Photo Credit: G. Faint/getty images
Then you’re in luck. Homebrewing expert and The Everything Home Brewing Book author Drew Beechum is here to give us a DIY beer primer.
Cheryl Sternman Rule: What are the main advantages of home brewing over simply buying a case of your favorite beer?
Drew Beechum: For me, it’s the act of creation. I feel, deep down inside, all of us have a need to create, to produce. We used to get that from our jobs. With the shift to the "information economy," though, that's changed, and most of us no longer get that fulfillment vocationally. By brewing, I get to work, to create, and ultimately to enjoy my creations. Even just sitting at the desk pondering what it would take to produce a desired taste is a blast.
CSR: What basic equipment and ingredients are necessary to get started?
DB: You need a 5 gallon pot, a couple of buckets, some tubing and a couple cases of non twist-off bottles. To fill those bottles, you'll need the classic beer ingredients: malted barley, water, yeast and hops. Beginning brewers use malt extracts to provide the bulk of the barley base. Your water should be carbon filtered before use to avoid a nasty interaction with the chlorine or other sanitizers used by the water company.
CSR: Can these products be found anywhere, or is important to go to a store that specializes in home brewing paraphernalia?
DB: Many of the ingredients and supplies we use are best procured through a local homebrew shop. The folks running the store can help point your in the right direction, taste your beer, and tell you what you're doing right and what you need to pay attention to. Plus, with the local store, you have a better sense of ingredient freshness. That said, if you don't have a good local shop, bigger shops scattered around the country do internet mail order.
CSR: How long does it take to ferment a batch of beer?
DB: Your first batch should take 3-4 weeks. As you play around with more advanced concepts, it can take longer. I once had a mead (honey wine) that aged for 9 years before I served it and currently have a couple of oak aged sour beers celebrating their second birthdays in the fermenter.
CSR: Describe your favorite batch of beer you've ever made.
DB: Pick from one of my babies? Quelle horror! My favorites turn out to be the accidental ones. Like the beer that was brewed as a throwaway to generate sufficient yeast to brew a super strong beer. The other brew was a beer born of failure. My brewing cohort and I were brewing 10 gallons of strong dark Belgian ale (~10% abv), but the process went horribly wrong. After many hours of struggle we lucked into having 5.5 gallons of even stronger ale (~14%). It was a costly beer, but oh so smooth, tasty and relaxing
CSR: Do you plan to make anything special for St. Patrick's Day?
DB: This year, I'm brewing my "Last Minute" Stout, which is ready in about a week and uses oats to sweeten the brew.
CSR: In addition to The Everything Home Brewing Book, what other resources would you recommend for potential enthusiasts?
The Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian; John Palmer's How to Brew (and his website howtobrew.com); and your local homebrew club. Also, The American Homebrewers Association; Brew Your Own Magazine; and The Brewing Network and Basic Brewing Radio, two online shows (and podcasts) devoted to brewing topics.