Well, thanks to our gracious hosts J-Dawg & Mike , my brewing drought is over and the first batch of 2009 is bubbling away! The group brew was a great time – eleven people turned out, four batches of beer were brought into the world, and numerous microbrews and homemade Buffalo wings were devoured by all.
A rainy day did not slow us down as J-Dawg & Mike’s spacious garage gave us the shelter we needed to get on with the festivities. I was brewing an Old Specklen Hen clone I picked up from Maltose Express. I got a bit of a late start because I was busy drinking beer and chatting, but once we got underway it was smooth sailing. It was a pleasure to take a break from the complexity of an all grain brew – I didn’t measure, didn’t take any gravity readings, just followed the directions in the kit (ha!) and concentrated on having a good time.
The other brewers there were of various levels of experience, and I tried to offer my help without imposing on their brews. Hopefully, a few of them will find their way to this site and find something useful to help them out in their pursuit of perfect beer. If any of you guys are reading this right now – the first piece of advice I listened to that really improved my brewing was: Always toss the instructions you get with a brew kit – many of them are written for ease of use and not to produce awesome beer. Heck, while we’re at it, read my Five Things Which Made Me a Better Brewer post, and my article on making yeast starters – following the advice in those two pages will make a HUGE difference in your brewing.
Everyone brewed using kits, and we all did partial boils. Aside from my Old Speckled Hen, other brewers were crafting a wheat beer, a pale ale, and the mysterious sounding “Champagne of Homebrew” – this was J-Dawg’s creation, from a kit he also got from Maltose. The kit is listed on their site as being from Tess and Mark’s new book (not even published yet) – I have great respect for the Maltose crew’s recipes, and am really looking forward to checking this beer out.
As far as technique? Man, I brewed like I never had before. I didn’t even take a single note. Steep the specialty grains, bring to a boil (was working with about 2G of water at this point), add the DME, hops at 45m, 15m, and 1m. Only deviation from the kit was throwing a Whirfloc tablet in at 10m. Added in cold water from the hose when we were done, left it to sit in the fermentor until about 72°F and pitched (which is pitching pretty hot for me). Brought the fermentor home, and it was gurgling away when I woke up.
Oh – speaking of the yeast. I used a Wyeast Irish Ale which came with the kit, which I’d had in my refrigerator since late November. I smacked the pack and didn’t get much swelling, but I’ve been tricked by that before (no swell doesn’t necessarily equal no viable yeast). However, I got a bit nervous because J-Dawg really didn’t think it was going to ferment, so I threw in another pack of Wyeast English Ale yeast he had lying around. Not sure what the heck I’ll have, but it will be some kind of Great Britain hybrid ale. Nice.
I’d just like to thank everyone who came out – I met some really cool people, hopefully helped them out a bit, and they rekindled my passion for brewing. I had been in a bit of a slump, but I’m now revved up again. Next brew is planned for this coming weekend with my future father-in-law – going to try a Blood Orange Hefeweizen recipe from Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head founder and my brewing idol). I’m psyched.
So, if any of you are in a brewing slump, break all of your rules and go bang out a sloppy, carefree brew. Invite some friends over and make a day of it. Teach someone new to the craft what its all about. Isn’t that what it’s all about at the end of the day?