Friday, March 26, 2010

Starting to brew - some tips

Every so often someone asks me how they can get started brewing.  It's a great question, and since everyone who brews is a new brewer once everyone has a story.  Here are my suggestions on what to do if you want to start brewing:
  •  Watch a video on homebrewing to see if it looks like something you want to do. Here's a good example:
  • Try brewing with someone else.  If you don't know a brewer, look for a club in your area (see on the Homebrewers Association website, or google Homebrew clubs in your area.  Or ask at a local homebrew shop if you have one.  When you contact a club, just tell them you want to learn how to brew and you are experimenting. Brewers are friendly people and I'm sure they will hook you up with someone who is brewing quickly!
  • Read a book about brewing.  From my experience, John Palmer's How to Brew is the best one going. He has lots of detailed tutorial information for your first batch, and a really useful amount of information on the science of brewing that you will be interested in later.  I still refer to this book for information on a regular basis.
  • Get a kit for your first batch--but make sure it is fresh! Note that there are both equipment kits and recipe kits--you will need both unless they are selling a combo for beginners.  Kits are usually graded for level of difficulty, so make sure you pick one that is "beginner" for your fist batch.  There are some good options online at Beer, Beer, and More Beer, Northern Brewer, or William's Brewing--or go to your local home brew shop.    Fresh ingredients are key, don't let them sell you the dusty old kit that's been on the shelf for months--get one that is new and has fresh ingredients or don't buy anything!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention sanitation.  One of the worst things that can happen to your beer is an "infection".  You can prevent this by (a) cleaning thoroughly using something like PBW or B-Brite; and (b) sanitizing everything the beer touches post boil with Iodaphor or StarSan.  Why do I say "post boil"?  Well, the boil sanitizes everything in it.  After the boil, however, you will be putting the chilled wort into a fermenter using a racking cane, tubing, etc., all of which need to be germ free or you risk infection.   A little extra effort will protect your beer!

In the end, brewing is supposed to be fun, so don't take it too seriously, especially the first time out.  As Charlie Papazian says "Relax, have a homebrew!"  You are making beer, after all, not doing brain surgery.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Choosing a successor!

February 12th,  I was fortunate to be invited to the Samuel Adams brewery to help judge the final 5 in the 2010 Patriot Homebrew Competition.  There were five finalist beers to judge, an Alt, a Marzen/Oktoberfest, a Wheat, an IPA and a Rauchbier, and I was one of several on the panel who included most of the folks that judged this round last year, a couple new ones, and of course Jim Koch, founder of the brewery.

For me, this was a real honor, as I got to meet some folks who are beer and media celebrities--not to mention the group responsible for my win in 2009.  Wally Brine (Loren and Wally show), Carolyn Faye Fox (Improper Bostonian) and Gail Ciampa (Providence Journal) whom I had met previously.  Dan Hausle of WHDH came armed with some of his own homebrew to share, and Norman Miller, the Beer Nut (, Todd and Jason Ahlstrom of Beer Advocate, Mike Adams (WEEI) were the remainder of the panel.  Let me tell you, this was a FUN group! Lots of jokes and personal stories during the tasting.

We tasted each of the beers in the final round and it was interesting to me that the panel members were checking the BJCP guidelines to learn about the characteristics of the beers and whether they were correctly represented.  It occurred to me that this step really wasn't necessary, as the original competition had determined that these were good exemplars of their categories, and since they were all in different categories, judging them against style really didn't mean a heck of a lot!  When you get 5 different style beers out, the only way to judge them is to say which beers you like best--which brings in a lot of personal taste elements.

After we tasted the fifth beer, the debate started, and we had to pick the top two .  We asked Jim questions about what he was looking for in terms of selection criteria.  For example, as the brewer, did he want the beer that seemed like it would be the most salable, and would be appealing to most drinkers?  Since the previous two beers had been a Black IPA and an Oatmeal Stout, would he really want an IPA again so soon?  How daring did he want to be? Lots of great questions--the answers will have to wait until the winner is announced, I think.

At the end of the day (when we got to taste some Mother Funk and some Noble Pils--a really nice beer), we chose a great beer as the 2010 Patriot Homebrew winner.  I will be happy to make my way back to the Sam Adams Brewhouse on game day, and say "I'll have one of those!"  All of the brewers that made it into the top five should be proud of their beer, as it was all very good--as it should be.  This is a great competition, and I applaud Jim Koch and the Patriots organization for this pairing of football and beer, and for supporting the home brewing community!  Thanks guys!

Brew HaHa

I have not posted in a while, and I have had a number of different posting ideas floating around in my head, but have not managed to write about any of them.  nevertheless, I need to bog about this one!

Brew HaHa is a documentary made by a group at Cambridge Cable TV.  I was filmed for the documentary--making the Roggenbier actually-- and my footage made it in.  Actually a certain amount of the brewing process shots (grinding grain, weighing hops, the different grains) were shot at my apartment, as well as some interview footage and actual brewing activity.  It was really interesting to watch the film, which premiered last night at Cambridge Cable TV.

The story of the documentary is covered in the linked article, and I recommend watching it on CCTV ( though I couldn't tell you when it will be on-- they have a program guide for that.  It was an interesting experience, and I met some new and enjoyable people as a result--fellow brewers and beer appreciators both.

Anyway, when you find a time to watch the documentary, I recommend that you enjoy it with a beer in hand!  I'll be interested in any feedback that you post.  Enjoy!