(Mis)adventures in Homebrewing – The Final Class

Creative Labels from my Classmates

Well last night was the big finale, the epic showdown, the battle royale or more accurately the night we finally got to sample our homebrews. So did it go well? Short answer: No, not really. Long answer: We learned many important lessons about the potential pitfalls in homebrewing – not sure this is making me feel better yet but time heals all wounds even pride. To be fair it was not an unmitigated disaster, some of us had highly drinkable beers and none of us had anything so repugnant that we poured it down the drain. But somewhere in this homebrew middle ground, or beer limbo if you will, there were definitely a range of interesting tastes and smells. I think the most surprising thing for me was despite all following the same recipe we ended up with different tasting beers. This can be partially explained by the fact we did not all stick to the recipe exactly; one person dry hopped their beer, one used honey for their primer, and another got creative with two different sugars. As we learned later, many other variables can impact the final taste. To begin our tasting we went over some of the common descriptors used in judging beers and got evaluation sheets to assess our beers. We sampled all of the beers and discussed the different qualities we were getting. What follows are my notes on the individual beers (based on the class recipe*) bolstered with comments from our instructor Adam and the other class members:

Beer Aroma Appearance Flavour Mouthfeel Overall Impressions
1 Subtle hops, fruity (banana like); quickly dissipates Light amber orange-red; slight cloudiness, nice head retention; off-white head Slight hop bitterness on the finish; nice malt/hop balance Light body; little carbonation Could use more hop presence

Fixes: hop pellets, higher fermentation temp, different grains

2 Malty sweetness with an almost floral hop element Lighter amber more orange than red; slight cloudiness; good head and lacing Nicely balanced with more bitterness than the first beer; clean Slight creamy or slick taste (possibly diacetyl); a bit of astringency Better hop to malt balance

Fixes: Change yeast to accommodate low fermentation temperature

3 Sweet fruit, apple like nose Golden-orange; minimal head retention Fruit again but not sweet more like fermented fruit; metallic taste Little carbonation; slightly astringent; dry A distinctly different taste than the first two beers

Fixes: Sanitation issue

4 Sweet, fruity with nutmeg on the nose; Spicy Medium Amber; Nice head but did not linger; sedimenty Hop at the forefront that gives way to a burnt aftertaste More body than the other beers; dry Definite spice,  heavier all around beer, stronger

Fixes: Lower fermentation temperature

5 Banana, fruit nose; little hop Medium Amber; too much carbonation at opening; somewhat clear; off-white head Sweet maltiness; prominent hop; Phenolic elements (plastic, medicinal) Light body; lots of carbonation A taste element that should not be present

Fixes: Sanitation issue

6 Pleasant subtle hop nose with a different sweetness Golden-orange; clear with off-white head; good head retention Strong honey taste; hops not a strong element; too sweet Light body; very clean to drink Feels immature but unique with the honey taste

Fixes: Longer fermentation

*Two class members opted to make spiced beers; one made a pumpkin beer and the other used cardamom and mace.

Closing thoughts on my first homebrewing experience: I am glad that I took a course to give me some experience before brewing my first beer at home. As a hands-on learner I really need to see the process and participate to fully understand. In some ways I almost feel like the class gave me too much ‘other’ information since there are a lot of technical terms, variations in equipment and differing techniques one may use but this does not all have a direct bearing on that task at hand. For me, this was my first time even seeing homebrewing equipment so I was as green as one could get. I will definitely try another hombrew recipe but I am not sure I will ever endeavour to be a hardcore homebrewer. Don’t get me wrong it is a lot of fun; however, I feel like I would have enjoyed the process a lot more if I had access to a bigger space and more equipment. Perhaps next time I will just jump the queue and try my hand at commercial brewing : ) Also, I am a bit of a fickle beer geek; I get bored of even my most favourite beers rather quickly and I want to be constantly stretching and challenging my palate. Next time I will brew a smaller batch so I do not end up with sixty-six of the same thing. In many ways the class made me want to head in the direction of beer judging (those who can’t brew judge?) I really enjoyed learning the vocabulary to accurately describe what I am tasting and smelling when I drink a beer. In the meantime I am going to revisit my homebrew to see if I get lucky with another bottle…


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