Reflections on Five Years of Brewing

A homebrewer’s journal, by John Kleinchester

It’s so awesome being a homebrewer. I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this you either already agree or you’re looking to get into it so you too can realize just how awesome it is. Tasting the fruits of your hard labor and actually enjoying it – maybe even more so than some commercial brews – is a uniquely enjoyable unparalleled experience.

Having just recently celebrated five years since my first brew, I’ve managed to amass a pretty large quantity of brewing-related items: bottled beers of all sizes, Cornelius kegs, CO2 tanks, buckets and carboys amongst other things. As you progress with homebrewing it’s only natural to expand your equipment. I even recently purchased a chest freezer in order to be able to control my fermentation temperature. But there’s one thing that every hombrewer hates: moving.

Moving your abode as a homebrewer is one of the worst things ever. Let’s face it, moving is already a misery as a regular humanoid, but as a homebrewer you’ve got hundreds of pounds of additional weight that you need to figure out how to get from your old place to your new without destroying it. If you’re like me, you’ll experience a lull in your brewing schedule when you’re getting ready to move. This year I’ve brewed roughly one beer per month, but with a pending move I now haven’t brewed since July. I’m sure pro brewers that move to new facilities can plan things out really well and not have big lulls, but my only goal was to have all of my fermenters empty for the move. There’s nothing worse than sloshing around and oxidizing the hell out of a potentially great beer.

The last two beers that I needed to bottle both happened to be sour beers; one purposefully so, the other…not so much. The first was my first-ever attempt at a Berliner Weisse. I decided to go the route of buying a Berliner Weisse yeast blend where yeast is mixed in with sour bugs and they go to work simultaneously. As it turns out, this can be a much slower way of getting a tart Berliner. Research after the fact leads me to believe that souring the mash may in fact be the better route to go. Tasting my version just before bottling, it’s enjoyable but not at the level of tartness that I wanted. Here’s to hoping that bottle conditioning will lend to a bit more sourness.

Since both of the beers I was bottling had been dormant for quite some time, I decided to hydrate some dry yeast and add that into the mix as well, in hopes that the yeast will wake up and carbonate the bottles. No one likes a quiet cap-popping.

The other beer I bottled in advance of moving was…interesting. Last winter I picked up a used five-gallon bourbon barrel from Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn. When I got it home I had an imperial stout that I transferred into it for a mere five days and it picked up a TON of bourbon character. Months later it’s finally starting to become a balanced beer and it’s really great. This beer was my attempt at making an Allagash Curieux-like brew; a Belgian Tripel. It tasted amazing after primary fermentation so I transferred it into the barrel. A month or two into barrel aging, I went to take a sample only to realize that a giant white pellicle had formed across the top of the beer. It had soured on its own. There’s no way to un-sour a barrel so I figured I’d let it sit and hoped it would pick up a bit sour character and maybe it would come out tasting amazing. It was a shot in the dark.

I bottled the 3.5 gallons of what pretty much tasted like bourbon-flavored water with no sourness. Not what I was expecting at all. I did kind of enjoy it but it just wasn’t what I was hoping for. Needless to say I bottled it anyway, hoping that carbonation would somehow make it more drinkable. What I took away from these two less-than-stellar brews is that they can’t all be winners. Brewing is unique in that it’s both a science and an art. You chase perfection and have to run into some pitfalls. But even if you achieve perfection, it’s hard to duplicate. Here’s to another five years of brewing.

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