As I get older, the interval between one New Year’s Eve and the next seems to get shorter and shorter. I guess that means that it’s time to start making the best of things! And in 2014, I think that’s exactly what we did. After a long hiatus, L and I finally restarted our home brewery and it has been a rewarding and highly successful experience. We dusted off much of our old equipment, pruned everything that didn’t work, and even developed some ‘new fangled’ pieces (e.g., our keezer; but more on that later) that have since found their place in our system. From our humble beginnings in the spring until now, we have made 10 memorable batches—and we’re just getting warmed up.
We started with a fairly simple pilsner, just to regain our home brewing sea legs. The beer turned out pretty good, but it also pinpointed exactly where we needed to focus our attention to improve our process. Our extraction efficiency was much lower than what we were expecting. Part of it was our bumbling and fumbling with the process as we pulled deep from our fading collective memory to recall what worked like a well-oiled machine in days gone by. But with each successive batch, our system improved. Our last batch, an oatmeal stout brewed just a couple of days prior to this writing, was completely finished from ground grains to an active primary in just over 4.5 hours, with 77% calculated efficiency—a brewhaus record on both counts!
Our most interesting beer this year was our Hook and Hops Pale Ale. It was interesting,
not because of the ingredients we used or that there was anything terribly novel about the beer, but because it was the first time I brewed a keg of beer for a fly-in fishing trip with five acquaintances. When I told my fishing companions that I was bringing home brew as my “communal contribution,” everyone (except the home brewer who was my accomplice) was skeptical. They figured they were in for 19 litres of winy, sour “home brew;” you know the stuff—barely drinkable, but it’ll get the job done. “Just hold your nose!”
We spent the first night of the trip in a log cabin on a staging lake before we flew into our fly-in camp the following morning. It was there that we cracked the keg at the behest of one of my fishing companions. It was a long drive to that cabin and the beer was warm. We had no real way to cool it. So we rigged up some weird system in a cooler where the dispensing line snaked through ice water, which cooled the beer (a bit) before it flowed into a plastic beer cup. It seemed to work, because before anyone was done their first beer, everyone was raving about how “it doesn’t even taste like home brew!” “Seriously, this is good beer!” “Pour me another!” And before we knew it, the keg was done. It didn’t even make it into the fly-in camp. It died on the first night.
I was proud. Mission accomplished.
Another proud moment for me was watching L’s transformation from someone who doesn’t like beer (as though there was only one kind of beer—beer—and it’s gross!) to a wide-eyed, unstoppable home-brewing beer monster! Seriously. She’s been helping me brew since the early ‘80s, but she never touched the stuff. She’d sample everything we made, but each sip usually brought about a crinkled face that said, “how can you drink that swill?”
The transformation was not as sudden as I’m letting on. A few years ago, we found ourselves melting under the scorching sun of East Africa. We dared not drink the water, and the sugary alternatives just weren’t quenching our thirst. That was the first time I saw L order a beer—a Tusker. As she tilted that first one back, all of her spirit renewed in the ice-cold goodness, I knew that she would be curious about what all the fuss was about. And it was there, in an open-air bar in Nairobi, Kenya, that her curiosity in beer began. It was here, in our home brewery, where it has matured into what I could never have imagined only a few short years ago!
Together, we joined a local home brew club. Because she has been participating in making beer for years, it turns out that L knows more about beer and brewing than most of the members of the brew club. She participates in the discussions, critiques the beer samples, and offers advice for improvements. She’s now formulating her own recipe for her first ever solo brew, which should happen early in the new year.
I am proud. Mission accomplished.
Our home brewing journey will continue with enthusiasm in 2015. We have decided to enter some of our latest creations into our very first beer competition (not my idea—I’ve never thought of brewing as a competitive sport; this is at the insistence of my new brew monster). We have also downloaded study materials for our BJCP certification in anticipation of having to judge a local competition, and to elevate our home brewing game to the next level. In the meantime, we will expand our brewing operation with some equipment redesign or replacement. It will be another busy brewing year.
In sum, 2014 has been a busy and productive year in beer. We have met some wonderful people along the way, both locally and online. This blog, which was also started in 2014, languished for a little while (owing to competing time demands). If the choice is between writing about brewing or brewing, I will choose brewing every, single time—as I will inevitably do this coming year, as well. Having said that, thanks for reading, and we will look forward to brewing with you well into 2015. Happy New Year!