Nothing’s been so anticlimactic as brewing my own beer.
I knew this going into it. It’s mostly a matter of checking to make sure you have everything on your list (equipment, ingredients) and then standing around waiting for water to boil.
However, it wasn’t actually a bad day. My husband and I started around noon, when my parents were on their way over, and I thought it’d be a good idea to have them watch us work. Cue the awkward standing around the kitchen.
My dad’s brewed before. Growing up, I’d spy the little carboy in the hallway bathroom, bubbling away next to the toilet. And on brew day…man. The smell of the malt and yeast and grains lodged in a corner of my childhood memory that revisits me when I step into brew shops.
Dad gave me all of his equipment a few months ago after he picked up the hobby again. It was a Northern Brewers IPA kit, and it suggested a second fermentation, which scared us greenhorns. We found a simpler pale ale kit at City Beverage — but that was before we found out from my well-connected brother-in-law that the good quality of ingredients in today’s kits means you don’t have to do a second fermentation. Just leave it in the carboy and give it a few more weeks.
Oh, well. We started with the pale ale. The directions compared to the IPA were slightly different, and I was stumped at the fact that the pale asked to steep the grains in water until it got to 155 degrees F. The IPA said to steep the grains 20 minutes. Turns out, it takes about an hour to heat 2.5 gallons to 155 degrees F on our electric stove. I have a suspicion we left them in too long because the color was deep amber, like well-steeped tea — not how a pale ale should look.
Of course, we wouldn’t know it turned out right until we were done with the whole process, which is another thing I knew going into it: You don’t know you’ve fucked up until weeks later. It’s like taking a big test like the SAT or GRE. They score it secretly and mail you the results, so by the time you get them, you’re like, “What the hell did I do wrong?”
Fortunately, my husband took copious notes along the way. Still, there were small things I wondered about: how I’d turn up the dial on the stove when he wasn’t looking, how we started tossing things into the sanitized water long after I’d put the sanitizing solution in. But there were things we realized we needed, like a stirring spoon and a device to get a bit of liquid out of the carboy and into the tube that let us measure specific gravity.
Even before we started, I didn’t care about science. I just wanted to go with my gut. (Must’ve been a moonshiner in a past life.) But okay. Science and numbers and let’s do that since it’s not just my project and heck, maybe it’s a good idea. We took a specific gravity reading again after the fermenter got done bubbling — about three weeks — and it was square in the zone. Time to put it in bottles along with priming sugar (to make it carbonated) and let it sit again for another couple weeks!
The result? A pale ale more malty than hoppy and kinda sweet like caramel. Not our best work, but it was our first work. I’ll be heading to Big Dan’s Brew Shed in the near future to look at other recipes and do something darker. In the meantime, I’ll remember lifting the 22-quart kettle over the carboy, pouring the mess through the filter, and hearing Dad say, “That’s my girl.”