Monday, March 29, 2010

A Funny Hobby

Its a funny hobby this, “wanting to make beer” hobby. My journey as a brewer could not be described as typical, but certainly it also would not be considered unusual. I’ve participated in making beer with others. I’ve made some beers on my own. I’ve read forums, I’ve listened to the podcasts and watched the streaming vids; I’ve even poisoned myself! But I’m still here, plugging away, always learning, trying, refining the process and my system for making good beer. As I said, nothing unusual.

Unlike many home based brewers, hobby brewers, and other craft brewers, I don’t brew in the garage, or in the front/back yard, on the patio, or in the kitchen. I tried to but; well, my garage is a car port which serves as entry to the house and kids play area; My kitchen, whilst sizable and usable does not have the storage support necessary for the scale at which I wish to brew; and, we have no front/back yard or patio, or shed: and as we all know, “All Australian boys need a shed;” so, my space is a top floor, sun room and all my brewing junk is kept in the one place. I call that space, “The Herald of Change Brewery.

Now some people meditate with their eyes closed, others relax and listen to music, chant a mantra or focus their eyes on some mandala, me? I kick back on the couch in my brew space and gaze at my brewery, and think: think about the pots, the tubing, the lab, the little bits of lab equipment, the malthouse, the grain in stock, the fermenters, the fridge, the cleanup area, the benches... the list goes on. I think about how to improve things, simplify things, get the next bit of equipment - And I caught myself! I realized I’d been caught up in the home based brewers equivalent of an “arms race.” It’s a question of scale.

I’ve made beer in a coffeepot - a lovely maple beer, and a poisonous gruit ale debacle; I’ve brewed on the kitchen stove;

Brewing on the Stovetop

and, mashed in a cooler bucket and multi-step mashed in the same;

Single Step Infusion Mash Brewery

I’ve bought various s/s pots of differing sizes and three tiered the brewhouse with various combinations; I’ve even built a kit system for others to start out with making 10L of all grain beer!

All Grain Brew In a Bag Starter Kit

Each system had its nuances and as you mingle with old hands at the game, its easy to be discouraged by others who have bought into the bigger is better argument: it takes the same time to brew 50L as it does 10L; 10L is not self-sufficient, but 100L is... etc.

What struck me is that many of the people who have the larger systems only brew once or twice a month. I’m a stay at home dad. I’m lucky to have a wife who not only works but is also supportive of my hobby. I can brew almost any day of the week; i.e. I can brew more than twice a month, and twice on the same brew day! So the question of scale must be augmented by a second question, one of frequency.

Recently I opened my brew space formally. I needed to get into it and working with it and making beer. So using what I had, I built a 19L (5gal) three tier system using a modified 27L cooler as a MLT. Straight away I instin

ctively wanted to step mash with it which meant using hot water additions. Now, with a bit of math its not too hard to work out what the additions needed to be but it IS a complication that is tricky and fiddly. My mate was not impressed with this and thought it just a gimmick, that its not possible to make GOOD beer in a repeatable way with such a system - he’s a 1516’er and I like that about him, it helps to maintain focus and perspective. So, I replaced the cooler with a burner and another pot, which increased the system capacity to 28L (10gal.) Approval! He said, “Now, you can brew any beer you could possibly want.”

But here’s the question, do I want to brew any beer I could possibly want, or just the beer I’d like to drink? and, does single step vs multi-step really make a significant difference when it comes to brewing the beer I want to drink? Thus the issue become more muddied... Choice of beer style and choice of malt directly influences the choice of equipment, and the size of the equipment is influenced by spacial constraints and frequency of brewing. Then, there’s the issue of self-sufficiency - do I want, or need, to make enough beer that I don’t need to go to the shop and order a typical mega-swill? Again, a factor that influences size and/or frequency.

I set up The Guild to share information and resources about brewing good beer at home. It has been a driving factor for me to acquire knowledge, and experience as a brewer so that I could share it with others. it has also driven me to seek out suppliers of equipment and ingredients to solve technical issues and problems associated with trying to brew in Hanoi. It has even led to me offering to provide a equipment purchasing & training service to new members of The Gu

ild who would like to start brewing their own beers.

But it has also drawn me away from my primary focus, to make beer, good beer, repeatably, for myself. So, I sit on the couch and stare into the distance,

The Herald of Change


beyond the HLT, MLT, Underback, Kettle, Chiller and CWT... and think, “What next?” Single Tier? I’ve got the pumps; Automation? What size pots? What happens when there’s no power? Some more Stainless Steel? Plastic or Silicone Tubing? Keg System? Fermentation Control? Fermentation and the risk of Light Strike...

... And slowly it dawns on me, I need to get back to perfecting recipes, just making beer, repeatably. The space works, everything is in place except for some iron benches to replace the bamboo tables and stools, but it all works. It’s all in order. The workflow is streamlined, efficient and orderly.

Its so easy to get caught up in the Brewers Arms Race, to be misled by ambition and loose sight of one of the most important aspects of making beer, and that’s the simple effort of actually making it, regularly, to build experience by doing over and over again like anyone who wishes to gain mastery of a skill that requires both physical presence and effort.

I’ve done what I need to do for The Guild. There is a pathway in place for new brewers to follow. Its time to do for myself. Its time to start making beer.

Until the next time,

Its Your Shout, Mate!

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