Back in the Saddle: Reflections on Restarting a Home Brewing Lifestyle

It may be a bit early to say that we’ve [1] “restarted a home brewing lifestyle” after a very long and protracted hiatus; but I think we have. Two batches of beer are in secondary fermentation, and one wine was racked this week. We have either built or purchased all new brewing equipment, we have on hand a full supply of CO2 with the intent of kegging what we brew, and we just purchased a second-hand freezer for our upcoming ‘keezer project.’ We have initiated this blog (although this is only the second post) and we have a Twitter account. It’s been about a month. I think that qualifies as a solid restart!

The question is, how did it go? Were we rusty off the mark? What did we forget? What have we learned?

It was not a flawless transition to go from nothing to a full-on brewing lifestyle. We had some old equipment that we pulled out of storage; some of it was useful (and we kept it), and some of it was old (and we chucked it). We have carted around with us over several moves an old rubber tote that contained all of our old brewing supplies. When we opened it for the first time, it was like opening a long, lost time capsule. There were old CO2 locks and stoppers, inoculation loops for harvesting yeast, and other useful stuff. But there were also a lot of old, unusable things: pH strips that had outlasted their expiry date, gelatine packs for yeast culture, spices and other crusty or expired ingredients, and various chemicals that I wouldn’t trust after all this time. We did, however, keep our carboys and kegs; but we had to toss all of the rubber tubing for our kegging system (as well as for our racking cane, and other miscellaneous tubing). We even discarded a CO2 regulator in favour of a new one because of oxidation on all of its fittings. It broke my heart to throw away my old mash tun and separate lauter tun of days gone by. But we rebuilt a fantastic dual-purpose mash/lauter tun (MLT) which is far superior to the one we got rid of.

MLT

The new mash/lauter tun being tested on its first batch.

Protip: Leak test your custom MLT with hot liquid BEFORE brew day!

I will admit that I was a bit nervous when it came time to prepare for our first batch. All I could think about was, “What will I forget? What rookie mistake will I make?” It didn’t take long to learn what that mistake would be.

Three days before the planned start date for our first batch, I began to prepare a yeast starter. I boiled some water on the stove and then added dried malt extract (DME) directly to the boiling water. Everyone who uses DME knows that if you add it to boiling water, it will boil over and produce a sticky, horrendous mess. And that is exactly what happened.

The first batch we brewed was a simple German pilsner. Yes, the MLT leaked as soon as we added some hot grist. But we just stopped, tightened all the fittings and tried again. This time, it worked like a charm. The rest of the process went surprisingly well, until we got to the boil. This was the first time that we had attempted to boil 25 litres of wort on our kitchen stove. In the past, we never had any problem bringing our wort to a full boil. However, this stove just didn’t seem to have the juice to support a good, rolling boil. It took nearly an hour to even get to the boiling threshold, which is where I held it for about 70 minutes. Everything else went well, and that batch is about to be kegged within about a week of this writing.

A 60,000 BTU propane burner is just the thing to achieve a rolling boil.

A 60,000 BTU propane burner is just the thing to achieve a rolling boil.

The second batch was a dark(ish), American-style IPA. Knowing that the biggest obstacle to overcome was the boil, we purchased a 60,000 BTU propane burner, which seemed to do the trick. Because we managed to get a very good, rolling boil using the burner, I underestimated our water usage. We lost more water during the boil than I expected, which meant that we were a few litres short of finished product. Next time, we’ll have to account for a greater evaporative loss during the boil.

So, overall, our climb back has been interesting and eventful. But it’s also been fun and enlightening. We’ve had to make a few simple tweaks to our process, but I’m confident that each new batch will go just that much smoother than the one before. We are definitely building momentum here in our new home brewery, but we still have a way to go. Thank goodness beer forgives the odd ‘rookie’ mistake!

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[1] When I say “we” in these posts, in addition to me I’m talking about my partner in crime—my wife, ‘L’—who has been brewing with me since about 1992. Although she considers herself a novice, I think she sometimes surprises herself with what she knows about beer, wine, and the entire brewing process.

About The Happy Homebrewer

In relentless pursuit of the perfect pint.
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2 Responses to Back in the Saddle: Reflections on Restarting a Home Brewing Lifestyle

  1. I literally LOL’d at your starter comment. I could see the punchline before it happened 🙂

    I really just wanted to comment about your evaporation, though. An accomplished – now professional – brewer of my brew club responded to an evaporation comment I had at one point, criticizing BeerSmith’s constant evaporation measure. He enlightened me that your boil should target a specific evaporation, not that your recipe needs to account for a specific evaporation. In other words, the evaporation rate – similar to your boil time – is a parameter you need to tune, not one you just accept. You should really target a 10 – 15% rate as a measure to ensure you’re getting the proper turn over and DMS reduction. His direct quote: “A 10% evaporation is a proxy for enough “motion” in the boil to isomerize the alpha acids in the hops and to drive off DMS and other undesirable aromatics from the malt.” So, long story short, you don’t necessarily want to account for your new high boil off, but rather you want to tune the boil off from your new burner to keep you ~10%, which has the nice byproduct of saving you some fuel.

    Good luck with the trip back! Sounds like it’s going well so far.

  2. Thanks for the tip! I’ve always gone for the “rolling boil” without ever attempting to target a boil off rate. It might take a couple of batches to fine tune, but I’ll definitely give it a go. Once my numbers more or less reflect my process, I’m sure the water utilization calculations in BeerSmith will get better.

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