Brewing Outdoors

A homebrewer’s journal, by John Kleinchester

It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been homebrewing for over five years now. It seems like just yesterday my friends and I got our first kit and had to follow every direction to a T. It’s even harder for me to believe that in those five years, I brewed every single batch indoors on a kitchen stove. Never once did I have the pleasure of brewing outdoors or even being witness to an outdoor brew session. This all changed when I moved just a few weeks ago to an apartment with an outdoor space.

First of all, if you’re reading this article as someone who has yet to get into homebrewing, let me say this: brewing indoors is easy and fun. Yes, occasionally it can get messy but really your biggest enemy is a messy stove to clean. So if your only option is to brew indoors, do it! You won’t regret it. That being said, making the move to outdoor brewing was a whole new world of awesomeness.

As far as equipment goes, there wasn’t too much that I had to purchase to be able to convert my current setup to be ready for outdoor use. The biggest and most important purchase was the Bayou Classic SP10 Outdoor Burner that I picked up from Amazon. Of course, along with that I had to procure a propane tank which cost about $60 new, but now that I have it I can easily exchange it for much cheaper. And it will serve double-duty for my eventual BBQ once the weather warms up. Other than those two items, nothing else new was required.

The beer that I decided to brew as the first one in my new place was a big pumpkin beer, ready just in time for…Christmas? (I’m still working on getting my brewing timing down better, maybe that would be a good topic for another article down the line once I can master it) It was a style I’d never attempted before and included adding two large cans of non-spiced organic pumpkin puree that had been roasted in the oven for about 45 minutes to the mash tun. Homebrewer’s Tip: Any time you add anything to a mash that could potentially clog up a sparge, it’s a great idea to add as many rice hulls as you can in order to keep the liquid moving. For this one I used an entire pound.

Everything went pretty well for a first-time outdoor experience. On top of that, the weather was unseasonably warm. It felt great. There was one moment where our attentions were directed away from the boiling beer and we just narrowly avoided a boil-over, but if it had occurred at least it would have just been a hosing down. I added 1.5 tbsp of pumpkin pie spice with 10 minutes remaining in the boil and a bit more at knockout and it tasted pretty fantastic as it went into the fermenter. I had my doubts about using so much pumpkin puree but I got notes of both the spices and the actual pumpkin as we sampled the unfermented beer.

In my experience I’ve discovered that there are a few aspects to homebrewing that can significantly improve your beers. The first is temperature control. I have a chest freezer that I’ve attached a digital controller to so that I can manage the exact temperature of the fermentation and keep the yeast happy. The second most important thing in my arsenal at the moment is called Fermcap. This is a substance that is added just before you close up your brew vessel that magically keeps the yeast from clogging the airlock and exploding. (This was something that I discovered AFTER the time I was fermenting a huge imperial stout in my closet where the yeast got so active that they clogged up the airlock and blew the lid off my fermenter sending dark beer all over my white-walled closet. That was fun.)

As I sit here four weeks after brewing this beer, I’ve just dropped the temperature on my fermentation chamber containing my fermenter down to 34 degrees to let all of the yeast that is sitting in the beer to drop out and hopefully allow for a much clearer beer to emerge. About two or three days from now I’ll be transferring the beer into a keg and force carbonating it for tapping just a few days later. Although I may have to bottle some so that I can actually enjoy a pumpkin beer come Halloween 2013.

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