Serious Homebrewing

“How often do you brew?” I ask.

“Not often enough,” “Caleb” (not his real name) says, not missing a beat.

Enjoying sample brews

Enjoying sample brews

We’re hanging out in Caleb’s backyard, keeping an eye on the propane burner and the nearly full 8-gallon kettle of wort that’s boiling away. This is serious homebrewing at a level I dream of. Caleb joined the local homebrew club, MASH831 (see last week’s post), when he moved to the Monterey Peninsula two years ago.

Calebs kegerator

Caleb’s kegerator

Caleb’s professional focus is on finishing his Master’s in Physics at San Jose State University, planned for December, 2015. Meanwhile, he studies, drives the 150-mile roundtrip several times a week, oversees undergrad labs at SJSU and teaches part-time at a community college.

He’s also married to a wife who understands that brewing is important. This becomes obvious when he opens the door to the laundry room off their garage. The washer and dryer stand sandwiched between a kegerator and a modified freezer that accommodates six 5-gallon kegs of his various brews.

He points out the small computers—“raspberry pis”—that monitor and control the temperature in both appliances. “I can control them from here, but it’s easier to do it from inside the house.”

Watering the yard with wort chiller water

Watering the yard with wort chiller water

We move inside to the laptop that, with a few clicks, shows a detailed graph and stats on the interior temperature of the kegerator and the current temperature of the wort Caleb has just put inside it.

Five hours have gone by since I arrived, very grateful for the invitation to spend a brewing day with an experienced, all-grain homebrewer. As a relatively new homebrewer, I’ve been awed by Caleb’s beers and his knowledge at MASH831 meetings. No surprise that with eight years of serious brewing he’s become one of the leaders in the club. What did surprise me was an email from him a week or so after the first meeting I attended. Not only did he remember who I was, he asked how my wheat beer brew was going. I knew then that this was homebrewer I could learn from.

Brewing day

Brewing day

I have none of the equipment mentioned above. Early in the brewing day, I asked Caleb if he used a hydrometer or refractometer (an instrument that measures the amount of sugar in a liquid). “Both,” he answered. I confessed that I’d never actually seen a refractometer. That became yet another lesson during the day.

When Caleb finished brewing, he hauled the kettle and its contents, now boiled down to about six gallons or 45-50 pounds, to a faucet and garden hose. Just as I had seen instructors do in homebrewing classes, Caleb had put a wort chiller in to warm up some ten minutes earlier. He connected the garden hose to the “in” nozzle. I had watched instructors attach an “out” nozzle that poured the out-going water into a 5-gallon fermenter bucket which could be used to water plants. (We live in California, the drought state.) Caleb unscrewed another hose and attached his out hose. While the chiller cooled the wort, we went to the front yard where the used water was shooting out a sprinkler head.

The deeper I get into homebrewing, the more I get to know people like Caleb—intelligent, curious, creative individuals who, with years of experience, produce some amazing beers in ways that approach how commercial breweries function.

At the last MASH831 meet-up, one person said, “So many homebrewers are always trying to speed up the process. I finally realized that my brew days were the best day of the month and why should I rush them?”

Why do I homebrew? Because 1) someday, I hope to brew exceptional beer and 2) because I get a kick out of spending time with homebrewers.

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