Saturday, March 5, 2011

The reality of things as I see it

Based on the reading that I've done, there are alot of home brewers who will strongly disagree with my perspective, but due to certain realities, this is the way that I do things.
Those realities are, in a nutshell, that I brew as a hobby. I brew because I like beer. I have other requirements for my time and money.
So, where do I start? In the kitchen, I guess, with clean equipment. To read books and articles, one might get the impression that beer cannot successfully be brewed without an operating room level of sanitation. My reality is that is simply not true. Does one have to be clean, certainly. Does one have to make sure equipment is sanitized, certainly, but don't let fears of bad beer keep you from brewing. Clean your equipment before and after brewing, then sanitize, but there's no magic to that part. I've used bleach, iodophor, and some acid based no-rinse sanitizer that they sell in the brew supply store (by far the easiest to use). My basic process for sanitation is this: put all your shit in the primary fermenter, add about a shot worth of your sanitizer per 5 gallons of water, add your water, and let sit for 10 minutes. Transfer this liquid to any other vessel in need of sanitation, and repeat the 10 minutes soaking. If the chemical needs to be rinsed (bleach, iodophor), rinse, and go. That's it. I am not an award winning brewer, I'm sure, but to date I've had one bad batch of beer, and that was bad because I made a gross miscalculation in coffee addition while attempting to make a coffee porter...I have yet to try that again.
The next scary discussions tend to focus around brewing temperatures. My goal is generally to ferment for around two weeks at roughly 70 degrees, but I don't put too much effort in to holding my temps. The reason is that I do primary fermentation in a bucket, in my basement, and my basement will be the temperature that it chooses to be. I don't have thermal blankets or chillers, so my wort is going to be within a few degrees of the basement's ambient temps. So be it. It works, and so far, rather well. Lagers are a little more of a challenge because of the lower fermentation temperatures and lagering, but I've left those for the cooler months, fermented slightly warmer than they should, and still they've turned out damn good.
Yeast is another hot button topic. How much to use, to create a starter, how to and how long to grow the starter, and on and on. Here's the rule I go by. I like to use White Labs vials, and each vial says to use one per 5 gallon batch. That's what I do. Simple as that.
Finally, what variety to brew? My own opinion is to keep it simple until I know what I'm doing. I'm in to my second year of trying to mostly brew across Germany where they have the reinheitsgebot. It requires that beer is water, grain, hops, and yeast. With those four ingredients one can produce an amazingly varied range of beers. I'll probably add belgians to my brew schedule at some point this year, but that's as complex as I want to get for a while. It works for me, and I'm still producing better, more flavorful beers than I can find in any local stores.
I guess the point I'm getting at is if you want to get in to brewing, don't be intimidated by all of the information you will come across while researching how to get in to home brewing. At its most basic, it can be done very inexpensively...My mash tun cost me a grand total of about $7.00, my basic fermenting kit closer to around $25, and in a few weeks I'm going to have two cases of tasty hefewizen for a total of $28. Sure, these guys who set their water pH perfectly, get exact gravity readings, and are able to manage fermenting temps are probably producing amazing brews, but don't think any of that is necessary to produce an exceptional brew of your own. Jump in, get your feet wet, and don't bother trying to be an expert until you've been doing this a few years. I promise you're going to have a hell of a good time along the way.