Late last in year the home of Beer Bar Band, we decided to give home brewing a go. As earnest beer lovers and thirsty beer geeks, we sought to improve our understanding of beer through hands-on learning. Is there a better way to appreciate something than by creating it from scratch? Hence, through experiencing the practicalities of brewing, we set out to intimately discover more about the how/what/when/where/why of making good beer.
For Christmas we bought our first home brewing kit. It was a 30 litre plastic fermenter tub with the basic bits and pieces required to make novice beer, purchased from a popular home brew shop in Melbourne’s west. We also purchased and flicked through a bundle of home brewing books, including the revered text book, How to Brew by John Palmer.
Eight months later, we’ve knocked out five brews in a slowly evolving scale of average to less-average. Each batch we have used a different method.
Here’s how our homebrew journey has progressed so far…
1. Boxing Day Test Batch – Australian Pale Ale
Our first purchase – of the most basic homebrewing equipment – included a hopped fresh wort kit, 17 litres of pre-brewed wort with an original gravity of 1060 IBU (produced either in-store or at Mountain Goat Brewery) that would result in 23L of a fairly general “artisan ale”.
Therefore, our first batch of home brew was basically “just add water” brewing, with the wort already prepared for you. The result was an Australian cloudy pale ale, similar to Coopers Pale Ale (aka, “Coopers Green”, an Australian Pale Ale). It tasted ok. We named it “Boxing Day Test Batch” because we brewed it on Boxing Day, which is also the first day of the traditional Australia vs international visiting team cricket Test Match at the MCG. After fermentation and bottling, we drank the first bottle exactly one month later on Australia Day. It felt all very…Australian.
Using a professional brewed fresh hop wort kit is perfectly acceptable and certainly can be greatly varied through a number of different techniques and processed. For example, the fresh wort can be combined with a partial mash or customised with various hopping schedules or using different yeasts …or even, like we did (somewhat shamefully), throwing in a finishing hop tablet at the start of fermentation in an attempt to individualise our first brew (in possibly the worst way possible).
In its simplest form, this brew felt like cheating. We didn’t really brew. We just added ingredients and water into the frementer tub.
If all you care about is making a big batch of generic beer quickly and easily, this is probably the best method.
However, we want to learn about brewing, so this did little for us. If anything, it was a good lesson in cleaning/sterilisation, as well as learning how to get the brew in and out of the frementer.
2. Green & Golden Shower beer – Golden ale
For our second home brew we explored the liquid malt extract method by using a Coopers tin to create a Golden Ale. We partially following a Golden Ale recipe printed in a back issue of Homebrewer magazine, using the Coopers Canadian Blonde extract tin.
This method was still very basic but a little more involved and demonstrated much more scope for variation and customisation.
Since it was brewed on Australia Day and in our spare bathroom, we named the beer “Green & Golden Shower beer“. Yep, we’re dirty. The resulting beer tasted much the same as the first. However, it has improved well over time through clarification and a softening of the green hop edge imparted by our rookie attempts at dry hopping.
3. Brew-in-a-bag Strong Ale
Next, we moved into the world of all-grain brewing by using the brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) method, which was apparently invented in Australia. We followed a recipe provided by a local home brew shop after attending a weekend demo session that walked us through the process. Using milled grain supplied by the shop, we brewed a strong (pale) ale.
The 10L batch used 2kg of Maris otter grain, 0.5kg of Vienna malt, 12g of Centennial and 12g of Mt Hood hops.
Using BIAB we finally felt like we were actually brewing beer, as we went through the steps of a mash and boil. It filled our house with the classic biscuit aroma of a working brewing. We had to keep an eye on temperatures, timings, gravity and generally be careful with how we use our space.
(The recipe included the use of a whirlfloc tablet, but we skipped that step due to the shop being out of stock with whirlflocs whilst we were picking up the ingredients.)
Until this point, the brewing had indeed been fun and eye opening, but the results were nothing spectacular. None of our beers had failed, and we’ve enjoyed drinking our work, but put these beers in front of any other beer drinker and there’s no doubt that’d easily identify it as rookie homebrew.
Oh…and since this beer was mostly an experiment in BIAB brewing and lacked any interesting connection to time or place, we failed to give it a quirky name.
4. BrewSmith Chocolate Paradise Porter
Next, along comes an email from Adrian MacGeraghty. Around 18 months ago, Adrian started BrewSmith with his partner, Carolyn, selling their own format of homebrew kits that are specifically targeted at new and novice home brewers who want to enjoy craft beer flavour and quality but have little space at home.
Adrian invite me to try BrewSmith for our next homebrew. As a keen observer of this local business’s endeavours and growth, I happily responded in the affirmative. Soon after, a sample kit arrived on our doorstep with the ingredients for their Chocolate Paradise Porter brew, which was the recipe I selected because it sounded the most interesting, since we had only brewed pale ales so far.
It would be our fourth brew, and that is the focus of my next post – BrewSmith Brewin’
You can read more about our home brew beginnings on Jenn’s blog – Soak in Beer: Purple Bathroom Brewery Project