Homebrewing: Today is the Day!

Duane Shima, at Bottoms Up, Seaside, CA

Duane Shima, at Bottoms Up, Seaside, CA

Are you into everything about craft beer except the price? Have you been thinking about brewing your own beer? Are you looking for a new hobby to kick off 2016? Maybe you even got a homebrewing kit for Christmas that’s now stashed in a corner.

Duane Shima, owner of Bottoms Up Homebrew Supply in Seaside, California, says there’s an uptick in kit sales every December. Spouses, siblings, friends come in looking for Christmas gifts. “I’d always thought there was something kind of mystical about hombrewing, like you had to learn the secrets from your grandfather or something,” Shima jokes. “The first time I did it, I said, ‘Is this all there is to it?’”

So, what’s next? I asked some veterans for their advice to aspiring homebrewers. Note that no one knew what anybody else would write. Consider the overlaps the most important advice.

Conor Fahy at West O Beer, West Okoboji, IA

Conor Fahy at West O Beer, West Okoboji, IA

Conor Fahy, head brewer at West O Beer in West Okoboji, Iowa, got the ball rolling: “The main thing to remember is brewing should be fun. The very first step any homebrewer or professional brewer needs to understand is that 80% of your job is cleaning.”

Long-time homebrewers Bill and Deb Vandevort from Monterey, CA suggested:

  • Go to your local homebrew shop for information and advice regarding equipment, ingredients and process.
  • Find another homebrewer and watch them brew.
  • Start with a kit to keep everything as simple as possible.
  • More than anything, just do it. It’s really pretty easy and just be sure to keep everything clean.
Homebrewers Bill and Deb Vandevort

Homebrewers Bill and Deb Vandevort

The more brewers you can watch, the better. Also, many homebrew supply stores and some craft breweries offer beginning (extract) and advanced (all-grain) classes, which are a more formal version of hanging out with friends when they brews. Plus, the instructor probably has more experience teaching and explaining the science behind brewing. Definitely worth the money. Ask about homebrew clubs in your area, too.

Books are another great resource that most homebrew shops carry. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian is a classic among homebrewers, along with Papazian’s advice to “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.” If you want a more technical book, go for the other classic, John Palmer’s How to Brew. I highly recommend the non-digital versions of both books. You’ll likely want to scribble lots of notes, and flipping through during the five-minute boil of your aroma hop is a lot faster in an old-fashioned paper copy.

Jon Ezell brews outdoors

Jon Ezell brews outdoors

These days, there’s an endless amount of very cool, and non-essential, homebrewing equipment, but you should be able to get started for under a couple hundred dollars. If you don’t have a supply shop nearby, check out websites like More Beer and Northern Brewer.

Austrailan Jon Ezell, who began he brewing in China, emailed from his current home in Salinas, CA: “Make cleaning as easy as possible. Buy a carboy pump cleaner, or a bottle tree, or move to kegs. The one time I almost gave up on homebrewing was because I just couldn’t soak and clean one more bottle. Luckily, my dad stepped in and bought me my first keg and an inexpensive keg and carboy washer and things have never been better.”

A page from homebrewer Steve Zmak's log

A page from homebrewer Steve Zmak’s log

Danny Cook texted while on a trip to Detroit, Michigan: “Keep notes.” Absolutely true. A brewer’s log will help you improve over time—and when you brew a great batch, you’ll have the recipe in writing so you can repeat it. You can write your own log in a spiral note book like Steve Zmak (photo) or go online for free templates like the one from Homebrew Manual.

Christina Sierra-Jones brews indoors

Christina Sierra-Jones brews indoors

From Marina, CA, Christina Sierra-Jones sent a photo via Facebook and riffed on Cook’s thread: “Brewing requires an investment of time for trial and error to learn how to do well. Don’t expect your brews to be perfect when you are just learning. Mistakes will be made. Learn from them and try again. Keep at it and you will get to enjoy your own unique hand-crafted brews.”

If your brewing takes off, be sure to spend some time at the American Homebrewers Association’s website, especially on their “How to Brew Beer” page. If you join the AHA, among the perks of membership, you get a subscription to the monthly magazine Zymurgy, which is chock full of recipes and articles that help homebrewers improve.

Derek Springer: "Just keep brewing!"

Derek Springer: “Just keep brewing!”

Derek Springer of San Diego, CA, who blogs on beer and brewing at Five Blades Brewing wraps it up: “Always keep experimenting, but be sure to get firmly rooted in the basics; most chefs don’t make Eggs Benedict before they learn to fry an egg. Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, beer is much more forgiving than you’d imagine; just keep brewing!”

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