes with a piney hop flavor of considerable strength, and white bread. The aftertaste is fairly strong, quite bitter, and maintains the piney hoppiness with a dash of black pepper. A lingering soapy taste is present but it is faint. As the aftertaste fades away it leaves the flavor of sweet melons behind. The texture was fairly high in CO2 content, slightly creamy, and a tad too filling in the belly. Overall this is quite a hoppy pale ale. It contains good, solid, wholesome bitterness. The lacing was fancy as well; my glass was decorated with oil and plenty of foamy globs from top to bottom.
I have to admit, Big Ben’s Barleysemen is remarkable for being a product from the condominium kitchen of someone who is just getting into homebrewing. I’ve had plenty of pale ales, and this one is a hell of a lot better than some of the big names out there. It only gets marks against it because it has an odd soapy/perfume aroma and aftertaste; and it’s a tad too filling. But Ben has a really cool homebrew future ahead of him. He better invite me over for more of this stuff. Otherwise, I will crash his parties and plunder them of their wenches.
Style (for homebrew): 9/10
Style (for a pale ale): 8/10
Overall (for a homebrew): 9/10
Overall (for a pale ale): 8/10