Hurdles in Homebrewing

A homebrewer’s journal, by John Kleinchester

There’s nothing better in the world than brewing your own beer at home and having it actually come out well. Being able to hand a glass to a friend and have them really like it, only to be shocked that you’re the one that made it? It’s euphoric. But the pendulum swings both ways. Nothing can prepare you for that fretful day when, yes, you’ve made something that just isn’t good enough to justify drinking. This happened for me this past weekend and I had to decide if I needed to dump a batch of beer for the first time.

This was an IPA that I brewed last year and struggled for months about what to do with it. It wasn’t terrible, but it just got to the point where it wasn’t enjoyable to drink. I was never able to exactly pinpoint where this batch had gone wrong, as it tasted pretty decent when it was young and fresh. But I just kept putting off dumping what was left in the keg. It was almost a point of pride: I’ve never dumped a single batch! But really, it’s going to happen at some point. Something’s going to mess with your beer that you can’t control and you’re going to come to the same dead end that I did.

What really pushed me over the edge was that I sorely needed keg space. I currently have four Cornelius (or corny) kegs and all four were full. With two batches finishing up fermenting and more on the immediate horizon, something was going to have to go. I took one last taste to make absolutely, positively sure I was done with it and indeed I was. Goodbye, IPA, you had such potential. Next time I bring you to life, I swear you’ll taste better.

Of course, I’m really bummed out to be losing the beer. It hurts the pride and it’s a waste financially. But here’s the kicker: two of the other three kegs that I have ALSO have beer that I’m not particularly thrilled with. Yup. They’re definitely better than the IPA but I haven’t been too keen on either of them for a few months now. I think I’m going to suck it up and bottle them so that I don’t have to dump them too, perhaps even this week. Sure, it’s horribly annoying to bottle, especially when the beer isn’t that good. But for now, it’ll be my self punishment for making mediocre beer.

Besides the dumping incident, I’ve run into a few other hurdles that I had never anticipated. As I mentioned in my previous column, I recently made the jump from kitchen brewer to outdoor brewer. It had never occurred to me when I made this switch just how troublesome winter can be for someone who brews outdoors. In the last few weeks I’ve had planned brew days foiled by rain, snow and even darkness (really have to get that patio light fixed). This makes me very excited for the warm summer months when I can easily brew later into the night. If the weather cooperates and I can get a brew day started early enough on a weekend, it all works out. Granted, it can be pretty cold. During my last brew it was a mere 26 degrees outside. Although it is fun to huddle around a boiling beer in order to keep warm. Oh, and to crack a beer while you’re at it.

Dumping the IPA was one of the lowest moments for me as a homebrewer. It sounds silly, but it really, really sucked. Thankfully, the pendulum once again swung back in the positive direction, as I found out that one of my beers won First Place in the Belgian Strong Ale category in the NYC Homebrewers Guild annual competition. I think the beer gods felt bad and threw me a bone. Well, that and it was a pretty damn good Belgian Strong Ale. I better go make some more.

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