Week 4: Band-Aids and Butterscotch

Dates:   26th July – 1st August, 2013

Home brew shop: The Brew House, Wellington

Beer (well, ingredients):

  1. Amber Malt Extract, by Black Rock (1.7kg, $15.30)
  2. Nelson Sauvin Hops, by New Zealand Hops (100g, $7.50 – used half*)
  3. American Ale (US-05 strain) Yeast, by Safale (14g, $5.30 – used half*)

Total: $21.70

There are certain moments in time which are indelibly stained into my memory – slices of the past which I can recall as if they just happened yesterday.  Like that time I broke my collar bone trying to jump down a set of stairs.  Or that time my daughter grasped my little finger with her whole hand when she was about 2 minutes old.

Or like the first time I opened a bag of Nelson Sauvin hop pellets.

It was a Saturday, and I was 31.

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(…which isn’t that weird – since Saturday is a pretty common day to pursue a hobby, and I’m still 31 – but I just thought it sounded like it added more gravity to the point if I added that bit in)

I hadn’t expected an epiphanal moment, but holy smokes did I get one.  My first whiff of the incredible and unmistakable smell of one of beer’s key raw ingredients was enough to etch that moment in time permanently into my memory.  I’d been talking about brewing for aaaaaages – to the point where I’m quite sure I was driving my wife bonkers – but I had never followed through and actually brewed anything.  I think I was scared that I would f**k it up so badly that I’d never want to do it again.  I reasoned that if I didn’t try my hand at brewing, then I could hold on to a theory that I’d almost certainly be instantly amazing at it – the next Richard Emerson, totally undiscovered, just making homebrew for himself and his mates in his kitchen.

I woke up one day and realised that that was a stupid way to live.  I realised: “Hey, you’re crap at sex too but that’s still fun…so why not give this a crack?  And even if you’re crap at brewing, what’s the worst that can happen?”

(Turns out, the worst that can happen is being left with 8 litres of flat, faulty beer that only my Mum would say was nice…but I didn’t know that at the time)

So, with a renewed sense of adventure I gave it a crack – and I haven’t looked back since.  This week I’ll be putting down (that’s cool brewer language for making beer) my 6th brew, and even though I’m only doing extract brewing (which means I’m not really brewing much at all, mainly just fermenting), I’m absolutely hooked.

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I do a modified version of the standard ‘kit and kilo’ approach to homebrew, in that I do a partial boil using un-hopped malt extract, adding my own hops during the boil.  I’ve even started dry-hopping – a process where you add hops to the fermenter after it’s been fermenting for a few days, to generate some lovely additional hoppy aromatics to the final brew.

Rather inevitably, I’ve now got the bug and I’m eyeing up the kit required to move to all-grain brewing – where you go through the full process and extract the malt from the grain before boiling, hopping and fermenting.  Suffice to say that my Father’s Day, Christmas and Birthday presents are already sewn up until 2015 in an effort to put together my all-grain kit – with painstaking attention given to the order in which Kit Bits will join the family…

I make (well, ferment) 8-10 litres of homebrew for ~$20 – and while the resulting beer sure isn’t Pliny the Elder, it isn’t Ranfurly either.  Barring the aforementioned 8 litre disaster, I’m making perfectly quaffable – and occasionally damn delicious – beer for much less than the cost of even the most budget of beers that you can buy from your bottle shop or supermarket.  That’s a big bucket of win in my opinion.

Me = proud.

Me = proud.

Another fringe benefit of homebrewing is that because it’s so cheap, your beer money is freed-up to spend on other delicious things. If you’ve got 10 litres of your own half-decent stuff sitting around at home, you’ll be less worried about having nothing quaffable in your fridge and thus can be a bit more experimental with your retail choices.  I’ll be drinking this brew in about 6 weeks (2 weeks fermentation, 4 weeks conditioning in the bottle), so I’ll have a couple of weeks of where I can go nuts with weird and wonderful things…Lambic-themed week, anyone?

But the best part of my new hobby-within-a-hobby isn’t how cheap it is – it’s the fact that I feel like I’m getting to know beer on much more intimate terms.   Like I’m learning what makes her tick – what she likes, and particularly what she doesn’t like.  The title of this blog entry – Band-Aids and Butterscotch – refers to two pretty common off-flavours (/aromas) that can happen in beer, and I’ve already managed to encounter them both in my blossoming young homebrewing career.  Figuring out what causes these off-flavours (using resources like How To Brew by John Palmer), and then altering your process next time to try and avoid them, is all part of the fun of this awesome hobby.

Of course, it doesn’t seem that way when you’ve got 8 litres of shit to get through.

Just to finish up, I want to draw your attention to the series on homebrewing that Yeastie Boy Stu McKinlay did for Radio NZ a little while back – if you’re remotely keen to give homebrewing a crack, it’s a lovely wee 8-part series to bung in your ear while you’re commuting to work or mowing the lawn.  Cheers, Stu!

* It might look like I’m cheating cost-wise – since I’ve taken half the cost of the yeast and the hops into account when adding up the total – but this is genuinely how I brew at the moment!  There’s enough yeast and hops in those packets to make 20-30 litres of beer, and I only end up with ~10 in my fermenter – so rather than over-pitching (i.e. adding more yeast than really required) or putting all the hops into one brew, I just put in half and then seal up the remaining yeast/hops for next time.

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