Homebrewing

The more I get into beer, the more I like it.  Beer can be simple or it can be complex.  It can be light weight or as heavy as wine.  It’s very versatile and down to earth. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and seek out brewery tours and different kinds of beer.   Eventually, you’ve got to start making your own.

I learned to brew beer from Griz of SF Brewcraft at 17th and Clement in San Francisco. Griz used to run a class every Monday night at Brewcraft (now it’s done by employees, I think).  He hands out beer and tells the kind of stories you’d expect from a old, overweight hippy who probably wears overalls in bed. In between those colorful stories, he’ll teach you to brew beer.

I like Griz’s style. He is knowledgeable, but not “anal.” He likes to keep it simple. I can live with that.

The Griz diploma and Brewcraft’s starter kit are a good deal. Three hours and a hundred bucks and you’re ready for your first 25-50 gallons of beer making.

Eventually, once the honeymoon is over, you’re going to want to go a bit more in depth and settle in for the long haul:

  1. I recommend Charles Bamforth’s Malting and Brewing.  If you skip the heavy science bits, it’ll dispel all the crazy myths and rituals that are being promulgated out on the brewing forums.
  2. Start kegging.  Bottling is a PITA.  My two keg system cost $200 used.  It saves loads of time– not just 2-3 hours for bottling, but for most beers you can skip the secondary stage and go straight to the keg.
  3. Ditch the plastic bucket which is prone to causing contamination once it gets scratched up, and either brew with one carboy or switch to all glass.  Put the glass carboys in milk crates to avoid the potential for cracking the glass.

Deschutes... Beer heaven

If you don’t start kegging, one tip: the one thing I won’t buy is empty bottles. It only costs twice as much to buy bottles with beer in them, and then you get to drink your way to success! Honestly, while you are waiting for your beer to brew (it takes usually 3-6 weeks, though a Belgian beer can take 2-3 months minimum), you can keep drinking those 12 packs. One beer a day, with a friend, and you’ll have enough bottles for a 3 week batch. Takes an hour and a half to clean and delabel them. If you collect them after you drink your homebrew, the process is faster, since the label removal is the most time consuming part. For removing labels, soak the bottles in warm soapy water, and then scrape them off with a razor or an abrasive sponge.

Ingredients cost about $20-$30 per batch usually. Belgian beer costs about $45. Each five gallon batch makes about 45 beers.

Credit for inspiring my beer brewing adventures goes to a large copper tank in Ben’s kitchen and to the Rabbit’s Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale. The copper tank looked like something you might brew beer in (but actually is not fit for it). I happened to go to the meadery at about the same time as we were staring at this tank, and the owners were kind enough to give me a tour and explain that making beer is pretty easy.

Lots of people want to brew too, so it turns into a great social acitivity. My buddy Eric even got his Master Brewers certification from my alma mater after taking Griz’s class with us.  Who woulda thought?