I'd thought about it for a long time. Every time I saw one of
those "brew in a bag" kits, I thought, yeah, that could
be cool. Every time I heard of a friend of a friend who made his
own, I thought, I could try that.
Then, the final straw. I was given a temporary assignment to
take minutes at the meetings for the Board of Directors of the Association on Brewers. For about
two hours every five weeks I join Charlie Papazian and the other
directors as they talk about things like the Great American Beer
So I finally did it. I made my own homebrew.
Being methodical as I am, I did lots of research. I bought
Papazian's book. I stopped by the local homebrew shop and got
some prices. I read about homebrewing
on the net. And one weekend morning, I decided this is it,
this is the day.
So I ran down to the homebrew shop. And it was packed. People
buying whole grains. People buying malt extracts. People buying
yeasts and people buying bottle washers. I waited. And waited.
And waited until I got the attention of the frazzled guy and told
him what I wanted to do. And so we assembled the kit.
Now, I couldn't just go for the economy kit. Not even the
standard kit. No, I had to have the deluxe kit. I had to have the
hydrometer and two glass carboys and the thermometer and and
And one hundred bucks later, I walked out with an equipment
kit and the ingredients for a pale ale. I drove home excitedly
and began clearing the kitchen.
Now, everything I've read about homebrewing emphasized
sanitation. Everyone suggested soaking everything to touch the
beer in a bleach solution. So I made my bleach solution. Mine was
probably a little strong, considering that my hands and the
kitchen reeked of bleach for some time. But I wasn't going to let
any little bacteria ruin my brew, no way.
With initial sterilization taken care of, it was time to start
the brew. Now, I had read that my 10 quart stock pot would be
sufficiently large to cook up my wort. So I measured in 1 1/2
gallons of water, and brought it to a boil. I put my malt extract
containers in a hot water bath to soften them up, then added them
after the water in the pot had boiled - carefully turning off the
heat to prevent scorching. I mixed, I returned to the boil, and
with a few minutes left, I added my hops.
I don't know if you've ever seen a 2 1/2 gallon pot boil over,
but it sure isn't pretty. And when it's full of hops and malt
extract, it's not fun to clean up, either. But I quickly got the
slightly less full pot back in control, and finished the boil. I
immeresed the pot in an ice water bath, and set to cleaning up
the stove, all the while thinking, "Can I find a 5-gallon
pot for less than $40?"
After the wort had cooled, I poured it into the 6.5 gallon
carboy, which already contained three gallons of fresh water to
reduce heat shock and bring the total volume up to around 5
gallons. I used my handy dandy new funnel with strainer insert to
strain out the hops and let the liquid flow into the jar. The
container then felt slightly cool to the touch - a sign that it
was probably a suitable temperature for pitching yeast. So I
carefully poured in my two packets . . . and realized I forgotten
to take an initial hydrometer reading. "Oh, well,"
thought I, "I won't be able to guess at the alcohol
percentage of my final product," and I placed the airlock
and stopper on the jar.
Now, the information I had said the beer would begin active
fermentation in 12 to 24 hours. By the time I got home from a
nice dinner out, perhaps six hours later, the airlock was
burbling and gurgling. It was belching so loudly that I had to
shut the bedroom door at night so I could get some sleep.
This went on for about a day, and then the rate of burping
slowed. I checked the surface of my beer regularly, never quite
convinced the foam left over from the initial fermentation wasn't
a massive mold colony.
After four days, I decided to start taking hydrometer
readings, to check if fermentation was nearing its end. The first
day,I got a reading of 1.015. Using the thermometer I'd not yet
tried, I also found out that my beer was at 110 degrees F. Of
course, when I tested it in my freezer, the same thermometer told
me that it was 140 degrees in there, which confirmed that it was
The next day, I stopped by my friendly brew shop, traded in
the thermometer for one that seemed a little more effective, and
picked up some used 22 oz. bombers for a buck a case. I got home
and eager did another hydrometer reading. Once again, 1.015. It's
I filled the bathtub full of bleach solution and carefully
placed my bottles in. An hour later, I scrubbed and rinsed. And
scrubbed and rinsed. And scrubbed and rinsed. Twenty-four bottles
and two irritated hands later, I was ready to sanitize all the
Sanitation went fine. Boiling up the corn sugar to use as
primer went fine. Even boiling the bottle caps went fine. But
when it came time to siphon the beer into the bottling carboy, I
learned that I pretty much suck at starting siphons.
After several tries and some beer on the floor, I got my beer
into the bottling bucket filled with the primer solution. Now it
was time to bottle. Time to start another siphon.
Lucky for me, I'd gotten a bottle filler attachment for my
siphon hose. Unluckily, for sanitation purposes it's best to
start the siphon with a removable piece and then stick on the
bottle filler. This was not done gracefully, and I siphoned beer
onto the counter, refridgerator door, and floor before I got the
bottle filler on. After filling 23 bottles, I had just enough
extra to put into a little cup and taste. It tasted just like
Filling bottles and capping them turned out to be pretty easy.
Cleaning a 6.5 gallon carboy did not. Add to the list of needed
purchases: a bottle washer.
But clean I did, and I wiped surfaces and I put my bottled
beer away. And waited. And waited. And waited. A whole week I
waited! It was torture. Every morning I took a bottle out of the
box and looked at it, saying, "are you ready YET?"
When a week finally passed, I got out a glass, got out a
bottle, uncapped it, and rushed to the sink as foam spewed forth.
Maybe just a little overcarbonated. In fact, it was too
carbonated to taste much of anything but the bubbles and a little
bitterness. I decided to refridgerate the rest. The shelves in
the fridge had to be rearranged, but all the bottles actually fit
Twenty-four hours later, I rushed home, uncapped a bottle, and
tasted a nice cold homebrew. And you know what, I actually liked
it. Even better, I had friends over, and they liked it.
"This is your first homebrew?", they asked. "This
is really good!"
It worked. I actually made homebrew. And it actually tasted
good. Not a beer-in-a-bag kit horror story, not the
beer-turned-science-experiment that happens to so many. But a
nice, bitter English-style pale ale.
It's so nice to be able to drink the beer I brew.