My first beer brewing experience

I brew beer in my garage. 5 gallons at a time. I now have 2 kegs (5 gallons each), so I could theoretically have 10 gallons of my own homebrew on tap at any given time. I’ve personally written the recipe on the past two beers I’ve made, and both were pretty damn good. It didn’t start off that way…

It’s been quite the ride and quite the rabbit hole to fall down. There will undoubtedly be more posts along the way cataloging my hits and misses. But, as a wise person once said, you need to know where you came from, to know where you are going.

My first batch was brewed on a stovetop in Hamilton, NJ. AND, it was actually drinkable (note – my second attempt was awful and a complete waste of time – I learned the value of SANITIZING EVERYTHING). In retrospect, that is pretty amazing because there are so many ways to screw up a batch of beer if you don’t know what you are doing. The kit was a gift from my then girlfriend at the time. She knew I liked to drink beer (duh!), so she figured I might get a kick out of it. This was 2011. My virgin kit was from Brooklyn Brew Shop. It was called Everyday IPA. Buy here from Amazon – Brooklyn Brew Shop Everyday IPA Beer Making Kit.

The kit provides almost everything you need to brew a batch. Inside the kit/box are:

  • grain, hops, yeast (the essential ingredients)
  • 1 gallon carboy (big glass jug for fermenting)
  • thermometer (you’ll learn that temp control is HUGE)
  • vinyl tubing
  • rack and cane (for getting the beer in/out of the fermenter)
  • airlock (you need to keep oxygen out while its fermenting)
  • cleanser/sanitizer (you’ll learn that sanitation is HUGE)

What the kit doesn’t provide is:

  • water, pots, bottles, caps, strainers, funnels, and…….PATIENCE!

I bolded and underlined patience because beer brewing requires a lot of patience and attention to detail. The kits take a lot of the guesswork out of it, but you really need to trust the process and be willing to follow directions very carefully. Later on if/when you make your own recipes, you’ll need to take that to a whole new level. It really does become a labor of love – you need to not only enjoy the final product (BEER), but also enjoy all of the subtle nuances that can affect/impact the finished product. Appreciating these complexities will make you want to hone your craft and graduate beyond cooking on your stovetop. A whole new world starts to open up if you really want to spend the time making the equipment (which isn’t all that crazy if you do it in pieces). My goal was always to upgrade one part of my operation with each new batch. I’ll get to all of that later in other posts.

Here is a rough outline of my first stovetop session with Everyday IPA from Brooklyn Brew Shop:

  1. Heat water to 160 degrees on the stove (this takes a little while)
  2. Add grains and watch temp drop to about 150 degrees
  3. Cook for 60 minutes
  4. Heat to 170 degrees at the end of 60 minutes and strain out the grains
  5. Heat more water to 170 degrees
  6. Rinse the grains that just soaked for an hour with the gallon of 170 water, and collect 5 total quarts of WORT (the liquid left behind by soaking the grains and rising them) for the BOIL
  7. BOIL the WORT for 60 minutes and add HOPS at various intervals
  8. Crash cool the boiling pot of WORT in an ice bath until the temp hits 70 degrees (this took awhile)
  9. From this point forward, anything that touches the WORT must be 100% sanitized, or I risk infecting the beer, so I sanitize EVERYTHING
  10. RACK the sweet cooled WORT into the sanitized 1 gallon fermentation jug, and pitch the YEAST once I confirm the WORT is 70 degrees (any hotter could hurt the yeast and/or kill it)
  11. Put airlock on fermentation jug, and set in a cool, dark, dry place for 2 weeks
  12. C-L-E-A-N everything

2 weeks later…

  1. Sanitize all of the empty beer bottles I collected for your beer bottling (I actually bought a batch of pop tops from Amazon).
  2. Add PRIMING SUGAR to the fermentation jug, so the beer has extra sugar to eat (thus causing carbonation)
  3. RACK the beer from the fermentation jug into the sanitized bottles, and cap them
  4. Store in cool dry area
  5. C-L-E-A-N everything

2 weeks later…

  1. Move beer bottles into fridge to cool (I like cold IPA’s)
  2. Pop the top of a beer, hope to hear a “fizz” indicating carbonation leaving the bottle
  3. Drink the beer and hope to not gag

As you can see, that is a lot of work and patience for 1 gallon of hopefully drinkable beer.

My bottom line advice, if you are interested in brewing beer, is to start with one of these home “stove top” kits. If you follow the instructions, the finished product should be somewhat palatable. The most important part of the experience is the questions you’ll ask along the way – usually, “…isn’t there an easier way to do this?” The answer early on is YES.

Also, after spending a couple of hours in this process, you’ll be disappointed when the final finished product only yields a gallon (actually a little less) of drinkable beer. You’ll want to know how to scale it up, so you get more “bang” for your time spent. It is THAT experience which may cause you to fall down the rabbit hole that I did so many years ago. You’ll start reading blog posts. You’ll start watching YouTube videos. And, you’ll have such a sense of accomplishment when you convert your first 5 gallon IGLOO water cooler into a mash tun for the first time. You’ll feel like a beer wizard.

So, long story short, this is a hobby I highly recommend. Please start small, have fun, make mistakes, and develop the desire to want to do it better. You won’t be sorry!

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