I think I took a proverbial leap forward in my evolution as a craft beer enthusiast when I enrolled in a home brewing course at the Vancouver Pastry School. In my mind, and probably only in my mind, there is a progression beer enthusiasts pass through on their path to enlightenment and it goes a little something like this: mass market beer drinker — dabbler in craft beer six packs — brew pub customer — partaker of craft beer singles — buyer of beer books — brewery visitor (for educational purposes) — beer blogger — annoying beer know-it-all — enlightenment ‘I think X beer could be improved by…’ home brewer. As a wise man once said, “Give a man (or gal) a case of beer and he’ll drink for a day. Teach him to brew and he’ll drink for a lifetime” (creed from Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies How to pamphlet). So over the next few posts on this blog I will be chronicling my experiences in the home brewing course and my very first attempt at making my own beer!
First a bit about the course: It consists of three four hour sessions held on Saturday evenings. The timing of classes is designed to coincide with the course of the brewing process. The instructor is Adam Henderson certified cicerone, owner of Rain City Brands and home brewer extraordinaire so we are in more than capable hands. During the first session we learned the basics about equipment and ingredients as well as how to tell our IBU’s from our SRM and how to spell lovibond. We are making one beer in class and we were sent home with enough ingredients to make our own home brewing attempts. The six of us are working from the same recipe, an Extra Special Bitter/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale), which is similar to Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale; we did a tasting to get a rough idea of what our home brew should turn out like. During the evening we went over the first steps in creating our beer: we steeped our grains, boiled our malt, added hops, sanitised countless apparatus, chilled our wort, transferred the beer from our kettle to our fermenter, pitched our yeast and measured our original gravity. It was all very hands on with everyone taking turns stirring, adding, sampling etc. Armed with knowledge, lots and lots of knowledge, I turned my attention to converting my own kitchen into a makeshift brewery.
Since I am a super keener I headed right back into Vancouver the next morning to pick up my starter kit from Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies. I patiently waited out my work work and on Friday night it was finally time to give birth to my beer. I amassed everything I would need and got started on the first step, steeping my grains in the kettle. No problems here and I have some great leftovers for making dough. Next I added my malt and waited and waited and waited until it finally managed to come to a rolling boil. At this point I panicked and turned the heat down in case I over-boiled and somehow invited the apocalypse. In hindsight this was a really stupid idea since it took another eon for my kettle to get going again. A caveat here if you will: paying $19 for a brew kettle means that the pot will not be the most efficient heat conductor you will ever come across. The payoff at this point is the awesome burnt toast/sweet smell as the malt heats up. Sweaty but persistent I got that damn pot to boil consistently and added my 60 min hops; another great olfactory payoff here. At this point I felt like the end was in sight, the yeast was proofing away happily in its smack pack, I had a sink full of sanitizer and the timer was set for the addition of Irish moss and the final batch of hops. A couple of insights at this point; it is not necessary to hover over your pot the entire time, quite a bit of water will be lost to evaporation and don’t panic if everything doesn’t play out exactly like the neat and tidy diagram provided by your instructor. Now to the chilling part, which lived up to its name in more ways than one. Beg, borrow or steal (or make or buy) one of those copper pot cooler thingies and it will make your life MUCH easier; please just take the word of the girl who used every ice cube in a fifty mile radius and gallons of cold water to chill her wort. I got it done, it wasn’t pretty, but I got it done. After that it was time to put my wort in the fermenter, add the yeast, stand back and yell ‘let there be life’. Oh, I also used my hydrometer to measure the original gravity. Now she (my beer) is sitting in a cool area of the house happily bubbling away. Looking at the sweaty tired mess I was after, the yelling at my sympathetic partner and the heavy lifting I have to say it really did feel like I gave birth to something but what …stay tuned to find out.