Who Knew It Could Be So Hard? (To Brew)

If you follow sports you may be familiar with the concept of irrational confidence guys. These are the players who will dribble up to just inside the half-court line and launch a three-pointer, or call their shot before the pitch comes, or throw the ball into triple coverage, without any record of success. These players want the ball with the clock winding down despite their obvious shortcomings. I won’t speak for Connor, but when we decided to home brew some beer, I was one of those irrational confidence guys. I thought, “How hard can it be?” It turns out the answer was: harder than I imagined. 

We decided to test out our new Craft-A-Brew Kit on an overcast Saturday. The kit came with all the goods to brew, and store, our beer as well as the ingredients for a pale ale based on a legendary offering from Stone Brewing. Or so we thought. We realized as we put together our fermentation tank and reviewed the instructions that we were brewing five gallons of beer, and did not have a pot remotely that big. Not to be deterred we hopped into Connor’s Jetta and headed to the local homebrew store for a 10-gallon behemoth that would barely fit on the stove. With the proper materials now at our disposal we began the brewing process with relative success. We properly steeped the first-round of grain for 20 minutes, added the malt extract and were ready to start hopping. In an effort to get all the hops in there, James picked up the up hop packet that Connor had set aside, and feeling a bit of extra weight, shook the packet over the boil, with the top of the wrapper Connor had ripped off, falling directly into the pot. The next five or so minutes was spent fishing out unwanted wrapper from our beer, so disaster averted! It turns out that was the beginning of a comedy of errors. 


After our initial wort brewing the next step was to cool the wort to a temperature that yeast can survive in. We were fully prepared with 4 pounds of ice to put in the bathtub with our pot to cool off the wort until it was between 65-72 degrees. Well, cooling our 5 gallons of boiling wort with 4 pounds of ice is a little like using a toothbrush to clean your apartment; you can still get it done, but you’re definitely underprepared. The 4 pounds of ice in the bathtub practically disappeared as soon as the steaming pot entered the bath. Without the ice, the cool bathwater was all we had to bring the wort’s temperature down. The wait was excruciating and the wort took about 45 minutes to get down to a temperature appropriate for our yeast. 

Finally, after waiting through all of that, it was time to pitch our yeast into our primary fermenter. After pouring our beer into the fermenter, the liner of the lid for our fermenter fell out of the lid. Our confidence all but crushed, we put the lid on and let the liner live in the beer, hoping it was sanitized enough to have no effect on the taste. 

Our irrational confidence was surely shaken by our experience brewing beer. However, one month later we had a malty but bitter beer that was drinkable if not mildly enjoyable to those who tasted it. Our first experience in brewing certainly included many obstacles and mistakes but we learned that making a beer can be done by just about anyone, making a good beer is hard, and making an excellent beer is rarefied air reserved for those who spend their time working through their own challenges. We're confident batch two will be the best beer ever.