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by Stevi Deter

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 Festival.

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...

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 broken.

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 bottling time!

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 other equipment.

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 beer.

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 in.

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.

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